Traffic Forecast

http://www.sxc.hu/photo/326255

John Macnie’s 1883 utopian novel The Diothas describes paved roads on which cars achieve speeds of 20 miles per hour:

When we had fairly emerged into the country, the curricle, gradually increasing its speed, moved over the smooth track like a shadow, obedient to the slightest touch of its guide. Steering was effected much as in the tricycle of the present: the brakes were controlled by the feet. The forefinger, by means of a lever resembling the brake of a bicycle, regulated the amount of force allowed to issue from the reservoir.

That’s not the remarkable part, though. “‘You see the white line running along the centre of the road,’ resumed Utis. ‘The rule of the road requires that line to be kept on the left except when passing a vehicle in front. Then the line may be crossed, provided the way on that side is clear.'”

Lending a Hand

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

The tricks by which a shop-lifter succeeds in plying her profession without being caught are many and ingenious. The most successful of all tricks is the false arm and hand, shown in one of the illustrations. While the shop-lifter’s hands are apparently in sight of the store clerks, one is at work stowing away articles. The false hand is, of course, gloved and thrust through one of the sleeves. The real hand works under cover of the bodice and coat. The second illustration shows one of the pockets in which stolen articles are secreted.

Popular Mechanics, September 1908

No Hands

https://www.google.com/patents/US755209

Illinois inventor James E. Bennett offered this contraption in 1904 to enable baseball catchers to intercept the ball without using their hands. The ball passes through the wire frame and hits a cushion at the rear of the box, then drops into a pocket from which the player can retrieve it.

It was not well received. The Cincinnati Enquirer said the box resembled “a cage built for a homesick bear or a dyspeptic hyena.”

Further, as Dan Gutman points out in his 1995 collection of baseball inventions, Banana Bats & Ding-Dong Balls, a catcher does more than catch pitches. “On a high pop, presumably, the catcher would have to run to the spot where he judged the ball was going to land, then lie on the ground face up and wait for it to hit him in the stomach.” At least his hands will be free.

Round Trip

http://www.google.com/patents/US3933115

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.”

Cold Whirled

http://www.google.com/patents/about?id=WlYWAAAAEBAJ

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.

Unbound

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wright_flyer_III_loc_gov.jpg

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.”

Low Tech

http://www.google.com/patents/US5263209

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.”

Lost Weapons

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Watered_pattern_on_sword_blade1.Iran.JPG
Image: Wikimedia Commons

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.

(Thanks, Mike.)

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Greekfire-madridskylitzes1.jpg