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June 24, 2008 5:05 PM CDT
Ingenious inventions get tryout at annual exhibit
by Arundhati Parmar Staff Writer
A simple but effective invention won several awards last
week: a spiral eye needle with an opening on the side to
make threading easier. (Submitted photo)
Updated June 25 at 4:45 p.m.
Build a better mousetrap, the saying goes, and the world
will beat a path to your door.
Pamela Turner is hoping that the same principle holds true
for sewing needles.
The Blaine resident is off to a good start, at least. Her hand
sewing needles won five awards at the most recent
Minnesota Inventors Congress, held at Redwood Falls on
Established in 1958 by farmers and local business leaders,
the annual event provides a venue for people to display
their new-fangled contraptions. This year, the event
brought together 63 inventors from 14 states and three
countries. Inventions ranged from a dustless sanding
sponge and an outdoor retractable audio system to air
suspension for ambulance cots and a math-based game for
kids 6 and older.
“What they are doing is test marketing their product at our
event,” said Deb Hess, executive director at the nonprofit
Minnesota Inventors Congress. “They are trying to find out
what the public perception is, and make those connections
with manufacturers and investors, marketers.”
While Turner did not win the top prize – she won second place – she did walk away with the most awards. Her “spiral eye needle”
invention has an opening on the side of the needle for easier threading. The idea came to her when she experienced the same frustration
that anyone who has ever attempted to thread a needle feels – it’s not easy to slip the thread through that tiny oval opening.
Instead of being resigned to the problem, Turner decided to solve it. Her quest to design a needle that can be easily threaded began
more than three years ago. Only now has she begun to see the fruits of labor.
“People were telling me over and over that it can’t be done. Nobody sews anymore,” Turner, 53, recalled. “There is no manufacturer of
hand sewing needles in America any more, so finding a piece of equipment that could make the needle became a huge problem.”
Turner has located a Minnesota manufacturer, which who is currently producing the needles a few hundred or thousands at a time.
Starting in August, the local manufacturer will be able to produce the needles in bulk.
So far, Turner has sold just shy of 8,000 needles since October when she quit her job selling the Sleep Number bed. Most of the needles
sales were generated through her website, but she also sold them at the Elder Care Expo in the Twin Cities in May. The needles cost $5 a
pop, or $12 for three, and Turner is planning to have different sized needles to sell to catalog companies such as Nordic Needle later.
She filed for a patent in 2006 and it is pending – Turner is one of thousands of inventors who file for patents with the U.S. Patent Office
every year. Last year, the U.S. patent office received 467,243 applications based on preliminary data, up from 237,045 a decade ago.
Turner’s goal is to garner sales of $3 million to $4 million, sell the patent for several million more, and then move to invent the next new
“My entire life I have felt like I didn’t quite fit in, nobody thinks like me,” Turner said. “And that was the biggest award … going to the
Inventors Congress and meeting people who think like me.”
While Turner was a first-time exhibitor, Grant Hanson of Glenwood has been a regular at the event. He has won gold and silver awards in
the past, but this year won the $1,000 top award as well as the $500 popular choice award for making a specialized walker that prevents
people from falling. Hanson won two other awards for same invention.
Hanson, 59, is a member of the local Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter, which hosts a get together a couple of times annually. At the
winter event last year, he discovered that one of his friend’s wives was absent. She and her husband had been in a car accident after
which she could not walk properly. They were worried that she would hurt herself again if she fell when trying to walk. That switched on the
light bulb in his brain.
“When I invent things, I often times get a picture of it in my mind, even before I do it, and that’s what happened here,” Hanson said.
As a mechanic who works on farm equipment like diesel engines, Hanson could use his skill to build a walker that has a wraparound
mechanism holding the person upright as he or she walks. The wraparound is sturdy and can support Hanson’s 200-pound weight, he
said. The local veteran’s group decided to pitch in for the parts to build the “walker rescuer,” which cost about $425.
Since April Joyce Anderson, his friend’s wife, has been walking around her home town of Farwell, accompanied by her dog. One day he
spotted her strolling in the streets as he drove by on Highway 55
“It blew me away and actually I had a tear in my eye,” Hanson said.
He hopes that he will able to strike a deal with a company that would pay him a royalty to sell the “walker rescuer” to help the old and
And then on to the next project.