Genius and innovation go hand in hand. Any brain brilliant enough to be considered genius will inevitably produce something to improve the world around them, and these inventions are what drive human achievement. Just take a moment to think where we’d be as a civilisation without the wheel, the plough, the printing press, the refrigerator or the ballpoint pen.
Consequently, the modern man is no longer plagued by the tribulations of the past. The telephone means we no longer have to wait an agonisingly long time for a handwritten letter from a loved one. The jet engine means we can travel thousands of miles in the time which our ancestors would have taken to travel tens. Yet, we are constantly affronted by fresh problems in our lives.
Take the greatest issue facing our species in the current era: the quest to relax. In a world that is rapidly running out of food, water, inhabitable space, fossil fuels and bees, the importance of kicking back, opening a can of beer and just chilling has never been greater. It is at this juncture that we meet the greatest unsung inventors of the twentieth century: Alan Forage and William Byrne.
They had the common person’s concerns at heart. Canned beer was the pivotal step in allowing the public to relax in the comfort of their own homes. But it was also widely known that lesser carbonated beers had never successfully survived the canning process. Guinness, the company for whom our dynamic duo worked, set up Project ACORN (Advanced Cans Of Rich Nectar) to valiantly resolve this issue.
Their solution was the widget, the most beautiful ball of hollow plastic the world has ever known. This elegantly simple creation was filled with nitrogen during the canning process, and placed in the beer so that it would re-release the gas once the can’s tab was pulled. This created the ideal level of gas bubbles and liquid. What that means in layman’s terms is a cracking foam head on every can of Guinness, Tetley’s and John Smith’s you could ever imbibe.
The widget not only makes sure the foam is as substantial as one pulled in a pub, but the additional nitrogen also ensures the foam is creamier and better tasting. Consequently, it was a win-win for Guinness on every front; it meant their stout tasted good whether on the go or at a bar, and it meant they had a new product to mass market. By 1989, in a quest for innovation that began in 1968, Forage and Byrne’s genius had pushed human achievement to its greatest pinnacle yet.
So the next time the year 1989 springs to mind, remember it wasn’t significant just for the collapse of the Berlin Wall. And the next time you kick away an empty Guinness can into the gutter and hear a mysterious rattling noise as it rolls, remember what that noise means. That noise is the siren song of the widget, the answer to humankind’s most profound problem (surrounding the issue of effectively canning lesser-carbonated hops-based drinks). For now, we can revel in all our beers having sufficient foaming heads. And really, who couldn’t do with a bit more head?