Life’s top 5 simple, perfect tools for the job

The proverb “necessity is the mother of invention” can be traced back to Plato, as well as Aesop’s Fables “The Crow and the Pitcher.” But in 2024, the adage still holds true — seemingly difficult tasks can be accomplished more easily when you have the right tool for the job.

As someone who learned a valuable life lesson 20 years ago, spending hours (and blood) trying to shave an inch off of a too-tall wooden folding door with a Swiss Army Knife rather than buying a saw, I can tell you having the right tool handy makes all the difference.

This reflection was sparked last week when my wife announced: “The lightbulb on the back porch burned out and broke off in the socket.”

Luckily, I had the right tool in my proverbial — and literal — toolbox.

With the confidence and home repair knowledge of Bob Vila, I strode to the garage, retrieved my broken-light-bulb-taking-out thingy, safely unscrewed the remnants of the bulb from the socket, and replaced it with a new bulb, proudly announcing to my wife that I had accomplished the herculean task.

How did this tool work? Essentially, some easily pliable rubber attached to a simple plastic handle was placed into the socket, where it molded itself inside the aluminum ring, which remained after the bulb broke off. With a few counterclockwise turns of the plastic handle, the metal ring was freed from the socket.

While less-impressed social media commenters suggested I could have used a raw potato (which I’m sure would have resulted in a potato-y socket mess) or pliers (which would have required traipsing to the fuse box), I knew I had the perfect tool for the job at hand.

And it got me thinking: What are some of the most “simple” inventions that have made life easier?

Here are my top 5 simple, perfect tools for the job — in no particular order — based on inventions on file at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Bottle cap

Bottled carbonated drinks were already popular in the 1880s, but there was a problem with stoppers and early bottle caps — they didn’t reliably seal the beverage in the bottle, causing liquids and carbonated gases to leak.

William Painter invented the crown bottle cap in 1892 in what his patent described as a bottle-sealing device. Crown caps, both pry-offs and twist-offs, are still used today.

According to the National Inventors Hall of Fame, Painter’s Crown Cork had a corrugated-flange edge, was lined with a thin cork disc and had a special paper backing to seal the bottle, preventing contact between the metal cap and drink.

As technology advanced, the cork disc was replaced with PVC material, the cap’s teeth were reduced from 24 to 21 and the cap skirt’s height was shortened.

Phillips screw

Home improvement projects often begin with making sure you have the “right” screwdriver. The traditional slot screw required a person to simultaneously center the screw in its hole, steady the screwdriver in the slot, and then use the screwdriver to turn the screw.

As cars and other products came to be assembled on moving assembly lines during the 1920s, it became apparent that self-centering screws that could be tightened with power tools would be beneficial.

In 1933, Henry Phillips purchased the rights to a socket screw and redesigned the screw with a cruciform — or cross-shaped — slot. While traditional slot screwdrivers often slipped out of the single slot, the Phillips Screw Company’s cruciform head sat firmly on the screwdriver, with no need to center the screw in the hole, according to the hall of fame.


A pair of jeans, coat or other clothing can be fastened with buttons, but it can be done far faster with a zipper.

In 1914, Gideon Sundback, a Swedish-American electrical engineer, filed for a patent for what he called a separable fastener. Sundback’s description said the zipper works on clothing when “two flexible stringers are locked and unlocked by a sliding cam device mounted on both member, the locking being effected by movement in one direction and unlocking by an opposite movement.”

By the 1930s, zippers, which were also called hookless fasteners, became increasingly popular in children’s clothing in part because parents could zip or unzip a wriggling child’s garment with one hand and because the young person could gain self-reliance in assisting.

The ‘Beautyblender’ sponge

For someone trying to apply makeup, few could argue with the ease of the Beautyblender — an egg-shaped sponge that started out as a tool for professional makeup artists and is ubiquitous in the world of social media makeup influencers.

Make-up artist Rea Ann Silva began creating what was the original Beautyblender sponge in 2002. According to the National Museum of American History, “Her sponge replicated the effects of airbrushing, but without requiring cumbersome equipment.”

Since the egg shape had no edges and a pointed tip, it could get into hard-to-reach crevices of the face. Silva told Forbes she was unable to get a patent for her original Beautyblender, because USPTO felt it resembled a Q-tip-like medical device made of foam.

However, Silva has several other patents for products that are used in conjunction with the Beautyblender. She applied for a patent for her Cosmetic Blotting Tool and Container System and Method in 2016, and it was granted in October 2019.

Adhesive tape

For the times glue, paste, nails, screws and thumbtacks aren’t quite right, adhesive tape comes to the rescue.

Richard Gurley Drew invented both masking tape and transparent cellophane tapes — the first modern pressure-sensitive tapes.

In the 1920s, while working as a lab technician for 3M, which at the time was a sandpaper manufacturer, Drew noticed that painters at local auto body shops using the company’s sandpaper were having a hard time because the tape being used at the time would peel off the car’s paint when removed.

Drew devised a tape of cabinetmaker’s glue and treated crepe paper, according to the National Inventors Hall of Fame. His patent application for adhesive tape was filed in 1928 and granted in 1930. It was marketed as Scotch masking tape.

Five years later, Drew developed cellulose, then clear cellophane tape, which was sold as Scotch tape.

According to the Inventors Hall of Fame, the invention was a major asset during the Great Depression for repairing ripped, torn or broken items rather than replacing them. Books, window shades, toys, clothing and even paper currency were mended with cellophane tape.

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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