GAYS MILLS - Mr. Charles Duell was the Commissioner of U.S. patents in 1899. In a statement that is widely attributed to Mr. Duell, (and largely debunked) he is quoted as saying “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” Indeed, American inventors, and inventors world-wide, have and continue to create and patent millions of handy gadgets, machines, devices, materials, and a plethora of other things to make our lives better.
It must have been an exciting time to be an inventor as the country was transitioning from a largely agricultural society to a more industrial one. Electricity was becoming more common and horses were being replaced with gas-powered engines. People were used to fixing things when they broke. Creative folks were always looking for an easier way to do mostly physical jobs. Everyone seemed to be a tinkerer, a backyard inventor of sorts.
Well, I have a book called Mousetraps and Muffling Cups - One Hundred Brilliant and Bizarre U.S. Patents that I’d like to tell you about. Actually, I’d like to share it with you. It is kind of a rare book and not readily available. The book was printed in 1986. I bought my copy in a used bookstore several years ago. I will be donating it to the Gays Mills Library, if you’d like to see it.
The book lives up to its title, some of the patents are for strange things that may never have been produced on any kind of scale. It also shows patents for some brilliant things that did make it and made it big: the basic mousetrap by Charles Nelson (1900); the six-shooter by Samuel Colt (1836); the vacuum cleaner by James Kirby (1916); the washing machine by Robert Donely (1919); the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell (1876); the light bulb by Thomas Edison (1880); color television by Harold McCreary (1935!) and the automobile chassis by Henry Ford (1901) and many others. It’s very interesting to read about each of these inventions in the words of their creators, which was part of the patent application process.
I really enjoyed the off-beat and bizarre inventions shown in the book and the explanations of how they worked. Here are some of my favorites:
• A Tapeworm Trap. Patented in 1854, the trap is a spring loaded metal capsule attached to a string. The user fasts for a period of time to “insure that the worm is hungry“, the trap is baited with “something nutritious” and swallowed. Later the trap is retrieved with the string, and hopefully, a worm in it. I wonder how many of these were sold.
• An Egg Marker. This is a device attached to the rear end of a chicken so that when she lays an egg it passes through the flexible device and marks the egg. The marker is a type of roller. I wonder how much demand there was for such a thing in 1910, the year it was patented.
• Raincoat With Drain. This improvement on a regular raincoat was intended to prevent the wearer’s legs from getting wet from the runoff from the coat. A channel or trough at the bottom of the coat collected the water and directed it groundward through a spout.
-Eyeglass Wiper. Patented in 1959, this device probably never caught on. Glasses are fitted with small ‘windshield’ wipers and powered by a battery and electric motor to combat rain and snowy conditions.This is an entertaining and interesting book that gives a person an appreciation of the creativity and ingenuity of people trying to solve problems.
It must have been an exciting time to be an inventor as the country was transitioning from a largely agricultural society to a more industrial one.John Gibbs