Water Bed

http://www.google.com/patents/US299951

Edward Brown’s ill-considered “hammock canoe,” patented in 1884, can be suspended between trees like a conventional hammock or launched on a river like a bottomless aquatic coffin:

On the sides of the main structure or frame handles or holding means are provided, by means of which the person using the device can support the same while walking or floating with their body protruding through the opening in the netting or floor of the float. In addition to the handles I can employ a strap or band adapted to pass over the shoulders of the person using the device.

It’s not clear to me how someone can walk, float, lie, stand, and carry a boat at the same time. Perhaps I should get one and try it out.

A Leg Up

http://www.google.com/patents/US6161223

Allison Andrews had a brainstorm in 1999: If our pants could be easily divided in two, then we could mix and match their halves:

This system saves money by providing a pair of pants that is selectable from the set of all combinations of the left legs against the right legs. Since most members of the combination set do not physically exist at any given time, the user has a large selection set for a fraction of the price.

This way, your wardrobe increases geometrically with each new purchase.

Extra Credit

Boeing was demonstrating its new Dash-80 airliner for the nation’s air transport executives in Seattle in August 1955 when test pilot Alvin “Tex” Johnston decided to impress them — instead of a simple flyover he performed a barrel roll:

In 1994, just before test pilot John Cashman undertook the maiden flight of the 777, Boeing president Phil Condit told him, “No rolls.”

Sudden Stop

http://books.google.com/books?id=gikDAAAAMBAJ

One last odd weapon, this from Popular Science, September 1917: Enid S. Wales of Detroit proposed a shell that would spread coils of barbed wire before an onrushing enemy, stopping their progress and exposing them to attack by infantry and machine guns.

Four hollow caps containing coils of barbed wire would be fitted to a trench mortar shell, one end of each coil secured to the body of the shell. “When the projectile explodes, the caps containing the barbed wire shoot out like bullets in all directions distributing the wire in great tangled masses.”

I don’t know if the idea was ever put into practice.

Things to Come

doughty shell

This is remarkable: In 1862, U.S. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton received a letter proposing the use of chlorine gas against the Confederate army, an idea 50 years ahead of its time. The inventor was John W. Doughty of New York City:

Sir

The above is a representation of a projectile which I have devised to be used as a means for routing an entrenched enemy. Believing it to be new and valuable, I send the War Department a brief description: Chlorine is a gas so irritating in its effects upon the respiratory organs, that a small quantity diffused in the atmosphere, produces incessant & uncontrollably violent coughing.It is 2 1/2 times heavier than the atmosphere, and when subjected to a pressure of 60 pounds to the inch, it is condensed into a liquid, its volume being reduced many hundred times. A shell holding two or three quarts, would therefore contain many cubic feet of the gas.

If the shell should explode over the heads of the enemy, the gas would, by its great specific gravity, rapidly fall to the ground: the men could not dodge it, and their first intimation of its presence would be by its inhalation, which would most effectually disqualify every man for service that was within the circle of its influence; rendering the disarming and capturing of them as certain as though both their legs were broken.

The War Department, which was flooded with well-meant but impractical suggestions, let this one go, and chlorine gas would not appear on the battlefield until Ypres in 1915.

“Experiment alone can determine whether this shell has any practical merit,” Doughty had written. “Possibly, I overrate its value; but it must not be forgotten, that while it does the work of an ordinary shell, it also carries with it a force against whose effect the most skillful military engineering can not possibly make any adequate provision.”

“As to the moral question involved in its introduction, I have, after watching the progress of events during the last eight months with reference to it, arrived at the somewhat paradoxical conclusion, that its introduction would very much lessen the sanguinary character of the battlefield, and at the same time render conflicts more decisive in their results.”

Pest Control

http://www.google.com/patents/US101028

Besieged by cotton worms in 1870, Louisiana planter Auguste Le Blanc invented the 19-century equivalent of a bug zapper. The worms transform into noctural moths in order to reproduce, so Le Blanc suspended an eight-foot ring of gasoline burners from the roof of a horse-drawn cart that he drove through his fields at night, following lanes that he had laid out for this purpose.

The roof may serve not only to protect the burners from rain, but also as a means of destroying the moths, for I sometimes coat the underside of the roof with a paint, preferably white paint, made without any ‘drying’ in it, that is to say, made with oil alone, so as to present a sticky surface. When the machine is in use, the moths, attracted and blinded by the light, will either be destroyed by the flame, or else will come in contact with and adhere to the sticky coating of paint.

I don’t know how well it worked, but he deserves credit for his ingenuity. “A machine of eight burners will protect from forty-five to fifty acres of cotton, while the cheapness of the fluid employed for burning purposes renders the expense trifling in comparison with the benefits derived.”

Cold Water

http://books.google.com/books?id=FYDQAAAAMAAJ

There is also another matter to be mentioned for which both present and future ages have good reason to bless the name of Jonas Hanway. He was the first person who had the courage to hold an umbrella over his head in walking along the streets of London. ‘The eighteenth century,’ writes Chambers, ‘was half elapsed before the umbrella had even begun to be used in England. General Wolfe, writing from Paris in 1752, remarks: “The people here use umbrellas in hot weather to defend them from the sun, and something of the same kind to save them from the snow and the rain. I wonder that a practice so useful is not introduced in England.” Just about that time, however, a gentleman did exercise the moral courage to use an umbrella in the streets of London. He was the noted Jonas Hanway, then newly returned form Persia, and in delicate health, by which, of course, his using such a convenience was justified both to himself and to the public. “A parapluie,” we are told, defended Mr. Hanway’s face and wig. For a time no other than dainty beings, then called “Macaronies,” ventured to carry an umbrella; and any one doing so was sure to be hailed by the mob as a “mincing Frenchman.” One John Macdonald, a footman, who has favored the public with his memoirs, found as late as 1770 that, on appearing with a fine silk umbrella which he had brought from Spain, he was saluted with the cry of “Frenchman, why don’t you get a coach?”‘

— “Jonas Hanway, the Philanthropist,” Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly, April 1884

Grunt Work

http://books.google.com/books?id=XShRAQAAIAAJ

During World War I, one of the worst jobs in the French army was that of wirecutter, the scout deputed to cut through the wire entanglements set up by the enemy, often unprotected in exposed positions. To improve his chances, the army introduced this one-man tank. From Popular Science Monthly, May 1917:

The device is made to resemble a cannon which it is hoped will be considered by the enemy to be broken and discarded. It is provided with slits and larger openings through which the scout may see and get air. The wheels, though apparently rusty and old, are smooth-running and noiseless, and the legs of the scout, moving cautiously at the rate of perhaps one-half inch per minute during critical times, resemble the drooping muzzle of the gun — or it is hoped that they will.

“It is also considered among the possibilities that the device will be of service when it is necessary for a bold and death-defying dash to be made through showers of shrapnel into the teeth of the foe. But this is problematical since the device is not made for rapidity of movement.”

“The Gun Within a Gun”

http://books.google.com/books?id=HCkKAAAAIAAJ

This must set some sort of record for aggressiveness — during World War I, Andrew Graham invented a shell that fires bullets. From Popular Science Monthly, February 1918:

The projectile is pierced with a dozen or so of rifled channels, each constituting a barrel loaded with a regulation rifle cartridge. … A shell like that which Mr. Graham has conceived can be timed to discharge its bullets efficiently, far from its target, unlike shrapnel. The bullets do not lose in velocity, thanks to their elongated form and their rotation. Their velocity is the sum of the shell’s velocity and their own.

Actually aiming the bullets, though, is another matter. “The firing can be timed so that at least one volley will scatter properly.”