Nice Try

“To invent,” said Thomas Edison, “you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”

Many people took those words to heart when perhaps they shouldn’t have. Below are a few examples.

In 1941, a Mrs. D. M. Ackerman of Hollywood, California designed a Vacuum Beauty Helmet. Also known as the Glamour Bonnet, the Vacuum Beauty Helmet was supposed to improve your complexion by sucking air out of the helmet, resulting in decreased atmospheric pressure and thus glowing skin. (And I assume: fainting ladies.) Shockingly, the Vacuum Beauty Helmet was not a success and was quickly declared a failure. 

"You can't WHAT? I can't hear you with the vacuum running!"

“You can’t WHAT? I can’t hear you with the vacuum running!”

By 1963, people were bone tired of answering their phones. Just think – this was way before caller ID and answering machines. Whoever was on the opposite end of that ringing phone was anybody’s guess. Thus the Phone Answering Robot was invented. How lovely! Or … not really.  Would you want this thing in your home?

No thanks. I'd rather just answer the phone myself.

No thanks. I’d rather answer the phone myself.

Not only was the Phone Answering Robot rather large and downright creepy, it didn’t talk. This left its tasks to nothing more than picking up the phone, and not so much answering the phone. Thus, no one was waiting in lines on Black Friday hoping to purchase the Phone Answering Robot (that really didn’t answer the phone). Everyone had to wait until the 1980s for answering machines to be readily available.

Another dud invention was the Cigarette Umbrella, for all of those cigarette smokers who like their cigarettes dry but didn’t mind getting wet themselves. Because otherwise, wouldn’t they just use a regular umbrella? That way, they would stay dry and so would their cigarette.

I may be soaking wet, but at least my cigarette is nice and dry!

I may be sopping wet, but at least my cigarette is nice and dry.

Perhaps that is the very reason why the Cigarette Umbrella didn’t fly off the shelves and regular umbrellas did.

The last sad invention is on a personal note.  My father had some strange inventions of his own. Or rather, just really bad ideas.

His first invention was a type of chimney cleaner. My parents had recently moved into their home and the only form of heating the house possessed was a wood stove. As my father stood in the living room, surveying the home’s primitive heating system, he realized that cleaning the stovepipe would be wise before its first use. However, that was when common sense stopped. Deep within the recess of my father’s brain a voice told him that hiring a professional chimney cleaning service was unnecessary. The only thing those men would do – he reasoned – would be to clean the stovepipe with a scrub brush. A scrub brush that is similar in shape and form to a … pine tree.

Off my father went, chainsaw in hand, into the patch of woods behind the house and returned with a small pine tree. He proceeded to climb onto the roof and lower the pine tree into the stovepipe. He intended on scrubbing the pipe with the pine tree, but there is a reason professional chimney cleaners don’t use trees to clean chimneys. (Bert in Mary Poppins danced on the London rooftops with a Chimney Brush – not a Blue Spruce.) Tree branches aren’t flexible. Trunks don’t bend.

When my mother returned home from grocery shopping, she found a pine tree suspended from the stovepipe in her ceiling. The tree was stuck. Ash and soot were everywhere. The white curtains she had hung on the living room windows were now a dull gray. My mother put down the grocery bags, summoned me and my brother, and packed us in the car where she proceeded to drive to her sister’s house in Rhode Island. She said it was the only action she could think of to save their marriage.

So I would like to add to Mr. Edison’s famous quote: To invent, you need a good imagination, a pile of junk, and some common sense.

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