The automobile. The electric light bulb. The internet. Humanity continues to pull itself up by its bootstraps, evolutionarily speaking, solely on the basis of its brilliant inventions.
But for every radio and printing press, there were lots of motorized roller skates and Princess Leia-hair earmuffs. Let’s take a look at some of the inventions that were just too silly to catch on.
1. The Aqua-Bike
This amphibious bicycle functioned on land and water, presumably because bike paths never run through rivers. It turned out that no one wanted to pedal through the water, though. Plus this prototype, built in Paris in 1932, could only carry 120 pounds. Only the skinniest of the skinny could actually use it to cross land and sea.
This bizarre invention just wasn’t useful enough to achieve widespread success. Think about that the next time you’re on the bike path and you run into a surprise lake.
2. TV Goggles
In 1963, inventor Hugo Gernsback came up with a novel idea. Instead of gathering around the family TV every night, he wondered, what would it be like if everyone could enjoy their own tiny television? That’s why he came up with television goggles. They are exactly what they sound like.
Laugh all you want, but this dude came up with portable, personalized video entertainment like 50 years before smart phones became all of our own video-streaming devices. The public just wasn’t ready for this. Gernsback was way ahead of his time.
3. The Pedestrian-Proof Car
When automobiles arrived in France, city leaders got really worried about all these horseless carriages zipping this way and that, running over pedestrians with abandon.
“No need to worry,” said some French car manufacturers in 1924. Then they unveiled this safety device. It’s a scoop that sets pedestrians gently down on a safety net when you hit him. Not a bad plan, but not a great one, either, and it never caught on.
4. Wooden Bathing Suits
No one say the word “splinter” when you’re wearing one of these. Just in time for the summer holiday in 1929, these wooden bathing suits for women were released to the U.S. market. We’re not sure why the designers went with wood. Maybe because it floats?
Note that at least one of these swimmers is also wearing shoes. People really used to get dressed up for a day at the beach. It was a simpler time.
5. Shower Hoods
Before those little plastic shower caps that they always give you at hotels, even when you clearly don’t have a perm of any kind, there was this beast: the shower hood.
You could totally shower without ruining your perm. Eventually, though, someone realized you could get the same effect without covering your whole head, Darth Vader–style, and the shower cap as we know it today was born.
6. Early Life Preservers
We’re not actually sure this counts as an invention. These kids just tied partially inflated bicycle tires all over their bodies.
That’s what you had to do back in 1925 Germany, we guess.
7. Single-Wheel Motorcycle
Technically, this would be a motorized unicycle. That one wheel propels the driver down the road at upwards of 90 mph, which is pretty good for 1931.
This quirky vehicle was reportedly invented by M. Goventosa, an Italian mechanic. We’re guessing the design never took off because it must have been terrifying to drive.
8. Bedtime Reading Glasses
You know how you always have to hold your head up to read in bed? What’s with that? Well, an English inventor came up with a better way in 1936. Through a clever arrangement of mirrors, these glasses allow you to read with your head on the pillow.
One question: So does that mean you have to learn to read backwards?
9. The Radio Hat
Before the iPod, before the Discman, before even big old 1980s boomboxes, there was the radio hat.
Thanks to this invention, gentlemen of a certain distinction could enjoy tinny renditions of Fritz Kreisler violin pieces wherever they went. And they could look cool while they were doing it! Oh wait, no they couldn’t.
This straw hat with an attached portable radio was invented in the United States in 1931. It never caught on, presumably because it looks ridiculous.
10. The Portable Bridge
Hey, everyone, look! It’s a portable bridge! This Dutch invention fits on a cart and unfolds to keep your feet from getting wet when you encounter thin creeks.
It was invented in the Netherlands in 1926 by a guy named L. Deth, which is a pretty metal name for a time before anyone had invented heavy metal music. Unfortunately, you probably won’t find one of these things on eBay.
11. GPS, Sort of
Welcome to the early days of GPS. You just place a map of the region you’re driving through in the machine, and it keeps track of where you are.
Note: This won’t work very well if you need to take a detour, and it won’t warn you about traffic. But for 1932, it’s still pretty cool.
12. This Thing
Now, what do you suppose this is?
If you guessed that it’s a wearable toilet, you’re wrong, and shame on you. It’s actually just a little tiny rubber boat with boots sticking out of the bottom.
It’s basically an early set of waders with a bunch of superfluous material. The fly fishers of 1915 Netherlands might have gotten a kick out of this thing, but in the end, regular old waders won out internationally. We’re actually not even 100 percent sure anyone built a pair of these things; all we have is this drawing to remember them by.
Again, not a wearable toilet. Ew.
13. Snow Masks
All we can say is that snow storms must have been intense in the Canada of 1939. Someone invented these face masks to protect people’s faces from the freezing precipitation.
They might also prevent you from getting the plague, but probably not.
14. Electric Police Vest
In 1932, U.S. traffic cops had a problem. It got cold in the streets. For those times that a regular jacket just wouldn’t do, someone invented this electric vest.
It heats up along those electric coils sewn into the lining. Of course, battery power then wasn’t what it is today. In order to supply electricity to the vest, inventors had to install electrical contacts in the pavement of the street below.
Essentially, then, these traffic cops plugged themselves in whenever they felt a chill. There’s no way that’s safe. Maybe that’s why electric vests never really caught on for traffic cops or for anyone else.
15. The Fliz
Just to prove that people are still coming up with weird inventions, meet the Fliz. German designers Juri Spetter and Tom Hambrock improved on the bicycle by removing almost everything that makes it a bicycle.
To operate the Fliz, a user straps in and starts running. Eventually, if you run fast enough, you can ride out your momentum by picking up your legs. Then, when you start to slow down, it’s time to run some more.
16. The Finger Fork
You know what’s annoying about contemporary cutlery? You always have to hold the darn stuff!
Enter the finger fork, the next iteration of dining room technology. The tines of the fork function the same as they always have, but instead of all that annoying gripping you used to have to do, you can wear this like a big, weird ring on your finger.
This one’s too new to judge, but we’re assuming we’ll all be eating with finger forks by like 2025.