Times change, but people – not so much. While our technology has come a long, long way from, say, 200 years ago, our individual love of invention hasn’t changed a bit. There have always been people who push the limits of what’s possible. Sometimes you get an invention that changes history, like the telephone; sometimes, you get a bizarre footnote, like a car with a shovel on the front to catch pedestrians.
History is full of weird, interesting inventions, but here’s our pick for 10 of the strangest.
- Amphibious bicycle. One of the earliest photographs you can find of an amphibious bicycle is from 1932 in Paris, when an inventor created a bicycle with large hollow floats for wheels.
- Nikola Tesla’s oscillator, or “earthquake machine.” Tesla was a genius and a futurist who contributed hugely to modern science. He also created some very strange machines, the effects of which are not all definitively documented. One of those was an oscillator, a reciprocating electricity generator that Tesla claimed caused vibrations so strong that it shook the New York City building that housed his office and several building around it.
- A boat with boots. Although no one seems to have found an actual prototype of one of these booted boats, there is a 1915 drawing depicting a one-person rubber boat with long rubber boots attached to the front. Perhaps when your arms get tired from rowing, you can just switch to walking?
- A shovel to catch pedestrians that you hit with your car. Basically a cow-catcher for people, this invention was designed to decrease the number of pedestrian fatalities in cities. A photo of the creation was taken in 1924 in Paris. Pedestrian fatalities were a major problem in the early years of the automobile, but it seems this people-catcher didn’t do too much to help. Otherwise, surely it would have been adopted more widely.
- The one-wheeled motorcycle. Invented by an Italian inventor named M. Goventosa in 1931, this one-wheeled, motor-powered vehicle featured a single large, open wheel with an internal combustion engine that sat inside it. The driver sat astride the engine. Supposedly, this machine was able to reach speeds of up to 93 miles per hour.
- Cone-shaped snowstorm face protector. While being blasted in the face by snow is hardly comfortable, it’s hard to believe that these plastic snowstorm face protectors are much of a step up. Visibility must have suffered pretty greatly, too.
- Wooden bathing suit. These spruce wood women’s bathing suits were designed to make swimming easier for timid bathers – and also, it seems, to promote the Gray Harbor lumber industry during “Wood Week” in 1929. According to a Popular Science article from 1930, the bathing suits were “the latest novelty for use on the bathing beaches,” and despite what you’d expect, “so far, none of them has warped or cracked.”
- The Iter Avto built-in map system for motorists. This invention was truly ingenious. It seems that today’s drivers aren’t the only ones who don’t want to have to stop and actually read a map in order to get where they intend to go. The Iter Avto was basically an early GPS system for your vehicle. Released in 1930, this onboard navigation system was mounted on the dashboard and used scrolling paper maps to show the driver where he or she was headed. The scroll’s pace would be determined by the speed of the car, as the device was connected by cable to the car’s speedometer.
Although for decades, the allure of an amphibious bicycle has been more for the novelty of it than anything else, there’s one design available in India that has the potential to save lives. Invented by a man from the Indian state of Bihar, Mohammed Saidullah, this bike is designed to keep people safe during the devastating floods that region gets all too often.
What’s your crazy – or not so crazy – invention idea? We’d love to help you get it off the ground. Check out our Resources section, which is filled with e-books, FAQs, newsletters, and other helpful information about product design, prototyping, and more.