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INGENIOUS BUT USELESS – AND SOMETIMES LAUGHABLE – INVENTIONS

60,000 years ago Org, a very intelligent cave man, invented a 4-wheel wagon. It had a cargo space made of fine polished wood,  wheels of sturdy granite and a hitch for his ox. But on the first trial it had to be rejected. The square wheels were too hard to turn. The next year Org tried triangular wheels but for some reason that didn’t work well either. We had to wait a few thousand more years for the round wheel.

That story is fictional of course, a reminder that early man invented many useful things for survival--the bow and arrow, the stone axe, the round wheel and much more. But they no doubt made many mistakes as well. Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, the phonograph, movies and much more, but admitted to thousands of failures.

Throughout history inventive minds came up with items they imagined would be amazing wonders but turned out to be--well, stupid. Here are a few:

WOODEN BATHING SUITS were invented and produced in the U.S. in 1929. They were a bit like tight barrels made of thin strips of wood, supposed to make swimming easier. Obviously they didn’t last long. Too scratchy?

GUN-MOUNTED MOUSETRAP: Yes, a 50-calibre pistol was attached to the trap in such a way that when the mouse took the bait it would be blasted to kingdom come. Seem a bit of an expensive method?  And loud?

ANTI-FLATULENT UNDERWEAR, made of fabric air tight enough--and well-sealed at the waist and legs--to prevent odours from escaping. You can actually get it online at myshreddies.com. Maybe not so dumb. Do you know someone who could use a pair?

COMPUTER-LOADED EYE GLASSES: Known as Google Glass, these spectacles have  the ability to record whatever the wearer is looking at. It was invented in 2012 and whether it is proven useful depends: there are opinions on both sides.

BIKE TIRE SWIM AIDS: A photo of this 1925 invention shows swimmers wearing about four bike tires each  wrapped tightly around the body in overlapping  and crossed pattern from crotch to neck. It was supposed to allow them to swim at speeds up to 93 miles per hour. I guess if that had been possible we’d still be using that wonder.

ANTI-DISTRACTION HELMET: Apparently for people  working on a task requiring extreme focus.  It is a wooden helmet totally covering the head and much of shoulders. It has two small eye holes, a tube running from nose to oxygen tank  and a spout for exhaling. It was called the Isolator, invented in 1925. What was the inventor  thinking?

STRAW HAT RADIO: This was a radio perched on top of a man’s hat, complete with a vertical frame housing for an aerial and a tiny metal horn peeping over the front of the brim. It was invented in 1931 and, not surprisingly, has not been seen since, I suspect.

1931 ROCKET-PROPELLED BICYCLE:  This may be the briefest  existence of any invention. Dreamed up by a German engineer in 1931, it had 12 rockets mounted above the back wheel. I’m not sure whether the gentleman ever got to mount the machine or just lit the rockets, but it exploded and was completely destroyed. The engineer was not hurt, amazingly, but pretty embarrassed I would think.


My father, who died 49 years ago, lived to see a number of new inventions that didn’t exist when he was born, among them radio, television, jet planes, movies with sound, the atomic bomb. But the one I remember him being most impressed with was the  knotter on a grain binder. A grain binder looked something like a grain swather (windrower), though much smaller. As it rolled along the field it cut the grain, which was carried by canvas conveyors up to machinery which put the cut grain into bundles (sheaves) and bound each bundle with encircling twine; the knotter tied the twine mechanically and the bundles slid down to a holding fork from which they were dumped to the ground. Before the knotter was invented the cutting machine dumped the cut grain on the ground and it had to be tied by hand. And to farmers like my father in the years before combines became common the knotter shortened up the work load of harvest tremendously. No wonder my dad thought it a wonder and I’ve always thought it quite amazing as well.


To comment on columns contact Esther or me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 306 384 8657 or 110 - 201 Cree Place Saskatoon,  S7K 7Z3

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