Since arriving in Loren Brichter's Tweetie app a few years ago, pull-to-refresh has shown up everywhere. It's in Twitter's official app, in Facebook, in FourSquare and in Sparrow. It's getting to the point that when you pull down on a list in a touchscreen app and it doesn't refresh, it feels like something's missing.
Now, of course, everyone's looking for credit. Tumblr dev and Birdfeed creator Buzz Anderson, for example, revealed that he came up with the idea before Brichter, but didn't implement it.
Well, here's a patent that predates Twitter's application by nearly 100 years. It was awarded to one Leland J Arms, of Berkeley:
Granted in 1926, this patent was Arms' second or third attempt at the concept. There were a few pull-to-refresh attempters before him, but this is the first design that really nailed the concept, I think. Here's the part about Twitter, sort of:
As for patents on today's pull-to-refresh hardware, those seem to be held by Georgia Pacific, the company that makes the motion-activated paper towel dispensers you always see at airports. The last one was awarded two years ago.