Follow TV Tropes


Inventor of the Mundane

Go To

Actress: So what do you do for a living?
Harry: Uh, I'm retired. I invented dice when I was a kid.

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. Not anything groundbreaking like cold fusion — think more along the lines of 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.

See also Bungling Inventor, Gadgeteer Genius, and Mr. Fixit. If the inventor was an ancestor, then it is Royalties Heir. If the character only claims to have invented something, then it is Invention Pretension. If they think they've invented it, but someone else has before, see It's Been Done. In a number of cases, this also doubles as a Shout-Out or a Namesake Gag.


    open/close all folders 

    Comic Books 
  • In Runaways, this is given as a reason why Chase's parents are wealthy enough to hang out with the families of the other characters, whose parents are doctors, businessmen, and famous actors, among others. Specifically, they invented a thing "that thing" that lets you open CD covers without ruining your fingernails. Subverted because it's partially a lie - his parents, just like those of the other kids, are actually supervillains in control of the entire West Coast criminal underground, although they are also world-class inventors and well known enough that Tony Stark is able to recognize Mr. Stein by voice.

    Comics Strips 
  • One Dilbert strip showed Dilbert's great-grandfather as the inventor of sliced bread, the greatest thing since unsliced bread.

    Fan Works 
  • In Neither a Bird nor a Plane, it's Deku!, Barry Allen makes a killing off his brand of marijuana, "Speed Weed", which is charged with Speed Force energy to give a long-lasting and intense high.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Patrick Dempsey is 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 10 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.
  • Invoked in Romy and Michele's High School Reunion. The girls claim to have invented Post-It Notes, but it's a lie to impress their old high school peers. They deliberately tried to think of something everyone has heard of, but no one's ever thought about who invented it (unaware that one of their classmates was a business school graduate where they taught about that invention in their classes.) Played Straight with said classmate, who invented a fast-smoking cigarette.
  • The Social Network features the Real Life story of Mark Zuckerberg and the invention of Facebook.
  • 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 was 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 US) to an engineer.note 
    McCoy: You realize that by giving him the formula you're altering the future.
    Scotty: Why? How do we know he didn't invent the thing?
  • Flash of Genius is a movie Based on a True Story about Robert Kearns and the invention of the intermittent windshield wiper.
  • In 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.
  • In Mean Girls, Gretchen's family is wealthy because her father invented toaster strudels.
  • Nick Vanderpark (Jack Black) in Envy becomes rich after inventing a product that vaporizes dog poo.
  • In About a Boy, Hugh Grant's character is living off the royalties from a horrible One-Hit Wonder Christmas song, "Santa's Super Sleigh." He didn't even write it; his late father did.
  • In Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, Larry Daley becomes a successful inventor, and one of his inventions is Glow-in-the-Dark Flashlight, which is based on his former job from the first movie as a nightguard.

  • In By the Grace of the Gods, the protagonist Ryouma Takebayashi makes his fortune "inventing" mundane technologies and processes such as washing machines, waterproof fabrics, and barley tea when he was just trying to figure out new ways to use his army of tamed slimes or for his own use. As he wasn't the first reincarnated soul from earth, he quickly discovers several more had the same idea, like the famed magician inventing the "Clay Pigeon" target launching device for his unique spell, "Shotgun" or the entrepreneur that invented a revolutionary shipping and commercial travel system using flying monsters, dubbed the "Airport".
  • In Drugstore in Another World, Reiji Kirio makes most of his money by selling a revolutionary healing potion that's leagues more effective (and pleasant) than the previous standard, capable of bringing someone back from the brink of death in moments. However, his other bestsellers are modern conveniences remade in a fantasy world, such as all-purpose deodorant, dish detergent, and eyedrops for strained vision.
  • In The Saint's Magic Power Is Omnipotent, the protagonist Sei was transferred to another world against her will, and thanks to her hobby of using herbs for cooking and medicine plus her newfound magical powers, she ends up "inventing" a lot of new uses for medicinal herbs. These include creams that can rid you of the most stubborn and ugly acne and revolutionary seasonings for meals.
  • In The World's Finest Assassin, Lugh establishes a false identity as a wealthy merchant by inventing moisturizer, thus revolutionizing the cosmetics industry.
  • Stanley's father from Holes spent the entire novel trying to invent a way to recycle old sneakers. He ultimately succeeded not only at inventing the perfect odor-eater but also at marketing it.
  • Anathema of Good Omens has apparently done her doctorate on 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.
  • Daniel Pinkwater:
    • One book features a protagonist taking a summer job working for his uncle, who had invented the things they put on the end of shoelaces (they're carefully never given their actual name— aglets— in the novel, which plays into a whole trope in itself).
    • Another refers to the man who invented the little plastic clip that holds bread bags closed. His company still manufactures them, and he licenses them to other companies who pay him a few cents per clip, which adds up to a small fortune for him and is still cheaper for them than twist-ties or other contrivances.
  • 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 become obscenely rich by both 'inventing' fast-food chains and encouraging the inventors of other products.
  • In The Westing Game, James Hoo has a grudge against Westing for stealing his idea for the disposable paper diaper. He later invents a paper shoe liner, Hoo's Little Foot-Eez, that sells well enough that he retires a wealthy man.
  • In Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, the main protagonist invented an app that turns spreadsheet data into music, which corporations love because the resulting tunes make good jingles. He doesn't personally get rich by doing so, but it's the product that keeps his boss's software company afloat.
  • In The 39 Clues, Alistair Oh's money comes from his pride and joy, the microwavable burrito.
  • Caractacus Pott in the book Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. In this case, it overlaps with Money, Dear Boy: his more mundane inventions, such as collapsible coat-hangers and cubical potatoes, keep the family going.
  • In Patrick O'Leary's Door Number Three, there's a hotel convention of these kinds of mundane inventors. One of the main characters invented the "Hold" button.
  • In The Numberlys, a group of five children invented the alphabet. Before that, people in their world only used numbers to identify everything.
  • In "Clubland Heroes", Richard Cleaver made his fortune off the patent for a new more efficient kind of paper clip.

    Live-Action TV 
  • A Running Gag from The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. was the invention of now-everyday objects, some of them decades in advance of their normal time.
    "It's the coming thing!"
  • Red Dwarf: The episode "Timeslides" mentions Rimmer's stupid former classmate, Fred "Thickie" Holden, who "invented" a novelty stress toy called the "tension sheet" (which was actually just an ordinary sheet of bubble wrap painted red with the words "tension sheet" painted on which the user popped the bubbles of). The "invention" made him a millionaire by the age of 26.
  • Walden Schmidt from Two and a Half Men is a billionaire after developing a website that he sold to Microsoft for $1.3 billion. No one has ever heard of it because Microsoft decided to bundle it with the Zune.
    • Subverted with Charlie Harper. He is a very successful advertising jingle writer and he makes a lot of money in royalties. Most people could have comfortably retired on that income but Charlie spends all his money on booze, drugs, gambling, and hookers so he regularly has to go back to work and write new jingles. When that is not enough to support his lifestyle, he branches out into writing children's songs and makes even more money in royalties.
  • The town of Neptune in Veronica Mars is so high-class because it's home to a bunch of children of the tech boom. Duncan Kane's dad, for instance, invented streaming video.
    • In the fanfic "Manhunter", Veronica and her environment are shunted backwards about 10 years in time and combined with Buffy and Sunnydale, so instead of streaming video, Duncan's father invented a popular anti-virus software.
  • Joe Fontana of Law & Order is the grandson of the original "Chef Luigi", which is why he can afford a penthouse condo and a $100,000 car on an honest cop's salary.
  • In the Angel episode "Happy Anniversary", Cordelia finds a client whose family is rich because "they invented chairs or something".
  • Parodied in The King of Queens when Doug is worried Arthur may have heard his rather scathing rant about the man, so he asks Carrie to stand in the room Arthur was in so he can repeat it and see if she heard it. She complies, dons Arthur's hat, and declares "Douglas! It's me, Arthur! I've invented a new kind of pie" and practically bumps face to face with Arthur. The poor guy's quite insulted, not only because he now thinks Doug and Carrie do nothing but insult him behind his back, but because...
    And it wasn't a pie! IT WAS A CRUMB CAKE!!!
  • In Monster Warriors, Luke's family is wealthy because his parents invented the grocery cart coin dispenser.

    Video Games 
  • In Mass Effect 2, if you ask EDI where Cerberus gets funding from, Joker says that the Illusive Man invented the paper clip. EDI helpfully clarifies, "That is a joke." (ironically, not a single trace of paper is seen or even mentioned in the whole franchise).

    Web Comics 
  • Otra in Girly is wealthy only because she accidentally came up with a popular clothing fashion line that only consists of wear with the number 0 on it, or letter O in reference to her name, after a designer took notice of the number 0 she drew on her own shirt and found it to be brilliant. After a pep-talk from Winter that gets her out of her funk, she puts some actual effort into new designs that become just as popular.
  • In Cthulhu Slippers, Mal and Sim invent, patent, and with the help of the Cthulhu Corp marketing department, distribute the "Stress Brick". That is, they patent using a brick to beat annoying people to death.

    Web Original 
  • Mentioned as a gag in the LegendaryFrog cartoon where Kerrigan decides to become an inventor and make millions. She says to her boyfriend, "Remember John from next door? John Velcro?"
  • Big-D in Hunter: The Parenting claims to have invented lying. Given that he's heavily implied to be Really 700 Years Old, he might not be, well, lying.

    Western Animation 
  • Big Hero 6: The Series: Alistair Krei, a bumbling Corrupt Corporate Executive, claims to have invented the "Internetvite". Your guess is as good as ours whether he's serious or not.
  • Time Squad had plenty of these. Whether the inventors actually got around to inventing their mundane inventions was completely subject to plot convenience.
  • Danny Phantom: One episode reveals that Sam comes from an extremely wealthy family due to the fact that one of her great-grandfathers invented the machine that twirls cellophane around deli toothpicks.
  • Kim Possible episode "Ron Millionaire" featured Ron Stoppable receiving 99 million dollars for inventing the Naco. Whatever he didn't spend during the episode was stolen by Dr. Drakken in the end.
  • Mr Minotaur's ancestor in Dude, That's My Ghost! invented the receipt.
  • In The Looney Tunes Show, Bugs is wealthy and living in a nice home because he invented the carrot peeler, apparently a useful kitchen appliance. How it differs from a regular vegetable peeler is not specified.
    • One episode centered on this, which includes a montage of the various times Daffy asked Bugs why he is rich and Bugs answering him (including when tied near a fire and when they're about to get shot). Daffy, in need of some money, ends up stealing Bugs' blueprint for an automated carrot peeler (it resembles a pencil sharpener) and becomes wealthy. Bugs ends up broke and while Daffy lets him move in, Daffy's wealth goes to his head and his demands have Bugs try and head over to his old rabbit hole. Eventually, customers riot over the auto carrot peeler (due to them exploding when overheating and Daffy not bothering to read the whole blueprints, which included a cooling system). Bugs ends up inventing a time machine to go back and get Daffy to stop asking, in order to avoid the entire debacle.
  • On Daria Jodie's father Andrew Landon became a millionaire by inventing the "folding coffee cup".
  • Archer: In "Heart of Archness Part 1", Archer lies to a pirate captain that he has a rich mother who invented the splash-less urinal cake.
  • An episode of The Tick involved a villain abducting geniuses from various points in time, including the cavewoman who invented the wheel. Said cavewoman didn't get sent back to her own time, and the final shot of the episode shows she became a billionaire on back royalties.