The Sex Detector

The Sex Detector made its debut around 1920. It was a gadget, sold by "Sex-Detector Laboratories," that promised to be able to detect the gender of an egg — or any piece of biological matter whose sex one might want to find out (oysters, butterflies, caterpillars, beetles, worms). It supposedly even worked on blood. So police could use it to discover the sex of a criminal.

It was basically an empty rifle shell suspended on a piece of string. When held over an egg (or whatever) it would reveal through the direction of its motion the sex of the chick inside.

It was probably more accurately described as an idiot detector... the idiot being the one holding the string.

For a while it was heavily advertised in poultry journals, but when inspectors at the U.S. Dept of Agriculture investigated the efficacy of the device, they found it to be useless. It worked no better than a piece of cardboard attached to a thread. Advertisements for the product were banned.

The Leghorn World - Feb 1921

Wilmington Evening Journal - May 4, 1928

Williams News - July 8, 1921

San Francisco Chronicle - Oct 17, 1920

St. Louis Post-Dispatch - Feb 5, 1922

Posted By: Alex - Tue Apr 25, 2017 - Comments (2)
Category: Inventions, 1920s

The Dimple Maker

Invented by Mrs. E. Isabella Gilbert in 1936 (although I think similar gadgets had been on the market before). They came with these instructions: "Wear dimplers five minutes at a time, two or three times a day, while dressing, resting, reading or writing. Look into the mirror and laugh. There will be a semblance of a line where you should always place the dimplers until your dimples are made."

According to History By Zim: "The American Medical Association argued that the 'Dimple Maker' would not make dimples or even enlargeĀ originalĀ dimples. They also stated that prolonged use of the devise may actually cause cancer."

Louisville Courier-Journal - June 19, 1937

Battle Creek Enquirer - June 19, 1937

Detroit Free Press - Aug 9, 1936

Medford Mail Tribune - Nov 22, 1936

Update: I was curious to know when exactly the American Medical Association denounced the Dimple Maker, since the History by Zim blog didn't mention a date. I tracked it down to 1947, when the AMA put together a collection of quack medical products that it displayed on a nationwide tour of museums.

The Philadelphia Inquirer - Jan 11, 1948

Posted By: Alex - Sun Apr 23, 2017 - Comments (1)
Category: Beauty, Ugliness and Other Aesthetic Issues, Inventions, 1930s

The Knife-Fork

Edward Towlen of Detroit invented the "knife-fork" around 1917, but he only got around to selling it as a product in 1945. It looks like you can still buy one (or something like it), such as here for $17.99. Although science has moved on. There are now rivals, such as the Knork (see video below).

Wilkes-Barre Times Leader - Dec 15, 1945

Popular Science - Aug 1946

Posted By: Alex - Wed Apr 19, 2017 - Comments (3)
Category: Inventions

“Iron Mask” Wristwatch

I can't find any evidence for the widespread distribution of this watch outside this advertisement. Evidently, it did not catch on. Even Ebay does not seem to feature any as collectibles.

Of course, offering a watch that cost $17.50 (2017 equivalent: $307.40) during the Depression might have had something to do with their failure.

Original advertisement here. (Scroll down.)

Posted By: Paul - Sun Apr 02, 2017 - Comments (3)
Category: Inventions, 1930s

Smart Socks

"Imagine your phone could communicate with your socks," says the Blacksocks company. But imagine no more, because the company has now created "the smartest men's dress socks in the world." The company admits that, "This is something we dreamed about and we have made the dream come true."

The socks feature a "communication button" that allows the socks to speak to your iPhone. The things your socks might tell your iPhone include:

which socks belong together,and could help sort them out,
how often you have washed your socks,
when your socks were produced,
when you ordered your socks and
when your socks were dispatched.
Your iPhone can also tell you if your black socks are no longer properly black and help you buy new socks.

The smartest socks in the world come with a price tag of $189 for 10 pairs. So $18.90 for each pair.

Product page, via Oh Gizmo.

Posted By: Alex - Wed Mar 29, 2017 - Comments (3)
Category: Fashion, Inventions

Atomic Bomb Car

In 1953, Corwin D. Willson of Flint, Michigan patented the Atomic Bomb Car. Though the official title on the patent was a "sedan having versatile structure."

His idea was that if the United States were "atomically attacked," people would need to flee the cities, and then they'd have to live in their cars. But most cars aren't designed to be lived in. The solution: turn cars into mobile bomb shelters that could provide temporary housing for people. Essentially, he was patenting a camper car, but he was trying to market it as a defense against atomic attack.

From the patent:

Obviously, today's family car, while as numerous as dwellings, would fail, under threat of atomic attack, to meet the needs of millions of families simultaneously for widely diffused family shelter during an emergency probably timed to occur in mid-winter and to be of some duration. yet, once some practical: i.e., simple and economically possible, means is found for making the average car quickly convertible to housekeeping use, then the threat of the atom bomb to our cities loses some of its menace.

And also:

It is commonly acknowledged that the physical structures of congested areas are doomed once atomically attacked, The real problem is: how sensibly to save the lives of the inhabitants of cities thus marked for destruction and temporarily house them so that the business of resistance may go on in spite of the chaos engendered? Americans own as many motorcars as dwellings: 30,000,000 cars. If these cars were built as taught herein and if the civilian masses, against whom the next war acknowledgedly will be waged, were trained to diffuse in an orderly fashion to points prepared in advance and to occupy their convertible motorcars as temporary family dwellings till the danger passed, then one of the greatest problems to face the coming generation would have found a simple, economically sound and eminently satisfying solution.

More info: JF Ptak Science Books, Patent #US2638374A

Posted By: Alex - Mon Mar 27, 2017 - Comments (1)
Category: Inventions, Atomic Power and Other Nuclear Matters, 1950s

Double-Chin Eradicator

I wonder how long you'd have to roll this thing over your face before it made the slightest bit of difference.

The Canyon News - Aug 4, 1938

Posted By: Alex - Sun Mar 12, 2017 - Comments (2)
Category: Inventions, 1930s

The Total Environment Room

In 1963, GE engineer John L. Matrone came up with the idea of creating a "total environment" room. It would be capable of creating any environment (the deck of an ocean liner, a beach in Hawaii, a rainforest in Tasmania) inside your own home.

Components for the fun room have long been on GE drawing boards.
The space would be 20 feet by 10 feet, with approximately 10 feet of overhead to contain a special piston arrangement and an "atmospheric preparation tank" for creating the real atmosphere of the desire scene.
(You could easily make it snow, said Matrone, but the problem would be "shoveling" all that stuff out afterward.)
One of the room's walls would be arced in 180 degrees for 3-D and motion location scenes.

I don't believe a "total environment" room was ever built, but it sounds quite a bit like the Holodeck in Star Trek (minus the holograms).

The Shreveport Times - Nov 3, 1963

The Shreveport Times - Nov 3, 1963

The Lincoln Star - Nov 3, 1963

Posted By: Alex - Sat Mar 11, 2017 - Comments (1)
Category: Buildings and Other Structures, Inventions, 1960s

Gas-Proof Pram

In January 1939, these two photos appeared in numerous newspapers, accompanied by the following caption:

Necessity being the mother of invention, a resident of Hextable, England, recently perfected this baby airing outfit with an eye to the future. The air-tight and gas-proof lid fits over the pram, has an air intake, a window and a filter to insure gas free air. A rubber bulb at the rear of the perambulator keeps the air in circulation. For mother, there's a nice gas-mask.

An example of the strange effort to try to normalize life despite the threat of war. Also evident in such things as the air-raid fashions.

Posted By: Alex - Sun Mar 05, 2017 - Comments (0)
Category: Inventions, 1930s

Heaton’s Aerocommuter

Back in 1974, David Heaton spent $50,000 pursuing his dream of building an "aerocommuter" -- a two-person flying saucer that would "cost no more than a medium-priced American car," thereby allowing everyone to fly to work.

He claimed to have all the engineering problems worked out, but it doesn't sound like one of these things ever managed to leave the ground.

Aiken Standard - June 6, 1974

Posted By: Alex - Mon Feb 27, 2017 - Comments (6)
Category: Inventions, Air Travel and Airlines, 1970s

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Alex is the creator and curator of the Museum of Hoaxes. He's also the author of various weird, non-fiction books such as Elephants on Acid.

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