“Sewing Machine Worked by a Dog”


From Gaston Tissandier’s Popular Scientific Recreations (1882). This is even worse than the dog treadmill, where at least the animal has the option to stand still — here he’s confined to a box on the side of a wheel, where, finding himself sliding downward, he’s perpetually forced to climb.

Tissandier says that the machine’s inventor, M. Richard of Paris, employed a large number of women working on sewing machines and conceived the idea of “quadrupedal motors” when he noticed the work was injuring their health. That was generous. “There is very little trouble or expense connected with the working, so a great saving is effected, as the dogs cost little, and are cheaply fed.” Perhaps he found a suitably ironic fate in the afterlife.

(Thanks, Richard.)

Wake Tech


J. Carroll House patented this “alarm bedstead” in 1855. It’s driven by an alarm clock so that, at an arranged time, the bed drops into an inclined position, “and whatever is movable upon the same rolls out upon the floor. Thus we shall find ourselves ten minutes after the alarm is sounded deposited upon the carpet, permitted to arise and dress ourselves for the business of the day.”

“Every person will perceive that this alarm bed well deserved a patent,” opined Scientific American. “Any sinner sleeping beyond a certain hour deserves to be tumbled out of the blankets in the manner so successfully accomplished by Mr. House.”

The Great Steam Duck


In 1841 a Richard Oglesby Davidson proposed building a flying machine in the shape of an eagle. We know this only because an anonymous Kentucky satirist followed it up with plans for a duck-shaped, steam-powered aërostat of his own — and, as so often, the satire has outlived its target.

The duck was to have been 15 feet long, with wings of whalebone and silk, and contained a steam engine and a small cabin. “I have made a calculation to ascertain the power of the Steam Duck, which, I think proves conclusively that success is inevitable:”


As to the danger from sportsmen, “any one of common sense can perceive that there never was a real bird with a scape-pipe in the situation described; nor wings shaped and constructed as those of the ‘steam duck’: yet it might not be amiss to attach to the works an alarm-bell, which would prevent all possibility of mistake.” One wonders if Davidson thought of this.

Track Shoes


With these special soles, patented by the United Shoe Machinery Corp. in 1968, you can leave animal tracks in natural surroundings, “for the purpose of serious instruction or for games and amusement.”

The tracks shown here match those of a Kodiak bear cub. So now you can have an anxious mother bear follow you through the woods. Good, right?

The Virtue of Education


From an 1895 Strand feature on eccentric ideas, a mortarboard that “may be opened as shown during times of elemental disturbance.”

“It is to be unfolded and folded in a similar way possible with ungummed envelopes. By what manner of means it is to sustain its four unfolded corners, no man (even the inventor himself) knoweth.”

The Early Bird


In 1813, American inventor Oliver Evans envisioned a strange future:

“The time will come when people will travel in stages moved by steam engines, from one city to another, almost as fast as birds fly, fifteen or twenty miles an hour. Passing through the air with such velocity, changing the scene in such rapid succession, will be the most exhilarating, delightful exercise. A carriage will set out from Washington in the morning, the passengers will breakfast at Baltimore, dine at Philadelphia, and sup at New York, the same day. To accomplish this, two sets of railways will be laid, so nearly level as not in any place to deviate more than two degrees from a horizontal line, made of wood or iron, or smooth paths of broken stone or gravel, with a rail to guide the carriages, so that they may pass each other in different directions, and travel by night as well as by day; and the passengers will sleep in these stages as comfortably as they now do in steam stage boats.”

Unable to obtain financing, he abandoned the project and turned to other work. Thirteen years later, George Stephenson built the first public steam railway.

Dog Tech


With J.R. Richards’ dog exercising device, patented in 1939, your pet can walk himself. Just strap him into the harness above the adjustable treadmill and he can “walk, run or exercise at practically any speed, according to his own desire, and without compulsion, preliminary training or instruction.” (The device is not powered, so the dog controls the pace.)

After his workout, send him through Clem Blafford’s automatic dog washer, below, which will spray him with soapy and then clear water and then blow him dry. “It is undesirable to remove the animal from the housing while it is still wet since the animal in such conditions generally shakes itself vigorously … and this results in the animal handler, the adjacent floor, walls and any others who may be in the vicinity being the recipient of the water.”


Home Made


Sears used to sell houses by mail. Between 1908 and 1940, about 75,000 American families bought kits that included everything necessary to construct a finished house, including nails, screws, shingles, windows, staircases, mantelpieces, and paint. All this would be delivered to the local railroad station, and the customer would assemble it with the help of friends (or, later, local contractors).

With 447 varieties and a wealth of options — customers could choose their own hardware, light fixtures, cabinets, bookcases, and telephone niches — Sears houses have no characteristic appearance. But it’s thought that most of them are still being lived in today.

Science and Magic


In 1984, Timothy Zell patented a surgical procedure to make a unicorn of a cow, antelope, sheep, or goat, essentially by transplanting the horn buds.

In the patent abstract Zell notes that he’s following on the work of University of Maine biologist W. Franklin Dove, who apparently spent several years in the 1930s pursuing the same endeavor; in May 1936 Dove published an article the Scientific Monthly with the notable title “Artificial Production of the Fabulous Unicorn.”

Zell’s improvement consists in transplanting the buds early, before they have become attached to the skull. But he notes also that he wants to create a unicorn with “a higher mental capacity and greater physical capabilities” by positioning the horn over the pineal gland. “Tests have indicated that transposition of the horns of the animal to form a unicorn with the single horn being positioned over the pineal gland has rendered a more intelligent and controllable animal.” Sounds like he was planning something specific.

The Price of Beauty


Ignatius Nathaniel Scares’ nose shaper, patented in 1907, offers new hope to “those with upturned, one-sided, or flat noses or those with distended nostrils.”

The noses of a great many persons are slightly deformed, and therefore because of the prominence of this feature the appearance of the face is more or less disfigured. Such deformity can frequently be remedied by a gentle but continuous pressure, and it is the object of this invention to bring about this result in a way that shall be painless to the individual.

Apply the cup to your nose, then cinch the strap to your head to produce a steady pressure. “It will usually be found preferable to wear the device at night, but it can be worn any time, and a continuous use will soon be found to re-form or reshape the nose into its normal lines.” For all I know it works.