Epic Fails: 10 of the Dumbest Inventions of the 20th Century

dumb inventions

Most great inventions are called “dumb” or “silly” or “useless” for a while before they actually take off. The personal computer, for example, was said to be a pointless invention that no one would ever want – and now just about every home in the developed world has one. But not all inventions are winners – some really are dumb, silly or useless. Here are a few of the worst inventions of the 20th century.

motorized surfboard

Back in 1948, there was apparently nothing weird about riding across a lake on a motorized surfboard while wearing a nice suit and bowler hat and smoking a cigarette. Forget his lack of safety gear – inventor Joe Gilpin looks cool gliding along on the water.

flying platform

This invention was only dumb because the Green Goblin stole it and used it to terrorize New York City. This flying platform was developed for the military, and in this picture it’s being tested at an Air Force base.

phone answering robot

A machine that answers the phone? Genius! Except…this one couldn’t talk, play a greeting or record the caller’s voice. So, really, it was more like a phone-picking-up machine.

suspended baby cage

Humans in the 1930s had a much higher infant mortality rate than the one we experience today, and we think we’ve found the reason: inventions like this insane baby cage that suspends your precious bundle of joy out of the window, high above the very hard pavement below.

ice skating baby holder

This is another example of superb 1930s parenting: a baby carrier suspended between two parents. It seems slightly risky, but not like the most dangerous thing ever…until you realize that the parents in question are ice skating.

shower hood

This shower hood from 1970 has us baffled. Is it meant to keep your head dry while you shower? Or does it let you just wash your hair while your face stays dry? Either way, we commend this model for being able to smile while standing naked in front of a photography crew while wearing a beekeeper’s hood.


Speaking of bees, honey is a well-loved folk remedy and has been for centuries. Vinegar is also used often to treat various conditions. But mixing the two together resulted in Honegar, which we can’t imagine even trying to stomach.

sea shoes

Seriously, what was up with guys playing in the water while wearing suits? At least M. W. Hulton’s invention included poles to help the rider with balance. The duckfoot propellers on the back of these Sea Shoes helped the well-dressed man traverse all of the pesky ponds between home and work.

cigarette pack holder

In the 50s, everyone smoked. In fact, they couldn’t smoke fast enough if this cigarette pack holder is any indication. Did the inventor of this fine contraption not know that excess nicotine causes violent vomiting, dizziness and severe headache?

cigarette holder for two

(all images via: Life)

The cigarette holder for two: for when you really want to share your lung cancer with the one you love.

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See more in Epic Failures or under Vintage & Retro. December, 2009.