Human ingenuity knows no bounds. From a skeleton meant to elicit confessions from criminals to a butt-kicking machine to a baby delivery device that shoots the baby out with centrifugal force, these are some actual ideas that actual people have gotten actual patents for. God help us all.
Filippo Brunelleschi became famous for building the dome of the Florence cathedral. His patent was for inventing a means of carrying the marble slabs for the cathedral up the Arno River.
The first patent in the United States was filed on July 31, 1790
Issued to Samuel Hopkins for a process of making potash, which is an ingredient in fertilizer. That patent was actually signed by George Washington.
I guess approving patents used to be part of the president’s job.
But they didn’t actually start numbering patents until 1836. July 13, 1836 to be exact. Patent No. 1 was issued to John Ruggles for a traction wheel for steam locomotives.
It would take 75 years to get to the 1 millionth patent, that went to Issued to Francis H. Holton, for a tubeless vehicle tire on August 8, 1911.
From there, the number of patents have gone up exponentially, with the time between million patents getting smaller and smaller. We’re somewhere between 11 and 12 million patents at the moment.
But worldwide, that number is much, much bigger. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization’s February 2023 Database, there were 3.4 million patent filings worldwide in 2021.
That’s a 3.6% growth from the previous year.
Humans be inventin’.
More than 85 percent of all patent filings in 2021 occurred in the IP offices of China, the U.S., Japan, the Republic of Korea, and the European Patent Office.
In fact, China accounted for 46.6 percent of the world’s total.
Patent applicants from China and the U.S. filed mostly in computer technology.
Japan and Germany filed mostly in electrical machinery, and the Republic of Korea in digital communication.
Like, Huawei filed a patent in 2022 for a finite impulse response filter and receiver.
As the filing stated, it would be:
“… arranged to receive an analog input signal and sample the analog input signal at a plurality of discrete points in time k with a sampling frequency fS to obtain a sampled analog input signal having a continuous signal value.”
You know, one of those things.
But not every patent is as exciting as the finite impulse response filter and receiver. In fact some of them are a little bit crazy.
Because patents don’t determine whether or not an idea is good or not, it just keeps other people from stealing your idea. No matter how weird it is.
So I thought it might be fun to look at some of the craziest patents of all time and it turns out there’s a whole content ecosystem out there of crazy patent stuff so I had plenty to work with. And I decided just to have some fun I’d make a tier list out of it.
I’ve never done a tier list video before. So why not?
I’m ranking them on a scale of A to F, A being pretty clever and actually useful and F being basically ‘what were they thinking.’ And at the top I’ve got an S tier, in this case S stands for Somebody Needs To Make This.
And you know the thing I really enjoy about this is that as crazy and out there as many of these ideas are, somebody put a lot of time and effort and thought into this. With mechanical schematics and everything.
You also find that a lot of these may sound crazy but kinda make sense in the time that they were filed, or they have some purpose that once you get it, it does kinda make sense.
Either way, this is meant to be a celebration of human ingenuity and wierdness. And I hope you enjoy it.
“Apparatus for obtaining criminal confessions and photographically recording them”
The Crime Skeleton
August 16, 1927
Helene Adelaide Shelby
This was the one that gave me the idea for this video in the first place, many of you may have seen the meme that was created around this and has been around the internet.
It was invented by Helene Adelaide Shelby and it’s basically a skeleton with glowing red eyes that’s supposed to scare people into confessing their crimes.
It was controlled by an operator behind the wall, who could speak to the suspect through a horn in the skeleton’s mouth, and there was a camera in it to record the confession.
At the time, confessions weren’t recorded because recording technology was still fairly primitive, so a lot of confessions would later be retracted. Well she wanted to put an end to that.
In her filing she writes, “It is a well known fact in criminal practices that confessions obtained initially from those suspected of crimes through ordinary channels, are almost invariably later retracted.”
She described the skeleton this way: “The primary object of my invention is the provision of an apparatus for the creation of illusory efiects calculated to impress the subject with their being of a supernatural character and to so work upon his imagination.”
Unfortunately for this invention, coerced confessions became inadmissible after a Supreme Court ruling in 1961.
To be fair, the idea of using a hidden camera to catch criminals was pretty ahead of its time. Like part of the patent is the design of the camera that would fit in the back of the skeleton’s skull.
It’s also worth pointing out that there was a huge spiritualist movement going on at the time with seances being really popular and all kinds of supernatural and occult practices going around.
So at the time, the idea of walking into a dark room and suddenly a floating skeleton with red eyes appears. That might make you admit something. After soiling your pants.
And I guess she felt pretty passionate about this because it was the only patent she ever filed. From what I could find, she was a bit of a real estate maven, selling and leasing properties in Oakland, Santa Cruz and San Francisco. And she died in 1947.
Tier C for Crazy.
Apparatus For Simulating A “High Five”
The High Five Machine
October 18, 1994
Filed by Albert Cohen in 1993, the machine lets you high-five whenever you want by securing the plastic arm and hand to a wall, table, or floor.
According to the patent filing, the upper and lower arm portions would be covered with padding that closely emulates the shape of a human arm.
The arm could also be clothed with a shirt sleeve, preferably one representing someone’s preferred sports team.
Oh, and the hand is interchangeable. If you don’t like slapping an average size human hand, oversized or novelty hands could be used.
Or if you want a specific hand of a player on a sports team, the simulated hand could be an actual replica of that person’s hand.
Okay, don’t laugh, but I think this is actually pretty cool. Especially the putting a replica hand of your favorite athlete or something.
Like I’ve worked in sales rooms where people ring a bell when they get a big sale, I could see something like this as a fun office thing, go give it a high five and maybe a song plays or something.
But maybe even more so when you work at home, you don’t have anybody else to high five or celebrate a little win with. Like I could see myself using this when I finish a script.
I think there could be a psychological benefit to celebrating your little wins, however you choose to do it, so why not? Maybe this could actually boost your mood a little. I could see it.
Butt Kicking Device
Manually Self-Operated Butt-Kicking Machine
The World-Famous Butt-Kicking Machine
Patent Application #10/977,894
Oct. 29, 2004
J. Reese Leavitt
If you’re ever feeling down about yourself or what you’ve done in your life, just remember. Someone spent a lot of time on this.
The Butt-Kicking machine is basically a chair with a hole in the bottom and a crank above your head that you pull, which releases a spring-loaded boot that then kicks you in the butt.
But it’s way more important than that, according to the filing:
“This invention consists of a Manually Self-Operated Butt-Kicking Machine, which will be used to advance the art and expand the science of butt-kicking technologies.”
Which colleges have the best butt-kicking technology programs again? Asking for a friend.
The secondary purpose of the machine is states as:
“encouraging, inspiring, and facilitating discussion, participation, motivation, competition, discipline, productivity, challenge, team building, morale, amusement, and fundraising.”
So I guess some people might like this in a fetish-y kinda way, so I’m not going to kink shame.
This might be the opposite of the high five machine like if you don’t get your task done, you get a boot in your ass.
It’s the American way.
I also imagine you have to be careful how you sit if you’re a guy, if that thing is off by a few inches, that could be a problem.
The only one of these that stood out to me was fundraising, like I remember the dunking booths at carnivals when I was a kid where you could pay some money to dunk a teacher or a coach, like I could maybe see something like this being used in that way?
That wouldn’t be self-operated, though.
Yeah, I only see this as a fetish thing. Which if that’s for you, have at it, but that’s a D-tier for me.
User-operated Amusement Apparatus for Kicking the User’s Buttocks
User-operated Amusement Apparatus for Kicking the User’s Buttocks
Butt-Kicking Machine 2: Electric Boogaloo
September 25, 2001
Joe W. Armstrong
So this was patented 5 years before the previous butt-kicking machine, and dare I say it’s 4 times better because it has 4 boots on it.
On one side, there’s a post with a crank at a height where the user has to bend over. On the other side, there are several rotating arms connected to the crank.
At the end of the arms are flexible shoes. When the user rotates the crank, the shoes kick the user’s butt.
I imagine you could get a great arm workout out of this to be fair.
But look at the size of this thing, it would take up half a room. Who is going to buy this? How dedicated are you to having your butt kicked that you would set this up?
This is the perfect example of someone who spent a LOT of time thinking about this. The filing goes on for like 15 pages in extreme detail down to every nut and bolt and cites 8 previous patents and technologies in use in the device.
My favorite thing about this one, it was patented literally 2 weeks after 9/11. That’s what this guy was working on when 9/11 happened and was just like, “I need to get serious about this thing.”
This is bonkers. But I admire the hustle. C Tier.
Toilet Breathing Apparatus
Fresh-Air Breathing Device And Method
The Toilet Breathing Hose
March 23, 1982
William O. Holmes
So I actually shared this as a meme on Twitter and it got… quite a reaction.
The device is actually called the “fresh air breathing device and method” – I think that’s a bit of a misnomer. There is nothing fresh about the air you would be breathing from this.
But… you would be breathing air. And that’s the point.
Toilet systems have to be connected to a downspout that allows air into the system so that the pressure is equalized, this is what allows the water to flow down into the sewer or septic tank. If this didn’t exist, it would create a vacuum and the water wouldn’t flow.
Like if you put your finger on top of a straw, the soda doesn’t go down to the level in the cup.
And this is really designed for people in high rise apartment buildings who might not be able to quickly get out of the building in case of a fire.
So basically if smoke is filling your apartment and you can’t get out, maybe the fire is in the hallway, and you’re too high up to get out, or the window can’t be broken, then you’re a lot more likely to be killed by smoke inhalation.
But this… does give you a way to breathe.
It would be the nastiest smelling and tasting breaths you can take, but you’ll be able to breathe.
A lot of people said something like this was in one of the Kingsman movies? I haven’t seen them, but if it’s in a movie, you know it must work.
But I’ve gotta be honest as I hope I would never have to use something like this… This could actually save someone’s life. Any plumbers or septic professionals feel free to disagree in the comments.
I’m actually giving this one an A.
March 10, 1896
James C Boyle
This thing confuses the hell out of me.
It was patented in 1896 by James C. Boyle. It’s supposed to be a hands-free saluting device, but I think all it does is lift your hat and turn it sideways, which isn’t a salute. Is it?
Also I don’t know how you tell it to turn around. Like how does it know to do its thing? I can’t tell from the patent. And it looks like it digs into your head, so it’s probably uncomfortable on top of the fact that it has this heavy device in it that probably makes it off-balance.
So you can walk around in a painful, heavy hat that you can spin around on your head when you meet people so they will think you’re a weirdo.
But, you might get paid to wear it! He claims it could also be used as an advertising medium because a hat moving up and down on its own is sure to draw attention.
This is just stupid. F Tier.
Robotic Device For Locomotor Training
Patent #6,880,487 B2
David J. Reinkensmeyer, Wojciech Timoszyk, Nikolas London, Ray D. de Leon, V. Reggie Edgerton
Yeah. Someone made a treadmill for a rat.
I don’t want no fat, flabby rats running around my place.
Actually, it doesn’t just give them a surface to run on, as you can see in these drawings, it actually holds its back legs and moves them around for the rat.
For the rats that just refuse to use a hamster wheel. This is for the lazy rats.
Actually, enough with the jokes, this device has a very serious purpose. It’s not for lazy rats, it’s for rats with spinal cord injuries.
As it says in the application:
“In the U.S. alone, over 10,000 people experience a traumatic spinal cord injury each year… Paralysis of the legs is a common consequence of spinal cord injury, resulting in loss of walking ability. Recently, a new approach to rehabilitation called “body weight supported locomotion training” has shown promise (12, 14, 20, 34, 35, 37, 41, 42, 53, 54, 55, 56). The technique involves suspending a spinal cord injured subject in a harness above a treadmill and manually assisting movement of the legs in a walking pattern. The goal of this technique is to enhance residual locomotor control circuitry that resides in the spinal cord. It is hypothesized that by providing appropriate sensory input in a repetitive manner, the spinal cord can learn to generate motor output appropriate for stepping.”
So this was a field of study that came about in the early 2000s, and like all medical hypotheses, they wanted to test this out on rodents before they did it with people. So, how do you test this out on a rat? You need a rat treadmill.
So some very smart people put together this very detailed design, this is easily the most detailed patent application I’ve come across, in order to test this therapy out on rats with the hope of helping people with spinal injuries walk again someday.
The question is, does it work? Did this invention in some way lead to people being able to walk again?
The answer is it’s still up in the air.
According to this paper from 2012, the results have been “disappointing” but they offer new modalities to possibly make it work better. Of course this is 10 years old so maybe something has come along since then.
Brass Monkey Balls Drop
Brass Monkey Balls Drop
Jan. 6, 1987
John W. Davis
The title of this patent is simply, “Release Mechanism” but the release mechanism is specifically designed to make two brass balls fall out the bottom of a monkey statue.
It’s basically a thermometer, the mechanism is made out of thermoreactive metal that flexes at a certain temperature point, so you set what temperature you want, when the room reaches that temperature, the metal reacts, the balls drop, they go clang, and then you know it’s 74 degrees or whatever.
This was patented in 1987. Thermometers had been around for a LONG time at that point.
This is a useless novelty toy made to make middle aged men giggle. F Tier.
The Plow Gun
Improvement In Combined Plow And Gun
The Plow Gun
June 17, 1862
C.M. French and W.H Fancher
So the year is 1862, the Civil War is in its early days, and people were probably pretty scared of the war showing up on their front doorstep, I imagine especially farmers.
Like imagine you’re out plowing the field, trying to grow some crops to support your family, when suddenly Antietam breaks out all around you, and you’ve got all this gingham to plant. What’s a farmer to do?
Well thankfully CM French and WH Fancher came up with the Plow Gun!
The thing that’s brilliant about the Plow Gun you see is that it’s a plow… that has a gun on it.
So you can just shoot your way out of the battle, let the soldiers do their thing and fertilize the field with their bodies.
The only flaw in this plan that I can see, and I’m no expert in historical agriculture but aren’t plows pulled by a horse or ox? So wouldn’t this just, you know… Shoot your horse in the ass?
The horse-murdering plow. E Tier.
Automated Bathing Facility
The Human Car Wash
December 16, 1969
This one just… I can’t.
This is a giant machine designed to wash, like dozens of people at a time.
You literally hang people, and by people I mean human beings, on a motorized track system, like a processed deer, and that person is then hoisted on a conveyor through a series of water hoses and swirling brushes, just like a car wash, eventually blown dry at the end and buffed to a smooth shine.
And I’m assuming they stick a little air freshener thing somewhere.
So… This is horrifying and weird and gross. But… This is basically designed for mental hospitals. It’s meant to make it safer and easier to bathe people who are mentally incapacitated.
The patent says it’s designed to:
“minimize the danger of infirm or mentally incapacitated injuring themselves or others by struggling during the bathing procedure and that provide improved sanitation in that all steps of the bathing procedure are accomplished with the patient in a standing position such that wash cloths and towels are not needed.”
Look, I’ve never worked at a mental hospital, I’ve never worked one-on-one with mentally incapacitated people. But I’m sure that bathing them is a challenge to say the least. Maybe even fraught with danger.
Like, someone who works in that environment might see this idea and be like, “Yep, I get it.”
But still, the idea of just strapping someone to a track and running through a machine like this… especially if they don’t really know what’s going on… I can’t see how that’s not traumatizing.
This was patented in the 60s, I think they were still doing lobotomies back then.
This feels like to me one of those ideas that people came up with back then that they thought were more humane but with time just seems horrible.
But I think their heart was in the right place? ugh. I hate everything about this one. C Tier.
Apparatus For Facilitating The Birth Of A Child By Centrifugal Force
The Baby Flinger
November 9, 1965
George B. Blonsky, Charlotte E. Blonsky
To all the moms out there, don’t you wish when you were giving birth, that the whole process could have been made simpler and easier if they had just spun you around really fast so that the baby just yeets out of your body through centrifugal force? Wouldn’t that have made the whole thing so much better?
No? You sure about that?
Because George and Charlotte Blonsky disagree. So they patented a birthing table that would do exactly that. This is not a joke.
The patent application starts with this doozy:
“It is known, that due to natural anatomical conditions, the fetus needs the application of considerable propelling force to enable it to push aside the constricting vaginal walls, to overcome the friction of the uteral and vaginal surfaces and to counteract the atmospheric pressure opposing the emergence of the child.”
Yeah, I’m not an obstetrician, but I’m pretty sure that the atmospheric pressure difference between the uterus and the delivery room isn’t the main hurdle to overcome when giving birth.
It goes on to get a little… slightly racist?
“In the case of a woman who has a fully developed muscular system and has had ample physical exertion all through the pregnancy, as is common with all more primitive peoples, nature provides all the necessary equipment and power to have a normal and quick delivery. This is not the case, however, with more civilized women who often do not have the opportunity to develop the muscles needed in confinement. “
So thankfully all those pygmy people living in the Amazon rain forest don’t need this, that’s a relief.
I’m not sure this is any less physically exerting.
I couldn’t find in the application exactly how much pressure is needed in general to push a baby out and how that corresponds to G-forces. But they did have a chart on there that shows how many RPMs would be needed to generate different g forces at waist level, and it’s all around one rotation a second.
So, this fast. Enjoy mom.
Not to mention that humans pass out at 4 or 5 gs. Now granted the head is in the center here but still the blood would rush down to the legs wouldn’t it?
By the way, if you’re wondering how exactly you catch this baby so it doesn’t go splat against the wall, don’t worry, they’ve got a little net. A little hockey goal.
And it does say that there’s a mechanism attached to the net that will turn off the machine once the baby gets caught in it and rings a bell to signify that the act has been done.
They’ve thought of everything.
Now, as ridiculous as this is, there are cases of women going into labor on roller coasters so maybe if you are having trouble going into labor, this could speed that along.
This is the most insane and fascinating thing I’ve ever heard of and somebody needs to make this. S Tier
So there you have it guys, that was a lot of patents but this just scrapes the surface. I mean there are 11 million plus patents in the United States alone. That’s a lot of room for crazy.
Plus think of all the ideas that someone sat down and figured out but never patented because they thought it was too crazy.
But I feel like this is a fascinating insight into the human imagination. That even on silly, novelty ideas, people took the time to do the engineering and work it out.
And it’s that kind of creative thinking that every once in a while produces a breakthrough that changes the world. For every quantum computer, there’s a Monkey Ball dropper. And I think that’s beautiful.