5 flops from the world's most famous inventors

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You can thank risk-taking inventors for their numerous contributions to modern living. But behind many of these inventions were fantastic flops — things that either worked and didn't make succeed in the market, or just flat out failed.

Here are some failed inventions from names you're probably familiar with.

Thomas Edison tried to make mass-produced concrete buildings.

Library of Congress

Looking back, Thomas Edison couldn't be blamed for believing mass-produced concrete buildings were going to be big — after all, the original Yankee Stadium owes its construction to the Edison Portland Cement Company.

But cement wasn't popular or known for being economical in 1899 when Edison founded the company. And even though he refined the rotating kiln and made strong cement houses, the molds proved way too expensive and complex with over 2,300 pieces. This made the model unpopular with developers.

After the company completed Yankee Stadium, it folded during the Great Depression.

Nikola Tesla tried to make a thought camera.


Public Domain

In the 1930's, Nikola Tesla, who is known for creating the induction motor and refining AC currents, imagined a machine that would allow you to project a mental image in real life and play back your thoughts like a slideshow.

In 1933, the Kansas City Journal-Post wrote about Tesla's reasoning at the time. In short, he said if you had a mental image, your body would also produce a corresponding retinal image, which could be photographed by a machine to be projected onto a viewing screen.

"In this way every thought of the individual could be read. Our minds would then, indeed, be like open books," Tesla told the Journal-Post.

The invention didn't work as Tesla hoped. But scientists now are making progress toward making mind photography a real thing.


Henry Ford's first few automobiles were a bit too early and a little too hard to reproduce.


Public Domain

Henry Ford is known for many things — the most prominent being mass-manufactured cars and paying workers respectable wages.

But his first automobile, made in 1896, was powered by ethanol, had four bicycle wheels, and went at a top speed of 20 miles per hour. The vehicle resembled a horseless carriage.

Fast Company writes that the $200 vehicle (approximately $5800 today) was too small and too incomplete to be mass-manufactured.

Around 7 years later, Ford would make the Model A, paving the way for his continued success.

Alexander Graham Bell's flying machines were huge, tetrahedral kites.


Public Domain

Alexander Graham Bell made waves with his telephones. But his attempts at flying flopped.

Bell started working on his idea for a lightweight, kite-like airplane in 1899, and imagined an aircraft that would have a massive wing area, but a light frame — a build that resembled a bird skeleton more than the heavy metal tubes we've got today.

And in 1903, Bell created the Cygnet, which you see on the right. Its diamond-shaped cells were meant to latch onto air currents, and on its first test run in 1907, it did actually lift off. But it had little maneuverability when the wind changed, sending it crashing onto the ocean, alongside with its pilot. The pilot survived, but the Cygnet, unfortunately, did not.

Leonardo da Vinci worked on war machines that were almost designed to fail.


Public Domain

You might know of Leonardo da Vinci for his sketches, art, and occasional inventions, but he also dabbled as a war engineer. A bad one.

In 2002, the BBC wrote that Leonardo da Vinci made sure his war inventions would fail, possibly because he identified as a pacifist. But because he made his living sketching out theoretical inventions, he had to cater to his patrons' demands.

One of his inventions was a tank, which you can see on the bottom right. The armored tank would go ahead of foot soldiers and had holes that could be used to shoot projectiles. But as it was drawn, the wheels would have turned in opposite directions, making it un-driveable.

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Spain's Manuel Foix Robert (L) and Victoria Gomez Gamez pose with their invention, a protective case made with tissue that can be used for food and plants, during the opening day of the 40th International Exhibition of Inventions in Geneva, on April 18, 2012. More than 789 exhibitors from 46 countries are present at one of the world's largest exhibition of the devoted to innovation from April 18th to 22th in Geneva. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
Germany's Ulli Boehme poses with his invention, the 'Ball Rider' a new sport and leisure vehicle equipped with large balls as wheels, during the opening day of the 40th International Exhibition of Inventions in Geneva, on April 18, 2012. More than 789 exhibitors from 46 countries are present at one of the world's largest exhibition of the devoted to innovation from April 18th to 22th in Geneva. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
South Korean Lee Beom Seok poses with his invention, a multifonction portable tool for clothing against bacteria, odor, hydratation and can also work as air purifier during the opening day of the 40th International Exhibition of Inventions Geneva, April 18, 2012. The More than 789 exhibitors from 46 countries are present at one of the world's largest exhibition of the devoted to innovation from April 18th to 22th in Geneva. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
People play in a 'Football Box', an invention for children which allows them to play in a miniature-sized football arena and was invented by Venezuelan Jose Pires Tavares, during the opening day of the 40th International Exhibition of Inventions, in Geneva, on April 18, 2012. The More than 789 exhibitors from 46 countries are present at one of the world's largest exhibition of the devoted to innovation from April 18th to 22th in Geneva. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
Taiwan's Yong-Fu Chang presents his invention, two teddy bears connected by Wi-Fi via the Internet equipped with microphones and speakers, during the opening day of the 40th International Exhibition of Inventions, in Geneva, on April 18, 2012. More than 789 exhibitors from 46 countries are present at one of the world's largest exhibition of the devoted to innovation from April 18th to 22th in Geneva. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
Italy's Marco Pagnini presents his invention, a suspender for carrying an umbrella without using hands during opening day of the 40th International Exhibition of Inventions of Geneva, on April 18, 2011. More than 789 exhibitors from 46 countries are present at one of the World's largest exhibition devoted to innovation from April 18th to 22th in Geneva. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
Andre Piatetsky form the US presents his invention, a treatment hairbrush fitted with a liquid-reservoir that disperse treatment solution over the user's scalp during hair brushing at the opening day of the 40th International Exhibition of Inventions of Geneva, on April 18, 2011. More than 789 exhibitors from 46 countries are present at one of the World's largest exhibition devoted to innovation from April 18th to 22th in Geneva. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
France's Laurent Helewa poses with his invention, a toilet kit, during the opening day of the 39th International Exhibition of Inventions, on April 6, 2010 in Geneva. Helewa's invention is a foldable and reusable system of a dry, portable disposable toilet designed for nomadic, family or even military use in case there is not a functional toilet nearby. More than 765 exhibitors from 45 countries are present at one of the World's largest exhibition devoted to innovation from April 6th to 10th in Geneva. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
Taiwan's Juang Ying-Shen poses with her invention, high heels with interchangeable components, during the opening day of the 39th International Exhibition of Inventions, on April 6, 2010 in Geneva. More than 765 exhibitors from 45 countries are present at one of the World's largest exhibition devoted to innovation from April 6th to 10th in Geneva. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
France's Jean-Marc Batard pose with his children next to his invention, a pyramidal water-saving garden which allows elderly people to garden, during the opening day of the 39th International Exhibition of Inventions, on April 6, 2010 in Geneva. More than 765 exhibitors from 45 countries are present at one of the World's largest exhibition devoted to innovation from April 6 to April 10, in Geneva. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - JANUARY 6: EXCLUSIVE A urinal that has a video game console above it in the SEGA World complex in Akihabara Electric Town, Tokyo, Japan. For men a stroll to the gents has become a leap into the twenty first century, thanks to the SEGA video games corporation. The company has developed a new entertainment system which is incorporated into a public lavatory. Now rows of peeing men can spend a penny and get a great video game experience while they are at it. The 'Toylet' male urinal video game provides a choice of sumo wrestling, erasing graffiti and dousing an exploding volcano. The 'Toylet' works by a pressure sensor in the base of the urinal measuring the strength and location of the urine stream as it hits the basin. An LCD screen displays the game graphics and rewards the strength, length and accuracy of the pee through a typical video game points system. There are currently no plans for a multiplayer version of the 'Toylet'. (Photo by Matthew Tabaccos / Barcroft Medi / Getty Images)
Southern Taiwan University's Tang Jing-Jou poses with his invention, a billards table with trajectory recording capabilities during the opening day of the 39th International Exhibition of Inventions, on April 6, 2010 in Geneva. The billard table is designed to have sensors and LED indicators under its surface used to record the trajectory of the ball and show the strength in every shot. More than 765 exhibitors from 45 countries are present at one of the World's largest exhibition devoted to innovation from April 6 to 10 in Geneva. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
Frenchman Dimitri Gauer poses with his invention, the 'crustacean peeler', during the opening day of the 36th International Exhibition of Inventions, on April 1, 2009 in Geneva. The device peels sea food, facilitating their ingestion for diners. More than 710 exhibitors from 45 countries are present at the exhibition, one of the World's largest devoted to innovation. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
LONDON - AUGUST 14: In this photo illustration a moustach guard is displayed at the British Library on August 14, 2008 in London, England. Over 50 ingenious inventions and gadgets have gone on display at the British Library. (Photo illustration by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
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