Famous inventions out of Hamilton

Hamilton has a history of innovative ideas. A look at some of the big inventions in our past.
Some of Hamilton's many historic inventions. (Hamilton Public Library Archives)

With the constant threat of deadly epidemics in the early 1900s, Hamilton came up with a novel invention: Canada's first public water fountain.

In the mid-1910s, the city began installing so-called Shorty Greens, a silver water bowl with a fount of water bubbling out of the centre of it sitting atop a 2½-feet tall green stand.

The shorty green was just one of many innovative ideas out of Hamilton, many of which were spurred on by health issues.

"At the beginning of the 20th century, Hamilton was quite well known in Ontario and Canada for the modern techniques employed in all areas of medicine," said Margaret Houghton, archivist at Hamilton Public Library.

Hamilton was the first to conduct antiseptic surgery in the late 1800s. The community also pioneered the use of widespread immunization programs.

With a growing population, the city also tackled ways to reduce the exposure of residents to sewage, starting a sewage system in the mid-1850s. By 1913, the system had expanded into a continental first with the construction of the largest sewage treatment plant of its kind.

Not all Hamilton’s historic inventions have been health related.

Canada’s first hot air balloon experiment took place in Hamilton in 1837 when a local teacher managed to launch a weight-carrying balloon.

A group of nuclear physicists constructed the country’s first mass spectrometer, laying the ground for future firsts in the field. McMaster University later became home to the first privately-owned nuclear reactor in Canada.

Houghton said Hamilton has been innovative for a long time — and still is — but many people just don't know it.

"I think other people don't tend to think of Hamilton as an innovator," said Houghton. "It's not something [the city] is known for outside of our boundaries."

With files from CBC's Jessica Young