Looking for a nimble way to transport large amounts of cargo across bodies of water, Alessandro Dandini invented this “spherical rolling hull marine vessel” in 1974. The sphere contains a motor that trundles along a continuous track, which sets the hull rolling across the water. Cargo can be stored inside the sphere, in the two cabins mounted on the sides, or suspended beneath them. (The detachable cabins can also serve as life craft.) Because the sphere has a relatively low draft, it can move through the water with less drag than a conventional vessel. “It provides for a fast turnaround when loading and unloading cargo, which results in a highly efficient water transportation vessel.”
Richard Hartman’s “motorized ice cream cone,” patented in 1999, saves both time and trouble:
Because the act of eating an ice cream cone has traditionally been performed by holding a scoop of ice cream largely stationary in one’s hand relative to the continuous licking movements of one’s tongue, the appeal of a device that basically reverses this procedure — that is, continuously moves the ice cream portion while one’s tongue is held in a relatively stationary position — has been largely overlooked. However, it can be seen that such a device is enormously entertaining, extends the natural enjoyment and creative play possibilities of eating ice cream and similarly malleable foods, and enhances the overall experience of eating such foods for young children and adults alike.
Perhaps we can apply the same principle to corn on the cob.
Samuel Johnson’s 1759 novel Rasselas contains a remarkable passage — he anticipates the airplane by nearly 150 years:
He that can swim needs not despair to fly; to swim is to fly in a grosser fluid, and to fly is to swim in a subtler: We are only to proportion our power of resistance to the different density of the matter through which we are to pass: You will be necessarily upborne by the air, if you can renew any impulse upon it, faster than the air can recede from the pressure.
“As a basic claim for a modern patent, the statement could not be broader nor more comprehensive,” wrote a correspondent to U.S. Air Service in 1920. “It only required the modern high-powered internal combustion engine to render his claim effective.”
Brooke Pattee’s “night light for a toilet,” patented in 1993, mounts a tube filled with electrical lamps under the upper rim of a toilet bowl so that users can use the bathroom without fumbling in the dark or being blinded by the overhead light.
Blake Warrington’s “toilet seat cover position alarm,” patented in 1989, sounds an alarm if the seat cover is not lowered after the toilet is flushed. “The alarm has the practical effect of conditioning persons who use the toilet to routinely close the toilet seat cover.”
Swords in the ancient Middle East were made of a substance called Damascus steel, which was noted for its distinctive wavy pattern and famed for producing light, strong, and flexible blades. No one knows how it was made.
In defending Constantinople against the Muslims, the Byzantine Empire used something called “Greek fire,” an incendiary substance that was flung at the enemy’s ships and that burned all the more fiercely when wet. But precisely what it was, and how it was made, have been forgotten.
Edwardian journalist Charles Cyril Turner, the world’s first modern aviation correspondent, describes a May morning alone in a balloon over Surrey:
Very slowly I approach a big wood. It would better express the situation were I to say that very slowly a big wood comes nearer to the balloon, for there is no sense of movement, and the earth below seems to be moving slowly past a stationary balloon. … Fifteen hundred feet up and almost absolute silence, broken occasionally by the barking of a dog heard very faintly, or by a voice hailing the balloon, and by an occasional friendly creak of the basket and rigging if I move ever so slightly. Then quite suddenly I am aware of something new.
The balloon has come down a little already, and I scatter a few handfuls of sand and await the certain result. But my attention is no longer on that, it is arrested by this new sound which I hear, surely the most wonderful and the sweetest sound heard by mortal ears. It is the combined singing of thousands of birds, of half the kinds which make the English spring so lovely. I do not hear one above the others; all are blended together in a wonderful harmony without change of pitch or tone, yet never wearying the ear. By very close attention I seem to be able at times to pick out an individual song. No doubt at all there are wrens, and chaffinches, and blackbirds, and thrushes, hedge sparrows, warblers, greenfinches, and bullfinches and a score of others, by the hundred; and their singing comes up to me from that ten-acre wood in one sweet volume of heavenly music. There are people who like jazz!
That’s from Turner’s 1927 memoir The Old Flying Days. Elsewhere he describes approaching the surface of the North Sea far from land: “We could hear the incessant murmur of the commotion of waters as the countless millions of waves and ripples sang together. Surely there is not in nature any sound quite like this, and only in a balloon can it be heard, for by the shore one hears only the turbulent noise of the waters breaking on land, and in any sort of ship the noise of the ship itself makes what to our ears would seem discord.”
John Van Zandt’s “combined cane and burglar alarm,” patented in 1884, is low-tech but effective: The head contains a percussion cap, and the ferrule contains a spring clamp.
“The operation is as follows: The occupant of the room simply takes the cane and suspends the same over the top of the door, as hereinbefore explained. On the door being slightly opened the support for the cane is released, whereupon the cane drops and, striking the floor, explodes the cap, thus frightening away the thief and arousing the occupant of the room.”
I have fully considered the project of these our modern Dædalists, and am resolved so far to discourage it, as to prevent any person from flying in my time. It would fill the world with innumerable immoralities, and give such occasions for intrigues as people cannot meet with who have nothing but legs to carry them. You should have a couple of lovers make a midnight assignation upon the top of the monument, and see the cupola of St. Paul’s covered with both sexes like the outside of a pigeon-house. Nothing would be more frequent than to see a beau flying in at a garret window, or a gallant giving chaos to his mistress, like a hawk after a lark. There would be no walking in a shady wood without springing a covey of toasts. The poor husband could not dream what was doing over his head. If he were jealous, indeed, he might clip his wife’s wings, but what would this avail when there were flocks of whore-masters perpetually hovering over his house? What concern would the father of a family be in all the time his daughter was upon the wing?