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Encore: Remembering the lives of three inventors who died in 2022

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The most consistent headlines of 2022 have been about war, Supreme Court decisions, trials, elections, natural disasters. But before we end the year, let's revisit a few stories that might have been easier to miss and still are hard to forget. Today, with my co-hosts Ailsa Chang and Juana Summers, let's remember the legacies of three inventors whose deaths we marked in 2022, starting with E. Bryant Crutchfield, creator of the Trapper Keeper.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The Trapper Keeper, as you might recall, was the hot school supply to have in the 1980s. I mean, I had to have one.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) That's all you're taking to class?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Everything I need's in my new Trapper portfolio.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Trapper?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Traps in all my papers.

ERIN MCCARTHY: I'm someone who really likes to be organized. And so I think the Trapper Keeper is the origin of that for me.

SHAPIRO: Erin McCarthy is editor-in-chief at Mental Floss. She profiled Crutchfield in 2013 and wrote that the Trapper Keeper's style made it stand out.

MCCARTHY: It was something that allowed you to kind of express your personality in a way that a lot of other school supplies didn't. You could pick a Trapper Keeper that had a dog on it or a soccer player on it, or you could go with a designer series. I was definitely into, like, the Lisa Frank.

CHANG: And of course, who could forget that Velcro closure?

(SOUNDBITE OF VELCRO RIPPING)

CHANG: The Trapper Keeper launched in 1978, and its popularity exploded in the 1980s. But it stayed relevant even into a new millennium when "South Park" aired a Terminator-themed episode about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SOUTHPARK")

KYLE MCCULLOCH: (As Bill Cosby) And so you see, Ms. Cartman, you cannot buy your son, Eric, another Trapper Keeper - not now, not ever.

ELIZA SCHNEIDER: (As Linda Cartman) Right. Because it will hybrid with all those other processers and generate a whole new era of technological darkness.

MCCULLOCH: (As Bill Cosby) Correct.

SHAPIRO: The Trapper Keeper never ushered in technological apocalypse, but it did take over the world in a way. People bought more than 75 million of them.

CHANG: Crutchfield himself was curious why. So when he sent out the first prototypes, he included a feedback card. When McCarthy interviewed Crutchfield for her Mental Floss profile, she asked him to share his favorite note. Here's a snippet of that conversation.

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E BRYANT CRUTCHFIELD: His name was Fred Brown. I said, why did you buy the Trapper Keeper? And his comment on the slip he sent in to me was - he said, I just needed someplace to keep my s***.

MCCARTHY: (Laughter).

E B CRUTCHFIELD: And so I showed that at a sales meeting. You know, kids that age are very open and honest.

SHAPIRO: Crutchfield's own kid, Ken, remembers his dad as a persistent innovator.

KEN CRUTCHFIELD: He was the kind of person that would not accept no for an answer. And he always was looking for a better way to do things. So he's also the type of person that could think outside of the box.

SHAPIRO: Ken Crutchfield also remembers his dad as a family man who loved inviting neighbors over for happy hour. His dad would fix up a Manhattan for himself.

K CRUTCHFIELD: As a matter of fact, after he passed, we put an honorary Manhattan in the table with us when we had some neighbors over to really kind of celebrate his life as he had left us.

SHAPIRO: E. Bryant Crutchfield was 85 years old and died in August.

He wasn't the only late inventor celebrated for creating practical style. In September, Juana and I learned about the origins of a sometimes scorned but still beloved piece of fashion.

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The fictional fashion icon Carrie Bradshaw once made this declaration about a hair accessory and an episode of "Sex And The City."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SEX AND THE CITY")

SARAH JESSICA PARKER: (As Carrie Bradshaw) No woman who works at W Magazine would be caught dead at a hip downtown restaurant wearing a scrunchie.

SHAPIRO: But the scrunchie never really went away. And for that, we can thank its creator, Rommy Hunt Revson.

SUMMERS: She first made them in 1986. She wanted to come up with a hair tie that wasn't made of metal or plastic. And Revson later told the podcast "Every Little Thing" she was inspired by the waistband of her sweatpants.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "EVERY LITTLE THING")

ROMMY HUNT REVSON: And I said, you know what? That pucker-y waist, I'm going to try to mimic that for my hair.

SHAPIRO: Freelance journalist Sara Radin called herself the internet's unofficial scrunchie historian, and she remembers Revson this way.

SARA RADIN: She was a genius who came up with an invention that really changed how women dress.

SUMMERS: And Patrick Hughes, a fashion historian at Parsons School of Design, says the scrunchie's visibility in late '80s and '90s pop culture made it a big hit.

PATRICK HUGHES: Well, when I think of the heyday, I think of the strength of the scrunchie. I immediately go to Madonna. I think of Janet Jackson.

SUMMERS: Me, too. But all trends must come to an end. He also remembers the "Sex And The City" moment.

HUGHES: (Laughter) That was tremendously humorous and also true.

SHAPIRO: Hughes says the early 2000s brought a cultural boom in New York that left the scrunchie behind. But by 2019, as red carpets and Teen Vogue declared, the scrunchie was back. Here's journalist Sara Radin again.

RADIN: There was novelty to it. It felt quirky. It just was like a fun accessory that added something different to an outfit.

SUMMERS: OK, Ari, I think you're going to love this one as a fellow dog owner. Did you know that the original name that Revson gave it was Scunci? She named it after her dog.

SHAPIRO: Her dog was named Scunci?

SUMMERS: I guess.

SHAPIRO: The pronunciation didn't stick, but the scrunchie - not Scunci - has more than proved its staying power. Rommy Hunt Revson died September 7 at 78 years old.

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SHAPIRO: Let's close out with another hair care innovator. He introduced a popular tool and a lasting symbol of Black pride to the U.S. Here are Ailsa and Juana again with more.

CHANG: William Lee Morrow was from Alabama, but he made his name as a barber in San Diego, Calif., after he moved there in 1959.

SUMMERS: In 1962, a family friend returned from studying in Nigeria with a gift - a wooden comb. But where a standard comb has a lot of teeth close together, this one had fewer teeth. They were longer, spread farther apart. It was perfect for teasing out curly hair.

CHERYL MORROW: That comb, African comb from the actual continent, he wanted to make it available in the Western world.

CHANG: Willie Morrow's daughter Cheryl says her father taught himself had to make and then mass produce the comb that everyone now knows as the Afro pick. But it didn't take off right away.

C MORROW: It was a slow turn because when you're an innovator, you know, you're first.

SUMMERS: His time would come. The civil rights movement of the '60s inspired younger Black people to turn away from the white aesthetic of straight hair for a more natural look. And the Afro became the rage in part because it was also a political statement.

CHANG: And Morrow had since become an expert on what he called the Afro natural. He wrote books about it. And everyone, it seemed, wanted his know-how and his Afro picks. At one point, he was selling 12,000 a week.

SUMMERS: In 1969, the Pentagon, which was clueless on the subject, hired Morrow to teach thousands of barbers in the military how to style Black hair with a pick, says his daughter Cheryl.

C MORROW: He taught how to hold it, how to get the most impact out of it, how to fluff the hair up and then align it and then cut it and then the art of shaving Black men in the military.

SUMMERS: By the late '70s, the Afro craze was fading, but Morrow stayed on trend. His California Curl products allowed for softer, looser curls. They were copied widely, and eventually what was later known as the Jheri Curl became the hottest style for young Black folks in the 1980s.

CHANG: His daughter Cheryl eventually took over his business, which also included a radio station and a newspaper. She says the hairstyle most associated with her father was a kind of freedom for everyone.

C MORROW: Afro allowed even white Americans to just wear their hair down and straight and don't care if they go to the salon.

SHAPIRO: William Lee Morrow died June 22 this year. He was 82 years old. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.
Ailsa Chang
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.