Fast Hand Dryer

Innovation: Where Do Inventors Live?

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Feb 8, 2013    •    304 Views

Hearing about the producer of the high-speed hand dryer, I thought, “Tweaker.” Describing Steve Jobs, Malcolm Gladwell called him a “tweaker.” Like the 19th century inventor who made the spinning wheel spin more smoothly, tweakers make an existing device better.

While we have had hand dryers for a long time, it took a “tweaker” to improve it. Traditional hand dryers take 35 to 40 seconds to dry your hands–if you are patient enough. For 3 1/2 years, Denis Gagnon tried to create a better way. The result was a high-speed hand dryer that did the job in 12 seconds.

The development of the high speed hand dryer was primarily a Massachusetts project. According to a Brookings paper on innovation, Massachusetts is a big center for patents. In an interactive version of the map that follows, Brookings lets you scroll across the dots to see the firms that have the most patents in each area and the number of patents per worker.

The dots indicate the areas with the most patents. At Brookings (linked below), the map is interactive.

From an historical perspective, you can see we might be experiencing a more inventive era.

Patent History From Brookings

Sources and Resources: Like all of Malcolm Gladwell’s articles in the New Yorker, this “tweaking” discussion is wonderful. Also interesting, this NPR report provides more details about the origins of the fast hand dryer while here is the link to the overview of the entire Brookings paper on metro patents. Finally, you might want to look at Tyler Cowen’s The Great Stagnation (a $3.99 Kindle price) to see why he believes invention is currently more of a challenge and at econlife’s look at the bacterial merits of fast hand drying.

Note: This entry has been minimally edited since it appeared.

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