Crazy Inventions Of the 19th Century
Cholera pants were believed to protect against the chills which were thought to cause disease, and that keeping the stomach and abdomen warm could protect against bowel complaints. The Victorians still believed that miasmas caused disease, so avoided fumes and bad smells too.
Last week we looked at the innovative and interesting inventions of the 19th century. However the period also saw a lot of patents filed which never made it, and these are not only amusing, they throw a light on some of the obsessions of the era. The Victorians invented the world of invention as we now know it; with contracts, patents, and people lodged patents from ideas cobbled together over the kitchen table. Many of them were never actually built, and as we go through this article we'll see why.
'Cleanliness is next to godliness' was a popular Victorian homily. Cleaning the various parts of the body apparently required special equipment. Frenchman Alexis Mantelet filed two applications for devices to wash the female bosom. The first of these he dubbed the “breast douche”. Mantelet’s “breast douche” was a long hose and tap fitting, connected to a cupping arrangement housing “two or preferably three rings of strong jets”. It was then placed briefly on each breast, while the user adjusted the jets to her liking. According to Mantelet this process achieved:
“A complete, vigorous and abundant douche over the whole surface of the breast… so that the douche may very well be of short duration. This douche therefore gives very desirable results [without] shock or undue chill.”
Mantelet's douch never apeared to reach the market, nor did he explain the advantage in using the device. We're sure he had a great time working on prototypes though.
The Saluting device
The saluting device was invented by James C. Boyle of Spokane, Washington. The patent states, “Be it known, that I, James C. Boyle, of Spokane, in the county of Spokane and State of Washington, have invented a new and improved Saluting Device, of which the following is a full, clear, and exact description.
This invention relates to a novel device for automatically effecting polite salutations by the elevation and rotation of the hat on the head of the saluting party when said person bows to the person or persons saluted, the actuation of the hat being produced by mechanism therein and without the use of hands in any manner.”
This gruesome trap was the brainchild of J.A. Williams of Fredonia, Texas. Instead of traping the animal, it blows it to smithereens and the potential for accidetal injury is mind-blowing. The patent is self-explanatory, but the picture of the patent itself has become notable as it sells frequently online for ornamental purposes. The patent was a more popular product than the failed contraption itself.
The Gentleman's Unicyle
In 1885 the patent was filed for a Gentleman's Unicyle, which was supposed to be both comfortable and practical. It even had an unbrella to shelter the rider from the rain. Cycling was a huge craze in the 19th century and very accessible to the growing middle classes as well as the rich. There were numerous attempts to cash in on this new phenomenon by changing the configuration and tinkering with the mode of propulsion. This patent by John O Loer Patterson of New Jersey was yet another reinvention which never made the cut.
In 1871 Robert J Clay invented something which was clearly ahead of its time. Dolls at that period were hugely expensive and the preserve of the rich, so he had cut down his market immediately. The doll was a form of automaton which crawled along on moving limbs with inset wheels. It was common at that time to call crawling 'creeping' and the doll's immitation is eerily realistic. Doll-making was increasingly becoming the preserve of inventors as mass-production took over and they tried to present a product which stood out from the crowd. The doll never took off. Apparently it was too heavy for little girls and not very interactive. Clay's boss presented a patent for an improved version later that same year.
Life Indicating Coffin
J.G Krichbaum's patent was also one of many versions of the same things. Death was another of the Victorian obsessions and being buried alive, or Taphophobia, was a very real fear, even before the work of Edgar Allan Poe. This was yet another of the devices which allowed the entombed person to raise the alarm for those above ground.
At the other end of the spectrum, there was also a great obsession with health. Hydrotherapy was very popular and O.A. Hensel filed this in 1899. The bathtub rocks from side to side and the cover pervemted the water from splashing out all over the foor. It never caught on. I can't imagine why.
Reuben Spalding filed the patent for the last example in our array of Victorian fascinations, but in fairness flying had fixated man since the earliest of times. This version allowed people to float using a hot air balloon and use wings as a method of locomotion. We have no record of whether a prototype was ever made or if any flight was ever attempted.
Before we dismiss these inventions too lightly, it's important to remember that they are an important archive of the preoccupations of the people of the time. They provide a window on the aspirations, struggles, and fears of the time; health, death, amusement, locomotion, and cleanliness.