Sometimes while searching through the Sanger Papers, or any archive for that matter, you find something that makes you laugh out loud. Without context, certain documents just seem absurd! For example, take the following letter that we found:

October 25, 1956

Collier’s Magazine

Dear Sirs,

“Why Don’t They” make plates of materials that can be eaten like ice cream cones instead of bread. It would save washing plates and could be non-fattening.


Margaret S. Slee

When we found this letter we could make neither heads nor tails of it! We had a good laugh at old Mrs. Sanger’s expense, imagining her dictating her idea to a confused but obedient secretary. It is telling that she signed her name as Margaret Slee, her married name which she used primarily for private affairs. Clearly these ice cream cones plates were not to be associated with the birth control movement!

With a little bit of internet research, we were able to shed light on the mystery. From 1888 to 1956 Collier’s Magazine ran a feature called “Why Don’t They” where readers mailed in their suggestions for improvements and technological inventions they would like to see created. Some other notable suggestions included:

EQUIP typewriters with a key that, when depressed, automatically underscores as you type? This would save the typist the time and energy it takes to backspace and undersscore. —Shirley Shupe, Ogden, Utah.

HAVE a master lock on the car driver ‘s door which will lock the other doors too? This will prevent children from unlocking doors from the inside, and make it easier to lock up the automobile when leaving.—Mrs. David Hagerman, Whitney Point, N.Y.

MANUFACTURE cigarettes which would produce various colors of smoke when lighted—just to break the monotony?— Fredric A. Honold, Manitowoc, Wis.

Some of these ideas predicted developments, such as the underscore key and the master lock, that we enjoy today. Can you imagine living without such conveniences? Colored cigarette smoke remains wishful thinking.

Some ideas, like Sanger’s ice cream cone plates, never made it into the magazine. But that doesn’t mean that they cannot be realized. We found that Italian entrepreneur Tiziano Vicentini recently invented edible plates!  In addition to being slightly absurd, this archival find suggests what an playful imagination Margaret Sanger had, even in the last decade of her life.