Mystery Gadget 87

This device measures something. What?

The answer is here.

Or after the jump.

More in extended >>

Posted By: Paul - Wed Aug 19, 2020 - Comments (3)
Category: Technology, 1900s

S. P. Dinsmoor’s Garden of Eden

The oldest surviving outsider art installation in the USA.

Home page.

Creator's Wikipedia entry.

Posted By: Paul - Sun Aug 16, 2020 - Comments (3)
Category: Art, Outsider Art, Statues and Monuments, Regionalism, 1900s

The 1902 penny craze

Sometime in late 1902, a rumor began to circulate that a worker at the mint, while making the 1902 pennies, had accidentally dropped a bar of gold into the copper. As a result, the 1902 pennies were worth more than a penny. The treasury would supposedly pay up to 18 cents for each penny. So people began frantically hoarding and stockpiling the 1902 pennies.

Despite frequent denials by the treasury, the rumor persisted as late as the 1960s.

There are different theories about how the rumor began. The article below attributed it to a Brooklyn school superintendent. Another theory, offered over at, said that it started as a joke told by a fish dealer named Alvah W. Haff:

The rumor was said to have been started by Alvah W. Haff, a fish dealer of the Fulton fish market. Being a fish dealer, Mr. Haff had to always be ready to give change and when the Amityville bank accumulated too much small change, it notified Mr, Haff, who would take the change off of the bank's hands.
On January 29, 1903, Mr. Haff bought 3,000 copper pennies from the bank. Someone who witnessed the transaction commented on the strange occurrence, and Mr. Haff jokingly explained that he was going to take the coins and get the gold out of them.
The story spread like wild fire and people began hoarding 1902 pennies.

The Formoso New Era - Dec 11, 1903

The Spokane Spokesman-Review - July 12, 1961

Posted By: Alex - Fri Jul 10, 2020 - Comments (1)
Category: Confusion, Misunderstanding, and Incomprehension, Money, 1900s

Danderine Grows Hair

As far as I know, Jeanette Wallace's only claim to fame was appearing in an ad for Danderine Hair-Growing Remedy. The ad ran in numerous magazines and newspapers between 1906 and 1908.

She claimed that Danderine made her hair "fairly crawl out of my scalp"... which sounds like it could be the premise for a horror story.

Incidentally, according to Google maps, her address in New York is now occupied by a noodle shop.

Posted By: Alex - Wed Jul 08, 2020 - Comments (8)
Category: Patent Medicines, Nostrums and Snake Oil, 1900s, Hair and Hairstyling

Baked by Electricity

The electricity adds that extra flavor!

Munsey's Magazine - vol 29, 1903

Posted By: Alex - Wed May 13, 2020 - Comments (3)
Category: Food, Technology, Advertising, 1900s

Theater in a Whale

An idea proposed, but never realized, for the Pan-American Exposition held in Buffalo in 1901.

Some info from the Butte Miner - June 26, 1899:

Chicago's great fair had the Ferris wheel and Paris had the Eiffel tower. What will be the chiefest "dominant extraneous feature" of the Pam American exposition, which will be held at Buffalo on the Niagara Frontier in the summer of 1901 is not yet known, but there will be a number of features of special interest…

[An] idea, which was born in the brain of a man of biblical mould, is that of the "Jonah" theatre, and the submitted plan calls for the construction of a mammoth whale: a whale of iron and steel, which is to lie anchored in shallow water near the banks of the exposition. Dainty ferry boats are to play between the shore and the mouth of the simile of the floating Standard Oil company of former days, and those cheerful ones who live to enjoy themselves in strange ways are to be ferried from the shore to the tongue of the floater. There a smooth young man will have his hands crossed with silver and after this transaction the passengers will be at liberty to walk down the whale's tongue to the room where for three days and three nights Jonah sat and mourned the day that he became a Populist.

In that section all will be light and cool and cheerful, and on a stage vaudevillians will kick and sing and cavort and musicians will add to the gaiety of the scene and will make many believe that the ancient stories of Jonah's troubles were much overrated.

Posted By: Alex - Sat May 09, 2020 - Comments (2)
Category: Fairs, Amusement Parks, and Resorts, 1900s

Howard Obesity Ointment

The application is simplicity itself. You merely apply the ointment to the part you wish reduced, then literally, "wash the fat away" without injury to the most delicate skin.

I can't find any description of what was in this ointment, but it sounds like something out of a horror story.

Munsey's Magazine - vol 29, 1903

Posted By: Alex - Tue May 05, 2020 - Comments (4)
Category: Health, Advertising, 1900s, Dieting and Weight Loss

Matrimonial Delusions


Posted By: Paul - Mon Apr 27, 2020 - Comments (2)
Category: Bad Habits, Neuroses and Psychoses, Money, Husbands, Wives, 1900s

The collar saw of Carl Kusch

Carl Kusch of Germany invented a way that a person would never be without a saw when they needed one, because the saw could be worn around their neck at all times. From his 1909 patent:

This invention relates to a saw which can be worn on the dress or on the person and is also provided with a frame adapted to serve as a guard.
The invention consists in a flexible saw frame convertible at any time by suitable means into a rigid frame and which is so constructed that the saw blade can be put into the frame in the known manner, when the saw is used as a tool, or be fixed to the flat side of the frame when the frame is used as a guard. In the latter case the frame of the saw protects the dress or the body from contact with the saw blade.

Kusch evidently had high hopes for his invention, because he obtained patents for it in the United States, Great Britain, France, Switzerland, Austria, and Germany. Although in his patent he never explained who he thought was going to buy the thing. The military, I'm guessing, because it seems designed to be part of a German soldier's uniform. Although as far as I know, no army ever outfitted its soldiers with this thing.

Posted By: Alex - Sun Mar 22, 2020 - Comments (7)
Category: Fashion, Inventions, Military, 1900s

Throwing Animals for Taking Death Leaps

Circus proprietor Edward Wulff patented a curious device in 1904. It was an apparatus that catapulted animals upwards. It had the rather alarming title, "Throwing Animals For Taking Death Leaps" (Patent No. 774,017). Wulff claimed it could throw "horses, elephants, monkeys, &c.." The patent illustration shows a horse, so these were evidently the primary animal being thrown.

The device was relatively straight-forward. The animals were placed in a harness that held them on top of a spring-powered platform. The release of the springs then flung the animals upwards. Wulff emphasized that his apparatus was designed, via the harness, to place the projecting force on the full body of the animal, rather than just their legs. He seemed to feel that this was a safer, more humane method of throwing animals.

Wulff explained that this device was designed to be used as part of a circus stunt known as "a death leap or so-called 'salto-mortale.'" But he didn't offer any further explanation about the nature of the stunt or how far the animals were flung. And I couldn't locate any descriptions of this stunt in other sources. All the references to a 'death leap' stunt that I came across involved human trapeze artists, not animals. So I was about to conclude that the stunt would have to remain a mystery until I got the idea to check if Wulff had filed the patent in any other countries. Sure enough, there was a British version of the patent, and while its text was almost identical, it had a different title that explained the nature of the stunt:

Improvements in Apparatus for Throwing Animals to take a Somersault.

So Wullf's apparatus was evidently designed to somersault animals. Not simply to catapult them upwards. This made me recall something I posted here on WU back in 2012. It was a brief item that appeared on the front page of the Washington Post's 'Miscellany Section' on April 21, 1907, titled 'Horse Can Turn Somersaults.' At the time, this random reference to a somersaulting horse totally baffled me. I even suspected it was a hoax. But now it makes sense. It must have been a circus stunt. Perhaps it even made use of Wulff's invention. I can't find any evidence that Wulff's circus was in Boston in April 1907, but it was in New York in December of that year.

Wulff, it turns out, was the author of another odd patent, granted to him in 1887. The patent was titled, "Means and apparatus for propelling and guiding balloons." He intended to use birds such as "eagles, vultures, condors, &c" to guide balloons. The birds would be attached to the balloon by a harness, and an aeronaut would then force them to fly in the desired direction, thereby propelling the balloon.

This patent has received quite a bit of attention, because there's a lot of interest in the history of early attempts at flying machines. Knowing that Wulff was a circus proprietor, I wonder if he intended his eagle-guided balloon to be used as part of a circus act, rather than as a practical flying machine.

Posted By: Alex - Sun Feb 09, 2020 - Comments (6)
Category: Animals, Inventions, ShowBiz, 1900s

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Who We Are
Alex Boese
Alex is the creator and curator of the Museum of Hoaxes. He's also the author of various weird, non-fiction, science-themed books such as Elephants on Acid and Psychedelic Apes.

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Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.

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