When we think of inventors, the image that comes to mind is usually that of a frazzled scientist toiling away in a lab, not celebrities pulled from the pages of Us Weekly. However, a number of well-known public figures hold patents for various innovations. Some are related to the work that made them famous, while others are offshoots of hobbies or just a single great idea. Here are a few of our favorite celebrity inventors:
Lincoln wasn’t just splitting rails and winning debates before he moved into the White House. He held quite a few jobs before becoming a politician, and in one of these capacities he helped float a boatload of goods down the Mississippi River. At one point, the boat got stuck in a shallow spot, and it took quite a bit of effort to wrench it free. Lincoln thought that there must have been a better way to keep ships off of shoals, so he invented a convoluted device that involved putting a set of bellows on the bottom of a boat. Lincoln’s reasoning was that if the boat got in a sticky situation, sailors could fill the bellows with air to make the ship more buoyant.
Lincoln received Patent Number 6469 for this invention in 1849, but unfortunately, Abe’s creation never made it into stores. It turned out that all of the extra weight associated with adding the bellows device to a ship actually made it more likely that the boat would get stuck.
McQueen’s driving abilities extended far beyond his legendary racing scenes in The Great Escape and Bullitt. In fact, he was a pretty serious motorcycle and car racer who toyed with the idea of someday becoming a professional racer. He even competed in some big-name races, like the prestigious 12 Hours of Sebring. McQueen didn’t just drive his cars, though; he also liked to tinker with them. In 1969, he filed a design patent for an improved bucket seat, and that’s how he became the proud owner of patent number D219584.
Part of the guitar wizard Eddie Van Halen’s signature sound was his two-handed tapping technique, but letting all ten fingers fly while simultaneously holding up the guitar’s neck could get a bit tricky. Van Halen came up with a novel way to get around this problem, though; he invented a support that could flip out of the back of his axe’s body to raise and stabilize the fretboard so he could tap out searing songs like “Eruption.” While Van Halen was obviously interested in improving his guitar work, the patent application he filed in 1985 notes that the device would work with any stringed instrument. Want to tap out a scorching mandolin solo? Find someone selling Eddie’s device.
In 1987 Curtis designed and patented a disposable diaper that included a waterproof pocket that held baby wipes. She hasn’t profited form her idea yet, though, since she refuses to license the patent until diaper companies make biodegradable products.
Lamarr’s name may not be so familiar now, but in the 1930s and 1940s, the Austrian-born MGM actress was one of the hottest things on the silver screen. She was also quite a scientist, too. In 1942 Lamarr and composer George Antheil received a patent for a “secret communication system” that could use carrier waves of different frequencies to remotely control devices like zeppelins and torpedoes. Unfortunately, mechanical engineering wasn’t quite ready for Lamarr’s major breakthrough, and the technology didn’t come into use for over 20 years, at which point Lamarr’s patent had expired.
Even the man in purple has a patent to call his own. In 1992 Prince got the thumbs-up for a design patent for a “portable keyboard instrument.” Yup, it’s a keytar. This one’s a curvy purple design with two pitchfork-type spikes on the end. In other words, it’s something that could only have come out of Prince’s noggin.
In 1999 everyone’s favorite funnyman illusionist received a patent for a “hydro-therapeutic stimulator.” What exactly does that mean? According to the application, it’s “a spa of a type including a tub for holding water and a user, in particular, a female user.” The spa’s jets are strategically located to make the experience a bit more, ah, enjoyable for female bathers.
To say Brando got a bit eccentric in his golden years is something of an understatement, but the aging actor also started to get innovative. Brando’s inventiveness focused on the drums, and in 2002 he received a patent for a “drumhead tensioning device and method,” one of several patents he held for drum devices.
Your grandma’s favorite accordionist and bandleader was also an inventor. In 1953, Welk received a design patent for a new type of ashtray that looked like (what else?) an accordion. Not a huge breakthrough for humanity, but it went nicely with Welk’s other patent; ten years earlier he had received a design patent for a menu card that looked like a singing chicken.
Zeppo may not have had the same comedic chops as Groucho, but he was handy with inventions. In 1969 Zeppo was part of a team that received a patent for a cardiac pulse rate monitor that was designed to let people with heart problems know if their pulse was shifting into a danger zone.
The supermodel received a patent for an educational toy she designed in 1991 that seems to mostly be useful for helping kids learn the alphabet.
How did Michael Jackson seemingly lean in defiance of gravity in the video for “Smooth Criminal”? He wore a pair of specially designed shoes that could hitch into a device hidden beneath the stage. Jackson and two co-inventors patented this “method and means for creating anti-gravity illusion” in 1993.
The man who played Radar on M*A*S*H also invented a device he calls “Chum Magic,” a floating apparatus that fishermen can fill with chum to lure fish to their boats. He received a patent for the device in 1992.
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