15 Vintage Inventions That Never Quite Caught On

Photo Credit: Buzzfeed


If you’re someone who enjoys poring over spreadsheets of historical data from the US Patent Office, (who doesn’t?), one truth becomes clear very quickly: there are a LOT of patent applications every year. In 2015, the most recent year I have data for, over 288,00 patents were applied for. Wow!

But notice I said “patent applications” and not “patents granted.” That number is much, much lower. Because for every iPhone or 3D printer, there are many many more “inventions” you’ve never heard of, and for good reason. Some of them were poorly designed. Others failed to provide a service people would actually want. And some of them are honestly just insane.

Today we’re looking at some 20th century inventions that never took off. Once you get a look at them it will immediately be clear why.

1. Dashboard Coffee Maker

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They did get one thing right: having coffee on the go is a plus. But bolting a coffee pot full of scalding liquid to a dashboard mere inches from a driver’s lap? I can see one or two problems.

2. Multi-Cigarette Holder

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OK, even by the standards of the 1950’s, when pregnant women who didn’t smoke were considered weird, and when the Surgeon General was literally a cartoon cigarette, this is a bit much.

3. Bald Head Polisher

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This one actually makes a weird sort of sense if you know a little about it. Invented in 1950 by an engineer for the Los Angeles Brush Manufacturing Corp, the “Hairline Brush” was a scalp polisher/massager for bald men. My guess it was an attempt to reach the one demographic they couldn’t, i.e. bald men.

Sadly the Hairline Brush never took off, probably because most bald men also have working hands.

4. Phone Answering Robot

Photo Credit: Web Urbanist

The name is a bit misleading, because this friendly robot doesn’t actually “answer” your phone…he only picks it up and puts it back down. Because why do something yourself when you can have a 400 pound hunk of metal that does it worse? That’s convenience!

Bonus feature: he might not be able to answer your phone, but the moment your back is turned he will definitely grab overpower you and render your body into robot fuel.

5. Soup-Cooling Fan

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OK, before you go all “That’s the most unnecessary thing I’ve ever seen!!!” remember these two indisputable facts:

  1. Soup tastes better when there’s a risk of electrical shock.
  2. There is currently no other way to cool off your soup. Don’t believe me? Just name ONE. You can’t!

6. Automatic Tip Requester

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This gadget was invented in 1955 by amateur (what a shocker) inventor Russell E. Oakes. It was intended for bellhops and other service professionals. The purpose, I’m guessing, was to make people feel sorry for these bellhops and their terrible purchasing decisions.

7. Baby Window Baskets

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INVENTOR 1: What’s the one thing people who live in tiny apartments want more of?

INVENTOR 2: Space?

INVENTOR 1: Correct! So what if instead of putting a baby’s crib on the floor, we hang it out the window?

INVENTOR 2: …so, I’m calling the police. Robot, hand me that phone.

8. BYO Chair

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Save time hunting for an open seat so you can spend more time wondering why you don’t have friends!

9. A Vibrating Bra

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First introduced at 1971’s “International Show of Inventions” in Brussels, this vibrating bra looks like it might be some kind of early sex toy, but no. The electrical pulses in this vibrating bra were meant to shape a woman’s bust.

It was expensive, uncomfortable, and based on pseudo-science. In other words, you’ll be able to buy it from Goop any day now.

10. A Two-Person Tobacco Pipe

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Who hasn’t smoked a pipe and thought, “This is OK, but I wish I could also be checking my friend’s nose for boogers.”

This invention was called “The Double Ender,” which sounds like the name of a bedroom activity I am not allowed to describe on this website.