Small inventions of illustrious acquaintances

The always sharp, always curious Mark Twain –a very close friend of Nikola Tesla– made a few dollars thanks to a singular object of his authorship, which brought him as many bills as his books: a scrapbook that, to avoid mess, already had adhesive material, similar to that of envelopes. Oh, and trying to improve the handles that led him down the path of discomfort, the writer ended up developing the background of the bodice hooks, those that are still found in some haberdashery stores. Famous for his acts of illusionism and escapism, Harry Houdini innovated in water clothing, sketching a diving suit that was disassembled with a lever. And being a big fan of Afro-Cuban percussion and rhythms, Marlon Brando produced a device that tensed and tuned the bongo.

Edison had minor occurrences that often go unnoticed, such as the object that would later serve as Samuel O’Reilly’s muse in designing the first tattoo machine: an electric pen that, when held over paper, pierced it, allowing multiple copies to be made. at once

Just a few minor, unexpected creations of characters from the cinema, literature, magic, allegedly useful, although they have not always been successful. Let us take the example of Thomas Edison, whose name is closely linked to that of the invention – he is even credited with that of the cinema –, with more than a thousand patents to his credit, including that of the light bulb. That he was not the first but the safest, most durable and economical version in his day, and he elevated man to the category of “father of electric light”. Thus, Edison had minor occurrences that usually go unnoticed, such as that object that would later serve as a muse to Samuel O’Reilly to design the first tattoo machine: an electric pen that, when held over the paper, pierced it, allowing multiple copies to be made at once.

Mark Twains (1835 – 1910) Archive Farms – Archive Photos

He also launched in 1890 a pioneering talking doll (if we do not consider the literary fantasy of ETA Hoffmann), almost 60 centimeters tall, who sang nursery rhymes and songs by turning a crank that put into operation another of his inventions, the phonograph. Extremely fragile and very expensive, it was a sales failure and had to be taken out of circulation.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
Albert Einstein (1879-1955)Bettmann – Bettmann

It’s hard to imagine Albert Einstein taking care of mundane matters, but after starting the quantum theory and solving relativity, he launched an unexpected quest: the refrigerator. Together with thermodynamics expert Leo Szilard, the brilliant physicist created a refrigerator with no moving parts (to avoid potential leaks of toxic gases), which used a small heat source and a cocktail of ammonia, butane and water to generate a refreshing chemical reaction. He even went so far as to patent it, but the thing was put on hold. Einstein also registered an adaptable vest, with two sets of buttons, ideal for men with a tendency to put on weight.


Another notable scientist, already from our latitudes, with an unthinkable invention is Luis Federico Leloir, national pride for discovering how energy is stored in plants and how food is transformed into sugars that serve as fuel for human life. Finding that, as is known, earned him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1970 (these awards, since we are, were the last will of Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite). It also swells the chest of so many Argentines to think of Leloir as the author of salsa golf. Several decades before being honored by the Swedish Academy, the man ate some shrimp with mayonnaise at the Golf Club, in Mar del Plata, but the dressing tasted little to him. He then he began to mix condiments and ended with a concoction of ketchup with mayonnaise, a few drops of Tabasco and cognac. In honor of the place, he baptized the dressing – which evidently prospered – “golf sauce”. Without detracting from the sage, it would be naive to assume that no one had previously mixed the aforementioned ingredients…

At this point of the lines, comes the clarification of rigor: to talk about “alleged” inventions because the issue of authorship is fertile material for mistrust, and rightly so. If you don’t ask Elizabeth Magie she thought of a game –The Landlord’s Game– as a playful way of criticizing capitalism, but they copied her idea and thus the most capitalist game in history was born: Monopoly. In addition, until recently, there was no internet to check in real time what was happening in other latitudes. The truth is that history also tells what is supposed, and memory – as they say – admits literature.

In this regard, there is an example that gives the right hand to unbelievers: the Romanoff Codex, that recipe book attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci where, in addition to explaining how to prepare delicacies, he showed sketches of kitchen gadgets and gave advice on good manners at the table. This manuscript was “discovered” in the 1980s, first published in England under the title Leonardo’s Kitchen Notebooks, signed by two history buffs: Jonathan Routh and his wife Shelagh Marvin Routh. Dupla who warned that the original codex, in Leo’s own handwriting, was in Saint Petersburg, hidden in the Hermitage Museum, but that –somehow– they had had access.

It seems that Da Vinci was a declared chef, a fan of fennel and ginger, but he did not apply this piece of linen, cotton, to wipe his lips when eating. Neither did he create the following devices that he attributes to him in the Romanoff Codex: a cow grinder to obtain bouillon tablets, the corkscrew for left-handed people, a wheel to make spaghetti, among other falsehoods. Because these notes do not exist; they are a hoax, a farce

“I have devised that each diner be given his own cloth, which, after being dirty by his hand and his knife, he will be able to fold so as not to desecrate the appearance of the table with his dirt,” reads an attributed passage. to the Renaissance man, from 1491, which is still replicated in media far and wide, enthroning the eclectic artist, anatomist, architect, botanist, engineer, musician and urban planner as “the father of the napkin”.

It seems that Da Vinci was a declared chef, a fan of fennel and ginger, but he did not apply this piece of linen, cotton, to wipe his lips when eating. Neither did he create the following gadgets that he credits the Romanoff Codex: a cow grinder to obtain broth tablets, the corkscrew for left-handed people, a wheel to make spaghetti, among other falsehoods. Because these notes do not exist; They are a hoax, a farce.


Routh was a popular English prankster, famous for doing hidden cameras on TV in the 1960s. With his wife, a film publicist, he took out Leonardo’s Kitchen Notebooks on April 1 (1987); that is, April Fools’ Day, the Anglo version of April Fools’ Day, making it clear that it was precisely an innocent one. The most striking thing is that, even though José Carlos Capel –respected Spanish gastronome and critic, editor of the version translated into Spanish– has repeatedly clarified that “this book in question is pure fantasy”, notes continue to appear where Leonardo is mentioned as the inventor of the napkin or, even more, of the fork, a utensil that was already running around Constantinople several centuries before.

The "talking doll" Edison's
Edison’s “talking doll”

That said, there are enough amazing inventions left by the Florentine painter to satisfy his many fans. During the time he lived in Venice, for example, he designed a prototype diving suit, one of the first on record. Entirely made of leather, it had goggles to facilitate vision under water, as well as an inflatable skin to sink or float. Two small cane tubes on either side of the head served as breathing equipment in what was intended to be a solution to a military problem, waiting for locals to use it to sneak attack enemy ships. It is said that Leo was so convinced of the potential of his diving suit, and so afraid that it would fall into the wrong hands, that he guarded the sketch with particular suspicion. Believe or disbelieve.

Following the aquatic line, the fins are assigned to Benjamin Franklin that, when he was not contributing to the Declaration of Independence or the Magna Carta of the United States, he was racking his brain thinking about solutions to different problems. They were not exactly frog legs but a kind of wooden shovels that he hooked in his hands, and that left the wrists to misery of the man who is also enraptured by the lightning rod, the bifocal glasses, an evolved urinary catheter (flexible) , even the lampposts –with four flat panels– to illuminate the streets at night.

Be careful, even when it is said that necessity is the mother of invention, there are inventions that are directly children of delirium; such is the case of his “glass harmonica”. Franklin was so enchanted by the ethereal sound generated by rubbing wet fingers against the rim of a fine glass that he agreed to develop an instrument to systematize the matter. Et voilá the aforementioned “harmonica”, which was successful for a while and then fell into disuse. Its cons: it sounded too soft and, if you believe in historical gossip, it could cause nervous breakdowns, convulsions, madness.

It seems that a contemporary of his, Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, was also inclined to innovate. The grace of it, however, was to improve existing devices, rare for the time. He designed, among other things, a swivel chair by adding a wide right arm, which today resembles a desk and was used to write while he was spinning? He would also be the author of the dumbwaiter (the mechanism; nothing to do with the famous play by Harold Pinter).

Abraham Lincoln may have been a great statesman who worked for national reconciliation and racial equality in the United States, but he can also be pinned the title of “attempted inventor” in nautical engineering. He devised a novel system of floats for ships, which inflated when ships ran aground and helped free them. At least, on paper, because even when the –later– president registered his model in 1847, it was never manufactured and, according to experts on the subject, all the better.

Another leading figure in modern politics – this time German – who spent idle time making minor inventions was Konrad Adenauer, the historic Christian Democratic chancellor of West Germany who held office from 1949 to 1963, at the age of 87. Considered one of the founding fathers of the European Union, his is the friedenswurst or “the sausage of peace”, an alternative for times of scarcity that proposed mixing soybeans with meat. First to have the occurrence? No way, but somehow he managed to get the recipe patented in the UK. Adenauer also envisioned an internal toaster light to control how brown slices got; a timer that will turn off the nightstand for those who fall asleep reading; an electrical device to kill insects… more dangerous for human users than for mosquitoes, by the way. Needless to say, he was more successful running his country.

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Small inventions of illustrious acquaintances