Every so often, someone comes up with an invention so simple and clever that we're left wondering where it has been all this time. That spirit of creativity inspired the first Modern Marvels Invent Now Challenge, a national competition for inventors sponsored by the History Channel and the National Inventors Hall of Fame with an assist from TIME, which helped judge the contest. Nearly 4,500 submissions poured in last year from tinkerers in all 50 states, ranging in age from 8 to 80. The winner, David R. Ward, 53, from Ashland, Ore., dreamed up the StrawJet, a farm implement that processes straw into mats that can be used as building materials. Ward's device uses clay and paper pulp to hold the mats together, rather than the hazardous industrial chemicals that made him sick when he worked as a construction supervisor. It also relies on resources readily available in developing countries, where Ward hopes his machine will eventually help produce cheap, quick housing. He's now raising funds to build a demonstration house made entirely from straw.
To learn more about the StrawJet or to participate in this year's contest, go to history.com/invent
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