Boston Globe

What's the Idea? They've Got it

By Susan Chaityn Lebovits, Globe Correspondent | May 12, 2005

Boston has long been a hotbed for innovation with its universities and labs along the Charles River, Route 128, and Interstate 495. But not all the area's Edisons began ensconced in ivory towers or gleaming office parks. Many started by toiling away in kitchens, basements, and temporary offices.

Some have gone from one successful innovation to the next, while others — those fabled tinkerers long the butt of family jokes for their wacky ideas — are showing that they, too, can turn inspiration into gold." he says. "I got to thinking there should be some way to organize the containers and the lids."

Putting a spin on pesky containers

Saul Palder, 78
Invented: Smart Spin

When Saul Palder was working full time, he sold catalytic converters, the antipollution gizmos that clean up auto exhaust. Since cutting back on his day job, he invented a system that cleans up kitchen cabinets — specifically the jumble of plastic containers for storing food that are forever mislaying their lids.

"One day I was cooking and went to the cupboard to get a container to put some sauce away," Palder said. "The containers fell out, and after I cleaned them up I couldn't find a cover to fit the one I had. I thought to myself, this is crazy."

At that moment, a star was born: Smart Spin.

The "Official 49-Piece Storage System," says the website, "conveniently holds all your storage needs, right at your fingertips . . . yet takes up about the space of a coffee maker."

It holds 24 containers and 24 lids, and spins around allowing for access to all sides.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Palder started out by bringing a poker chip rack and sketches to a woodworking shop, where he ordered a prototype built that had slots made for different-sized containers — quarts, pints, half-pints — and their covers.

"I thought he robbed me," Palder said of the craftsman. "He charged $125 to make a round piece of wood."

Palder showed the model around, originally pitching to restaurants for commercial use. When one owner rejected the idea, saying his problem was getting to containers in the back of shelves, Palder responded: "I'll be back!"

He went home and added a turntable. After having a plastic prototype made, Palder enlisted the help of 77-year-old Newton resident David Wolf, a patent attorney at Wolf, Greenfield & Sacks, P.C. in Boston.

"The day we got a mechanical patent was probably the proudest day of my life," said Palder, who had always longed for a creative outlet. "If you can understand, this was the painting, this was the composition, this was the book."

Palder has licensed Smart Spin to Framingham-based Merchant Media, which began marketing the gizmo last November. It joins a product line that includes Perfect Pancake, Gator Grip, and Smart Scissors (you can watch the commercials on the Web at

The company hopes to sell more than 7 million Smart Spin storage systems at $19.99.

A footnote: Impressed by the philanthropic endeavors of actor Paul Newman's food company, Newman's Own, Palder initially contacted the firm to give away his idea. No one returned his call, he said.

© Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company