8 of the Weirdest Inventions in History | History Hit

8 of the Weirdest Inventions in History

Richard Bevan

10 Mar 2022
A photo of the Purves Dynasphere, an experimental vehicle. 1932.
Image Credit: Motoring Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo

Thousands of patents are granted for new inventions every year in the hope that they will make their creators rich and change the world. While many innovations over the decades – from personal computers to handy domestic appliances – have made life easier for millions, countless inventions have faded into obscurity due to their pointless, or even downright dangerous, nature.

Below are some seriously oddball creations which, apart from their entertainment value, never should have made it into existence. From a blade-wielding contraption that could shave 12 men at once to a 1930s hat which doubled up as a portable radio, here are 10 bizarre inventions that were always destined to end up in the museum of curiosities.

1. The Urban Window Baby Cage

Invented by health worker Mrs Robert C. Lafferty in 1913, and inspired by an increasing awareness of outdoor fresh air benefits for youngsters, the ‘Window Baby Cage’ was designed as a solution for apartments without a garden or outdoor space.

Unsurprisingly, the very idea of putting a precious baby to play in a cage made of wire mesh and hanging outside a widow several floors above street level was too nightmarish for most parents.

2. The Portable Hat Radio

A prototype of a hat installed with a portable radio. Featured on the cover of Radio-Electronics, June 1949, Volume 20, Number 9.

Image Credit: Radio Electronics via Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Decades before the mobile wonders of the Walkman, iPod and the mobile phone, the idea of being able to listen to the radio on the move was inconceivable due to the bulky apparatus of early radios. Thought to have been created by an inventor in Berlin during the 1930s, this bizarre apparatus was essentially a straw hat with two large antennas sticking out on top of it.

Despite other versions of the radio hat being made in an array of different materials, none caught on with the public. Not only was it cumbersome but there were issues with radio signals. The invention of the Transistor Radio in 1955 eventually revolutionised listening to radio and music on the go.

3. The Mass Shaving Machine

In the early 19th century, as walrus moustaches and beards declined in popularity, it became more socially acceptable for men to be clean-shaven. Because such morning rituals were time-consuming, a culture of stopping off at the barbers for a clean shave and shoeshine became common. The problem was that a barber could only serve one customer at a time.

The solution was a ‘group shaving machine’ which could seat several men in a row, where the first part of the device applied foam to all faces. Then a large blade would be used to trim their facial hair. The device could, in theory, shave 12 men at once. However, its limitations meant the machine couldn’t alter its movements depending on the shape of an individual face, leaving uneven results and at worst, cuts and abrasions from the blade.

4. The Face Glove

An advert from 1895 demonstrating a beautifying ‘face glove’ for bleaching and preserving the skin and removing complexional imperfections.

Image Credit: Chronicle / Alamy Stock Photo

Developed in the US at the turn of the 20th century, this eerie-looking mask or ‘Face Glove’ was designed to be used by ladies ‘of refinement’ to beautify and preserve youthful skin, while also removing blemishes and imperfections. Resembling something from a creepy horror film, the main problem with this unproven treatment was its health issues.

Designed for ‘medicinal purposes’, as claimed by its inventor and milliner Madame Helen M. Rowley, the mask was originally made from flexible Indian rubber and meant to be worn overnight. The science behind its claims was that the mask would encourage the opening of pores through perspiration. The masks became popular, prompting other companies to make their own versions. But worryingly, materials such as asbestos, sulphur and lead, were used, making the masks hazardous and causing more skin problems than they were meant to cure.

5. The Dynasphere

Looking like a creation from a vintage sci-fi film, the Dynasphere, invented by a Dr J. A. Purves, was an alternative road vehicle from the 1930s. It was one giant monowheel where the driver sat, along with a passenger, in a cabin mounted on tracks. The head-turning machine rolled as the wheel spun and could reach a top speed of 30mph.

In theory, the weight of the motor and the driver was enough to keep them parallel with the ground. To onlookers, the spectacle resembled a spinning giant donut on the street. Due to a lack of practicability, particularly in comparison to car designs of the time, as well as having no protection from the elements, the Dynasphere never caught on.

In this episode of Patented: History of Inventions, we are joined by medical historian Dr Ruben Verwaal to explore how the popularity and stigma of the ear trumpet tracks with attitudes towards deafness, and where our cynicism towards the ear trumpet came from.
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6. The Loop-to-Loop Double Bicycle

In 1905, decades before BMX bikes were somersaulting in the air, an inventor called Kay Lang came up with a bicycle he thought could do an impressive loop to loop within a circular track.

Lang designed a double bicycle, which was essentially two bikes welded together with one sitting upside down above the other. The rider sat encased between the two. The idea was that all four wheels could connect with all surfaces as the upper part would take over from the bottom wheels while riding on a flat surface. Little is known about Lang’s experiment but the improbability of the design plus its potential to injure or kill the rider was possibly the reason the invention never passed the patent stage.

7. The Necomimi

Hanako Miyake demonstrates the ‘Necomimi’, a device that measures brainwaves to control a cat-ear headband.

Image Credit: REUTERS / Alamy Stock Photo

This novelty headgear, invented in Japan in 2012, utilises impressive science for what many may see as a frivolous gimmick. The wearer dons a set of large, mechanical cat ears attached to a headband which measures brain waves and allows the ears to react to the wearer’s moods at the time.

When relaxed, the ears droop. When alert and focused, they perk up and wriggle. One drawback apart from the expense is that the Necomimi is also fragile and can break easily, which is why the manufacturer advises not to wear it in the car.

8. The Ostrich Pillow

Possibly inspired by the ‘Isolator’ hood invention decades before, the Ostrich Pillow, funded on Kickstarter in 2012, was designed to allow the wearer to escape the world, whatever their environment, be it at home, travelling or working in the office, in order to catch forty winks or enjoy silent meditation.

Resembling a fluffy hood with three holes, one for the head and two for the hands, it was promoted primarily as a way to be able to take time out from the noisy world in order to decrease stress and increase productivity.

Richard Bevan

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