The Surprising Origins of Child-Proof Lids

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While the modern versions of child-proof lids have been around for decades, their history may extend back thousands of years.

Dr. Henri J. Breault of Tecumseh, Ontario, is credited with inventing the current-day child-proof cap in 1967. At the time, children were inadvertently ingesting household medicines intended for adults at a terrifying rate. It was a global epidemic, and Canada alone suffered 100,000 annual cases, claiming the lives of at least 100 kids each year.

Breault, a career pediatrician and father of two, just couldn’t take it anymore. “At three o’clock [one] morning,” recalled his widow, Monica, he came home and said, “‘You know, I’ve had it! I am tired of pumping children’s stomachs when they’re taking pills that they shouldn’t be having! I’ve got to do something about it.’”

After several unsuccessful attempts, he finally invented and patented a device dubbed “The Palm N' Turn,” and the rate of local child poisonings dropped by a staggering 91 percent. The ingenious device rapidly swept the globe and is responsible for saving untold numbers of young lives. In light of this remarkable service, Tecumseh established the Henri J. Breault Award in 2000 to reward its most honorable residents.

But while Breault’s achievements are certainly worthy of the highest praise, the ancient Mayans may have beaten him to the punch. In 1986, the University of Texas at San Antonio sent a group of archaeologists to examine the ruins of Río Azul in present-day Guatemala. Built by the Mayans in 500 BCE, the site contained a number of pots and bottles, one of which proved surprisingly difficult to open.

In the words of one team-member, “The lid to this unusual vessel ... twists off much like a child-proof cap on a modern medicine vial.”

So what exactly did this remarkable artifact contain? Chocolate.

Knowing the intense religious significance of chocolatey beverages to Mayan culture, archaeologist Grant Hall collected samples from the pot’s interior and sent them off to none other than the Hershey Laboratories for analysis. Their results proved conclusive: History’s first known child-proof lid had been created to protect a vat of chocolate.

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February 14, 2014 - 1:00pm
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