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Can You Tell What These Weird Historical Devices Were Used For?


Deep down, humans are pure optimism, aren’t they? We invent bizarre things that we think can solve whatever issues we’re having, or to make some chore more tolerable or faster. And we’re sure it’ll work. We just have to patent it! And some do work. Others, though, just seem to be torture devices. And some really were just used for torture. Not sure where the optimism is in that, but just roll with it.

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Based on the photo only, try to figure out what each of these weird historical devices were! Click ‘Start Slideshow‘ to play along!

Mobile Drum Set or Weird Bike?

At first glance, it looks like this guy is about to wail on some weird spherical drum set. And why not? It’d probably make a cool sound. But no. This is an amphibian bicycle. Did you get it right? This bike was meant to work on land or water. It was invented in 1932 and it was shown off by the inventor at a Paris exposition. The more I look at it, the more I think this would be really cool to have now. It would be especially helpful with all the climate change and the massive hurricanes drowning cities. Too soon?

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Stamp Licking Machine & Dog Perfume?

This one should be easy for you to get. Obviously, it’s a stamp moistening device. Now that we have email and smartphones, actual mail isn’t as common. So, you probably only have to lick a stamp or two every once in a while. And with online bill pay, you’re sending fewer and fewer envelopes. But back in 1891, mail was a big deal. Getting those stamps to stick and flaps to stay closed meant risking paper cuts and it was just kind of gross. So, this was invented for hygienic purposes. Clever, actually.

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First Sports Bra or Art Installation?

It’s neither, actually, so that was a bit of a trick. Sorry. This weird bra contraption thing was demonstrated at the 20th International Show of Inventions in 1971. The bra is not meant to be worn on the outside of clothing, but maybe this is where Madonna got the idea. Anyway, it’s meant to be worn underneath a lady’s blouse and it was supposed to vibrate one’s bust to help strengthen the muscles. It was meant to help with development. Believe it or not, you can still find one like this on Amazon. Ellen even tried one out on her show.

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Body Armor or Early EDM Gear?

Believe it or not, this was armor suggested for use during World War I. If you got this one right, congratulations because I definitely wouldn’t have. Metal plates were usually sandwiched between canvas and then held together with leather straps. These were strong enough to deflect pistol shots, shrapnel, and potentially explosions. Considering most injuries caused were to extremities, either these worked really well, or weren’t needed. Still, I’m pretty sure I saw that guy at a rave in the 1990s, or possibly at the last comic convention – this would make sweet steampunk cosplay.

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Wheeled BBQ or Gas-Proof Stroller?

When you’ve prepared four racks of ribs and you want to share with the neighbors, there’s just no easy way to transport them and make sure they stay warm – until now! No, I’m kidding. You wouldn’t take your barbecue for a walk around the block. Your kid, though, you might want to take outside for some fresh air – except when there might be a gas attack. Enter: the gas-masked baby carriage. It makes sense when you consider how crazy things were getting in 1938 around the world. Hopefully we don’t see a comeback of this invention.

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Radio Hat or Pipe Hat?

Back in the 1930s, we were all such heavy smokers that inventors started creating devices that would allow you to prep your next fix of nicotine so you could just keep on smoking after you finished your cigar or cigarette, hence the pipe hat. Sorry, none of that’s true, but it could have been. This was a radio hat. Think of it as the precursor to the Walkman, Discman, or iPod. Except you had to be satisfied with whatever stations you could tune into through the device – and there were no earbuds. Everyone had to listen, too. So, more like a boombox? Maybe cooler, though.

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The First Breathalyzer or Telephone?

One of the most important inventions of our time: the telephone. The first one was a weird device, though. Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor’s inventor, ran to the patent office in 1876, and secured all those pretty pennies for an invention that changed the way we all communicate. His first sketches were a little wonkier, but Bell is known for refining of devices, like he did with the phonograph. You know, he earned those pennies. If you didn’t get this one right, I’m a bit disappointed, I have to say.

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Stair-Climbing Carriage or Squirrel-Removal Machine?

What do you think the biggest problem facing adults at home in 1956 was? If, at the time, the squirrel population was nuts, I’d say squirrels. Frankly, though, I don’t have the numbers on the squirrels in urban areas on me right now. If it were a problem, though, a squirrel remover would be helpful. While that’s what this looks like, that’s not what it is at all. It’s a typical baby stroller, except with feet! The feet were meant to make it easier to climb up or down stairs. I mean, shock absorbers would probably have worked, but sure, I could see this working. Maybe.

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Chemistry Set or Automatic Smoking Machine?

Don’t believe everything you read on the internet. Except what’s here. All of what I bring you is true, to the best of my ability. There are a lot of sites out there claiming this is a smoke machine that was invented because people just liked the smell of tobacco burning. To be fair, a smoky bar has more ambiance, right? Perhaps an air of mystery. But no! Don’t believe it. This is a smoking machine, but it was created for tobacco manufacturers who needed to make sure their products were good. It was basically a quality control device. But it would be a cool-looking chemistry set, right?

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Really Tall Bicycle or Stilts?

Stop! Don’t read the caption. Just look at the photo. Don’t cheat. OK. Did you think this was stilts? Or a tall bicycle? Well, guess what? You’re right, whatever you answered! It’s a sort of tall bicycle with stilts instead of pedals. It was invented by Walter Nilsson around 1930 to make it easier to get around for super lazy people. Yeah, because it also had a seat. You could walk around town, but still sort of be seated. I have no idea how to feel about this thing. It seems both brilliant and supremely useless. I mean, you’re still walking!

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Dimple Maker or Toothache Reliever?

Have you ever had a killer toothache and longed for a device to apply pressure to get rid of the pain? Or desperately wanted dimples in your cheeks so you’d be super cute, and would wear a metal contraption to achieve them? This machine invented in 1936 could probably do both equally well – that is, not well at all. Isabella Gilbert from New York had a good idea, I guess. Dimples were a big thing back in the day. The American Medical Association cautioned against using this at all. The organization said it didn’t work, and could even potentially cause cancer. Wow. That escalated.

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Hangover Cure or Beauty Ice Mask?

How about both? Technically, this wasn’t invented to soothe the pain that can come the morning after a raucous night out, but I wouldn’t put it past someone to create something like this for a hangover cure. It was actually used in Hollywood to give actresses a little refresher between takes on a film set. The ice was on the outside of the mask, so it didn’t mess up makeup, and the cooling effect was super refreshing. Or it completely numbed the face. I don’t know. I’m going to make one and try it out.

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Giant Drill or New Thrill Ride?

The Victorian era was a weird time. At least it gave us some really cool ideas for steampunk cosplay, right? (I promise that isn’t a theme in this article.) At first glance, it definitely looks like a giant bullet or drill that you’d drop from a bridge and then strike black gold. But nope. This was like the Six Flags of the Victorian era. It’s called Carron’s Cone and it was meant for thrillseekers who wanted to know what it was like to freefall, but in comfort. Fifteen people could sit inside the contraption, which would be dropped from the Eiffel tower and then it would land in a 55-meter deep pond. I’m pretty sure this would’ve kill everyone inside.

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Make-up Driers or Blizzard Protectors?

Isn’t it the worst when you’ve just put on a face full of makeup and then you have to wait an hour for it to dry? Nah, these weren’t make-up driers or anything. It’s not like the women of the 1930s wore lead-based paint or anything – that was just on the walls in their homes and on the pencils they chewed. These were meant to protect your face during a blizzard so you could still see. But they probably fogged up, which likely defeated the purpose. At least your face would be dry!

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Car Equivalent of Riding on the Bike Handles or First Snow Plow?

Sorry, you guys, it’s another trick question. I think I only have one more in here like that! So, I would’ve guessed snow plow. It looks like it could maybe clear snow with the grate … wait, no. It has holes. OK, so maybe it’s just for fun? Nope. This was literally meant to reduce the damage you would do to a pedestrian if you were to hit him or her with your car. Not joking. It was meant to gingerly lift the hit person off the ground and into the grille. But without whatever he or she was carrying. This was in the 1920s, but I’d like to see this come back.

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Mind Reader or Early Hair Dryer?

Trust me, any woman out there who’s seen what crazy inventions are out there for beauty knows this could be something that dries, curls, or dyes your hair. We go to great lengths, y’all. It turns out that it’s a bit more serious than that – and no, it isn’t like, a psychic machine. It’s called a pre-PET machine. PET stands for Positron Emission Tomography, which is used to get images of the brain. Back in the 1960s, it was used to help detect brain tumors. Now it’s just used to scare kids into going to bed on time (I’m kidding).

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Mustache Guard or Germ Preventer?

Germaphobia is nothing new. People have been panicky about touching contaminated things, breathing in someone else’s ickiness, or licking the wrong doorknob. So, it’s not a far stretch to believe that this could be a germ preventer. It’s way less serious than that. Back in the early 1900s, mustaches were all the rage, but there was a problem. You couldn’t slurp soup or sip tea without getting your bushy man hairs all messy. And so, the mustache guard was invented. It’s weird. And you can still find them today! Some are antique, but others are brand new because the problem just doesn’t go away. Of course, there are also napkins as a solution, but whatever.

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First Breast Augment or Cancer Treatment?

Although this totally could pass for the first boob job, it’s a bit more stoic than that. Back in the early 1950s, doctors were trying to figure out how to treat cancer patients. It’s still kind of stumping us today, but we’re an optimistic species, us humans, and we’re sure we’ll find the cure one day. I hope we will. This device was the first of its kind, and it was called a cobalt bomb treatment, or radiation. It was the most promising development to help kill off cancerous cells, and help to save those afflicted.

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Tiny Portable Fireplace for Two or Double-Ended Pipe?

After the war in the late 1940s, we were still all trying to conserve a bit. Sure, wars are profitable and all, but now with all these women in the workforce, what’s a guy to do? So, to save a bit of money, they had to make sure they: A) Stayed warm by sharing pocket-sized fireplaces with friends; B) Shared their tobacco with fellow smokers to save a few pennies. The answer is B! Way to save money, fellas. Of course, you could just quit, and potentially live longer, but where’s the fun in that?

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Baby Ice Slingshot or Baby Sling?

Don’t get your hopes up for some sort of story about a failed Olympic sport called “Baby Slinging.” That’s not a thing. This was simply an invention by hockey player Jack Milford to make it easier to enjoy a freezing outing at the local ice rink with your baby in tow. I mean, he played for several teams in the 1930s and 1940s, including the Wembley Monarchs, so skating was his life. And props to him for trying to get that dad time in. But what if Mrs. Milford isn’t as good a skater as dad? The potential for disaster is probably why this didn’t catch on.

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Giant Slingshot or Tiny UFOs?

Trick question – it’s neither! I don’t know what to tell you guys. This one had me stumped, too. Somehow this is helpful for aviators. Instructors would use these giant eyeballs (I checked, yes, they’re eyeballs) to teach students about the muscles that are used in one’s eyes. They’re motorized and they light up. It was supposed to aid in an aviation medicine program. Even with all the information, I still can’t quite wrap my head around why this was necessary. But there you have it.

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First Electric Sander or Weight Reduction Machine?

If you’d bet good money that this was an electric sander – especially with a name like “Spot Remover” (I know you zoomed in on that) – you’re not alone. It looks like it could easily take the varnish off this kitchen island I have here that needs to be stained. But we’d lose that bet, friends. This was a weight loss contraption. It just vibrates and is supposed to remove pounds and inches from a less-than-svelte figure. Or you could potentially electrocute yourself, and then your weight wouldn’t matter to anyone except the undertaker.

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Futuristic Coffin or Flying Chamber?

If the future involves having our bodies frozen while science figures out how to cure death, I’d want a phone in my coffin, too. How else are they going to know that you’ve thawed and you’re ready to come back to life? Except that’s not what this is. It’s a flying chamber. No, it doesn’t fly. It was a chamber created for Winston Churchill so he could fly at higher altitudes than his doctors wanted him to fly at. Apparently, a man of his age and physical condition (read: size?) needed a pressure chamber with an ashtray to fly comfortably.

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Finger Stretcher or Torture Device?

Both? Probably. Technically, it’s a Victorian-era finger stretcher meant for aspiring pianists. To tinkle those ivories just right, you had to have impressive reach. Have you seen Fredric Chopin’s hands? They’re pretty much all fingers and no hand. To make sure he played as well as the greats, Robert Schumann used a device kind of like this to stretch his fingers out. He may have even had a surgery to lengthen his fingers. One or the other damaged one of his hands. The point is, people go to great lengths for all sorts of things. And hand stretchers are still a thing! Just not as scary-looking.

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Face Sauna or Mask for the Ugly?

That’s just mean, isn’t it? Yeah, I don’t think anything like that really exists. [Performing quick Google search … oh good, nope!] So, this is one of those electric face masks that was meant to be sort of like a sauna for your face. It would heat your face and head in order to stimulate blood circulation. I’m sure after using it you’d have quite a flush, so no need to wear blush! This was invented in 1940, but probably didn’t last because women who used it probably scared their husbands to death when they came home early to see that thing. Now I’m wondering if there was a horror movie made for this thing?

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Human Muzzle or Face Lift Invention?

Whaaaat? Humans don’t need muzzles. Except that there was a time (1567 or so) when a scold’s bridle was a thing. It was often used on women who were thought to be witches, but it was also used on women who were just nags. What the – ! Yeah, so these masks were used for public humiliation because how dare a woman ask a man to help out around the house? Thankfully, these are no longer in use. What is wrong with people? Seriously.

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First Wonderbra-like Corset or Expanding Corset for Dinnertime?

You know to wear your stretchy pants for Thanksgiving, right? That expandable elastic has helped many gluttons pack in their third helping of turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing. As much as it would make sense to have an expandable corset to allow women to actually eat something while they’re crushing their ribs. But nope. That’s not what this is. It’s actually kind of like the first push-up bra with inserts that fill with air (there’s a tube) to make breasts look larger. Oh man, that’s kind of amazing. Good for you, F. Parsons from Victorian era.

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First Talking Doll or Super Haunted Doll from the Future but Really from the Past?

You know what? Either way, I’m out. This thing is terrifying. It looks like it was made from way back when, but also kind of like it was made in the future. Or hell. It could’ve been made in hell. Turns out, though, it was invented by Thomas Edison, and it’s a talking doll. This thing came out way before Teddy Ruxpin. And long before we were all scared of Chucky. But it definitely inspired some nightmares. Do yourself a favor: Do not – I repeat, do not – look up the audio for this thing. You’ve been warned.

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Weird Tea Kettle or Tiny Pretty Toilet?

I had the hardest time trying to figure out what this thing was. I mean, it kind of resembles the china my grandmother left me in her will, but it also kind of looks like a food mill. And it turns out it’s neither. Nor is it a weird tea kettle. This is most definitely a tiny, pretty toilet. Or water closet, if we’re being proper. George Jennings created these pretty little WCs that could be found in various places, but most notably in the Crystal Palace in Kensington Gardens. People would pay a penny to use one.

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Flying Yankee Velocipede or Human Hamster Wheel?

Both answers are acceptable as far as I’m concerned. Also acceptable: monowheel. How this didn’t become a thing, I’ll never know. You can still find them here and there, like in parades. I’d be willing to bet that this single-wheeled vehicle could take the place of a unicycle for clowns, but they’re not terribly popular. The first one was patented in the late 1800s, and people seriously thought these could be used for transportation. This one pictured was hand-cranked, so the guy using it would probably get pretty jacked after only a few months’ use.

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Can You Tell What These Weird Historical Devices Were Used For?

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