That is what we are supposed to do when we are at our best - make it all up - but make it up so truly that later it will happen that way. ~ Ernest Hemingway (1898 - 1961)
Yes, make it all up! So many times, out of need for convenience, we come up with a brilliant idea, that stuns us with its brilliance. But we just let it pass, without doing anything about it. Well, what would have happened if Thomas Edison would have done the same thing? Half of the things in the world today, wouldn't have existed, the man invented so many things!
Apart from him though, there are many others who invented lots of wonderful things, but unfortunately, their work never reached fruition. But their amazing ideas formed the base of many of the things that make life so very easy for us today. So, let's thank those unsung inventors, whose ideas, had they been given life, would have put us a few decades ahead on the time-line of progress...
Here I've listed 6 awesome inventions that never made it big, or failed for some reasons. Go through them, and you will not be able to help but marvel at some of these futuristic ideas...
#6 The Metal Book
The timeline of Thomas Edison's inventions stretches on and on. This idea too, was suggested by him, to literally make a student's life lighter and burden free. What he suggested was, why not carry one book, with 40,000 pages in it (more than enough for all the subjects, I think!), which would also be cheap, lighter in weight, and more durable? No worrying about pages tearing, or the book getting soaked in the rain, or even carrying 10 books for that matter. One book in your backpack and you are good for the entire year. Sounds good? Yeah, I'll admit that the idea sounds a little unusual - a metal book? - but, hey, if this one would've taken off, we probably would've thought the idea of cutting down trees to make paper for books, totally ridiculous! Besides, he suggested using extremely thin sheets of Nickel, which were very cheap and readily available. But alas, this is one inventions that failed to take off, and so we see our poor kids, trudging to school with bags so big, they should ideally be used for overnight trips to their friend's places. Thomas said, "Why not? Such a book would weigh only a pound. I can make a pound of nickel sheets for a dollar and a quarter." Oh well, at least the man tried. Too bad it didn't materialize.
#5 Magic Lantern Talkies
Presentations which present themselves! I know! Brilliant idea, if you ask a lazy person like myself. Just let the presentation present itself - complete with audio effects which are totally in sync with the presentation, and all that. One awesome idea, except it burned a hole in the finances of the marketing firm in New York that invented it. When they discovered the magic lantern talkies, as they were called, it cost them around $1500 then. Translate it to today's equivalent, and you arrive somewhere between $23000 to $24000. Whoa! For one presentation? No thank you, kind sirs. I'll present the presentation, and keep the money, anytime. But what they did inspire, was - Commercials, Projectors and PowerPoint. If you analyze, commercials are exactly that. Presentations which present themselves. You do not get a person with every TV set to explain the commercials. Now that I mentioned that, you must probably be thinking more along the lines of going back in time and preventing this, so that the annoying breaks during the telecast of your favorite sport never happen, yes? But thank them for the PowerPoint, and for the presentations on projectors.
#4 The Radio Newspaper
According to this idea, you could get the newspaper delivered to your home, through the radio. The radio transmission would carry the newspaper to a very big box in your house, which would then print out the paper for you. It would keep on printing, till the entire paper was done, so that when the machine finally stopped, you would have in your hands a 9 or 10 feet long paper, which you then had to tear page by page, arrange it, staple it up properly, and then finally be able to read it. Besides which, I've not yet mentioned the fact that it took about 15 minutes to print one page of this paper. That's right. 15 mins! But before you pull out your hair, let me tell you, that this happened way back in the 1930s. The train (then called 'locomotive') and the television were recent inventions, and progress then wasn't as fast as it is now, there was no internet, hence no chatting or social networking, no video games, no malls, no mobiles and no texting, nothing basically, to keep them occupied, other than sipping tea in the parlor, so I guess 15 mins wasn't a big deal to them, and they would have had something to do, had this invention taken off. And of course, having a newspaper transmitted to and printed in their own home was an idea that made their minds boggle! This useful (albeit frustratingly time-consuming) idea, inspired what we know today as the fax machines and the printers. Unfortunately, I could not find out who the brain behind this was, so our hero will remain unsung in this case.
#3 The Watch-Case Phonograph
The watch case phonograph could have been the predecessor of your well loved i-pod, had it received a nod. It was a device that included a tiny phonograph built inside a watch case, which explains the name. The phonograph would contain a prerecorded song, and needed to be wound up manually just like you would wind a mechanical watch. But the drawback was that you had to hold the player to your ears whenever you wanted to listen to a recording, and also that the recording was very small. At the most, I guess it would hold one song, or maybe even less! So imagine the whole picture - winding up the phonograph, holding it up to your ears and then not being able to listen to even one song. But it inspired a whole new idea - that of carrying around songs in a small device in your pocket! This was one of the inventions that never made it big, unfortunately. But there followed better implementations of this concept of portable prerecorded music, in the form of walk-mans, and i-pods.
#2 Automobile Phone
This idea was put forth by E. C. Hansen, and what he proposed was that the antennas of the phone be put on the car instead of inside the phone. His concept was brilliant, but the idea he had in mind for its implementation was a little risky, and not feasible. His idea required the four wheeler to be fitted with two antennas - at the front and at the back, and an electrical wire of high voltage to be strung between them. Why? Because they were no antennas then, that were small enough to be fitted inside the small phone. So obviously, not many people were ready to experiment with this idea, and put their lives at risk. And so, it was ignored till the technology arrived to make small antennas that would fit inside the phone, instead of having wires strung across cars. But this concept of his inspired cell phones. Ah, yes, those things we feel crippled without, today, if we forget to carry ours along. So a big thank you is in order to Mr. Hansen, because almost 7 decades after his idea, the first cell phone was put together. And although his idea did not take off, he did make calls successfully from his automobile, over distances of approximately 35 miles. Such a brilliant guy!
#1 The Tele-Newspaper
This was an idea, that was way ahead of its time, and the person who put forth this idea was an architect called R. A. Duncan, who was a real visionary according to me. He drew up a plan of what the future house would look like, and had included a built-in television, built-in loudspeakers and radio, an electric writer and a built-in tele-newspaper in it. He presented this drawing in London. What he didn't realize at the time was that, what he was actually talking about was the internet, and things like Google News, and Yahoo News, and Gmail. He predicted that the people of the future would not want to be bothered by pages and pages of newspapers and would prefer reading the news off a black and white box, just like the TV, mounted on their walls, or propped up in their living rooms. His ideas did not get implemented though, because the television itself was in its infant stage, and this was something that most people thought was impossible. He also wanted more than one channel to be transmitted on this box, and this idea didn't materialize then, either. But if Mr. Duncan would've known, that what he envisioned then would actually be a way of life today, and that the ideas that people then thought were over the top, are the very things we cannot manage without today, he would probably have wept with joy. So, thank you for everything, Mr. Duncan. We owe you.
These were some of the great inventions that never made it big, but they sure did pave the way for better versions to come up later on. They may not have been the greatest inventions of all time, but they could have changed the world at least a little bit. One cannot help marveling at the genius of such people, and take inspiration from them. Kudos!