Hidden Heroes is an exhibition of genius everyday inventions that have become indispensable fixtures of our daily lives. Held as part of Irish Design 2015, the exhibition featured 35 objects whose usefulness has endured the test of time, often despite countless aesthetic redesigns and surprising alternative uses.

Who knew we couldn’t live without them?

From the humble paper clip to pocket tissues, hangers, tin cans, light bulbs, matches, zippers, tea bags and bar codes, the hidden heroes of our everyday lives are easily overlooked. Most of these objects came into existence as an answer to a problem and once invented, became instant necessities.


One of the strongest themes of the display was the possibility for reinvention. Canning jars, once a necessity for the preservation of food before refrigeration became commonplace, are now experiencing a stylish renaissance of their own

Shipping containers have also found another use as cheap housing alternatives and in the 1890s, matchboxes suddenly became prime advertising space, resulting in impressive collections of beautiful vintage matchboxes all over the world.


Another theme to emerge from the exhibit was the importance of branding. Despite billions of production variations, why do some inventions take on the name of their brand rather than object? How often do you hear people referring to a facial tissue as Kleenex, adhesive tape as Sellotape or Scotch Tape, a plaster as a Band Aid or a ballpoint pen as a Biro?

Is this just the natural way these brand names have slipped into the common vernacular? Other inventions, such as the pacifier to calm crying babies, have great name-branding potential but instead are referred to by a range of names, both formal and familiar.

Hero or foe?

All of the objects on display had definite ‘hidden hero’ qualities; how did we ever live without umbrellas, bubble wrap, pencils and rubber bands? But others we came across struck us as having a negative impact on the world. 

The multipack carrier was invented in the 1950s when a research engineer recognised the potential of plastic as an elastic material. With this came the ability to easily transport six beverage containers at once. But the environment, or more accurately Peanut the turtle, isn’t thanking us for this one.

Missing a Hero?

Part of the exhibition, which also lives online, is a call to add other hidden heroes to the list. We came up with Blu-Tack, magnets, bobby pins, scissors, toothbrushes, erasers and buttons - all everyday heroes in our lives, whose genius of design we often take for granted.

All photos courtesy of Ste Murray


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