Weird inventions from energy’s greatest minds

Illustration of Nikola Tesla with electricity device (weird inventions)

They might be responsible for some of the world’s most groundbreaking energy theories and designs, but these energy greats certainly cooked up some weird and wonderful inventions that didn’t win Nobel prizes, writes Nadia Howland.

Nikola Tesla’s death ray

Before his death, Nikola Tesla bagged a few weird inventions, none more impressive than his purported “death ray”—a weapon so powerful it could supposedly obliterate military targets from hundreds of miles away. Tesla claimed this device would harness a beam of metal ions hurtling along at 270,000 miles per hour, citing new laws of physics that “no one has ever dreamed about”. Tesla teased his “teleforce” weapon for decades, saying it could shoot down planes from 250 miles away. The press came up with the “death ray” moniker, but despite claims to the contrary, Tesla never provided any evidence that it actually worked.

Nikola Tesla clearly missed Peter Parker’s uncle’s “With great power…” speech

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Einstein’s fat jacket

Einstein is most famous as a theorist, often pictured writing on a chalkboard. But according to writer Daniel Kennefick, Einstein was very interested in practical matters. “He had all these great theoretical ideas, but he liked to do experiments. He liked to tinker with things,” Kennefick said. One of his lesser-known weird inventions included his ‘expandable jacket’, a sleeveless design with an adjustable waist for days when you’ve overindulged, perhaps, or are feeling a tad bloated. Sure, it’s no e=mc2, but it’s still pretty genius.

Einstein’s expandable jacket, which should be sold at all-you-can-eat buffets

Thomas Edison’s concrete piano

Lauded as America’s greatest inventor, Edison also had a few misses when it came to breakthough inventions. He became obsessed with concrete, and believed entire houses, right down to the fixtures in them, could be made using his special air-injected cement. At one point, Edison attempted to turn America into a musical nation with a prototype concrete piano. He found a piano company that briefly produced his design in 1931, but the public eventually rejected Edison’s musical cement dream. 

Imagine moving house with Edison’s concrete piano in tow

Benjamin Franklin’s glass armonica

Famous for his discoveries and theories regarding electricity, Benjamin Franklin also loved music. Among his more unusual inventions was his glass armonica—an instrument designed to replicate the otherworldly sound that a wet finger makes when rubbed along the rim of a glass. An original Franklin armonica is in the archives at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, having been donated in 1956 by Franklin’s descendants after “the children took great delight in breaking the bowls with spoons” during family gatherings.

The kids’ll love it… Ben Franklin’s glass armonica

Elon Musk’s flamethrower

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has brainrolled some pretty revolutionary products, from rocket tech to artificial intelligence. But many would argue his flamethrower, produced by his own The Boring Company, was right up there with the best. What started as a joke on Twitter turned into Musk manufacturing 20,000 real flamethrowers which he sold for $500 apiece, making a cool $10 million revenue in 100 hours. Not long after, Musk, on a whim, announced he was going to build a tunnel boring machine and “just start digging”. He did.

Oh Elon, what will you think of next?

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