It’s safe to say that what sets Homo sapiens apart from the rest of the animal kingdom is our ability to invent stuff. From the wheel to the iPad, we don’t just use the tools we’re given—we make better ones! On the other hand, humanity has also had its fair share of trial-and-error moments.
Here are some of the most ludicrous items that people actually invented, but were (thankfully) left where they belonged: in the past. Frankly, it’s amazing that any of them ever made it off of the cutting room floor…
1. Anti-masturbation device: This may seem like some sort of phallic medieval torture device—and depending on your perspective, it may very well be!—but being chaste clearly used to take some extra work.
Used by Catholics throughout 19th-century France, the inventor of this device likely took what you might want to call a hands-off approach to his work. It certainly doesn’t look comfortable, does it?
2. Nose and ear picks: You’ve got to admit that these are really quite exquisite. Just imagine using one of these things to pick a booger? They must have been the talk of the town back when they were invented.
3. Flea traps: These lovely little devices look far too pretty to be used for something as mundane as catching pesky fleas, don’t they? The one on the left even looks like it was carved out of ivory. How exquisite!
4. More flea traps: This contraption was simply an ornate dead animal. It was intended to double as an accessory and a flea trap; the hope was that the pests would be drawn to the animal instead of the human.
5. A dance card: Believe it or not, women used to record the men whom they planned to dance with whenever they went to a ball—kind of like a little black book. “Care to dance, m’lady?” “Sure—let me pencil you in.”
6. A shaving stand: Why would anyone want something so complicated and fancy for something as simple and ordinary as shaving their face? Then again, times were different. Primping was a bigger deal!
7. A metal toothpick: This may look a bit more like a weapon than something you’d willingly want to put in your mouth. Perhaps people used to just have very stubborn bits of food in their teeth?
8. A fancy back-scratcher: You know when you have an itch and you just need a good scratch, but there’s no one around to help you? This fancy back-scratcher was just the thing to provide relief.
9. This hairstyle: Anybody who claims today’s hairstyles are crazier than ever before need look no further than these women to see how wild things used to be. Can you imagine how long it took to get ready with this ‘do?
10. “I C U” chamber pots: If you were a member of high society back in the day, it wasn’t enough to just do your business in an ordinary bucket like some sort of peasant. Then again, there’s only so much one can take before the design becomes a bit creepy…
Here’s an artist’s rendering of how one would go about using a fancy chamber pot like this. People of yore practically needed to be acrobats just to pull off this maneuver!
It gets weirder, however. Here’s an actual chamber pot with a depiction of Napoleon inside of it. You have to imagine this was the result of somebody making quite a political statement…
11. A posy-holder: This diamond-encrusted posy holder was undeniably beautiful, but it also must have seemed terribly unnecessary. Posies are pretty enough as they are. You don’t really need to do much to them to make them more intriguing!
12. A buttonhook: Again, what was the obsession in centuries past with making absolutely everything as fancy as possible? It’s respectable, but does every little thing have to be quite so intricately designed (and likely expensive)?
13. A mustache cup: This very specific invention was designed to keep your mustache from getting wet whenever you took a sip of your drink. Still, it begs the question: why didn’t they just use a handkerchief?
14. Wooden bathing suits: This trio, who called themselves the “Spruce Girls,” wore wooden veneer bathing suits made from spruce in 1929 in Hoquiam, Washington. They wore them specifically for “Wood Week,” which was an effort to promote the Grays Harbor timber trade.
15. The monowheel: An upgrade from the unicycle, the monowheel was invented by Rousseau of Marseilles in 1869. While some inventors tried adding fixtures, like airplane propellers, in the years since, it still hasn’t quite caught on with the mainstream.
16. A camera gun: This may look like an ordinary gun, but when you take a closer look, you’ll notice there’s a camera attached! This Colt .38 revolver gun from 1938 was designed to automatically take a photograph every time the trigger was pulled.
17. Motorized bathtub: Three young students in the town of Kingston in Surrey, England, developed this motorized bathtub in 1960. The invention was likely little more than a joke, but the fact that it existed and worked at all remains remarkable!
Some of these inventions from the past weren’t so bad. Still, we can’t help but feel glad the chamber pot is no longer popular today…
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