Welcome back to another episode of Remnant Stew! I’m your host Steve
And I’m Leah. Today’s episode is Remarkable Inventions. We are bringing you stories of some of the most wonderful, bizarre and downright weird contraptions.
LIST OF STRANGE INVENTIONS
From bigthink.com comes a list of strange inventions.
The Mousetrap Pistol Ralph Waldo Emerson is quoted as saying, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” That must have been the motivation of James A Williams who in 1882 built and had patented the Mousetrap Pistol. The device featured a loaded 50 caliber revolver attached to a frame. A triggering mechanism was attached to the bait. When the mouse came along and pushed on the bait, BANG! No more mouse! It doesn’t appear that the world beat a path to Mr. Williams’ door though as consumers were leery of keeping a loaded pistol patrolling their kitchen floor.
I do have to confess that I came from a family where women were quite handy with firearms, and yes, my grandmother Hallie Meeker did in fact shoot a mouse in her bathroom with her 22 rifle.
The Cat Meow Machine This device takes us back to the mousetrap. Though not exactly a trap. It looks like a large cat head and has a tiny speaker attached. The Cat Meow Machine was invented in Japan in 1963. Every six seconds it would Meow and the cat’s eyes will light up.
The idea was that it would scare away rats and mice. Evidently the rats and mice were not fooled, but the owners were mostly just annoyed at the sound of a meow every six seconds.
The Revolver Camera Speaking of guns, what could be more practical than a pistol which takes pictures? That must have been the thinking in 1938 behind the Revolver Camera. Actually, the origins of this odd device are rather murky. Nobody knows who invented it or why. The only remaining model is on display at a museum in The Netherlands. It’s uncertain whether someone intended this for practical use or as a joke. Pictures of the camera have been published by several groups in order to try to learn more about it. But according to vintage.es thus far they have only come up with ooohs, aaahs, and gun puns.
Now let’s move on to some accidental discoveries. These come to us from an article in sciencealert.com.
One day in 1946 an engineer for the Raytheon Corporation named Percy Spencer was working on a radar-related project. While testing a new vacuum tube, he discovered that a chocolate bar he had in his pocket was suddenly melted. He became intrigued and started experimenting by aiming the tube at other items, such as eggs and popcorn kernels. Spencer concluded that the heat the objects experienced was from the microwave energy.
Soon after, on October 8, 1946, Raytheon filed a patent for the first microwave. The first microwave oven weighed 750 pounds (340 kg) and stood 5′ 6″ (168 cm) tall. The first countertop microwave was introduced in 1965 and cost US$500. By the early 1970s the cost had come down to be within the budget of most American families. The first mass-produced microwave oven was built by Amana and called the Radar Range as a nod back to the original discovery.
One day in the 1600s some Jesuit missionaries in South America were getting bitten by mosquitos. They were concerned about contracting Malaria which ] is a disease caused by a parasite which is transmitted to humans through the bites of infected mosquitos. The missionaries in South America learned from the native Andean people of an amazing cure for malaria. According to the natives, the cure, which they called quina-quina, was discovered when one of their elders had become very ill. He became lost in the jungle suffering from high fever and shaking chills. He stooped down to drink some water which had collected at the base of the quina-quina tree, however the bitter taste of the water made him fear that he would get sicker, not better. To his surprise, his fever soon broke and his chills stopped. He was able to find his way back to his village where he told of the curative power of the tree. Today quinine is still produced from the bark of the quina-quina or chinchona tree.
Poprocks (from scienceworld.ca)
Invented in 1956 by food chemist, William A Mitchell, Pop Rocks didn’t actually get on store shelves until 1975. That’s because they were considered a failure.
Mitchell worked for General Foods and in the lab he heated and combined, several sugars and flavorings and then under pressure added some carbon dioxide. He found that when the mixture is cooled pressure is release and the concoction shatters into small pieces filled with little bubbles. When placed into the heat and moisture of your mouth the sugars dissolve and the bubbles burst making the popping sound.
General Foods was not impressed. They considered it a failure and shelved the recipe as they had tasked Mitchell with creating an instant soda, something you could just add water to in order to make a fizzy drink. They pushed Mitchell to create something useful, so he went on to invent Tang and Cool Whip. But secretly they patented the “failed” experiment. It wasn’t until 1975 that someone realized it made for a really nifty candy and they began mass producing it and Pop Rocks became an instant hit.
We enjoyed Pop Rocks when we were kids but then they were discontinued in the mid 80s from fear that they were dangerous. There was an urban legend that made the rounds that Mikey from the LIFE cereal commercial died when he mixed Coca Cola with Pop Rocks. Supposedly his head exploded. While completely untrue, sales of Pop Rocks dropped off. They are making a comeback today though.
One day in 1941, Swiss engineer George de Mestral went for a hike in the Alps with his dog. When he returned home his pants and socks and his dog’s fur were covered in tiny stickers. He took a look under the microscope at the small burdock burrs and noticed that the little seeds were covered in small hooks, which is how they became attached to fabric and fur. After noting how firmly those little burrs attached to fabric, he decided to create the material that we now know by the brand name Velcro. It became popular after it was later adopted by NASA, and became commonly used on sneakers, jackets, and so much more.
Sweet n Low
One day in 1878 chemist Constantine Fahlberg was working with some compounds at the John’s Hopkins University Lab. At the end of the day he forgot to wash his hands before he went home. That night at dinner he picked up a roll and discovered that it tasted unusually sweet. Then he picked up a potato and it tasted sweet too. Realizing that he must have had some kind of sweetening substance on his hands, he went back to work next day and began tasting random compounds in the lab. (don’t try this at home!) He found a compound made of o-sulfobenzoic acid with phosphorus chloride and ammonia that duplicated the sweet taste he had experienced the night before. In 1884 he was awarded a patent for Saccharin. It became very popular during World War I when sugar was rationed. Today it is the main ingredient in Sweet n Low.
One day in the 1930s, Noah McVicker, who worked at his brother’s soap company, developed a molding compound that he thought would be ideal for cleaning wallpaper. It turns out that he was right. It appears that soot from wood and coal fired stoves tended to leave a coat of soot on decorative wallpaper. As early wallpaper had paper backing they couldn’t be cleaned with water or they would dissolve. The doughy molding clay was perfect for cleaning the wallpaper without damaging it. However, with the advent of vinyl wallpaper which could be wiped down with a wet sponge, there was no longer a need for McVicker’s compound.
However, Noah’s nephew’s sister in law, a kindergarten teacher named Kay Zufall discovered that her students loved making decorations and models out of the compound. She convinced the McVickers to market it. The McVickers decided to remove the detergent and add coloring, and after Kay suggested the name "Play-doh" instead of "Kutol's Rainbow Modelling Compound" - their original suggestion - the clay that we know and love was created.
One day in 1895, a German physicist named Wilhelm Roentgen was working with a cathode ray tube. (Let’s just pause and enjoy that statement for a second) Despite the fact that the tube was covered, he saw that a nearby fluorescent screen would glow when the tube was on and the room was dark. The rays were somehow illuminating the screen. Roentgen tried to block the rays, but most things that he placed in front of them didn't seem to make a difference.
When he placed his hand in front of the tube, he noticed he could see his bones in the image that was projected on the screen. He replaced the screen with a photographic plate to capture the images, creating the first X-rays. The technology was soon adopted by medical institutions and research departments - though unfortunately, it'd be some time before the risks of X-ray radiation were understood.
You know, Leah, I can still remember seeing shoe stores where they had a little X-Ray machine for children to step in so their mothers could see whether their new shoes were fitting properly.
Did you know you can create x-rays using Scotch tape? In our All Aglow episode we talked about when you bite down on a wintergreen LifeSaver candy you create a small glow that can be seen in the dark. That also goes for pulling apart adhesive surfaces--like opening a Band-aid like we’ve mentioned before. That glow is called triboluminescence and it produces small amounts of x-rays. Scientists found that if the tape is peeled apart in a vacuum then it produces enough x-rays to be able to create a pretty good x-ray image of a bone. Google Scotch tape x-ray.
One day in 1956 a medical engineer by the name of Wilson Greatbatch (let’s just stop and enjoy that name for a second) was working on a device that was intended to record the heart rhythm. Reaching into a box of resisters, he grabbed one that was the wrong size, but installed it anyway before he realized his error. To his amazement, the device began emitting electrical pulses that Greatbatch realized emulated the heart’s rhythms. He had previously played with the notion that electrical pulses might be able to stimulate the circuitry of the heart if there were some kind of breakdown. The device that he had inadvertently created on his lab table was much too large to be of practical use, but it gave him the idea that perhaps a smaller version could be created, so he got to work on that. Within two years he had a version that was successfully inserted into a dog. Soon thereafter, the pacemaker became available to help extend the lives of millions of people. According to surgeryencyclopedia.com every year 100,000 pacemakers are installed in the United States.
On a related note, Gerry and the Pacemakers were a hot British Band in the early 1960s, and like the Beatles they were also Liverpudlians. They had two big hits in 1964, can you name either of them?? Ferry Cross the Mersey made it to #6 in the U.S. , but their top hit was Don’t let the Sun Catch You Crying which made it all the way to #4.
So ferry, cross the Mersey
'Cause this land's the place I love
And here I'll stay
Don’t let the Sun catch you crying
The night’s the time for all your tears
On day in 1928 Sir Alexander Fleming was distracted in his lab. He was a professor of bacteriological studies at St. Mary’s University in London. He had always been interested in the nature of bacterial action of the blood and in antiseptics. He had been a captain in the British Medical Corps during World War I focusing on improving the treatment of battlefield wounds. But back to 1928. While he was distracted one day, some mold began growing on his petri dishes of Staphylococcus bacteria colonies. When he discovered this, he decided to try to salvage some of the colonies from the mold for further research. That’s when he noticed that the mold was actually repelling the bacteria. The mold turned out to be a rare strain of Penicillin. The new “Wonder Drug” was introduced in 1942 and is thought to have saved over 100,000 lives of allied soldiers during World War II.
One day in 1894 John Kellogg and his brother William put some wheat on to boil. At that time, John was the medical superintendent at Battle Creek Sanitarium, a health facility based on Seventh Day Adventist principles. They were trying to come up with a diet for the patients there. But they left the wheat on for too long, When they tried to roll it out into dough, the wheat separated into flakes. The brothers discovered that they could bake these flakes into a crispy treat. Later on they tried the same thing with corn, and -viola- Corn Flakes!
John Harvey Kellogg was an interesting--and controversial--character to say the least. No time here to go into the particulars but if you want to jump down a bizarre rabbit hole just Google his life.
One day in 1859, a 22 year old chemist named Robert Chesebrough (let’s just stop and enjoy that name for a second) anyway, he was investigating an oil well in Pennsylvania. He overheard the workers on the rig talking about a strange jelly like substance that was appearing on the drill rods and gumming up the mechanical equipment. However, the rig workers (or roughnecks as we call them here in Texas) reported that this jelly had soothing qualities when used to treat cuts, burns, and wounds. Chesebrough took some of the substance back to his lab to experiment with. He called it petroleum jelly and it is the substance from which we get Vaseline.
While we are on the topic of medical inventions...These next inventions are not accidental but they are pretty innovative.
This story isn’t so much about an invention as it is about the determined and innovative way a doctor created interest in a life saving invention. Most people are now familiar with incubators, box-like crib for babies born prematurely. Today they have all kinds of features but the main function is that it warms the baby and greatly increases their survival rate. Incubators are a fixture in NICUs all across the globe but it wasn’t all that long ago that doctors considered preemies a lost cause and little was done to try and save their lives.
A man named Martin Courney who studied medicine in Europe but when he immigrated to the US his schooling was not recognized so he was not considered to be a doctor. He was however a huge proponent of neonatal care and a huge advocate for the fairly new invention of the life saving warming incubator. Warming boxes had been used by farmers for years to help hatch eggs but the contraptions were not so easily adopted by the medical society of the time. This was around the late 1800s/early 1900s.
In order to prove the results of the infant incubator, Courney decided to do something kind of drastic. He opened a sideshow attraction--there’s really no other word for it--at the Coney Island amusement park in New York. With a sign that read “Baby Incubators, All the world loves a baby” Courney along with a team of dedicated medical staff including two doctors, displayed preemies in their incubators for the public to view.
Although it was a sideshow the facility was state-of-the-art with the health of the infants being the top priority. So who would agree to put their medically fragile infants in a sideshow? Parents whose only other choice was to wait for their children to waste away and die. The care of the infants was expensive but Courney did not charge the parents of the children, funds were provided by the people that came to see the babies.
“Couney was an unlikely medical pioneer. He wasn't a professor at a great university or a surgeon at a teaching hospital. He was a German-Jewish immigrant, shunned by the medical establishment, and condemned by many as a self-publicist and charlatan.” But this “charlatan” managed to save the lives of 6,500 babies with his Coney Island sideshow and had a success rate of 85%. He also got the attention of the medical community and was key in getting the care of premature babies to be a routine part of medicine so he in fact saved countless more lives. So if you happened to have been born prematurely or have any preemies born in your family then you owe quite a debt to Martin Courney.
Chainsaws (from BusinessInsider.com)
The chainsaw was originally invented as a surgical device to assist in childbirth. So yeah, childbirth is a pretty gnarly experience to begin with and that’s if everything goes right. But there are a lot of things that can go wrong that a doctor has to be prepared for. One of those things is if the baby is larger than the birth canal. Today it really isn’t a problem because Cesarean sections are pretty common. That is where the baby is pulled through a surgical incision in the abdomen. Before the common use of the caesarian section, all babies had to be passed through the birth canal and if the baby was breech or too large and became stuck, it was often a death sentence for both mother and child. This was when doctors would use a small knife to remove small parts of bone and cartilage to create more space for the baby. This is called a "symphysiotomy".
While you’re cringing thinking about this let me remind you that this was done without any benefit from anesthesia. That’s right. And in the middle of childbirth. So it stands to reason that doctors would want to make this as easy and as quick as possible. That’s where the 1780 invention of the chainsaw comes in.
This wasn’t the loud, gas powered, pull start, lumberjack contraption that you’re thinking of though. Two Scottish doctors, John Aitken and James Jeffray, created a hand crank powered saw that looked like a modern-day kitchen knife with little teeth on a chain that wound in an oval. It was so innovative in quickly cutting through bone that it became used for other things like amputations. Then someone noticed it also worked really well on wood. The tool became larger and more powerful until it evolved into the power tool we are familiar with today.
Luckily with C-sections being as routine as they are, symphysiotomies are no longer performed. But think about having to undergo one of these procedures. I would think that a doctor having to saw through a bone would be a hair-raising experience to say the least. That is why doctors of old were referred to as “SawBones.”
Amputations had to be done quickly. Dr. Robert Liston, a doctor with a practice in London in the 1840s, was known to be “the fastest knife in the west end” and could amputate a leg in under 30 seconds. This comes from The Daily Mail. Dr. Liston once performed a leg amputation so fast that he also accidently removed one testicle as well. During another surgery Dr. Liston wielded his knife so fast that he also cut off the fingers of his assistant. A spectator--because surgery is a spectator sport--was so horrified that he fell down and died from shock. The assistant and the patient both got infections from their wounds and later died. So that particular medical procedure has a mortality rate of 300%.
And with that let’s just move away from the medical side of things.
M&Ms are happy little innovations that made their debut in 1941. From riverandrapids.com we know that candy maker and chocolatier, Forrest Mars, Sr. created the candy as a way to ship chocolate to the soldiers fighting in the Spanish Civil War. The candy coating made it harder for the chocolate to melt all over and ruin the candy.
The United States Armed Forces took note and sent M7Ms to their troops during WWII. During the war, M&M's were exclusively sold to the military.
Do you know that the M’s in M7Ms stands for Mar’s (who invented the candy) and Murrie for Bruce Murrie, son of Hershey president William Murrie. Mars formed the partnership because he smartly anticipated a chocolate shortage during the war. Mars later bought out Murrie when the chocolate rationing came to an end.
Heineken Beer Bottle (Smithsonian Magazine)
Heineken is a Dutch beer (or lager) that began production in 1873 by Gerard Adriaan Heineken and is well recognized by their signature green bottles. In 1960 Alfred “Freddy” Heinekan, Gerard’s grandson, took a trip to the island of Curacao in the Caribbean Sea and was really disappointed by the fact that he couldn’t walk on the beach without stepping on trash. He was alarmed to find that a lot of that trash included certain green beer bottles. Another thing that struck him on that trip was the living conditions of the surrounding impoverished communities. So….when he went home he designed the “WOBO” or World Bottle. It was a square bottle intended to hold the Heineken beer but then instead of being thrown away it could be used as a brick for building. It had interlocking grooved surfaces that could be stacked and mortared into place. A 10-foot-by-10-foot shack would take approximately 1,000 bottles (and a lot of beer consumption) to build.
It was one of the first eco-conscious packaging designs out there. Unfortunately the bottle never actually went to market but it did spawn a lot of imitations and interest in reusable packaging.
Fun Fact/Trivia: Alfred Heineken and his chauffeur were kidnapped in 1983 and held in a warehouse for three weeks at an attempt to garner a 10 million dollar ransom. The scheme came to a fortunate end when one of the kidnappers mistakenly gave away their location while calling for some Chinese takeout.
We have a winner for our Superstition episode TC! The question was this: There is an amulet found in many cultures and locales but specifically from Turkey that is traditionally made from colored glass, fashioned into bracelets, jewelry, wall hangings and even a large sculpture in the Netherlands. It is said to ward off evil. It has made its way into our modern world by being featured as an emoji. What is this amulet or symbol called?
The winner was Rhona Phillipson!! Nazar is the name of the emoji.
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QUESTION: What does Wallpaper and Modern Shipping Materials Have in Common?
ANSWER: Bubble wrap!
Remnant Stew is created by me, Leah Lamp. Dr. Steven Meeker and I research, write and host each episode. Judy Meeker helps a lot with research as well. Audio is produced by Phillip Sinquefield. Our theme music is by Kevin MacLeod with voiceover by Morgan Hughes.
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