27 of Humanity’s Strangest Inventions
By Maria Popova
“If at first an idea is not absurd,”
Albert Einstein famously said, “then there is no hope for it.” Sometimes, however, absurd is just absurd — yet, even so, it’s a fascinating slice of history’s collective direction of curiosity and experimental innovation. After those vintage versions of modern social media and yesteryear’s visions for the future of technology, here come some of history’s most weird and wonderful inventions, from wooden swimwear to spectacles for reading in bed, captured in archival public domain images by Holland’s Nationaal Archief.
One-wheel motorcycle Germany, 1925
Manual dredger Workers operated the so-called bucket dredger with their arms and legs using stepper boards. The machine is a small model, but whether it was actually realized is unknown.
Bike tyre used as a swimming aid Invented by Italian M. Goventosa de Udine; maximum speed: 150 kilometers per hour (93 mph).
Steam automobile design circa 1845
Amphibious bicycle This land-and-water bike can carry a load of 120 pounds; Paris, 1932
All-terrain car This all-terrain car can descend slopes up to 65 degrees; England, 1936.
Radio stroller Stroller equipped with a radio, including antenna and loudspeaker, to keep the baby quiet; USA, 1921.
Wooden bathing suits Wooden bathing suits, supposed to make swimming a lot easier; Hoquiam, Washington, USA, 1929
Ice sailboat In the 17th century, it was so cold that meteorologists spoke of a Little Ice Age. The ice sailboat addressed the challenge of transporting goods over frozen lakes and rivers. Designed by A. Terrier, January 17, 1600
Radio hat Portable radio in a straw hat, made by an American inventor in 1931
Wetlands windmill A windmill for draining wetlands, lightweight enough to function in marshy areas. It was designed by C.D. Muys in 1589 but was never built.
Bulletproof glass Demonstration by NYPD’s finest shooter, 1931
Clap skate In 1936, inventor R. Handl came up with the movable heel plate, but it wasn’t until 1996 that this concept revolutionized skating.
Extensible caravan Built by an unknown French engineer in 1934.
Piano for the bedridden Piano especially designed for people confined to bedrest; Great Britain, 1935
Hamblin glasses for reading in bed A pair of spectacles especially designed for reading in bed; England, 1936
Electrically heated jacket Electrically heated vest, developed for the traffic police in the United States, 1932. The power is supplied by electric contacts in the street.
Loetafoon A turntable linked to a film projector. It comes with single, dual and triple turntable. Designed by F.B.A. Prinsen, 1929
Car with shovel for pedestrians Invented for the purpose of ‘reducing the number of casualties among pedestrians;’ Paris, 1924
Hearing light for the blind 1912
Early GPS Yesteryear’s TomTom, a rolling key map that passes through the screen in a tempo determined by the speed of the car; 1932
Folding bridge for emergencies The emergency bridge can easily be transported on a handcart; invented by L. Deth. The Netherlands, 1926
Booted rubber boat Drawing of a ‘pneumatic sports- fish and hunt boat,’ an inflatable boat for one person with boots attached; The Netherlands, 1915
Faxed newspaper In 1938, the world’s first wireless newspaper was sent from WOR radio station in New York City. In this photo, children are reading the children’s page of a Missouri paper.
Snowstorm mask Plastic face protection from snowstorms. Canada, Montreal, 1939
Gas-resistant stroller A wartime stroller equipped with gas protection; England, Hextable, 1938
Revolver camera A Colt 38 carrying a small camera that automatically takes a picture when you pull the trigger. At the left: six pictures taken by the camera. New York, 1938.