Mel Brooks was right

by Russ Roberts on August 27, 2004

in Technology

When I was a kid,one of my favorite routines was Mel Brooks as the 2000 year-old man interviewed by Carl Reiner. At one point, Reiner asks Brooks his candidate for the greatest invention of all time. Brooks, without hesitation answers:

Saran Wrap! You can make a big saran wrap, a small saran wrap, you can see right through it!

Saran Wrap??!! What about fire, Reiner asks.

That was good, Brooks answers pensively.

Though it came out more like, “dat vas gud” using the Jewish accent he used for the character and Reiner’s question may have been about the wheel. And there’s more to the saran wrap riff—it goes on for a while, there’s something about a peach. I haven’t heard the routine in decades so I’m working from very old memories.

Having moved into a new house earlier this week, I’m coming around to the Brooksian viewpoint. (Though go here for my nomination for the greatest product of the 20th century.) You’d think moving was basically an unimprovable exercise—a bunch of really strong people put your stuff on a truck and then take it off. But there has been innovation in moving and Saran Wrap is a key part of it.

They Saran Wrap all the dressers. OK, it’s more like a shrink wrap but it’s the same stuff. You don’t have to unpack the dresser before they load it onto the truck. They just wrap up the dressers in plastic wrap that holds the drawers closed and protected for the move. What a pleasure. We have a big bookcase with doors. They took the doors off, wrapped each one in quilts then shrinkwrapped them to hold the quilts in place and give the doors some more protection. Then they strapped them standing up to the wall of the truck. Beautiful.

Another innovation is one of technique not technology. These guys could carry three boxes of books at a time, maybe 150 lbs. How did they do it without hurting themselves? They carried them behind their back. They bent down facing away from the boxes and picked them up with their arms behind their back, supporting the bottom box with their fingers and letting most of the weight of the top two boxes fall on their backs. Do not try this at home. But it sure looked easy. It wasn’t, but if they had carried them in the traditional way, in front, they’d have broken down or the moving company would have had to have sent much larger people to get the job done.

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