Nine Cool Colorado Inventions — and One Imposter

Colorado celebrated its 140th birthday on August 1. Because it was admitted to the Union on the hundredth anniversary of this country’s declaration of independence, it was quickly nicknamed the Centennial State. But to us, it’s always been Coolorado, the coolest state around, and the thousands of people moving here every month clearly agree.

But what, exactly, makes Colorado so hot? As both a primer for newcomers and a refresher course for natives, we’re sharing more than a hundred cool things about Colorado. We've already dished up ten fascinating facts about this state. Here's another one: Coloradans are very inventive. For proof, take a look at these nine Colorado inventions — and one imposter.
9. The Denver Boot
Thanks to the creation of the Denver Boot, an infernal clamp invented in Denver more than sixty years ago and designed to immobilize parking scofflaws, Denver has been soundly cursed around the world. Clancy Systems currently has a lock on the invention.

8. The Barnes Dance

To make traffic move more smoothly, Denver traffic engineer Henry Barnes came up with diagonal crosswalks downtown. Sadly, after many decades — and the system’s adoption by cities around the world — Denver eliminated the Barnes Dance five years ago.
7. The Denver Square
After the Silver Crash of 1893, those who still had money didn’t want to be too ostentatious about it. The solution was the Denver Square, a variation on what's known as the Foursquare in other parts of the country: two-story brick homes that were efficient and simple outside — and often stunning inside.
6. The OtterBox
The prototype of the waterproof, shockproof OtterBox was invented over two decades ago by Curt Richardson. Today the OtterBox — an ideal merger of Colorado’s love of the outdoors and its obsession with the latest technology — continues to be based in Fort Collins, where it keeps coming up with big ideas...and generating big profits.

Keep reading for five more inventions...and an imposter.

5. Crocs
Created and marketed by three Boulder outdoor enthusiasts, Crocs are the Colorado invention that people love to hate...especially if they have any sense of fashion.

4. The Cheeseburger

How many cities have a monument to the Cheeseburger? There’s one right at 2755 Speer Boulevard in Denver, once the location of the Humpty-Dumpty, where owner Louis Ballast created a sandwich he trademarked as the “cheeseburger” in 1935.

3. The Mexican Hamburger

Although other cities have contested Denver’s claim to be home to the cheeseburger, this is definitely the birthplace of the Mexican hamburger, a burger in a tortilla, smothered in green chile, that was invented at Joe’s Buffet on Santa Fe Drive in the late ’60s.

2. The Slopper
Another variation on the hamburger can trace its origins to Pueblo, where decades ago a tavern owner got the bright idea of serving a cheeseburger open-faced on a bun — and in a bowl — then covering it with green chile, onions, sometimes even French fries. Today the most authentic version is served at Gray’s Coors Tavern, 515 West 4th Street.

1. Outdoor Christmas Lighting
On Christmas Eve 1914, little David Sturgeon was sick in bed, too sick to join his family around the Christmas tree. His father, a pioneering Denver electrician, decided to cheer up his son, so he dipped lightbulbs in red and green paint, connected them to electrical wire, and hung them in a pine tree outside his son’s window — creating a tradition that quickly spread from Denver across the world, lending a garish, colorful cast to the holiday season.

And the imposter:

The Teddy Bear

According to legend, maids at the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs presented a small bear made out of scraps of material to President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, who was on a hunting trip in the area in 1901. The toy was quickly dubbed a Teddy Bear and became a national craze. That's one version, and it's definitely pushed by the popular Glenwood Springs hotel.

But according to R. C. Harvey, editor of Rants & Raves, an online magazine out of Commerce City, Roosevelt actually went to Mississippi on that hunting trip in 1902, when his hunting dogs injured an old bear, and Roosevelt had to put the animal down. Clifford Berryman, an "editoonist" at the Washington Post at the time, "memorialized the incident" in a cartoon, says Harvey, and the "Roosevelt Bear" kept appearing in other Berryman cartoons, getting cuter each time, inspiring readers to dub it the "Teddy Bear."

Then one smart shop owner — in Brooklyn, not Colorado, put two stuffed bears that his wife had made in the shop window, named them Teddy Bears, and the toys became so successful that he eventually founded the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company. Again, not in Colorado. 

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun