Inventors came up with these great ideas based on the sincere belief that somebody, somewhere, would find value in them, either by saving time, effort or money, or by deriving some other benefit. Some of these inventions were on track to be patented, some were perhaps merely for the greater good. The U.S. patent system rewards new devices or processes with legal protection from competition in the marketplace, enabling the holder of a successful patent to make money from his or her creativity if he or she chooses to do so. This system has helped propel progress in this country since the first patent was granted in 1790. Out of the 9,000,000 inventions patented so far, however, only a few of them have been truly worthwhile. Most inventions, patented or not, have some fatal flaw, or are unrealistic in some way, or are just not as useful as they were thought to be. Here, then, are some optimistic inventions from the year 1865. Hail to the inventor, but better luck next time!
This article was originally published with the title "50, 100 & 150 Years Ago" in Scientific American 313, 3, (September 2015)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)
Dan Schlenoff is a contributing editor at Scientific American and has edited the 50, 100 and 150 Years Ago column for one seventh of the magazine's history.