Anatomy Lesson

In 1988, Shao-Chun Chu conceived a unique way to teach people about the human body — an amusement ride that would carry passengers through an enormous model of a sleeping man and woman:

An educational amusement apparatus forms a large building structure having an external appearance simulating a man and a woman resting partially under a blanket, wherein riders are taken through a succession of cavities that simulate internal organs of the man and woman. Entrance to a head chamber simulating an oral cavity is achieved by a stairway supported by a simulated arm of the man, the oral cavity having displays of teeth in normal and abnormal conditions, and serving as a staging area for a train to carry the riders. The train passes into a simulated cranial cavity of the woman, past a sectional display of simulated ear organs, and into a body portion of the building that is representative of the abdomen of both the man and the woman, first through a simulated esophagus, stomach, and intestine of an alimentary canal, through simulated urinary and reproductive tracts, then through a simulated liver and a simulated cardiovascular canal, and finally through a simulated lung and windpipe to an exit staging area of the building.

Chu hoped the ride would encourage people to take better care of their bodies and would be “effective in transporting a large ridership.” His 10-page patent abstract contains sentences that I’m pretty sure have never been written before (“Further, the structure continues to descend until the cars become partially submerged in the lake of the stomach, preferably with considerable splashing”). Unfortunately, to my knowledge it’s never been realized.


In 1927, before the advent of long-range aircraft, engineer Edward R. Armstrong proposed a unique way to get across the ocean: floating airports. Armstrong’s “seadromes” would stand above the waves on columns of steel, tethered to the ocean floor and stabilized with ballast tanks. Atop each would be a 1200-foot runway, a hotel, a restaurant, a hangar, and a fuel depot, effectively turning it into a stationary aircraft carrier. Armstrong hoped to string eight of these across the Atlantic so that short-range planes could hop between America and Europe.

He managed to interest the U.S. government in the scheme, and in 1934 Popular Science reported that lawyers had built a case for anchoring the stations on the high seas. But the Depression and the appearance of transatlantic aircraft finally crippled the plan, and Armstrong’s dream was never realized. The principle he proposed survives in floating oil rigs.

Valise Police

Briefcase security, then and now:

In 1925, August Eimer invented the case above, which emits smoke when torn from its owner’s hand “in the form of a continually issuing cloud that will envelop the container and serve to unmistakably identify its purloiner, necessitating discard of the container by the thief if he would make his escape.”

In 1989, Isaac Soleimani offered the model below: As the thief is running off, you activate a radio signal that releases a latch, “with the result that the briefcase falls on the ground, leaving the thief only with the handle.”

It seems there’s always an element of slapstick. “The handle could also be spring-loaded so that upon remote triggering it could clamp down hard onto the thief’s hand, clamping the fingers between the handle and the top of the briefcase, thereby inflicting pain to the thief, causing him to drop the briefcase.”

Money Talks

Pay telephones appeared as early as 1889. William Gray patented this version, in which a coin dropped into a slot mechanically unlocks the hand crank. While he’s using the phone, the caller keeps the device unlocked by resting his arm on an armrest: “In case the first call is not answered from the central office the user of the telephone can, while keeping his arm upon the arm-rest and so holding the button uncovered, hang up the telephone m on the hook m’ and again call the central office by turning the crank b and pushing in the button in the usual manner.”

Vision and Taste

One way to look wise is to sit on the corner of your desk, chew on the stem of your glasses, and gaze ruminatively into the middle distance. But this can grow tedious as you wait for people to notice you. This improvement, suggested in 1990 by Adam S. Halbridge, might help:

It is believed that many adult wearers of eyeglasses … would enjoy having a desirable flavor imparted to them when they chew or suck upon the ends of the temple arms. … [M]any younger children and teen-agers … would also enjoy having a desirable flavor imparted to them if they chew on the temple arms of their sunglasses.

He proposes adding a chewable cap to each arm — flavored like cinnamon, jalapeno, licorice, or taffy for grownups, fruit or candy for children.

Better Safe

Nohl Braun’s “neonatal net,” patented in 1990, prevents any untoward accidents as you’re entering the world:

The neo-natal device of the present invention comprises, essentially, a net having connecting members on each side thereof adapted for connecting the net between the delivery table and the attending obstetrician, whereby the net is suspended over the space between the delivery table and the obstetrician, to thereby provide a safety net for catching the newborn infant in the event that the baby accidentally slips from the hands of the obstetrician.

This is particularly useful if the mother is whirling on a centrifuge.

Scent of Evil

Louis J. Marcone came up with a novel way to catch bank robbers in 1989: The teller might step on a trigger and surreptitiously spray the robber with “a non-toxic, clear, odorless and harmless liquid spray material which can be readily detected by trained police dogs.”

He envisioned a second application for the device: The spray unit could be attached to a fire alarm, so that anyone who pulled the alarm would be marked with the scent. “If the alarm was determined to be a false alarm, the fire department can alert police to bring trained police dogs to the scene, whereupon the dog can track the scent from the alarm location to the person activating the false alarm.”

A New Acquaintance

Fanny Kemble meets an early steam locomotive on the Liverpool-Manchester railway, Aug. 25, 1830:

We were introduced to the little engine which was to drag us along the rails. She (for they make these curious little fire horses all mares) consisted of a boiler, a stove, a platform, a bench, and behind the bench a barrel containing enough water to prevent her being thirsty for fifteen miles, the whole machine not bigger than a common fire engine. She goes upon two wheels, which are her feet, and are moved by bright steel legs called pistons; these are propelled by steam, and in proportion as more steam is applied to the upper extremities (the hip-joints, I suppose) of these pistons, the faster they move the wheels; and when it is desirable to diminish the speed, the steam, which unless suffered to escape would burst the boiler, evaporates through a safety valve into the air. The reins, bit, and bridle of this wonderful beast, is a small steel handle, which applies or withdraws the steam from its legs or pistons, so that a child might manage it. The coals, which are its oats, were under the bench, and there was a small glass tube affixed to the boiler, with water in it, which indicates by its fullness or emptiness when the creature wants water, which is immediately conveyed to it from its reservoirs. There is a chimney to the stove, but as they burn coke there is none of the dreadful black smoke which accompanies the progress of a steam vessel. This snorting little animal, which I felt rather inclined to pat, was then harnessed to our carriage, and Mr. Stephenson having taken me on the bench of the engine with him, we started at about ten miles an hour.

Blind Justice

Paul Martineau came up with a novel self-defense method in 1990 — a wax capsule containing a concentrated solution of citric acid. If an assailant approaches you, you chew the capsule and spit the contents into his eyes.

Compared to other attack prevention methods, Martineau says, this one is “readily concealed, quick to use and … while effective, is not offensive to the user.”

Italian to Go

“[B]ecause of the nature of pasta dishes, it has not been practical to eat pasta products while strolling.” Patented in 1990, Nicholas Ruggieri’s “spaghetti sipper” solves this problem with a tidy, portable container:

A person eats the pasta by placing their mouth on the spout 23 or tube 13 and sucking up the pasta. When the desired amount of pasta is obtained, the person bites off the pasta and then consumes the pasta in the usual manner. When the pasta is cut, the pasta in the tube 13 or spout 23 is held in place by the pawl mechanism 14b, 24b. When the person wishes more pasta the sequence is repeated. By use of the pasta server 10, 20 of this invention a person can eat pasta while strolling and the like.

“To the pasta can be added as desired any of a number of sauces traditionally associated with pasta. These sauces typically enhance the lubricious properties of the pasta.”