Innovative Spirit

Seven Inventions for a Safer Fourth of July

From fireworks shields to seat belts, these inventions throughout history have made summer fun less risky

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's annual fireworks report, there were about 5,600 fireworks-related injuries between June 22 and July 22 of last year. (Anna Owen/EyeEm/Getty Images)
smithsonian.com

The 4th of July is not all watermelons and fireworks. It’s also America’s most dangerous holiday, associated with some 600 deaths and more than 64,000 injuries each year. Most of these are car-related and many involve alcohol (please, please don’t drink and drive). Others are caused by summer-specific fun: swimming, sparklers and spoiled potato salad. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's annual fireworks report, there were about 5,600 fireworks-related injuries between June 22 and July 22 of last year.

But inventors are here to help! Here are seven historical patents plucked from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office archives for inventions intended to make classic Independence Day activities a bit safer.

3-Point Seat Belt

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(USPTO)

Most 4th of July deaths and serious injuries aren’t from dramatic fireworks accidents. They’re a result of car crashes, many of them alcohol-related. And the best protection isn’t some madcap Rube Goldberg device. It’s the most ordinary, everyday invention: the seatbelt (and not drinking and driving, obviously). Buckling up in the front seat of a car reduces your risk of death or serious injury by 45 percent. But early cars had no seat belts at all. By the 1950s, some cars offered simple lap belts, though they were not very effective. In 1962, Swedish Volvo engineer Nils Bohlin received a patent for something quietly revolutionary: the modern 3-point safety harness, which restrains both the upper and lower body. Even more revolutionary: Volvo made the patent free to other auto manufacturers. It knew the device was too important to keep to itself for the sake of profit. More than a million people have their lives because of it. 

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