They say necessity is the mother of invention, but some of these are making us think twice.
Mousetraps can be so anticlimactic, but this one, patented in 1882, goes off with a bang. The frame is designed to hold your favorite peashooter. When a rodent steps onto the treadle, a spring yanks on the trigger and sets off the firearm. The inventor, James Williams, suggested it would make a good burglar alarm.
2. “Flatulence Deodorizer”
Confidently cut the cheese with this 2001 invention, which masks the smell of your personal potpourri. A simple charcoal pad clings to the back of your underpants, stopping the aroma before it reaches your boss’s nose. Benjamin Franklin would be proud.
3. “Apparatus for preventing collisions of railway trains”
It’s like a scarecrow—but for trains. Patented in 1888, J. W. James’s invention features an electric dummy riding in front of the train. The dummy is “made to throw up both hands at each revolution of the wheel and strike the gong with a hammer for the purpose of frightening cattle from the track and to announce the approach of the train,” James wrote.
4. “Fresh-air breathing device and method”
Smoke inhalation causes most fire-related deaths. Knowing that, William Holmes found out how to keep you conscious while you wait for rescue—as long as you can handle having toilet breath. In 1981, Holmes patented a snorkel-like device that supplies fresh air from your sewer. Just feed the tube past your throne’s water trap. Although you won’t die from a lungful of smoke, you might get woozy after huffing all that sewer gas.
5. “Wearable device for feeding and observing birds”
As long as you’re okay with hanging a few birdfeeders from your dome, you can get a front row seat to all the action. David Leslie patented the contraption in 1999. Apparently, it’s also handy for butterfly hunting.
6. “Graffiti prevention apparatus”
Henry Hunt called graffiti “an assault on the visual pleasures of man.” So in 1997, he patented a system [PDF] that could kill the career of any wannabe Banksy. When a vandal approaches a potential canvas, a sensor embedded in the wall activates a magnetic field to repel the paint. There was one issue, though: Spray paint isn’t magnetic.
7. “Motorcycle Safety Apparel”
Dismayed by how dangerous motorcycle crashes can be, Dan Kincheloe patented an inflatable safety suit in 1987. Basically an airbag for your body, the suit has an “umbilical cord” that connects to a supply of compressed gas. When a biker flies off, a shorter pull cord snaps that rapidly inflates the suit. Pro? It could save your life. Con? You’ll look like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.
8. “Process for the utilization of ruminant animal methane emissions”
Forget windmills and solar panels. Harness the beautiful power of cows! Ruminant animals—which have four stomachs—account for 20 percent of the world’s methane emissions. (Most of that methane doesn’t come from their behinds, actually. They exhale and burp it out.) To harness all that lost gas, Markus Herrema patented a bovine gas collector in 2006. The gas is channeled to a chamber full of methane-loving microorganisims, which can be used later in “nutritional foodstuff or … other useful products, such as adhesive or cosmetics.”
9. “Improvement in Vehicles”
If cow power isn’t your thing, go to the dogs. In 1875, Parisian inventor Narcisse Hueet patented the “cynophere,” a dog-powered velocipede. Hueet wrote, “My invention contemplates the employment of dogs or other animals, working within a cage or cages, forming part of the wheels of the vehicle to be propelled.”
10. “Apparatus for Facilitating the Birth of a Child by Centrifugal Force”
If the thought of childbirth makes you dizzy, look away. This will make it worse. In 1965, George and Charlotte Blonsky patented a turntable that gives pregnant women an, um, extra push. The mother-to-be is strapped onto the turntable, which spins fast enough that G-forces help ease the baby out. A “pocket-shaped reception net” catches the newborn and triggers the machine to stop. (But in case that doesn’t work, there’s a handbrake!)
11. “Double Bicycle for looping the loop”
“I heard you like bicycles, so I put a bicycle on a bicycle so you can stay upright while you go upside down.” Patented in 1905 by Kael Lange.