Created By: ElaineRose on May 3, 2011 Last Edited By: ElaineRose on May 10, 2011
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Inventor of the Mundane

Where a character's wealth or noteriety stems from inventing an everyday object.

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Sometimes the plot needs a character to be very wealthy without ever actually doing anything or being particularly clever. When such a thing is needed, the character will be credited with inventing something very simple, useful, and everyday. Note that the character is not inventing cold fusion or something very complex, but rather something like, say, velcro.

In other cases, the character is shown to be someone who isn't necessarily a great scientist, but clever and practical minded. Perhaps the character won't get famous or wealthy off of the invention, but their product at least will be a household name.

Compare with Weekend Inventor when inventing is a hobby rather than a lucrative living. See also Bungling Inventor and Mr. Fixit. If the inventor was an ancestor, then it is Royalties Heir. In a number of cases this also doubles as a Shout-Out or a Namesake Gag.


Examples

Film
  • Patrick Dempsey was portrayed as one in the movie Made Of Honor. He invented that cardboard thing that goes around the coffee cup that keeps your hand from getting burned--named in the movie as the "Coffee Collar." Patrick Dempsey got ten cents whenever one was used.
  • In Garden State, one of Zach Braff's friends invented "silent velcro" and became a multi-millionaire. He now spends his time driving golf-carts around his mansion.
  • Inverted in Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, Michele claims she invented Post-Its (it's a lie to impress her old high school people).
  • The Social Network features the Real Life story of Mark Zukerberg and the invention of Facebook.
  • In Johnny and the Bomb, Wobbler is left in the past, unable to return to his time due to a paradox. While taking The Slow Path, he uses his knowledge of the present to "invent" fast food restaurants.
  • In Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery during a group therapy session Dr. Evil mentions that his father claimed to have invented the question mark (among many other, equally strange declarations).
  • In Men in Black the MIB owned the patents to some 'out of town' inventions. Among them, velcro.
  • In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Scotty hands the chemical makeup for Transparent Aluminum (which will be extremely mundane in the Star Trek canon, but isn't in 1980s America) to an engineer.
    Mc Coy: Scotty, you're tampering with the future!
    Scotty: How do you know he didn't invent it?
  • The movie Flash Of Genius is a movie Based on a True Story about Robert Kearns and the invention of the intermittent windshield wiper.
  • In the movie Office Space, the character Tom Smykowski uses the settlement from a car accident to fund the invention of his "Jump to Conclusions" mat ("Have a problem? Just take out the mat and jump to a conclusion!"). In universe, it was wildly successful.

Literature
  • The father from Holes spent the entire novel trying to invent the perfect odor-eater. He finally succeeded not only at inventing it, but marketing as well.
  • Good Omens has a list of people who invented things that, once they were invented, became so ubiquitous no-one remembered they ever needed inventing. They all have names like Device or Gadget.
  • One Daniel Pinkwater featured a protagonist taking a summer job working for his uncle, who had invented the things they put on the end of shoelaces ("aglets", according to The Other Wiki, but carefully not given a name in the novel).

Live-Action TV

Web Original
  • Mentioned as a gag in the Legendary Frog toon where Kerrigan decides to become an inventor and make millions. She says to her boyfriend "Remember John from next door? John Velcro?"

Western Animation
  • Time Squad had plenty of these making appearances. Whether they actually got around to inventing their mundane inventions was completely subject to plot convenience.

Real Life
  • Inverted with Al Gore, who did not actually invent the internet. Though apparently, strictly speaking, Al Gore never claimed to have invented the internet.
  • This troper's grandfather was one of the original inventors of air hockey.
Community Feedback Replies: 24
  • May 3, 2011
    randomsurfer
  • May 3, 2011
    Duncan
    In Romy And Micheles High School Reunion, Michele claims she invented Post-Its (it's a lie to impress her old high school people).
  • May 3, 2011
    Rolf
    Agreed its Royalties Heir
  • May 3, 2011
    jaytee
    This isn't Royalties Heir. Related, not the same.

    The main difference is that this trope isn't about an heir, it's about the actual inventor. This may seem subtle (it is), but there are a whole host of different implications to draw from each.

    another example of the trope at hand:
    • In Garden State, one of Zach Braff's friends invented "silent velcro" and became a multi-millionaire. He now spends his time driving golf-carts around his mansion.
  • May 3, 2011
    jaytee
    That all said, the second example here (Danny Phantom) is definitely Royalties Heir.

    I think we can work at differentiating these two (or at least vastly modifying Royalties Heir to absorb this).
  • May 3, 2011
    ElaineRose
    Danny Phantom example removed.
  • May 4, 2011
    Koveras
    Averted by this troper, who invented the Laconic Wiki a few years back but still has to see any royalties. :D

    ...sorry, I don't really have any examples to contribute. :(
  • May 4, 2011
    ElaineRose
    In Johnny And The Bomb, Wobbler is left in the past, unable to return to his time due to a paradox. While taking The Slow Path, he uses his knowledge of the present to "invent" fast food restaurants.
  • May 4, 2011
    Elihu
    This is clearly something that exists, but what's the point of having one trope for the parent and one trope for the child for the same example with the exact same implications? Many of the given examples tend to be about minor characters in works that focus on the Heir, so why not have Royalties Heir absorb this character to create Royalties Family or something?
  • May 4, 2011
    jaytee
    ^But that's the point, it's not the same example. If the character in the story is an heir, we wouldn't list their relatives on this page. Just look at the Romy and Michelle or the Garden State examples for examples that would not fit into Royalties Heir, no matter how much you try.

    I would also argue that they have very different implications. Being a rich heir has a kind of Spoiled Brat or Spoiled Sweet to it, while being a rich inventor has more of a Brilliant But Lazy vibe.

    Like I said before, I can see the two getting integrated maybe, but as Royalties Heir is written now, they are definitely distinct tropes.
  • May 4, 2011
    ElaineRose
    How about I rework the description so it's not so "royalties" focused?
  • May 5, 2011
    ElaineRose
  • May 5, 2011
    jaytee
    ^^I think that would help eliminate confusion (especially since, technically speaking, their income may not be "royalties" at all).
  • May 6, 2011
    ElaineRose
    Strictly speaking, Al Gore never claimed to have invented the internet.
  • May 7, 2011
    batgirl1
    Web Original Mentioned as a gag in the Legendary Frog toon where Kerrigan decides to become an inventor and make millions. She says to her boyfriend "Remember John from next door? John Velcro?"
  • May 8, 2011
    MetaFour
    In Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, during the therapy session Dr. Evil mentions that his father claimed to have invented the semicolon (among many other, equally strange declarations).
  • May 9, 2011
    Arivne
    @Meta Four: Are you thinking of the group therapy session in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery where Dr. Evil says that his father claimed to have invented the question mark?

    You can watch it here.
  • May 9, 2011
    ketchupshinobi
    In Men In Black the MIB owned the patents to some 'out of town' inventions. Among them, velcro.
  • May 10, 2011
    Bisected8
    ^ I think that's more ET Gave Us Wi Fi.
  • May 10, 2011
    jaytee
    ^They explicitly say that the patents are a source of income, so it would be both tropes.
  • May 10, 2011
    fulltimeD
    Real Life Example: This troper's grandfather was one of the original inventors of air hockey.
  • May 10, 2011
    ElaineRose
    ^ Names would be helpful. =)
  • May 10, 2011
    elwoz
    I'm not sure precisely which Daniel Pinkwater novel this was, but I'm sure I read one that involved the protagonist taking a summer job working for his uncle, who had invented the things they put on the end of shoelaces ("aglets", according to The Other Wiki, but carefully not given a name in the novel)
  • May 10, 2011
    randomsurfer
    Sometimes it's a Namesake Gag.
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