Archive Gallery: PopSci’s Most Impractical Inventions

The crocodile-drawn wagon, the butter-churning bicycle, the jazz-powered mushroom farm, and more
Again, who needs a car when you can have a vehicle powered by an exceptionally strong pet? The so-called "Poochmobile," invented by eighty year-old dog trainer Z. Wiggs, applied the squirrel cage principle to its primary wheel. While the dog ran, a belt and pulley mechanism would turn the rear drive wheels, which were in turn controlled by the driver's "gearshift" lever in the front. Our question is, how did Wiggs get his dog to run around around in that wheel? Dogs aren't hamsters -- wouldn't most breeds just sit there, whining and confused? Read the full story in "Walking the Dog Drives Poochmobile"

Every month for the past 138 years, we’ve showcased inventions and concepts for mechanisms aimed at improving life. Sometimes this meant curing cancer, other times it meant having fun, and on rare (and scary) occasions, it meant building something because you could.

For every airplane, computer or chemical weapon appearing in our archives, there are a ton of other inventions that are, to put it bluntly, rather pointless. At best, they’re well-intentioned but a little impractical. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Click to launch the photo gallery.

We wouldn’t be surprised if the question of “why not?” prompted Charles Steinlauf to strap a sewing machine and a steering wheel onto a bike. What problem does a sewing machine bicycle actually solve? Why craft such a high-maintenance, Cirque de Soleil-worthy family vehicle when you can just buy a car? It might not be the most useful mechanism, but it landed him a magazine spread – and a couple trips to the hospital, judging by the precariousness of balancing on such a machine.

In 1917, Max Rothfeld proposed converting a piano into a vacuum cleaner by hooking up the instrument to a patented dust filterer. People might say that necessity is the mother of invention, but in this case, we’d venture that the inspiration came more from boredom. Not everyone would think to power a vacuum using piano pedals, but then again, almost anyone would sweep the old-fashioned way before hauling a piano vacuum around the house.

It gets stranger, especially during the late 1920s and 1930s, when times were hard and people were looking for diversions. Within our pages, we’ve found a bicycle that churns butter, a wagon run by a tamed crocodile, and a zeppelin with a built-in hospital (hello radiation exposure!). These concepts, along with the dog-powered “Poochmobile” and the jazz-responsive mushroom farm, are more comical in retrospect than the inventors probably intended.

These inventions might not have changed history, and for all we know, they might not even have worked beyond trial periods and personal use. What we can say, though, is that they made as laugh, and a good chuckle will always be more useful than a crocodile-powered cart.

Click through our gallery to read more about our favorite impractical inventions.