Fantastic Failures: 10 Wacky Failed Inventions From the Past

There are some inventions that will forever be remembered fondly even after they are made obsolete by other technology. And then there are the other ones…the failures that never quite took off, or were replaced so rapidly as to have completely disappeared from our collective memory. Whether due to market difficulties, poor engineering or simply terrible timing, these inventions and gadgets are the failures most of us forget to remember.

Flying Tanks

Before military planes were robust enough to carry tanks to their destinations, military bigwigs had a brilliant idea: put wings on the tanks. They could be towed directly to the battle zone and easily flown to exactly the right spot. Although initial tests were successful, the winged tanks never made it into popular use. Better planes were developed first and are still used today to air drop tanks at their destinations.

Portable Record Players

The demise of this strange-looking contraption was a combination of poor timing and a lack of foresight by its makers. Poor timing because it came out in the 1980s just before cassette players and Walkmen would corner the market…lack of foresight because, come on, a record player that you carry around with you? Anyone who has ever used a record player could tell you what a terrible idea that is.

Gas-Shooting Riot Car

In the 1930s, the world wasn’t quite so politically correct as it is today. If a group of people gathered together to protest, for example, the police could mow them down with a humongous fortified vehicle complete with poisonous gas streams. This hulking machine was patented in 1938 but (thank goodness) never built. Perhaps cooler heads prevailed once the powers that be thought long and hard about the implications.

Vacuum Beauty Helmet

Although the woman with the plastic bag over her head looks exceedingly worried, and the other woman looks a bit like a wicked witch, this isn’t actually a picture of a crime taking place. The plastic helmet and the attached hose are allegedly a beauty treatment from 1941 involving a vacuum. How the victim…er, customer…breathes while encased in an air-free plastic hood is anyone’s guess.

Robot Reading Helper

The Robot Readamatic, invented in 1963, was meant to help slow readers improve their pace by revealing one line of text at a time. The arm would move at a pace set by the user to help him or her stay focused on the reading. Oddly, the device looks like it should be the other way around so that the big supporting arm doesn’t get in the way. We have to wonder if that bizarrely obvious design flaw had anything to do with the fact that the Robot Readamatic was never widely adopted.

Flying Saucer Camera

Back in the 1950s, there were so many UFO sightings reported each year that the government finally decided enough was enough. The Air Force introduced the Flying Saucer Camera, a special camera with two lenses designed to identify the source of strange lights. One lens took a normal photo while the other separated light into colors so that the origins of the light would be obvious.

Monowheel Vehicles

Although most of us choose to travel on two or four wheels, some inventors have been pushing for us to adopt a single-wheel vehicle since as far back as 1869 when the first monowheel appeared. Of course, with other forms of transport being safer, quieter, and easier to pilot, it doesn’t appear that the monowheel will be breaking into the mainstream anytime soon.

Twentieth Anniversary Mac

Released in 1197, the Twentieth Anniversary Mac was a sweet looking machine for its time, boasting a very thin (for the time) screen and a detachable trackpad instead of a mouse. No one but the wealthiest hardcore Apple enthusiasts could afford the landmark computer, though – it came out with an initial price point of $7,499. The price later went down to $1,995, below the cost of production, thanks to extremely slow sales.

Phone Answering Robot

Built in 1964, back when we as a society seemed to share a collective fascination with robots that would do our household chores, this phone-answering robot was not nearly as functional as it might look at first. Its abilities were limited to picking up the phone…and putting the phone back down. It couldn’t act as a message recorder or even a message player, but it sure did look cool.

Cigarette Umbrella

Smoking may be passé today, but in 1931 it was just a normal part of life. As such, it was fraught with dangers like cigarettes that got soggy in the rain. A circus clown came up with this crazy/brilliant solution: a tiny umbrella at the end of a cigarette holder that let smokers puff away without fear of the weather.