Daily Apple reader a3dmofo recently posted several requests, the first of which was:
Whose [sic] the (un)lucky sap who invented the urinal cake?
For those who are not accustomed to seeing urinal cakes on a regular basis, a urinal cake is a disk of chemicals that is put into the well of a urinal and dissolves slowly on contact with moisture or the air. The more moisture that hits it, the more of its chemical it releases, thus deodorizing or even disinfecting the urinal.
This is a urinal cake in its plastic dispensing container. This particular cake is called "Big-D" and is available in a box of 12 for $18.52.
(Photo from BuyOnlineNow's Janitorial Supplies page)
I thought that finding the inventor of the urinal cake might be easy. However, the usual internet sources are no help. So I had to turn to searching patents, primarily through the US Patent Office, which offers patent searching for free.
It so happens, there are patents for urinal cakes, and containers to hold the urinal cakes, and methods of making urinal cakes, like crazy all over the place. It seems like every chemist and every sanitation company has a patent on some device that you stick in a toilet or a urinal in order to clean the bowl for you.
When there are tons and tons of patents for a pretty simple device, this usually means that the original patent-holder did a bad job of writing that first patent. For example, let's say the chemical composition of the first urinal was bleach. The first guy (it probably was a man) to write the patent wrote it only for a urinal cake made of bleach, leaving out the possibility that other urinal cakes could come along afterwards and be made of other types of deodorizing or disinfecting substances. So, the next guys to make a urinal cake of something other than bleach, or of bleach plus something else, could get a patent.
Where the cakes go.
(Photo from Oldster's View)
The problem with this many patents is, first of all, that the original guy or company to make the urinal cake lost out on a crapload of money. So a3dmofo is right, the original patent-holder is an unlucky sap.
But for our purposes, what this plethora of patents means is that it will be pretty much impossible for me to find the ultimate, original urine-cake-patenter-guy. If I had access to one of those souped-up, subscription-based patent databases that offered some actual text rather than just images for patents older than 1975, I might be able to track it down. But as it is, the best I can give you is an approximation.
The oldest patent I could find for a urinal cake is number 1,430,598 for a Urinal Trap and Disinfecting Device, patented by George A. Sleight. The patent was issued October 3, 1922. Mr. Sleight was from Hyde Park, New York, and apparently not necessarily affiliated with any particular company when he filed this patent.
However, his is not the first device of its kind, since the patent says that Mr. Sleight's device is a "new and Improved" version.
The original urinal cake patent, wherever it may be, is probably ten or maybe even twenty years older than Mr. Sleight's patent. But with limited tools, I wouldn't be able to track it down without spending a ton of time (it would probably take me several days, literally) to hunt for it. But if anyone out there has access to MicroPatent or Derwent or Delphion or any of those other fancy-shmancy subscription patent databases and wants to run a charitable search on urinal cakes, please let us know what you find.
By the way, there have been some advancements in urinal cake technology since 1922. Perhaps most notably, a company called Wizmark now offers a "urinal communicator." These devices have a built-in waterproof screen on top of the cake container that also plays an audible message "when greeting a visitor." The message and the display can be customized according to an establishment's needs.
Wizmark's urinal communicator, with customizable display
Some bar owners in New York and New Jersey have purchased Wizmark devices and customized them to remind patrons not to drink and drive.
Update: As of December 14, 2006, it is now possible to search the US Patent and Trademark Office's database of issued patents using Google's patent search. For help in searching this database with greater control, see Google's patent searching help page.
US Patent and Trademark Office Full-Text and Image Database (aka uspto.gov)
"First-Ever Interactive Urinal Communicator Targets Men," PR Newswire, October 11, 2004
"Nassau Using Talking Urinals to Discourage DWI," WCBS News Radio, May 24, 2006
"Talking urinal offers final words of advice to drinkers," The Washington Times, May 31, 2006
"Gee Whiz, It's a Talking Urinal," ABC News, October 12, 2004