You have to admire anyone that comes up with a ground breaking, life changing invention. Often times, inventors spend decades perfecting their creations before ever bringing them to market. But while many inventions like the television, the internet, computers and smartphones have changed our lives over the last century and a half, there have been just as many that missed the mark.
In fairness, some were simply ideas ahead of their time. The idea was sound, but the technology simply was not available to support it. Even Benjamin Franklin had a few duds.
For some of these duds, you have to wonder what in the world they were ever thinking in the first place. Was there ever really a need for a car that you could drive into the water and float across a lake?
What about a piece of artillery that was 100 percent assured of destroying the enemy, only it would also kill the firing crew? Strange, but both ideas actually made it off the drawing board and into production.
Here are six of those inventions that probably should have reconsidered before they got out of the planning stage.
The Dymaxion Car
Imagine a production line car that looked like the Oscar Meyer Weiner. The Dymaxion car measured in at about 20 feet long. It was developed by Richard Buckminster Fuller in the early 1930s.
The most distinctive feature on the car was a unique three wheel design. The two front wheels provided the drive train while the single rear wheel provided the steering mechanism.
The car was certainly environmentally friendly because it could transport up to 11 passengers a whopping 30 miles to the gallon of gasoline, remarkable MPG stats for this era. However, the quirky design and odd look doomed it from the start and only three were ever produced.
Recently, the Wall Street Journal to a look at Buckminster Fuller's ill-designed car and gave it a test run. The review using the words "white knuckled" and "terrifying" when describing the test drive.
Richard Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion Car
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While we are on the car theme, one of the worst invention ideas of all time was something from Germany called the Amphicar which was part car, part boat. Why? Who knows.
You could literally drive this thing into the water and the propellers would take over.
It was said to turn like the Queen Mary in the water and drive like a boat on the road. In short, it was a terrible boat, a horrible car and a completely worthless idea. There are videos available online of the hydra cars in the water and it is hilarious to watch. It was truly a horrendous invention and a terrible blending of technologies. How could you have ever felt safe in the water in one of these cars?
A 1964 Amphicar Restored
The Mechanical Television
Modern televisions function by using a camera that converts reflected light into electronic impulses on a grid of thousands of pixels. Before this technology was invented there was a device called a mechanical television.
Like modern versions, mechanical tvs used a series of electrical impulses of varying strength but the way they were captured and reconstructed was completely different. The mechanical tv worked by transmitting images through tiny holes in a spinning wheel one at a time in rapid succession. The light points bounced off a subject onto a receptor where they struck a photoelectric tube. The tube then converter the varying dots of light into electrical signals of corresponding strength.
At the receiver, these signals produced a series of rapid changes to the brightness level of a light bulb. The light from this varying bulb passed once again through holes in a spinning wheel which was synched with the transmitting wheel. These intermittent flashes of light reproduced the broad cast image.
There were obvious drawbacks, the most important being that the clarity was almost non-existent. You had to struggle to see what was actually happening in a view finder. Yes, a view finder, which was drawback number two. You literally had to sit next to this device and look into a viewer at a screen that was only about an inch wide with 30 to 60 lines of resolution. As you can imagine, the picture quality was extremely poor.
At its peak in 1931, there were about 25 stations within the United States broadcasting but the poor quality eventually doomed this early adaption of television. The invention was not so much a failure as it was simply an idea ahead of its time. The technology was simply not advanced enough to support it.
The Technology behind the Mechanical Television in the 30s
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The M-65 Atomic Cannon
You may have heard of the M-1 Rifle, the M-16 rifle, but what about the M-65?
The M-65 was actually a regular artillery piece that could be attached to a jeep but it was what the US Army tried to do with this that gives it a giant fail. They experimented with placing a small nuclear warhead on it.
There was one major drawback.
The cannon had a maximum range of 3 miles and that put the artillery team that fired it within the range of the nuclear fallout. Doh!
It was seen as a last resort weapon, however the army thought better of miniaturizing nuclear warheads and moved on.
The Idea Behind the M-65 Atomic Cannon
The Chauchat Rifle
A French Engineering Disaster
It has been called the greatest horror of World War I. It was a French designed infantry rifle that was given to American soldiers as they arrived on the front lines. The Americans had a much better Browning rifle, but they had not produced enough of them before their entry into the war. Then politics entered and the US government made a deal with the French to use the Chauchat for the majority of the US Expeditionary Force upon arrival.
So what made this rifle so bad?
For one thing, it had a rounded magazine clip that had large holes in it. The idea was that the soldiers would be able to see how much ammunition they had left without removing the clip.
However, it failed to consider trench warfare and the mud and grime associated with it. The rifles would often times becomes clogged with mud and become unusable.
The second major issue was that the production of the gun was shoddy. No two guns were alike so you could not interchange parts from one gun to another if one failed.
Finally, the gun would overheat and simply not function until it had cooled off. The gun was truly an engineering disaster and the French begin replacing it for their army after WWI.
Chauchat Rifle Demonstration
The Shoe-fitting Fluoroscope
How would you like to see how your toes look inside a pair of shoes before you buy them? Sounds like a great idea right?
The problem with this invention was you had to expose your feet to high doses of x-rays every time you did it. For several decades, they had no clue the damage this was doing to the human body.
During the 1940s, nearly every shoe store had one of these foot x-ray fluoroscopes. It looked like a little wooden box with a view finder on top and two other view finders on the opposite side.
At the bottom was a slot to insert your shoe inside, then you x-rayed your foot and looked at it live through the view finder up top.
However, these things were not lined with lead at the top of the view finder, nor at the bottom where your shoe was inserted. So basically you were exposing yourself to high doses of x-rays just to see your toes wiggle in your shoes. What a great idea!
Oh, but it is much worse.
The device had other view finders, some at lower levels for small children to peer inside, so that your family could also see your bones. Cancer for the whole family!
The government began destroying these devices in 1950s when they realized the dangers, but some of them survived until the 1970s.
Doctors did see a documented spike in foot cancers decades after they were banned.
The Idea Behind the X-Ray Shoe Fluoroscope
I could go on and on. It really is amazing that we have made it to where we are today. We as a nation have done a lot of odd things over the years. It just takes a culture time to get to a certain place and it is a lot of trial and error.
After all, it wasn’t until a few decades ago that anyone ever wore seat belts in cars. When I was a kid, we never wore bicycle helmets. We didn’t even know what that was. We were jumping over ramps and creeks. We didn’t know any better.
I remember seeing something about an event that occurred in Texas back in 1896. These geniuses got the idea that they would crash two locomotives head on into each other at full speed. Something like 30,000 people came out to watch it in this small town because that was what passed for entertainment back then.
Well, as you can imagine, safety was never really considered and they were all sitting too close when it happened. Three people died and many were injured from flying debris from the crash.
So I think we should keep that in mind when we start criticizing other nations. I see things in Brazil all of the time that make me shake my head, but they will get there. It took us a while too.
If you enjoyed this article and are in to historical, or off-beat events, you might be interested in my companion article about five of the creepiest songs, or other articles on Infobarrel such as ancient underwater cities or the most amazing explosions caught on film.
As the saying goes, sometimes history is stranger than fiction.