21 Failed Inventions


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1. Hey, I'm Mike, this is mental_floss on YouTube, and did you know that in the 1970s, Henry Smolinski and Harold Blake invented the AVE Mizar, a flying Ford Pinto? I mean, of course if you're going to choose a car to make fly, why not the Pinto? It could fly up to 12,000 feet and reach up to 130 miles an hour. One minor problem was the car's right wing, it failed one trial run in 1973, then it failed later again that year in a crash that killed both inventors. And that is the first of many failed inventions, either practically or commercially, that I'm gonna tell you about here today.

2. Something tells me that an episode about failed inventions isn't going to be the most ... uplifting episode of the mental_floss list show, but to get started, Mattel's game console Intellivision was released in 1979 to compete with the Atari 2600. The invention itself wasn't bad, it has since been named number 14 on IGN's list of greatest game consoles of all time, but it wasn't successful. Within four years of its release, Mattel had lost 394 million dollars and was on the brink of bankruptcy.

3. You know what really grinds my gears? When you're eating your hard boiled egg at breakfast, and you go in for the slice and it just rolls away. The Egg Cuber was exactly what it sounds like: you put an egg into a little plastic contraption and you squash it until it's a cube. Finally!

4. The Bell Rocket Belt was a very promising invention for the U.S. army in the 1950s and '60s. It was a rocket pack that helped a person leap for a short distance. President John F. Kennedy was even given a personal demonstration, but the belt only put a person in the air for 21 seconds at a time, enough to reach a mere 120 meters. So along with potential altitude, the army also lost interest.

5. Another futuristic-sounding 1950s invention: the flying saucer camera. It took two pictures at once, one regular picture and one that separated light out into colors so that you could see more clearly where the flying saucers were coming from. Believe it or not, it was developed for the U.S. Air Force because of all people, of course they know the truth is out there.

6. Thomas Edison invented an electric pen, which would make copies of documents people were writing by creating stencils as they wrote. It had some initial success, but couldn't compete with inventions like the typewriter. Although the basic design was later reused for another invention, a much less efficient way of creating documents: the first electric tattoo needle in 1891.

7. In 1948, a man named Joe Gilpin invented a motorized surfboard which he sold for $345. It went 7 miles an hour, was steerable, but really had nothing to do with surfing.

8. Franz Reichelt created a wearable parachute in the early 1900s. The suit was supposed to turn into a parachute during a plummet. On test dummies it worked sometimes, but not all the time. Reichelt, though, he had faith and got permission to test it from the Eiffel Tower in 1912. He jumped, his invention wrapped around him, and he died. I'm starting to see a pattern developing here. If you're an inventor and you're inventing something that will help you fly, maybe don't test it on yourself.

9. Flying tanks, it turns out, were almost a thing. Invented by the U.S., or the Soviet Union, or Japan, or the U.K., but they didn't really make sense. They were very heavy, because they're tanks, and the tow planes tended to overheat.

10. You may remember the year 2000 invention CueCat, a barcode scanner shaped like a cat. You could scan barcodes for magazines or products that would take you to a URL, but no one wanted to do that so the CueCat was obsolete within a year. QR codes, though, that is the wave of the future.

11. In 1930s London, you could buy a mesh baby cage to suspend your child outside your apartment window. The invention was supposed to be for the "health" of the babies, so they could get fresh air.

12. The Glamour Bonnet was a bonnet that covered your whole head with a see-through part for your eyes from the 1940s. In the helmet you'd experience low atmospheric pressure, like a vacuum, that was supposed to improve skin complexion. Glamour Bonnet is also the name of my hair metal revival band.

13. Similarly, the shower hood from the 1970s in Germany covered a person's whole head. Then, they could shower while still keeping their makeup and hair intact. I guess someone eventually figured out that people like to wash their hair too. 

14. In the mid-1990s, Thirsty Dog! and Thirsty Cat! were released. They were flavored water for your pets. Beef- and fish-flavored. Yum.

15. Speaking of gross flavors, honegar was a food created in 1959 by Doctor DeForest C. Jarvis; it was a combination of honey and apple-cider vinegar. Surprisingly, people didn't love the taste.

16. A phone-answering robot, invented in 1964 by Klaus Sholes, was a bust. The main problem: the robot didn't really answer the phone, it just picked it up, and answered the phone in silence, making it more of a phone-touching robot than a phone-answering robot, really. 

17. In the 1960s, a solution for reading on a crowded subway was invented: rush hour reading glasses. You could read a newspaper that you were holding over your head, thanks to glasses with right angles. I'm not gonna lie, I sorta want one of these for reading my phone on the subway. 

18. The Vespa 150 TAP, a military Vespa complete with a rifle, was designed for the French army in the 1950s. One major problem: you couldn't shoot the rifle from the scooter, you had to remove it because there was no aiming device ... and also you were on a scooter.

19. Nintendo's 1995 Virtual Boy lost the company quite a bit of money and was discontinued within one year. It was a portable 3D console that you had to cram your face into in order to play. Majors problem were eye strain, and the fact that most Nintendo developers focused on the N64 at the time. I actually had one of these. You also needed about two cubic feet to use it comfortably and it came is a weird briefcase. It definitely looked more like surveying equipment than a video game.

20. Back in the '30s, people apparently had a need for a cigarette umbrella. it was a device you stick your cigarette in to smoke out of, and a little umbrella kept your cigarette dry from the rain. Adorable.

21. Finally, I return to the salon to tell you that the monowheel is still around, but when they were invented in the 1800s, they were intended to be a useful mode of transportation. Essentially, it's a wheel that you sit in, moved forward by other wheels inside of it. In the 1930s, a motorized monowheel was built that could go 93 miles an hour. But still, turns out people just prefer bicycles.

Thanks for watching mental_floss on YouTube. This episode was made with the help of these very nice people. My name is Mike Rugnetta, if you like my face, you can find more of it on YouTube at PBS Idea Channel, and if you like my voice, you can find it on my podcast, Reasonably Sound. Links to both of those things in the Dooblydoo, and heyyy, DFTBA.