Quiz: Can You Guess What These Inventions Were Supposed to Do?

The making of America.
June 12 2014 10:40 AM

What in the World Does That Invention Do?

Quiz: Match these gorgeous 18th- and 19th- century patent models to their purpose.

paper_bag_machine
Uh, what?

Courtesy of Alan Rothschild, fromPatentModel.org

How do you convey the concept of a telephone or sewing machine to someone—say, a patent examiner—who has never seen one before? The Patent Act of 1790 tackled this issue by requiring all patent applicants to submit a scaled-down model of their invention. This spawned a vibrant industry of professional patent model makers. They crafted hundreds of thousands of models before the patent office ran out of storage room in the 1870s and requested that inventors stop sending them.

Now these models are collectors’ items. Alan Rothschild has amassed more than 4,000, the largest private collection. He discovered patent models at an antique show in the early 1990s. “I thought, These are the craziest, most interesting things I’ve ever seen,” Rothschild recalls. “I didn’t even know they existed.” Items from his collection have been exhibited at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Curator Charles Robertson selected a mix to showcase the diversity of early inventions. “Some are so familiar-looking,” says Robertson, while others are completely opaque.

Take our quiz: Can you guess what these inventions are?

Jane C. Hu has a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of California–Berkeley and is a 2014 AAAS Mass Media Fellow. Follow her on Twitter.

Chris Kirk is Slate's interactives editor. Follow him on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

History

The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

The GOP Senate Candidate in Iowa Doesn’t Want Voters to Know Just How Conservative She Really Is

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

The Supreme Court, Throughout Its History, Has Been a Massive Disappointment

Why Indians in America Are Mad for India’s New Prime Minister

Damned Spot

Now Stare. Don’t Stop.

The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 12:04 PM John Hodgman on Why He Wore a Blue Dress to Impersonate Ayn Rand
  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Sept. 30 2014 2:36 PM This Court Erred The Supreme Court has almost always sided with the wealthy, the privileged, and the powerful.
  Business
Building a Better Workplace
Sept. 30 2014 1:16 PM You Deserve a Pre-cation The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.
  Life
Education
Sept. 30 2014 1:48 PM Thrashed Florida State’s new president is underqualified and mistrusted. But here’s how he can turn it around.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 3:59 PM The Trailer for Taken 3 Is Here, and Guess Who’s on His Phone Again
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 2:38 PM Scientists Use Electrical Impulses to Help Paralyzed Rats Walk Again
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath the Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.