Strangled Science

phonograph Paris Academy of Sciences

There is a perception among many that scientists collect facts in a calm, dispassionate manner and do not give in to bouts of irrational reaction.

That perception is wrong.

A perusal the Minutes of the Paris Academy of Sciences gives a telling account of the demonstration of the first phonograph: “No sooner had the machine emitted a few words, than the Permanent Secretary threw himself upon the [person doing the demonstration], seizing his throat in a grip of iron. ‘You see, gentlemen,’ he exclaimed, ‘what it is!’ But, to the stupefaction of everyone present, the machine continued to utter sounds.”

Wiping Away Doubt About How to Hang Toilet Paper

toilet paper holder patent
Patent No. 465,588 for the toilet paper roll settles the question about how the roll is to be oriented.

It has been listed as one of the top causes of marital strife. It has divided families, torn friendships asunder, and generated more letters to advice columnist Ann Landers than any other topic. What could be such a controversial subject? The Presidential election? The latest Supreme Court opinion? The favored team for the World Series?

Try toilet paper orientation.

The controversial subject of “over” or “under” has divided people more than almost any other subject. It has even triggered arguments among the scientists stationed at Amundsen-Scott Research Station at the South Pole. There is even a Wikipedia page devoted to arguments for each opposing view.

For those who subscribe to the originalist philosphy of legal interpretation, this debate can be settled once and for all. When Seth Wheeler filed for a patent for “Improvements in Toilet-Paper Rolls” on December 22, 1891, he included a diagram of how the roll should be oriented on the hanger.

He was clearly an overachiever.


Take a Shot at a Better Mousetrap

Strange patent mousetrap with gun

James A. Williams of Fredonia, Texas applied for a patent for a better mousetrap. Not content with something as mild as poison or a spring trap, Williams devised a means by which a Colt 1860 revolver could be linked to a pressure trigger, thus bringing a certain — and noisy — and to the unfortunate mouse at the other end.

Also mindful of other types of pests that might be roaming the neighborhood, Williams noted that the invention could be used “in connection with a door or window, so as to kill any person or thing opening the door or window to which it is attached.”

Despite the gruesomeness of the concept, the US Patent Office approved the application and issued U.S. Patent No. 269,766 to Mr. Williams on December 26, 1882.

The record is silent as to the number of vermin — human or otherwise — faced down his invention.


The Greatest Things Since Sliced Bread

when was sliced bread invented?

The next time you use the phrase “the best thing since sliced bread,” you might want to consider how recent of an invention that is.

The first commercially-available device that made it possible to sell pre-sliced loaves in mass quantities was developed by Otto Frederick Rohwedder. His prototype was built in 1912, but it wasn’t until 1925 that it became ready for commercial use.

The first pre-sliced loaf using the Rohwedder method was produced in Chillicothe, Missouri on July 7, 1928 by the Chillicothe Baking Company. Sales of bread throughout the United States are expected to total $23.6 billion in 2016, with packaged bread totaling about $15 billion of those sales.

Consider some of the more significant technological and scientific advancements of that era. Since television was invented in 1926, it might be a pretty incredible invention, but it is not, technically, the best thing since sliced bread.

1900 — First Zeppelin is designed

1903 — Wright Brothers fly first airplane

1907 — First helicopter is flown

1907 — Plastic is invented

1915 — Invention of the military tank

1926 — Invention of the television

1928 — First commercial production of sliced bread 

1928 — Discovery of penicillin

1931 — Invention of electron microscope

1933 — FM Radio is patented

1938 — Nuclear fission discovered

Easy Phone Number to Remember

First telephone in White House in 1877 Rutherford B. Hayse

1877 brought a new President to the White House and a new presidential perk: the Executive Mansion’s first telephone. President Rutherford B. Hayes had the phone installed in the White House telegraph room. The first White House phone number was “1.”

Alexander Graham Bell had just invented the telephone a year earlier, so it should not be surprising that there were not a lot of telephones out there for the President to call or from which to receive calls. Practically speaking, the only one of significance connected to that first White House phone was in the nearby Treasury Department.

It would take years for this to become anything close to the vital means of communication it is today. It wasn’t until the administration of President Herbert Hoover, fifty years later, that a phone was installed in the Oval Office, itself.

Since then, telephone access to and from the White House has grown exponentially. Today, between 2,500 and 3,500 phone calls are received at the White House each day.


Source 1

Source 2

Mark Twain: Patently Multi-Talented

Mark Twain patents scrapbook garment strap memory game
Mark Twain (upper left) received patents for three inventions: a scrapbook (upper right), memory improvement game (lower left), and adjustable strap for garments

Mark Twain was much more than an accomplished author. He was also an inventor who was awarded patents for three different innovative devices. Ironically, because of his inventions, this well-known author’s most profitable book was blank.

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Now If They Could Just Prevent it From Happening

Patent #6,784,792, issued in 2004 to inventors Bernhardt Mattes and Gottfried Flik, is a sensor that will tell you whether your car has struck a pedestrian. 

Presumably the pedestrian doesn’t have to be told.