There’s a Samuel Beckett quote (from a novel, actually) that’s been “meme-ified” in recent years: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." "Fail better” could be the official inventor’s mantra, because there are a shocking number of stupid inventions by famous inventors throughout history. Even stone-cold geniuses such as Thomas Edison “failed better” over and over, even after inventing game-changing innovations such as the phonograph.
The worst inventions by great inventors are silly, terrifying, disgusting, and wildly impractical. But none of them were the last inventions by great inventors, which says a lot. The great minds behind these ridiculous gadgets kept on learning and kept on failing, leading to some pretty incredible, ground-breaking innovation. Read on to see how even great minds are capable of utter crap from time to time.
Thomas Edison Made a Terrifying Talking Doll
Do yourself a favor and just listen to this thing. What a nightmare. Thomas Edison made a lot of wonderful, game-changing inventions and innovations over the years - the longer-lasting light bulb, the phonograph, the motion picture camera - but around 1890, he made this abomination.
The actual doll wasn’t his invention (they were imported from Germany), but the gadgetry required to make it squawk - a tiny phonograph - was all his. The technology just wasn’t there, and the few cursed consumers that actual bought this thing knew it. They complained about how frail the doll was, and how its head would spin independent of its body (kidding!). Edison yanked them from stores after just one month.
Dean Kamen Made a Machine That Sucks Food Out of Your Stomach
Dean Kamen is best known for inventing the Segway, that dorky scooter-thing that Will Arnett’s character Gob rides around on in Arrested Development. As silly at that thing is, it’s got nothing on an insane device - now FDA-approved! - that literally sucks food out of your guts before it is digested. It’s called the AspireAssist, “an external pump that dumps part of the stomach contents into the toilet” thanks to a “tube that goes from the inside of the stomach to a port on the outside of the abdomen.”
Doctors that actually like this thing say it’s effective for the extremely obese. Critics say it could cause “dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, vitamin and mineral deficiencies” and it’s “a grotesque weight-loss apparatus that might as well have been lifted straight from the body horror of David Cronenberg’s imagination.”
Nikola Tesla Made a Useless "Earthquake Machine" with a Disturbing Side Effect
Nikola Tesla, best known for his innovations in electricity, once claimed he made a steam-powered machine that could cause earthquakes. Tesla's electro-mechanical oscillator, legend has it, caused a small earthquake in New York City (!) in 1898. Or at least that’s the story that Tesla told at his 79th birthday party, according to his biographer. In reality, there’s no way the device could have ever done that (the Mythbusters even busted it!), and it was surpassed by technological advancements in steam turbines.
The vibrations it put out did, reportedly, have a laxative effect on people, so there’s that...
Nintendo Made the Awkward, Ridiculous "Virtual Boy"
This one was super-painful for Nintendo fanboys in the 1990s: the Virtual Boy, a 3-D gaming console that caused eye strain, neck aches, and cost $500 in 1995. Everything about the system was disappointing: the red-and-black graphics, the sucky games, the lack of multiplayer options, etc. The games actually had an option to pause automatically every 15-30 minutes so you could rest your eyes. That’s lame. You had to play it sitting down at a table leaning forward. That’s lame. There’s no doubt about it: the company that revolutionized at-home video games in the mid-‘80s failed big time with the Virtual Boy... but then the massively popular Nintendo 64 made everyone kind of forget about it.
Chrysler Made an In-Car Phonograph That Couldn't Handle Bumpy Roads
Chrysler had the bright idea in 1956 to put a record player (you know, that music-playing device known for skipping when shaken?) inside an automobile (you know, that giant machine that transports people over potholes?).
Normal 33 1/3 rpm records were too big and 45 rpm record were too short, so they had another bright idea: making 7-inch, 16 2/3 rpm records that only played in the car.
They called the whole mess “Highway Hi-Fi” and it was a colossal, expensive failure. It was only offered for two years and it cost consumers about $1700 extra (adjusting for inflation). It retrospect, the system looks pretty cool, in a dystopian, Fallout 3 kind of way.
Apple Made an Uncomfortable Mouse Shaped Like a Hockey Puck
Anyone that actually had to use one of these things knows how ridiculous Apple was for actually letting this out into the wild. In 1998, Apple was still years away from its truly game-changing innovations such as the iPod (2001) and iPhone (2007).
The semi-translucent, hockey-puck shaped trackball mouse - available in colors such as strawberry, grape, lime, and blueberry! - was only available for two years. The “iPuck” was so uncomfortable to use that third-party companies made “shells” that went over the top to make it more like a normal mouse. To make things worse, the cord was also too short. It’s also really, really ugly.
Thomas Edison Made a Loud, Messy Electric Pen
Thomas Edison was a genius. That’s without question. But sometimes, he just got a bit ahead of himself. Take his electric pen of 1875, a device that punched small holes in paper - almost like a tattoo needle - so users could create a stencil of their documents on wax paper... and then roll ink over the stencil. The whole thing was noisy, messy, and required batteries that “had to be maintained using chemical solutions in a jar.” (That doesn’t sound user-friendly at all.) Edison abandoned the project, but the misstep paved the way for the mimeograph.
Leonardo da Vinci Sketched Some Goofy "Walk-On-Water Shoes"
Leonardo da Vinci was only human. Although he was almost universally acclaimed as a genius, the guy still had the occasional goofball idea. Like a device that allows people to walk on water, Jesus-style! To his credit, it was just a sketch, but you have to admit that it looks like something you would drunkenly sketch on a cocktail napkin.
How were you supposed to propel yourself forward? How do you keep your balance on such small shoes? As author Judy Wearing wryly points out in her book Edison’s Concrete Piano, water does not “provide the same resistance” as the ground and it “moves out of the way” when you push on it.