Many years ago, I wrote a trivia column for my college newspaper, and came up with two stupid inventions. One was a trivia board game, which several game companies told me was an idea which never worked. (Yeah, Trivial Pursuit came out about a year later.) The other was a book just of lists of interesting but trivial facts. This turned out to be something no one in their right mind would buy. Not long after I gave up, Irving Wallace’s bestselling Book of Lists appeared.
Anyway, I still have a fascination with lists. I reviewed one of them in this space last week, and a book has come in which is nearly as fascinating. It was intended to be fascinating: these lists were created to make you feel you, too, could do something for America and, while you were at it, make a few million dollars.
It was wartime, 1942. Americans were fighting in foreign lands and what were you supposed to do if you were too young or too unfit or too old to enlist? Of course: use your home workshop to invent a new technological marvel which would win the war (but hang onto the patents.) Raymond F. Yates, longtime author of how-to books for young and old, knew that the only thing you needed to start the project was the proper advice. So his book is not just a book on how to invent something; it is also a list of inventions the world really needs.
The title tells you that: 2100 Needed Inventions. (He revised it for the postwar world, and 3100 Needed Inventions was published in 1951.) After some basic guidelines on how to go about inventing something and how to patent it, and a few lists which had been published of inventions the world needed most, and inventions the Allies needed to whip the Axis, he gets down to the meat of the book.
His 2100 inventions are divided into numerous categories for easier reference. If you had a bent for batteries, you would head for the Electrical inventions, whereas if you did your best work in the kitchen, you needed to rush to the Food chapter.
For the reader seventy-five years later, of course, the inventions are divided into just three categories: We’ve Got That Now, We Don’t Got That Now, and I Don’t Get the Concept. You may sort these for yourself, but his inventions include:
An electric toaster that cannot burn bread
A good powdered coffee
A buckle on knickerbockers that will not tear the cloth
A simplified method of washing cars at home
A really non-skid floor wax
A simple little home scissors sharpener which could be sold for a quarter
Lighter batteries for radios which would make them truly portable
A pocket book that will emit an audible signal when dropped
A cheap watch made in such a way that the tick cannot be heard
A noiseless typewriter light in weight but capable of making numerous carbon copies
A small portable device which allows people to quickly send and receive messages (he says this kind of device would change our society more than the telephone)\
A wood treatment to reduce warping in basswood Venetian blind slats
A surefire method of starting cold motors in the wintertime
This is an interesting book, but I find I’m wishing for a copy previously owned by some Boy Scout who checked them off as they were accomplished over the last seventy-five years. I don’t know how matters stand on the basswood Venetian blind front, and would hate to waste my time. Nor do I know what progress has been made on his accident-proof merry-go-round or the baseball without seams. Surely some of you need this book to found your fortune, what with the lottery picking the wrong numbers and all. Me, I’m getting right to work on that knickerbocker buckle. I know, but if Miley were to wear them in one video, they’d be right back in style.