Popular Everyday Things You Didn’t Know Were Invented by Malaysians

Did you know that the face mask was invented by a Malaysian? You’ll be surprised how many everyday products were created by Malaysians.

Published 26 Aug 2021

Popular Everyday Things You Didn’t Know Were Invented by Malaysians - Feature-Image

From our colourful heritage to soaring skyscrapers, Malaysia is known for being a multicultural nation that has built a name for itself in the tourism industry

But what about the inventions that represent Malaysia’s culture and support the everyday lives of locals? Here are the great things that you’ve been using that you may not know were created by Malaysians.

#1. Surgical face mask 


Surgical face masks are typically used in operational theaters but due to seasonal flus (and pandemics), it’s slowly becoming part of our daily apparel. But how many of us know that this popular fabric was invented by a Malaysian?

Yeap, you read that right. The Malaysian epidemiologist, Dr Wu Lien-Teh, was the inventor of the surgical face masks in 1910, which many believe to be the origin of today’s N95 mask. The Penang-born obtained an MD from Cambridge University and was recruited to work on a deadly disease outbreak known as the Manchurian Plague.

Dr Wu learned that the disease was highly contagious pneumonic plague and is spreadable through respiratory droplets. He then engineered a special surgical mask with cotton and gauze, adding several layers of cloth to filter inhalations. The surgical masks came with strict SOPs — masks were to be worn at all times, travel and movement were restricted, quarantines were imposed and exposed areas were disinfected.

His contribution and medical instructions played a huge part in ending the pneumonic plague just 4 months after implementing these strict measures.


Want to be a medical epidemiologist? You can start by pursuing a medical degree. Learn more about studying medicine here.

#2. Half-boiled egg cooker 


Ah yes, the secret recipe to getting a perfectly soft-boiled egg. A nifty device essential to every Malaysian household, kopitiams and mamak stalls that revolutionised all soft-boiled eggs forever.

The man responsible for this nifty piece is Datuk Hew Ah Kow who invented it after struggling to make the perfect half-boiled egg due to his job as a bulldozer operator at a lumber camp. Constantly needing to check the engines and getting carried away with his operations, he was always left with overcooked eggs for breakfast.

Determined to make the perfect breakfast, Datuk Hew  punctured the bottom of Ovaltine cans with a nail and filled them with eggs and hot water. The experiment took several tries over the span of a year but he finally found the solution after getting the correct ratio of water to eggs. He eventually sold the prototype to a direct-selling stockist for RM7,000.

Thanks to Datuk Hew Ah Kow, all you need is this detachable four-piece plasticware, hot water and eggs and to wait for the water to fully drain before enjoying your perfectly made half-boiled eggs.

#3. USB flash drive


If you’re a college student, you’re definitely familiar with the USB flash drive a.k.a a life saviour to store all your presentations and assignments — but also a nightmare if you ever misplace it. But did you know that pendrives were a Malaysian invention?

Hailing from Sekinchan, Pua Khein-Seng is the man who invented the world’s first single-chip USB flash drive controller in 2001. While he wasn’t exactly the first to invent a pendrive, the single-chip storage device is an advancement over the earlier multi-chip designs. His creation was not only smaller and had a large storage capacity, but it was also a lot cheaper to produce.

The Malaysian-born engineer found his success in Taiwan when he had to pursue his studies abroad after failing to get a placement at a local public university. Pua founded Phison Electronics after completing his studies and made a mark in the IT industry by creating the pendrive.


Pua Khein-Seng invented the flash drive at the age of 27. Kickstart that journey by taking up a degree in engineering here.

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#4. Biometric passport


Did you know that before biometric passports were invented, there’s a huge chance that your identity could be stolen from passport forgery?

Similar to a MyKad, biometric passports are embedded with a microchip containing your personal information, thumbprints and travel history to authenticate your identity at borders. This data is read using fingerprint scanners and facial recognition technology at immigration checkpoints.

In fact, Malaysia was the first country in the world to issue a biometric passport in 1998 before the whole world followed suit. A Malaysian technology company, IRIS Corporation, was responsible for the upgrade of this important document for added safety measures.

Since everything is stored in a system, this makes it difficult for people to steal your information, let alone duplicate your passport.

#5. Nehemiah walls


Okay, you don’t exactly use this every day but there’s a huge chance you’ve seen these “honeycomb-shaped” walls on the highway or when you’re crossing a flyover.

Named after the inventor himself, Dr Nehemiah Lee, nehemiah walls are concrete hexagon-shaped walls stacked onto each other and supported with steel bars. The wall is designed to tolerate different soil conditions along a single stretch of wall, something a typical concrete wall is unable to accommodate.

Dr Nehemiah Lee developed the idea for nehemiah walls after working at the Reinforced Earth Company in the 1980s. While studying for his Master’s degree, he researched the concept and later came up with the system of creating soil-retaining walls that are both structurally sound and versatile. This design is so popular that not only is it widely used in Malaysia, but also other countries including Singapore, Australia and Hong Kong.

There you have it — popular things invented by our homegrown talents! Malaysia is filled with hidden talents waiting to be discovered. With the right skills, passion and determination, you too can invent the next big thing.

Surprised by these engineering geniuses? Wait till you see these crazy inventions.

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    Nina Fazil

    Nina Fazil

    A work in progress — has been for the past 24 years.