Weird and Wacky Inventions
“Build a better mousetrap,” Ralph Waldo Emerson is supposed to have said, “and the world will beat a path to your door.” Is it the hope of hitting the financial jackpot that sustains inventors through the dark hours of trial and error as they struggle to construct a better mousetrap?
The intellectual property service company SiNApSE says no. According to a survey it conducted in 2010, for “eighty-seven percent of the inventors, inspiration to invent comes from non-financial reasons.” Desire to improve the world, recognition, and love of invention are the main motivators.
The Wake ‘n Bacon
“Quite possibly the best invention since whatever came before sliced bread, the Wake ’n Bacon alarm clock is a work of pure genius.” You wouldn’t expect a group set up to promote bacon consumption to hold back on its enthusiasm for anything that increases the sale of smoked pork bellies, and Bacon Today is up to the task.
New York University student Matty Sallin is responsible for the source of this praise. It is a box shaped like a porker with a heating chamber inside linked to a clock. Instead of the nerve shattering buzz of an alarm going off the sleeper is gently roused from slumber to the smell of sizzling bacon wafted about by a fan.
It does not seem the device ever went into mass production. Perhaps the sales slogan “Rise and Swine” wasn’t catchy enough.
The Beauty Industry
The appeal of filthy lucre is clearly at work in inventing stuff for the beauty industry.
Toss out the mud packs and the creams and lotions. Forego the expensive spa treatments, facial massages, and cucumber slices over the eyelids. The Glamour Bonnet is a must for everyone who wants to slow down the ravages of time.
Adrienne Crezo (The Atlantic, October 2012) describes the 1940s contraption: “The vacuum helmet reduced ‘atmospheric pressure around the beauty seeker’s head,’ which inventor Mrs. D. M. Ackerman believed would help stimulate circulation and improve the complexion.” It’s not explained how the victims – that is clients – are supposed to breathe during the treatment.
According to Thomson, Langdon & Co., of New York “doctors recommend” their “magneto-conservative” underwear. The “Wilsonia” Magnetic Corsets and Waists could be used to deal with “Sleeplessness, Nervousness, General Debility, Indigestion, Rheumatism, and Paralysis.” Masochists are advised they could wear the corset “day or night.”
Imperfect features could be corrected without the need for a savings-draining and painful nose job just by wearing the Trados Nose-Shaper Model 22. However, the harness and snout-shaped cup of the 1918 model look as if they would be more at home in the dungeons of the Spanish Inquisition. Undaunted, “Pioneer Noseshaping Specialist” M. Trilety of Binghamton, New York, went on to produce three more models before disappearing from the scene claiming to have had 90,000 satisfied customers. The word “had” is significant in this context.
Ms. Crezo writes about other beauty enhancers: “In 1910, the White Cross Electric Vibrator was advertised as a combination hip slimmer, dandruff buster, and cure for ‘back lameness.’ ”
Also, there’s a strange looking strap from one “Professor Eugene Mack” that, for a trifling $10 (that works out to a non-trifling $255 in today’s money), guarantees to get rid of double chins. Well, guarantee is a difficult word; the advertisement actually uses words such as “prevents” and “effaces.” And, while it’s about it the “Curves of Youth” invention “reduces enlarged glands.”
It’s easy to understand why the monowheels haven’t really caught on; nowhere to stash a case of beer to start with. Also, they can be a bit tippy, tricky to steer, forward visibility is greatly restricted, and they’re not allowed on public roads. Then, there’s the issue of gerbiling; if the driver accelerates too hard he or she can start going round inside the wheel instead of the wheel rolling forward over the ground.
Let’s go back to the 19th century, penny farthings (high-wheelers) and boneshakers are still around while some people are playing around with one-wheeled cycles. These are not the unicycles with a busker on top juggling a running chainsaw, a samurai sword, and a baby borrowed from the audience.
Monowheels are machines in which the rider sits inside the wheel, and they’ve been around (pun not intended, well, okay, a little bit) for almost 150 years. Early versions had to be pedal- or hand-powered until internal combustion engines came along. This made it possible to step up the speed and, consequently, greatly increase the danger to the driver.
Practical applications are few for monowheels except to provide patients to fracture clinics. However, the lack of commercial viability doesn’t stop people from trying to produce monowheels for profit. Hammacher Schlemmer in New York offers its Motorized Monocycle, “Was $13,000 NOW $5,900.” Hmmm. Not moving fast are they?
Monowheel in Action
Braking seems to be a bit of a problem and involves wearing out numerous pairs of boots, and ooops.
Where Would we Be Without Inventors?
We are surrounded by inventions that make our lives easier and some that make our lives more difficult. The writer would personally like to throttle the inventors of the leaf blower, tele-marketing, and car alarms.
On the plus side, though, there’s Matt Richardson of Brooklyn, New York who has given us The Enough Already. It’s a little gizmo that silences your television when something you find obnoxious comes on. Some people have one that leaves the TV permanently off.
The widget is patched in between the cable feed and the TV and reads the closed captioning. Users can enter keywords and when one pops up the TV is muted for 30 seconds.
So what would you silence? Donald Trump? Any advertiser who says “Our number one priority is your satisfaction?” Bill O’Reilly? The entire Kardashian clan? Anybody who says “Going Forward?”
In the U.K. Chris Hodges has collected more than a million historic photographs many of which are of very strange inventions such as an amphibious Lambretta scooter, and an odd winged bicycle. Search for The Stilltime Collection.
The plastic face protector was invented in Montreal in 1939. It was intended to shield the wearer from snowstorms. You don’t see a lot of them about these days.
Rowland Emett (1909-90) was an English cartoonist and builder of whimsical kinetic sculptures. His creations included The Featherstone-Kite Openwork Basketweave Mark Two Gentleman’s Flying Machine and a water clock he called The Aqua Horological Tintinnabulator.
- “Why do Inventors Invent?” SiNApSE, February 1, 2010.
- “Wake’n Bacon – The Real Bacon Alarm Clock.” Corey James, Bacon Today, undated
- “Dimple Machines, Glamour Bonnets, and Pinpointed Flaw Detection.” Adrienne Crezo, Atlantic Magazine, October 3, 2012.
- “Wheel of Misfortune: Historic Failure of the Monowheel.” Gajitz.com, undated.
- “The Stilltime Collection.”
Questions & Answers
© 2016 Rupert Taylor