They say that necessity is the mother of all inventions.
Well, here’s something to wrap your mind around: the jock strap was invented 100 years before the helmet. This tells you what man thinks are his necessities and, well, what he doesn’t.
I have a warm spot in my heart for inventors. I picture them working away in their basements with all their wonky contraptions beeping and buzzing away around them, dreaming not so much of fame and riches, but of simply seeing their dreams and plans come to fruition.
When asked what invention has made the greatest difference in our lives many would cite computers or blackberries or the ability to put those delicious creamy centres inside a Cadbury Caramilk bar.
Author Fannie Flagg has an elderly character in one of her books that was crazy about electricity. Her name was Elner Shimfissle and it bothered her that there wasn’t a national holiday to honour Edison.
“Why he lit the entire world!” she said. “Just think, without old Tom Edison we’d all still be sitting in the dark, no lights, no radio, no electric garage door openers. I think, after the Lord of course, I’d rank (Edison) number two. That’s how highly I think of old Tom.” One of the great regrets of her life was that she lived at the same time as Edison but had never got to meet him. “I just hate to think we were on earth at the same time and I never got to shake his hand and thank him.”
In a tribute that would horrify the green minds of today, she celebrated Edison’s birthday every year by turning on every light and electrical gadget she owned and leaving them on for the entire day.
I have a book that lists inventions that, unlike electricity, failed to capture the public’s rapt attention. These are the d’ohs that you won’t find in the aisle of any department store this Christmas.
For the deep sleeper on your shopping list, an alarm clock designed to clobber the sleeper in the face.
Designed by John D. Humphrey of Waterbury, Connecticut his 1919 patent features a rod with a rubber ball on the end attached to an alarm clock. When the alarm went off the rod was raised and then rapidly released so that the rubber ball would hit the sleeper on the head. It was fully adjustable.
Other inventions included diapers for parakeets, a bicycle theft device that punched a sharp needle into the rear end of the would-be thief and a self tipping hat. The hat’s inventor asked the indisputable question, “What gentleman hasn’t been embarrassed when caught with his arms full of bundles and unable to salute a lady?”
As I read through the book there were a few inventions that were simply ahead of their time. In 1963 a patent was taken out for a pie cutting guide that could be placed over a pie or cake and adjusted to mark out four, five or six equal slices. The narrator hooted about the ridiculousness of going to such measures simply to assure everybody received a precisely equal share. I saw one of those cutting guides in an upscale kitchen store yesterday. Worse, I almost bought it. I still might.
For other inventions, their time has sadly passed. In 1902 a patent was taken out for cheek pads. They were designed to be inserted into a person’s mouth to plump up their face and disguise hollow cheeks. Back then the skinny look was not considered attractive. One invention took multi-tasking to the extreme. In 1890 a piece of furniture was patented that combined a dining table, a washing machine, a bathtub and a rocking chair.
A person would operate the washing machine by rocking in the chair and then at the end of a hard day’s wash, they could have a soak by removing the chair and climbing into the tub — formerly the washing machine. When it wasn’t in use a top went over the entire contraption turning it into a dining room table.
This has some real green applications that might make it popular today. Too bad it hasn’t been reinvented yet. I suppose you could ask Santa for one. As my son once told me after asking for a very specific robot that could stand on its head, there’s nothing Santa’s elves can’t build!
Shannon McKinnon is a humour columnist from the Peace River country. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org