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
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
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
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
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
OK, before you go all “That’s the most unnecessary thing I’ve ever seen!!!” remember these two indisputable facts:
- Soup tastes better when there’s a risk of electrical shock.
- 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
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
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
Save time hunting for an open seat so you can spend more time wondering why you don’t have friends!
9. A Vibrating Bra
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
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.
11. The Power Motor Of The Future
Again, the concept behind 1957’s “Power Mower of the Future” isn’t all that bad. A lawnmower you can ride in the rain? Plus it was air conditioned and even featured a cooler for drinks. Sign me up.
Also, that photo is sexist as hell. You know it had a caption like “Now that there’s a plastic bubble, even the little lady can mow!”
12. The Richter Rocket Bicycle
This was invented in 1931 by a German engineer named Richter. To put this in context, at this time the Germans were nut about attaching solid fuel rockets to all modes of transportation. So basically rockets were the pumpkin spice of the 1930’s.
In case you’re wondering why we don’t ride around on rocket bikes today, take a look at this picture from Herr Richter’s very first test run:
Didn’t see that one coming! Herr Richter survived the explosion, but his pride did not.
13. The “Glamour Bonnet”
Look, nobody ever said beauty was easy. Sometimes, you gotta strap on plastic hood and suck all the air out of it. It’s great for your complexion! And as you can see from the product description, it even has a plastic window so you can check out the latest Collier’s while you suffocate.
14. A Bike For The Whole Family
Sorry, Mom. You still have to sew.
15. A User-Friendly Sunning Chair
I just made fun of 14 people’s hopes and dreams, so it’s only right that I end on a nice-ish note. Because this one is gold! Not only does it improve on existing sunning chairs, it even predates the massage by decades. And best of all, it was invented by Marnie Smith, who was ten years old. Great ideas really can come from anywhere!
And so, too, can stupid ones.