Horror House Patents

The annals of patent history hold creations that have made our day to day lives so much easier – kettles, vacuums, washing machines. Hidden in the depths are wild ideas that would have made home life – and sleepovers –  a lot more creepy than cozy.




i. Levitating Bed. William A. Calderwood. 1989
“Welcome. That’s your bed, and desk chair, floating up near the ceiling”.

William A. Calderwood’s goal wasn’t duppy-friendly design. William A. Calderwood’s helium bladder + tether design was about saving floor space when the mattress, chairs and stools weren’t in use.

Easy-peasy? Well…. ‘Article 10 additionally includes a tether 28. Tether 28 has a first end 30 which attaches to a central area 32 of the exterior of bottom wall 24 of bladder 20. Tether 28 additionally has a second end 34 which, in the preferred embodiment of the present invention, attaches to a weight 36…’


ii. Device For Waking Persons From Sleep. S. S. Applegate. April 11, 1882
How would you like to crawl into the bed below with that time-released contraption positioned perfectly over your face? Even the poor guy in the patent art looks terrified.

As inventor S.S. Applegate writes: ‘I suspend a light frame in such a position that it will hang directly over the head of the sleeper, the suspending cord being combined with automatic releasing devices, whereby the frame is at the proper time permitted to fall into the sleeper’s face’.

The face-bashing dangly bits may be made of light wood, cork, tassels, balls of zephyr. The goal, Applegate reassures us, is that as the frame plummets down ‘it will strike a light blow, sufficient to awaken the sleeper, but not heavy enough to cause pain’.

Sweet dreams!



iii. The Rocking Bathtub. Inventor Otto A. Hansel. Feb 6, 1900
Now that you’re disrobed and defenseless, zip your entire body into ‘waterproof apron 19’, pop out your neck, and wait for a rocking motion that will ‘agitate and throw the water with more or less violence’ against your body. Feel better yet?


iv. Creeping Doll. Robert J Clay. March 11, 1871
You know what’s better than a life-sized doll that stares at you from the corner? A life-sized doll that drags itself slowly across your floor.

‘The crank-shaft,’ Mr. Clay tells us, ‘will oscillate the legs and arms in imitation of the movements of a creeping baby, while the wheels, rotating, will propel the whole apparatus on the floor’.


v. Automatic Hair-Cutting Machine. J. Gronier. March 22, 1966
Fancy a little hair cut before you go out?

‘When the patient feels that the mechanism is moving away from his scalp ‘ – Wait. Was I a ‘patient’ coming in, or after the shearing teeth and clippers got to whirring? – ‘he may relax for a short period until the mechanism comes nearer the scalp again’.

As long as it’s not too complicated …


For those who are already feeling spooked by what they have seen and scalped, this last patent will not help.


vi. Apparatus For Signaling From Graves. Edwin S. Crosby + Ellray Henry. 1903
Does the name not tell us all that we need to know?

‘The principal object of the invention is to provide a comparatively simple and inexpensive apparatus for signalling from graves, which may be repeatedly used, which will indicate by both audible and visible signals the return of animation in a buried person, and which will supply pure oxygen to the buried person to stimulate and sustain life until the casket can be disinterred’.

That’s an ‘electric bell’ alarm that will be hard to ignore if it goes off in the middle of the night.


Header Art: Roy Lichtenstein. Crying Girl. 1963



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Elizabeth Newton

Elizabeth Newton