Things You Never Knew Were Invented In New York City

By | June 27, 2022

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A lady wearing a protective mask looks trough a shop window with toilet paper rolls displayed as a pyramid. (Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

New York City is often hailed as the greatest city in the world, but did you know it's also home to some pretty great inventions, too?

Toilet Paper

In 1857, the world became a much better place thanks to Joseph C. Gayetty and his wonderful invention of "Medicated Paper, for the Water-Closet," which were rolled sheets of hemp paper softened with aloe. It was the first time toilet paper, at it came to be known, was ever commercially sold or packaged. Before this, people often made do with whatever paper product they had lying around, like old newspapers or magazines, and before that, they used corncobs, rags, leaves, or a sponge on a stick. It's truly a wonder Gayetty's birthday isn't a global holiday.

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Martin Cooper of Motorola, shown here in a 2007 reenactment, made the first publicized handheld mobile phone call on a prototype DynaTAC model on April 3, 1973. (Rico Shen/Wikimedia Commons)

Credit Cards

Though the concept of credit is centuries old, possibly stretching all the way back to Ancient Mesopotamia, the actual first credit cards were issued by Biggins Bank after owner John Biggins came up with the concept of the "Charg-It" card in 1946 for the convenience of his clients. Businesses on only two blocks of New York City even accepted the card, but the concept grew in popularity over the following decades, and by 1958, American Express debuted its own plastic version of the credit card.

Cell Phones

While the technology for cell phones was in the works since the 1940s, the first official cell phone call  was made by Motorola engineer Martin Cooper on April 3, 1973 in New York City. Standing in front of a pay phone on Sixth Avenue, he called Bell Labs in New Jersey on a blocky cell phone that weighed a mighty 2.5 lbs. The first conversation wasn't recorded, but it mostly involved asking "Can you hear me?" just as countless cell phone users did in the decades to come.