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Top 10 Denver Ideas, Inventions and Innovations of All Time

The late Jack A. Weil at age 105, 60 years after he invented the Western snap shirt.

Gates continues to make more V-belts than any other manufacturer.

Denver Water coined the term, 'xeriscaping,' in 1981.

The ticket wicket, a.k.a. the Colorado Penguin, was invented by Peter Neidecker, Sr. in the 1960s.

Henry Perky came up with shredded wheat in the 1890s.

Frank Marugg invented the Denver boot in 1944.

Temple Buell was known as the "Father of the Shopping Mall."

For Denver Startup Week, we pondered a question: What are the greatest Denver inventions of all time? From snap shirts to shopping centers to shredded wheat, here are Confluence's picks.
Maybe it's the thin air, or the mountain views, or possibly it's the no-coast mentality, but Denver has been the birthplace of more than its fair share of great ideas in the last century and a half. In honor of Denver Startup Week and as a sequel to last year's Top 10 Denver Startups of All Time story, here are 10 of the best inventions and innovations to ever come out of the city.

V-belt -- John Gates, Gates Rubber

In 1917, hemp and rope were the dominant materials for automotive and industrial belts, and John Gates, brother of Gates Founder Charles, came up with the world's first rubber V-belt. It quickly became the industry standard, and the company was soon entrenched as the world's top manufacturer of V-belt -- and it still is, nearly a century later.

Denver boot -- Frank Marugg


A parking ticket meant a tow in the 1940s, and as Denver grew, this system became a logistical nightmare. Enter Colorado Symphony violinist Frank Marugg, who came up with the wheel clamp, better known as the Denver boot, in 1944 and patented it in 1958. Marugg's invention has since been the bane of scofflaw parkers nationwide and is even on display at the Smithsonian.

Shredded wheat -- Henry Perky

Denver is the disputed birthplace of the cheeseburger, and the city saw the planet's first ice cream soda, Chipotle burrito, Mexican hamburger, the Fool's Gold Loaf -- Elvis' favorite while a mile high -- and perhaps our eponymous omelette. But we're going with Henry Perky's 1890s idea for shredded wheat while he called Denver home. It's better for you than a cheeseburger, an ice cream soda or anything else on the list of the city's culinary achievements.

Prototype helicopter -- John Milton Cage, Sr.

John Milton Cage, Jr. is best known as the most avant-garde composer of all time, but his father was one of the most visionary Denver inventors ever. Cage, Sr. grew up in Denver and worked on an early version of a helicopter while living in Capitol Hill, before moving to L.A. and developed a predecessor of the television and a submarine that he successfully tested in Long Beach Harbor in 1913.

Xeriscaping -- Denver Water

The alternative to the manicured bluegrass lawn, the term 'xeriscape' was conceived  by Denver Water as a drought-tolerant conservation measure in 1981, and the municipal utility still holds the copyright for the term. Officials came up with seven principles to xeriscaping, and once threw a tongue-in-cheek "X-rated Party" to celebrate the water-thrifty concept.

Tampax tampon -- Dr. Earle Cleveland Haas

Earle Haas was an osteopathic physician, a real-estate investor and inventor of the diaphragm before developing the first tampon. After the patent was granted in 1933, Haas sold his invention to the Tampax Corporation and was later named one of the "1,000 Makers of the Century" by the London Sunday Times.

Western snap shirt -- Jack A. Weil, Rockmount Ranch Wear

Jack A. Weil's 1946 invention of the Western snap shirt has defined Colorado cool ever since. In the interceding decades, Rockmount Ranch Wear's shirts have been everywhere from the silver screen, as wardrobe for Clark Gable in The Misfits, Paul Newman in Hud and Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain, to the backs of a who's who of music legends: Rockmount has counted Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Slash and Paul McCartney among its customers. Weil's grandson, Steve, currently helms the company, and the timeless combination of shiny snaps and ornate embroidery still transforms even the most urbane city slicker into a cowboy for a night.

IRIS Engine -- Timber Dick

After Timber Dick came up with the Sit 'n' Stroll, he set his sights higher: revolutionizing the internal combustion engine. His concept, the IRIS Engine, won first prize in NASA's "Create the Future" contest in January 2008. The traditional engine is only 20 to 30 percent fuel-efficient, compared to 50 percent or more for Dick's "internally radiating impulse structure" modeled after the expansion and contraction of the iris of an eye. Dick died when his minivan's wheel failed on Floyd Hill in summer 2008, and his sons subsequently attempted to commercialize his invention without success.



Shopping center -- Temple Buell

Beyond designing the Paramount Theater and developing Cherry Hills, Denver architect Temple Buell is known as the "Father of the Shopping Mall." He came up with the idea for the Cherry Creek Shopping Center in the 1920s, and finally opened it in 1951, redefining Denver zoning and retail. Buell's concept wasn't an enclosed mall, but rather the pedestrian-oriented, indoor/outdoor retail developments that are in vogue today. The Cherry Creek Shopping Center was originally built with a central outdoor courtyard fronted by stores that were in turn surrounded by parking lots. Honorable mention goes to the legendary architect, I.M. Pei, for his work in Denver, including the design of the 16th Street Mall.

Colorado Penguin ticket wicket -- Peter Neidecker, Sr.

In the early 1960s, Arapahoe Basin's owners wanted to stop the riff-raff from swapping lift tickets in the parking lot and Neidecker came up with a nifty solution: a penguin-shaped hunk of wire that would hang from one's jacket with a lift ticket stuck around it. His company, National Wire Specialties, was primarily a supplier for Gates Rubber and Samsonites, but it also made "millions and millions" of Colorado Penguins and sold them to ski resorts from coast to coast, says Neidecker.

Read more articles by Eric Peterson.

Eric is a Denver-based tech writer and guidebook wiz. Contact him here.
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