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Life-Changing Things You Didn't Know Were Invented in Denver
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9 Life-Changing Things You Didn’t Know Were Invented in Denver

When people think of life-changing inventions, they may first think of heating and electricity or the automobiles that many people rely on for daily transportation to and from work. The cheeseburger and a new way of landscaping may not seem as groundbreaking as modern medicine but their worth shouldn’t be discounted so quickly. Creativity flows freely in the Mile High City, so it’s no surprise that there have been multiple inventions that are still used in the 21st century and even burgeoning concepts that are paving a new way forward for modern day living.


While it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact date that the delicious cheeseburger was first created, it’s easier to determine when the addition of the gooey cheese became legally acknowledged. Back in March of 1935, the owner of the Humpty Dumpty Barrel Restaurant, Louis E. Ballast, trademarked the cheeseburger. His restaurant was Colorado’s very first drive-in eatery and was located downtown, giving Denver fair claim to the invention of the popular fast food item.

Unfortunately, the Humpty Dumpty Barrel Restaurant is no longer in operation. However, there is a stone marker that memorializes the significance of the location. Next time you grab a quick dinner out, take a moment to thank Mr. Ballast as you dig into the delicious drive-through favorite. Remember, add an order of fries for a truly life-changing experience.

Colorful Christmas Lights

Anyone who looks forward to Christmas time because of the decorations and the light-up displays that adorn neighborhood homes and city buildings will be happy to hear that Denver played a significant role in this cultural display of celebration. Outdoor Christmas lights have become synonymous with the festive holiday and they’re something many families around the country eagerly look forward to each year. If you’ve ever taken a Christmas stroll or gone on an evening drive to admire the fluorescent beauty, give Denver a shoutout. Some neighborhoods even compete against each other to prove who can put on the most impressive light display.

This magical tradition began in Denver in the early 20th century, around 1914. Local electrician, D.D. Sturgeon, was brainstorming ideas to cheer up his young son who was too ill to spend the holiday gathered around the tree with his family. Being an electrician, Sturgeon dipped white lights into green and red paint and hung them outside his son’s window so he could still partake in the festivities.

Shopkeepers along the 16th Street Mall in the downtown area also decided to add lights to their stores to attract customers and celebrate the holiday. Turns out, the colorful lights were a massive hit and each year, the tradition continued to grow. Denverites came to enjoy the unique lights and soon, visitors were traveling in to admire the illuminated streets. 

Wheel Clamps

If you’ve ever experienced a wheel clamp on your vehicle, you may be arguing that it’s not a life-changing invention. However, the invention is notorious for better or worse and it just so happened to be created by a Denver violinist, Frank Marugg. Nicknamed “The Denver Boot,” wheel clamps are often used to immobilize vehicles for such infractions as illegal street parking. Instead of paying to have the car towed, city authorities can simply throw on a wheel clamp and call it a day — forcing the driver to inevitably pay money in fines if they want to regain operation of their vehicle.

This invention became so effective that in the first 30 days of use, the Denver Police Department collected over $18,000 in illegal parking-associated fines. While that may not sound like much, this would equate to over $170,000 in today’s dollars! Whether you live in Denver or you’re just visiting, make sure you brush up on the city’s parking rules and regulations to avoid coming face-to-face with this Denver invention. Marugg’s invention is also on display at the Smithsonian.

Aluminum Cans

This invention technically calls Golden, Colorado home but due to its close proximity to Denver — we’ll call it even. Many people are familiar with the city of Golden because of the Colorado School of Mines and the Coors Brewery. Back in 1959, the Coors Brewery introduced the world to an aluminum can that was crafted from two separate pieces of metal. At the time, William K. Coors requested a loan of $250,000 from his father, who was the CEO of Coors at the time, to build this experimental product. The old tin cans were expensive to manufacture and often left consumers with an unpleasant metallic aftertaste, which could quickly ruin an otherwise tasty drink.

The Coors’ invention not only cut down on material costs but also ensured the product was recyclable and could be reused again and again. This was a significant turning point for revolutionizing recycling in America, as many people were incentivized to bring the cans back to the brewery to receive a penny per can as payment. 


It’s no surprise that many Denver-based landscaping companies offer xeriscaping services. This alternative landscaping system requires significantly less irrigation and sometimes no water at all. This practice first emerged in 1981, after being put forth by the Denver Water Board as a way to help alleviate the strain on the city’s resources during times of drought. 

In Greek, xeriscaping means “dry-scaping.” Instead of opting for a traditional grass yard, many Denver residents maintain eco-friendly landscaping that is also aesthetically pleasing. This method has also become popular in areas such as New Mexico and Arizona, other arid regions of the United States where water can be scarce and droughts are a common occurrence.

The Shopping Center

Temple Buell, a Denver architect, is often referred to as the “Father of the Shopping Mall.” His designs changed retail areas as we know them, including altering the zoning laws and inevitably changing the landscape of metropolitan Denver. Temple Buell came up with the concept of the Cherry Creek Shopping Center back in the 1920s and his concept is still a major premier shopping center within the city to this day, drawing thousands of tourists and local shoppers each month.

As opposed to a more traditional enclosed mall space, Buell had the grand idea for a pedestrian-centric shopping experience. This prevents automotive traffic from interrupting the flow of going from store to store, while allowing shoppers the ambiance of enjoying a beautifully-designed outdoor gathering space. The combination of the indoor and outdoor retail environment has certainly taken the world by storm and it’s difficult to locate a major city without such a shopping area in some capacity. 

Tethy’s Lead Testing Device 

Gitanjali Rao, a 13-year-old hailing from Lone Tree, Colorado (located approximately 20 miles from Denver), designed a small device that can test for lead in drinking water. This invention put her on 2019’s 30 Under 30 on Forbes and she was also named “America’s Top Young Scientist” for her innovative design. She named the 3D-printed box Tethys, which is a shout out to the goddess of clean water in Greek mythology. Rao got the idea to use carbon nanotube sensors to detect lead after reading about how the same technology can be used to find hazardous gas.

Due to the ongoing crisis in Flint, Michigan, Rao was motivated to uncover a solution. At the time, home testing kits seemed inconclusive and generally unreliable. Rao’s idea has been taken seriously by scientists and Selene Hernandez-Ruiz, a lab manager at Denver Water, who continuously works with Rao on a prototype and ways to improve the device. 


If you own a smartphone, you’re likely familiar with the brand of OtterBox. This popular phone case is one of the best on the market and has saved many iPhones and Androids from being destroyed after you accidentally knock them off the countertop or drop them onto the concrete while rummaging in your bag. The military-grade waterproof box was introduced back in 1998 by Curt Richardson of Fort Collins, Colorado. At first, this new case proved popular with the active Colorado community for rafting and kayaking, as their personal accessories were kept safe and dry while they spent their days adventuring.

Focus shifted onto creating iPod cases and later, mobile phone cases as they became more popular. To this day, the OtterBox headquarters is located at 209 South Meldrum Street in Fort Collins, a short drive north of Denver. 

3D-Printed Lockdown Device 

Nicholas Dimercurio, who was a student at Mountain Vista High School at the time of his concept, used the school’s 3D printer to design a prototype. While talking to a school resource officer, Dimercurio laid plans for an invention that would allow officers to quickly and efficiently enter a locked-down school during an emergency. This provides officers with a tool to help them protect students and faculty in times of crisis.

The horseshoe-shaped device works by clipping onto the outside of a door, preventing it from shutting all the way. While not in use, the piece can be clipped onto an officer’s vest and become virtually unnoticeable due to its lightweight yet durable nature. Dimercurio’s invention has proven to work so well that the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office has purchased enough to supply officers within the district. Dimercurio plans to attend Wichita State University to pursue his dream of becoming an electrical engineer, where he will undoubtedly continue to design and innovate.