Where would I find all the inventions that would have been amazing if they'd taken off? (but didn't.)
June 10, 2011 4:15 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for the greatest unproduced patents from the late 1800's through the mid-40's. Amazing, interesting, unusual ideas that, on paper, might have made a big impact - but got no further than the patent office. Where would I find these?

I'm not looking for wacky ideas like pants vacuums or gerbil suits. I'm looking for patents of profoundly interesting or possibly world-changing things. And ideally with a time reference that puts their inventors long dead. Are there any good online collections of ideas that aren't in the "crazy invention" space but more in the "what might have been" arena? Or are there any patents that are personal faves of yours that would fit the bill?
posted by rileyray3000 to Technology (5 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The name that comes to mind for me is Nicolai Tesla
posted by philip-random at 4:25 PM on June 10, 2011

Unfortunately, the USPTO doesn't have an advanced search feature for anything prior to 1976. You can use this to view TIFF abstracts from 1790 onward. The problem would be that you need to know the patent number of what you are looking up.

You could potentially use the Google Patent Search in conjunction with the above to get some pretty interesting results.
posted by Johnny Hazard at 4:40 PM on June 10, 2011

Knight's American Mechanical Dictionary stops around the 1880s, but is so gleefully full of things that Knight (a senior patent examiner) thought useful that you can lose days in it.
posted by scruss at 4:43 PM on June 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

It's been ages since I read it, but I seem to recall that Lewis Mumford's Technics and Civilization discusses some interesting inventions that were current (or relatively recent) at the time it was originally written in 1934, but which weren't ultimately put into production. (Note: if you do pick up a copy, be forewarned that the 2010 reissue apparently doesn't include the photos/illustrations originally included in Mumford's text.)
posted by scody at 5:05 PM on June 10, 2011

Free Piston Stirling Engine
posted by dgeiser13 at 5:49 PM on June 10, 2011

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