7 Brilliant Ideas Scribbled On Cocktail Napkins and Toilet Papers

The following reprinted from Uncle John's Giant 10th Anniversary Bathroom Reader. Got an idea but no paper to write it down? Don't worry, just do what these people did and grab whatever's in front of you and start scribbling:

Written on: A cocktail napkin

By: Rollin King and Herb Kelleher

The Story: Kelleher was a lawyer. King was a banker and pilot who ran a small charter airline. In 1966, they had a drink at a San Antonio bar. Conversation led to an idea for an airline that would provide short intrastate flights at a low cost. They mapped out routes and a business strategy on a cocktail napkin. Looking at the notes on the napkin, Kelleher said, "Rollin, you're crazy, let's do it," and Southwest Airline was born. [editor's note: This issue of the Bathroom Reader was printed in 1997. In 2007, in an interview with The Dallas Morning News, Rollin King admitted that the napkin story was "a hell of a story" but not true]

Written on: Toilet paper

By: Richard Berry

The Story: Berry, an R&B performer, was at a club in 1957 when he heard a song with a Latin beat that he liked. He went into the men's room, pulled off some toilet paper, and wrote down the lyrics to "Louie, Louie."

Written on: The back of a grocery bill By: W.C. Fields

The Story: In 1940 Fields needed money quickly. He scribbled down a plot idea on some paper he found in his pocket, and sold it to Universal Studios for $25,000. Ironically, the plot was about Fields trying to sell an outrageous script to a movie studio. It became his last film, Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941). Fields received screenplay credit as Otis Criblecoblis.

Written on: The back of a letter

By: Francis Scott Key

The Story: In 1814 Key, a lawyer, went out to the British fleet in Chesapeake Bay to plead for the release of a prisoner. The British agreed, but since Key had arrived as they were preparing to attack, they detained him and his party until the battle was over. From this vantage point Key watched the bombardment, and "by the dawn's early light" saw that "our flag was still there." He was so inspired that he wrote the lyrics to "The Star Spangled Banner" on the only paper he had, a letter he'd stuck in his pocket.

Written on: A cocktail napkin

By: Arthur Laffer

The Story: In Sept 1974, Arthur Laffer (professor of business economics at USC) had a drink at a Washington, D.C. restaurant with his friend Donald Rumsfeld (then an advisor to President Gerald Ford). The conversation was about the economy, taxes, and what to do about recession. Laffer moved his wine glass, took the cocktail napkin, and drew a simple graph to illustrate his idea that at some point, increased taxes result in decreased revenues. The graph, known as the "Laffer Curve," later became the basis for President Reagan's "trickle-down" economics.

Written on: A napkin

By: Roger Christian and Jan Berry

The Story: In the early 1960s Roger Christian, one of the top DJs in Los Angeles, co-wrote many of Jan and Dean's hits with Jan Berry. One night he and Jan were at an all-night diner and Christian began scribbling the lyrics to a new song, "Honolulu Lulu," on a napkin. When they left the restaurant, Jan said, "Give me the napkin ... I'll go to the studio and work out the arrangements." "I don't have it," Christian replied. Then they realized they'd left the napkin on the table. They rushed back in ... but the waitress had already thrown it away. They tried to reconstruct the song but couldn't. So the two tired collaborators went behind the diner and sorted through garbage in the dumpster until 4 a.m., when they finally found their song. It was worth the search. "Honolulu Lulu" made it to #11 on the national charts.

Written on: The back of an envelope

By: Abraham Lincoln

The Story: On his way to Gettysburg to commemorate the battle there, Lincoln jotted down his most famous speech - the Gettysburg Address - on an envelope. Actually, that was just a myth. Several drafts of the speech have been discovered - one of which was written in the White House on executive stationery.

The article above is reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Giant 10th Anniversary Bathroom Reader, which comes packed with 504 pages of great stories. Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!

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As a former employee of Compaq Computer Corp. This was a company whose first portable computer idea was launched on the back of a place mat from the House of Pies in Houston Texas.
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The automatic fire nozzle was first drawn on a napkin by my grandfather... You can read the story and see a picture of the actual napkin here:

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1) The AMC Gremlin was initially designed on an airplane, in flight, on the side of an airsick bag.

2) The point system for the (then) NASCAR Winston Cup Series was first scrawled out on a napkin by the late motorsports journalist Bob Latford at the Boot Hill Saloon in Daytona Beach, Florida.
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Great collection of stories. I wonder how many artists grab a bar napkin or likewise and lay down some sketches? I do this all the time. I also travel quite a bit and visit local pubs, and usually do sketches of the bar patrons and leave the sketches behind. I have come to find out some of the bars tape them up and keep them there. It has also earned me a free beer or two!
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