10 Everyday Things You Never Knew Had a Purpose

Have you ever looked around at the ordinary things you see every day and wondered if it has an actual purpose? If you have, we’re here to tell you that you are not alone! There are hundreds of things we use on a daily basis without knowing why they are even needed. But if you are curious to know more about such random and ordinary objects, you’ve come to the right place. So, here are ten everyday things you never knew had a purpose.  

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1. The three-legged table-like plastic objects placed in the center of pizza boxes are called “pizza savers.” This tiny but ingenious device keeps the pizza top from sticking to the lid of the box. In the 1980s, a woman named Carmela Vitale was awarded a patent on a similar product that she called a “package saver.”

Pizza savers
Pizza savers

We’ve all noticed the plastic objects that come with our pizzas. They have three legs, sometimes even four, and look like tables made for tiny people. However, they are not just decorations without any purpose. 

This tiny piece of plastic is a pizza saver. They work by providing mechanical support to the roof of the boxes and preventing them from pressing on the hot pizza inside. Considering how pizza boxes may be stacked atop one another during delivery, these pieces help prevent the pizza from sticking to the lid of the boxes. 

In 1983, a woman named Carmela Vitale submitted her patent for a similar product that she called a “package saver.” In 1985, her patent was approved and she became the inventor of an ordinary but essential part of our lives. However, in 1993, she failed to renew the patent in her name and her role in the invention was quickly forgotten. (1, 2)

2. In most cars, the fuel gauge design shows a pump icon and a tiny arrow next to it. This little arrow is meant to tell the driver which side the fuel filler door is on. Invented by an engineer named Jim Moylan, these first made an appearance in the 1989 Ford Escort and Mercury Tracer, and other brands copied it.

Fuel gauge
Fuel gauge

Most fuel gauges in cars contain a meter indicating the amount of fuel in the tank and a gas pump icon with an arrow beside it. This arrow is meant to tell us which side the fuel filler door is on.

There is no consensus among automobile manufacturers on the placement of the filler door. Therefore, without this arrow, it can be hard for drivers to remember which side of the gas pump to pull up at. 

The mastermind behind this design is a Ford interior-trim engineer named Jim Moylan. One time in 1986, during heavy rains, Moylan pulled up to the wrong side of a gas pump and got extra drenched.

Motivated by this experience, he wrote to his superiors and they implemented the design in the 1989 Ford Escort and Mercury Tracer. Since Moylan never patented it, other manufacturers quickly copied it and it became a widespread design. (1, 2)

3. The multi-colored lines associated with non-functioning televisions are known as “test patterns” or “test cards.” In North America, these were called “SMPTE.” or “Society of Motion Pictures and Television Engineers color bars.” Typically, television camera equipment would be pointed at these patterns to be calibrated as required.

Test patterns
Test patterns

In the 1950s, Norbert D. Larky and David D. Holmes created a pattern of multi-colored lines that appeared on non-functional televisions. These lines, called “test patterns” or “test cards,” appeared either due to breaks between programs or because of a glitch at the TV station. 

Such patterns also have a varied history. In the US, a widely used test pattern was a black-and-white one with an “Indian head” graphic. Meanwhile, in the UK, BBC’s “Test Card F” is still remembered today with its image of a little girl and a stuffed clown.

These patterns were accompanied by a sine wave tone or music specifically composed for this purpose. The patterns also varied from region to region, with North American countries typically using the SMPTE color bars. 

Initially, these patterns were used to calibrate TV camera equipment by pointing them at the patterns. Today, they are used to adjust the color and brightness settings of modern TVs. (1, 2)

4. The orange balls seen on power lines are called “aerial marker balls” or “visibility marker balls.” They are often mistakenly thought to weigh down power lines in the wind. However, what they actually do is make the power lines visible to low-flying aircraft, like helicopters, to prevent them from crashing into them. 

Visibility marker balls
Visibility marker balls

In the US, electric power lines are often adorned with colorful balls called “aerial marker balls” or “visibility marker balls.” They are found in deep valleys, near airports, or around major freeway crossings where power lines can become nearly invisible to pilots.

At just about 17 pounds each, these balls play a crucial role in helping low-flying aircraft, such as helicopters, avoid accidents. The ones near airports are also useful to aircraft flying low in preparation for a landing. 

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) specifies the use of such “aviation orange, white, or yellow balls” on power lines, preferably with an alternating color scheme. The FAA also states the required spacing between the balls so that there are enough of them to catch the attention of pilots.

However, it is unclear when the first aerial marker balls began to be used, but there are records of their usage as far back as the 1970s and 80s. (1, 2)

5. Spray paint designs on sidewalks and roads are called “utility graffiti” and use a specific set of colors and symbols. These are actually used to mark any underground pipes and wires for various purposes. Such markings became standard after 1976 when a dig in California punctured a petroleum line and created a fatal explosion. 

Utility graffiti
Utility graffiti

Most modern roads in the US may appear to be decorated with colorful designs known as “utility graffiti.” These vary in color, shape, and even placement, making them seem like cryptic hieroglyphs. Nevertheless, such markings are so common now that they simply blend into the background of our lives.

The use of utility graffiti became mainstream after 1976 when construction workers in California accidentally cut through a petroleum pipeline, resulting in a fatal explosion.

To prevent such accidents in the future, a system of markings known as “DigAlert” was developed. The American Public Works Association has also established a standard color code that helps identify underground facilities in urban areas.  

The safety colors used often include red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, brown, gray, white, and black. Along with these colors, a complementary language system is also used to identify the location of the pipe or cable that passes below the ground. (1, 2)

Also read: 10 of the Most Interesting Things Found in Caves

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