Hidden Heroes: The Genius of Everyday Things


New Science Museum exhibition reveals the genius in our midst

The ingenuity of a group of seemingly run-of-the-mill objects that we encounter everyday is highlighted in a new exhibition opening at the Science Museum this November.

Hidden Heroes – The Genius of Everyday Things examines the inspiration involved in items whose design and purpose are so well matched that they remain uncelebrated, but heavily used, in the fabric of our lives. The exhibition runs from 9 November 2011 to 5 June 2012. 

Hidden Heroes is devoted to the likes of the ring binder, rawl plug, pencil, paperclip,Post-it Note, six-pack carrier, zip and ballpoint pen - examining each and giving pride of place to 36 inventions which deserve their moment in the spotlight (full list below). The exhibition has been created by the Vitra Design Museum, Germany, in co-operation with Hi- Cone.

The featured inventions are presented along-side original sketches and drawings by their inventors - illustrating the process from idea to final object. Patent specifications and original advertisements reveal the efforts made to establish each product. The exhibition also reflects the ways in which these objects continue to provide inspiration to others.

Dr Susan Mossman, materials science specialist at the Science Museum, said, “At a time when celebrity is king, it gives all of us at the Science Museum enormous satisfaction to celebrate the truly uncelebrated and shine a light on a group of outstanding inventions and inventors, revealing the supposedly mundane to be nothing short of remarkable.”

Among the stories contained within the exhibition are:

  • how a descending aeroplane may have inspired the design of bubble wrap
  • how an engineer hired to install electrical fittings at the British Museum invented the rawl plug as a direct result
  • how a packed coat rack could have inspired the wire coat hanger
  • how a request by Napoleon for the preservation of food for his troops led to the eventual development of the tin can
  • how the tea bag may have been discovered accidentally when customers dipped unopened packets in hot water to test quality of a tea shipment. 

Many of the featured objects have remained unaltered for many years. All are constantly used and demonstrate a simple, ingenious design. In some cases, the success of each product reflects changes in cultural and industrial history: the pencil suggests the spread of education and writing; the tin can illustrates the industrialisation of food production; and Post-it Notes have proliferated in tandem with computers, staging a final stand for scribbled communication in a digital age.

The objects exemplify brilliantly the efficient use of materials and functional aesthetics. Among the material previously unseen in the UK is the drink carton prototype ‘JuiceSkin’ by Naoto Fukasawa and a vivid image of a boxer created by artist Mark Khaisman, entirely from brown packing tape.

The full list of featured inventions: ring binder, barcode, pencil, bubble wrap, paperclip,shipping container, snap fastener, rawl plug, egg box, preserving jar, rubber band, lightbulb, reflector, adhesive tape, coat hanger, Velcro, tin can, corkscrew, tissue, ballpoint pen, Lego, ear plug, Post-it Note, sticking plaster, zip, umbrella, baby’s dummy, six-packcarrier, safety match, tea bag, milk carton, clothes peg, folding ruler, condom, carabiner

Hidden Heroes – The Genius of Everyday Things 

Exhibition dates: 9 November 2011 - 5 June 2012
Admission: Adults £6.00; Students £3.50; Children £3.50; Family £11-16
Science Museum, Exhibition Road, London SW7 2DD
Open daily 10.00 to 18.00, except 24-26 December
www.sciencemuseum.org.uk / 0870 870 4868


For more media information, please contact Michael Barrett or Kirsten Canning at mb@thepressoffice.uk.com or 020 8295 2424

Notes to Editors

The NMSI family of museums presents and cares for some of the greatest collections of their kind in the world.  The group comprises the Science Museum in London, the National Railway Museum in York and Shildon, and the National Media Museum in Bradford. 

The six million artefacts under its stewardship cover the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, medicine, transport, visual media and related arts.  They range from Crick and Watson’s original DNA model to Stephenson’s Rocket, from the Flying Scotsman to John Logie Baird’s original television apparatus. 

Each year NMSI museums attract a total of over four million visitors. NMSI is an executive non-departmental public body whose parent body is the Department of Culture Media and Sport.