27 Patent-Holding Celebrity Inventors

Olivier Le Moal/iStock via Getty Images
Olivier Le Moal/iStock via Getty Images

When we think of inventors, the image that comes to mind is usually that of a frazzled scientist toiling away in a lab, not celebrities pulled from the pages of Us Weekly. However, a number of well-known public figures hold patents for various innovations. Some are related to the work that made them famous, while others are offshoots of hobbies or just a single great idea. Here are a few of our favorite celebrity inventors.

1. EDDIE VAN HALEN

Part of guitar wizard Eddie Van Halen's signature sound was his two-handed tapping technique, but letting all ten fingers fly while simultaneously holding up the guitar's neck could get a bit tricky. Van Halen came up with a novel way to get around this problem, though; he invented a support (top) that could flip out of the back of his axe's body to raise and stabilize the fretboard so he could tap out searing songs like "Eruption." While Van Halen was obviously interested in improving his guitar work, the patent application he filed in 1985 notes that the device would work with any stringed instrument. Want to tap out a scorching mandolin solo? Find someone selling Eddie's device.

2. James Cameron

It’s probably not surprising that Cameron—who designed a submersible to take him to the deepest known part of the ocean—will often invent technology to make his films if what he needs doesn’t exist. He holds a number of patents, including US Patent No. 4996938, “apparatus for propelling a user in an underwater environment,” that he and his brother, Michael, created to film The Abyss and patented in 1989. The device is basically an underwater dolly equipped with propellers that makes it easy for a camera operator to maneuver in the water—and allowed Cameron to capture the shots he wanted for the 1989 film, part of which was filmed in an abandoned nuclear reactor.

3. ABRAHAM LINCOLN

Lincoln wasn't just splitting rails and winning debates before he moved into the White House. He held quite a few jobs before becoming a politician, and in one of these capacities he helped float a boatload of goods down the Mississippi River. At one point, the boat got stuck in a shallow spot, and it took quite a bit of effort to wrench it free. Lincoln thought that there must have been a better way to keep ships off of shoals, so he invented a convoluted device that involved putting a set of bellows on the bottom of a boat. Lincoln's reasoning was that if the boat got in a sticky situation, sailors could fill the bellows with air to make the ship more buoyant.

Lincoln received Patent Number 6469 for this invention in 1849, but unfortunately, Abe's creation never made it into stores. It turned out that all of the extra weight associated with adding the bellows device to a ship actually made it more likely that the boat would get stuck.

4. STEVE MCQUEEN

McQueen's driving abilities extended far beyond his legendary racing scenes in The Great Escape and Bullitt. In fact, he was a pretty serious motorcycle and car racer who toyed with the idea of someday becoming a professional racer. He even competed in some big-name races, like the prestigious 12 Hours of Sebring. McQueen didn't just drive his cars, though; he also liked to tinker with them. In 1969, he filed a design patent for an improved bucket seat, and that's how he became the proud owner of patent number D219584.

5. Bill Nye

He's not just the science guy—Bill Nye is also the inventor of a better ballet toe shoe. The design and materials of the traditional pointe shoe have remained unchanged for centuries, Nye points out in the patent application, and can cause a dancer discomfort and even pain. Nye's design takes into account the forces exerted upon a dancer's body when dancing en pointe and provides additional support via a "toe box" located "in the toe of the toe shoe, an upper and an outer sole. Support structure within the toe shoe includes a longitudinal support member, a foot encirculating tubular sleeve, and/or a toe ridge."   

6. JAMIE LEE CURTIS

In 1987 Curtis designed and patented a disposable diaper that included a waterproof pocket that held baby wipes. She hasn't profited from her idea yet, though, since she refuses to license the patent until diaper companies make biodegradable products.

7. George Lucas

If you’ve ever played with a Star Wars toy, chances are George Lucas owns a patent on it. This Boba Fett action figure, which Lucas holds a patent on with co-inventors Joe Johnston and Ralph McQuarrie, was the first of 11 the director would come to hold; it was filed in 1979 and granted in 1982.

8. HEDY LAMARR

Lamarr's name may not be so familiar now, but in the 1930s and 1940s, the Austrian-born MGM actress was one of the hottest things on the silver screen. She was quite the scientist, too. In 1942 Lamarr and composer George Antheil received a patent for a "secret communication system" that could use carrier waves of different frequencies to remotely control devices like zeppelins and torpedoes. Unfortunately, mechanical engineering wasn't quite ready for Lamarr's major breakthrough, and the technology didn't come into use for over 20 years, at which point Lamarr's patent had expired.

9. Francis Ford Coppola

Francis Ford Coppola is a renaissance man. He directs and produces movies. He owns a winery and a restaurant. He's also dabbled in fashion, and holds a patent for a t-shirt with a turtle on it that has its shell divided into numbered regions. The purpose is to "permit the wearer to identify for a third party a particular location on the wearer's body" in the event of something like an unreachable itch. The patent describes the scenario in detail: 

It can be especially difficult for a person to scratch his or her own itch when the location of the itch is in a hard-to-reach spot such as the back. ... [A]bsent a device such as a scratching stick, a person with an itch in a hard-to-reach location must ask a second party to scratch the itch. This, in turn, requires orienting the second-party-scratcher by using a series of directions, which are often being misunderstood by the second party. ... “Could you scratch lower? To the left . . . No, the other left. Now, down lower. To the right. No, no . . . Too far! Back to the left.”  ... [T]here is a need for an object that assists a person in precisely identifying a location on the person's own body for a second party.

It's brilliant, but what else would you expect from the director of The Godfather?

10. PRINCE

Even the man in purple has a patent to call his own. In 1992 Prince got the thumbs-up for a design patent for a "portable keyboard instrument." Yup, it's a keytar. This one's a curvy purple design with two pitchfork-type spikes on the end. In other words, it's something that could only have come out of Prince's noggin.

11. PENN JILLETTE

In 1999 everyone's favorite funnyman illusionist received a patent for a "hydro-therapeutic stimulator." What exactly does that mean? According to the application, it's "a spa of a type including a tub for holding water and a user, in particular, a female user." The spa's jets are strategically located to make the experience a bit more, ah, enjoyable for female bathers.

12. Paula Abdul

Most mic stands are flat-bottomed, and meant to stay in one position on the stage, which requires a performer to be close to the microphone in order to be heard—or to drag the heavy mic stand along the stage. That just didn't work for Paula Abdul, who in 2009 patented her own mic stand, a "dynamic microphone support apparatus." Her device has a concave base filled with cement and a cover on the base that "is positioned over the base and covers the compartment such that weight of a user positioned on the base cover applied in a direction causes the base to tilt with respect to the surface in the direction; and a rod member." The resulting invention looks like a cross between a workout apparatus, a mic stand, and a death trap, but because the base is weighted, the singer can stand on top and move around without fear of falling over.

13. MARLON BRANDO

To say Brando got a bit eccentric in his golden years is something of an understatement, but the aging actor also started to get innovative. Brando's inventiveness focused on the drums, and in 2002 he received a patent for a "drumhead tensioning device and method," one of several patents he held for drum devices.

14. Andy Warhol

Not content with just one watch face, Andy Warhol created a watch with five, which was patented by the American Watch Company after the artist's death.

15. LAWRENCE WELK

Your grandma's favorite accordionist and bandleader was also an inventor. In 1953, Welk received a design patent for a new type of ashtray that looked like (what else?) an accordion. Not a huge breakthrough for humanity, but it went nicely with Welk's other patent; ten years earlier he had received a design patent for a menu card that looked like a singing chicken.

16. ZEPPO MARX

Zeppo may not have had the same comedic chops as Groucho, but he was handy with inventions. In 1969 Zeppo was part of a team that received a patent for a cardiac pulse rate monitor that was designed to let people with heart problems know if their pulse was shifting into a danger zone.

17. CHRISTIE BRINKLEY

The supermodel received a patent for an educational toy she designed in 1991 that seems to mostly be useful for helping kids learn the alphabet.

18. MICHAEL JACKSON

How did Michael Jackson seemingly lean in defiance of gravity in the video for "Smooth Criminal"? He wore a pair of specially designed shoes that could hitch into a device hidden beneath the stage. Jackson and two co-inventors patented this "method and means for creating anti-gravity illusion" in 1993.

19. GARY BURGHOFF

The man who played Radar on M*A*S*H also invented a device he calls "Chum Magic," a floating apparatus that fishermen can fill with chum to lure fish to their boats. He received a patent for the device in 1992.

20. Albert Einstein

It's probably not surprising that this Nobel-award winning scientist holds 50 patents for things like hearing devices, refrigerators, and compasses. But one of his patents is not like the others: In 1936, Einstein patented a design for "a new, original, and ornamental" blouse: "The design is characterized by the side openings A-A (Fig. 2) which also serve as arm holes; a central back panel extends from the yoke to the waistband as indicated at B." Smart and fashionable, that Einstein.

21. Mark Twain

The writer formerly known as Samuel Clemens loved to scrapbook—but he hated the standard scrapbooking process. So in 1872, he invented a better scrapbook:

The nature of my invention consists in a selfpasting scrap-book ... The leaves of which the Book A ... are entirely covered, on one or both sides, with mucilage or other suitable adhesive substance, while the leaves of which the book B is composed have the mucilage or adhesive substance applied only at intervals ... It is only necessary to moisten so much of the leaf as will contain the piece to be pasted in, and place such piece thereon, when it will stick to the leaf.

According to PBS, by 1901 there were 57 different types of his new scrapbook available. Twain also patented an "improvement in adjustable and detachable straps for garments" in 1871, which was referenced in a 1999 patent for a bra arrangement.

22. Steven Spielberg

The man behind Jaws holds a patent for a dolly switch, filed in 1999, as well as a patent for "Method and apparatus for annotating a document," filed in 2011. It allows those editing a digital document—a script, say—to do so from anywhere; it also allows them to add verbal annotations to the document. Spielberg has also filed a patent for a holodeck. 

23. JULIE Newmar

In 1974, the actress better known as Catwoman patented the delightfully named "pantyhose with shaping band for cheeky derriere relief." What makes it so much better than regular pantyhose? According to the patent, "An elastic shaping band is attached to the rear panty portion and is connected from the vicinity of the crotch to the vicinity of the waist band and fits between the wearer's buttocks to delineate the wearer's derriere in cheeky relief." Okay then.

24. Neil Young

You know him as a rock legend, but Neil Young also loves trains—so much that he owns a stake in a model train manufacturing company and has an extensive collection. He also holds seven patents related to model trains, including Patent No. US5441223, "Model train controller using electromagnetic field between track and ground."

25. Kurt Vonnegut Sr.

In 1946, the father of author and Saab dealership manager Kurt Vonnegut Jr. patented an easy-clean tobacco pipe "which may be cleaned without disturbing the burning tobacco in the bowl" and also without dirtying the fingers. 

26. Charles Fleischer

The voice behind the title character (among others) in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? patented a toy egg "adapted for pulling, stretching, and bouncing which includes two intertwined helically cut shells" in 1979.

27. Jamie Hyneman

He's held a number of jobs—boat captain, dive master, and pet shop owner among them—but as head of special effects company M5, MythBusters star Jamie Hyneman patented a "Remote control device with gyroscopic stabilization and directional control" in 2000.

6 Grammar Lessons Hidden in Christmas Songs

Digital Vision./iStock via Getty Images Plus
Digital Vision./iStock via Getty Images Plus

Drop these facts about the grammar in your favorite carols when you're out caroling this holiday season.

1. "Round Yon Virgin"

The Carol: "Silent Night"

The round in “Silent Night” might call up imagery of the soft, maternal kind, but in the phrase “round yon virgin,” it simply means “around.” Yon is an antiquated word for “that one” or “over there.” The meaning of the phrase in the song depends on the line before it. It should be understood in the context “all is calm, all is bright round yon virgin mother and child.” In other words: “Everything is calm and bright around that virgin mother over there and her child.” In technical terms, “round yon virgin mother and child” is a prepositional phrase.

2. "Troll the Ancient Yuletide Carol"

The Carol: "Deck the Halls"

Trolling a carol might sound like some obnoxious attempt to undermine it, but it’s actually a great way to get in the holiday spirit. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), one of the meanings of troll, in use since the 16th century, is “to sing in a full, rolling voice; to chant merrily or jovially.” It’s related to the sense of rolling, or passing around, and probably came to be used to mean singing because of rounds, where the melody is passed from one person to the next. The modern, obnoxious sense of troll comes from a much later importation from Scandinavian mythology. People have increasingly been changing this line to “toll the ancient Yuletide carol” (now over 17,000 hits on Google). Don’t let the trolls win! Let’s troll the trolls by dragging this word back to the cheery side!

3. "The Little Lord Jesus Laid Down His Sweet Head"

The Carol: "Away in a Manger"

“Away in a manger, no crib for a bed / The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.” This line is a perfect storm of lay/lie confusion. The correct form here is laid, but it often gets changed to “lay,” and with good reason. Laid is the past tense of lay, which should be used here because the little Lord Jesus isn’t simply reposing (lying), but setting something down (laying), namely, his head.

If it were in the present tense, you could say he “lays down his sweet head.” But in the past tense lay is the form for lie. I know. It’s a rule that seems rigged just to trip people up. But here, it gets even worse, because the word right after laid is down. There’s a word ending with D followed by a word beginning with D. When you say “laid down,” it’s hard to tell whether that first D is there or not. As a practical matter, both lay and laid sound exactly the same in this context. So you can fudge it when you sing it. Just be careful how you write it.

4. "You Better Watch Out, You Better Not Cry"

The Carol: "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town"

That’s right, Santa Claus is coming to town, so you better watch out. Or is it “you’d better watch out”? Many grammar guides advise that the proper form is “you’d better” because the construction comes from “you had better,” and it doesn’t make sense without the had. The problem is, it doesn’t make much sense with the had either, if you want to do a picky word-by-word breakdown.

Though the had better construction has been a part of English for 1000 years, it came from a distortion of phrases like “him were better that he never were born,” where were was a subjunctive (“it would have been better”) and him (or me, you, us) was in the dative case (“him were better” equals “it would have been better for him”). People started changing the dative to the subject case (“he were better”) and then changed the were to had.

That was all hundreds of years ago. Then, in the 1800s, people started dropping the had. The grammar books of the late 1800s tried mightily to shore up the had (some even making up a rule from nowhere that it should be would, as in “he would better”), but these days the bare form is considered correct, if a bit casual for formal contexts. Clearly, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” wants nothing to do with fancy formality. So “you better watch out” is the way to go.

5. "With the Kids Jingle Belling" and "There’ll Be Much Mistletoeing"

The Carol: "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year"

There is a lot of verbing going on in “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” First, “With the kids jingle belling/And everyone telling you ‘Be of good cheer,'” and then, “There’ll be much mistletoeing/And hearts will be glowing when loved ones are near.” Of course, in a song, concessions to rhythm and rhyme need to be made, and sometimes this involves making up a few words. But the practice of turning nouns into verbs is as old as English itself. Many of our verbs started when someone decided to use a noun to stand for some verbal notion related to that noun. First we had hammer, and from that we made hammering. First we had message, and now we have messaging. Oil, oiling, sled, sledding, battle, battling. The meaning of the verb is built off some context involving the noun, which could be almost anything (pounding with a hammer, sending a message, putting oil on, riding a sled, engaging in a battle). So verbs for “ringing jingle bells” or “kissing under the mistletoe” aren’t so strange at all. At least no more strange than “gifting” or “dialoguing.”

6. "God rest you merry, gentlemen"

The Carol: "God Rest You Merry Gentleman"

Notice the comma placement there? The gentlemen in this phrase are not necessarily taken to be merry already. It’s not “Hey, you! You merry gentlemen! God rest you!” It’s “Hey, you gentlemen over there! May God rest you merry!”

In Shakespeare’s time, rest you merry was a way to express good wishes, to say something like “peace and happiness to you.” Other versions were rest you fair or rest you happy. It came from a sense of rest meaning “be at ease,” which we still use in the phrase rest assured. In “God rest you merry,” you is the object of rest, so when people make the song sound more old-timey by substituting ye for you, they are messing up the original grammar because ye was the subject form.

Actually, that’s not quite true, because even in Shakespeare’s time, ye was sometimes used as the object form. However, if you want to go that way, you should be consistent with your pronouns and sing “God rest ye merry gentlemen/Let nothing ye dismay.” In the second line you is also an object, as in “Let nothing dismay you.”

So rest you merry this season, and enjoy your jingle belling, mistletoeing, and trolling.

12 Fascinating Facts About Queen Victoria

Photos.com/iStock via Getty Images
Photos.com/iStock via Getty Images

Much like Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Victoria was never expected to ascend to the British throne. Born on May 24, 1819, the young royal known as Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent defied all odds when she became Queen Victoria on June 20, 1837, less than a month after her 18th birthday.

Victoria ruled the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland for more than 60 years, and in 1876 she adopted the title of Empress of India. Victoria didn’t oversee her empire alone, though. In 1840 she married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and together they had nine children (including Victoria’s successor, King Edward VII). Here are 12 things you might not have known about Queen Victoria.

1. Queen Victoria was born fifth in line to the throne, which made her an unlikely ruler.

Princess Victoria and her mother in 1834
Princess Victoria and her mother in 1834.
George Hayter, The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

When Victoria was born, she was fifth in line to the throne, just behind her father, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, who was fourth in line behind his three older brothers (none of whom had any living children—or at least no legitimate issue). Victoria's position in the line of succession placed her ahead of Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, her father's younger brother, which proved to be problematic.

When Victoria's father died on January 23, 1820, the future queen was barely eight months old. And when her grandfather, George III, died just a week later, the tot became third in line to the throne, which reportedly enraged Ernest Augustus. Fearing for the safety of her daughter, Victoria's mother chose to raise her away from the influence of Prince Edward's family—especially once rumors began to circulate that Ernest Augustus had designs on murdering his young niece to ensure that he, not she, would ascend to the throne. Whether or not there was any veracity to those rumors didn’t matter; on June 20, 1837, following the death of her uncle William, Duke of Clarence, 18-year-old Princess Alexandrina Victoria became Queen Victoria.

2. Queen Victoria was the first sovereign to rule from Buckingham Palace.

In 1761, Buckingham Palace was not yet a palace—it was simply a house. King George III bought the property for his wife, Queen Charlotte, to use as a family home. But when King George IV took over, he had bigger aspirations and decided to create an extravagant palace; costs ballooned to £500,000 (or more than $65 million in today's dollars). George IV died in 1830, however, which meant he never even got to live in the palace. When Queen Victoria took over in 1837, she became the first sovereign to rule from Buckingham Palace. In 1851, she was the first recorded royal to appear on Buckingham Palace’s balcony, a tradition the royal family still continues today.

3. Queen Victoria survived eight assassination attempts.

Queen Victoria sitting in a carriage car
Culture Club/Getty Images

Being in the public eye has its advantages and disadvantages, and for Queen Victoria that meant being the frequent target of assassination attempts. Over the course of her reign, she survived eight of them. In 1940, Edward Oxford shot at Victoria and Prince Albert while they rode in a carriage; Victoria, who was pregnant at the time, was thankfully not harmed. (Oxford was later judged to be insane.)

Two years later, John Francis attempted to shoot the couple not once, but twice—two days in a row. Again, neither was harmed. Just five weeks later, a teenager named John William Bean fired a pistol loaded with pieces of tobacco pipe at the Queen. In 1850, she was eventually injured when ex-soldier Robert Pate hit her over the head with an iron-tipped cane while she spent time in the courtyard of her home. Pate gave her a black eye and a scar that lasted for a long time.

4. Queen Victoria first met Prince Albert on her 17th birthday.

In May 1836, on Victoria’s 17th birthday, Prince Albert and the future queen—who were first cousins—met for the first time when Albert and his brother visited Kensington Palace with their Uncle Leopold. (Albert would turn 17 years old in August.) “He is extremely handsome,” Victoria wrote of the prince in her diary. But it would take almost four more years for the couple to tie the knot. And because royal rule stipulated that a reigning monarch could not be proposed to, Victoria had to be the one to pop the question. On October 15, 1839, Victoria proposed to Albert, who happily accepted. The couple married on February 10, 1840.

5. Queen Victoria popularized the white wedding dress.

Queen Victoria of England - Her Majesty 's wedding to Prince Albert in 1840
Culture Club/Getty Images

If you've ever wondered where the white wedding dress tradition originated, look no further than Queen Victoria. In 1840, Victoria wore an off-the-shoulder white satin gown covered in lace when she married Prince Albert. Though Victoria wasn’t the first royal to wear a white wedding dress—Mary, Queen of Scots wore white, too—wearing white became a status symbol following Victoria and Albert's nuptials.

6. Queen Victoria ensured that no other bride could replicate her wedding dress.

After Victoria’s wedding, she had the pattern to her dress destroyed so that no one could duplicate it.

7. Queen Victoria had nine children, but had some harsh opinions of motherhood.

Queen Victoria And Prince Albert With Five Of Their Children in 1846
Historica Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Nine kids is a lot, and even though the Queen had a lot of help, she at times seemed indifferent to motherhood. In personal letters, she wrote about her children, mainly about their looks. She once wrote: “I am no admirer of babies generally—there are exceptions—for instance (your sisters) Alice, and Beatrice were very pretty from the very first—yourself also-rather so—Arthur too ... Bertie and Leopold—too frightful. Little girls are always prettier and nicer.” She also said “an ugly baby is a very nasty object.”

8. Queen Victoria was fascinated by Jack the Ripper.

In 1888, the serial killer known as Jack the Ripper began brutally murdering women—mainly prostitutes—in London’s Whitechapel district. Victoria received a petition signed by the women of East London urging the Queen’s “servants in authority” to “close bad houses” a.k.a. brothels, and passed it to the Home Office. When final victim Mary Jane Kelly was killed, Victoria contacted the Prime Minister and urged that better detectives be employed.

9. Queen Victoria’s grandson was suspected of being Jack the Ripper.

Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, c1890s
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

To this day, no one knows for sure who Jack the Ripper was. However, some people have theorized that Victoria’s grandson Prince Albert Victor was the killer. In the 1976 book Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution, author Stephen Knight wrote about how Victoria’s grandson might’ve contracted syphilis from a prostitute, which turned him mad. Another theory suggests the grandson secretly married a Catholic commoner and fathered a child, and it was the royal family who murdered the women to cover up the family secret. (Yes, that one seems a little far-fetched.)

10. Queen Victoria served as her grandson’s alibi.

Queen Victoria gave her grandson an alibi in her journal, thus exonerating him from accusations of being one of the world’s most famous serial killers.

11. Queen Victoria is the second longest-reigning British Monarch.

For 51 years, Victoria held the title of longest-reigning British monarch. But on September 9, 2015, Queen Elizabeth II took over the reins, so to speak, and bumped Victoria to second place. Victoria ruled for 63 years, 7 months, and 3 days; Elizabeth—who is Victoria’s great, great granddaughter—has ruled for almost 68 years.

12. Queen Victoria spent 40 years mourning the death of Prince Albert.

Queen Victoria with her great-granchildren at Osborne House, Isle of Wight, 1900
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

A couple of years before his death, Prince Albert began experiencing stomach cramps, and he almost died in a horse-drawn carriage accident. He told Victoria his days were numbered: “I am sure if I had a severe illness, I should give up at once. I should not struggle for life. I have no tenacity for life,” he said.

On December 14, 1861, Albert succumbed to typhoid fever, though some people believe that stomach cancer and Crohn’s disease were the more likely culprits. Victoria blamed their son Edward for Albert’s death, as Albert was worried about a scandalous affair Edward was said to be having with an actress in Ireland.

Victoria lived for another 40 years and mourned Albert’s death the rest of her life by wearing black, becoming a recluse (she was often referred to as the Widow of Windsor), and keeping Albert’s rooms just the way he had left them.

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