Over the years, many people have made it their lives’ work to sit inside dark and stuffy workrooms, toiling over various inventive ways to hurt, maim and kill their fellow man. Many of these have been devastatingly successful and have caused countless deaths and untold suffering; some, not quite so much. In their attempts to be innovative and think outside of the box, some inventors have been so adventurous as to come up with weapons which might strike us as bizarre or even laughable in their aims. Below are some of the more wacky inventions which might be more at home in a Hanna-Barbera cartoon than on the battlefield.
Had it actually been used in combat, we most certainly would not be laughing at Charles S. Dickenson’s Steam-Gun. Invented in Baltimore by a Confederate sympathizer during the Civil War, the gun relied not on powder but on centrifugal force to project its missiles, which could be anything from bullets to cannonballs to debris; supposedly it could dispense up to 200 cannonballs per minute, which would have made it a fearsome prospect indeed. Manufactured by local man Ross Winans, the gun was intercepted en route by Union forces and confiscated, though not actually used.
2) Femme Fatale
This tiny gun, apparently designed for Bond villainesses, was part of a ring that was intended to be worn on the little finger. It comes equipped with a tiny hammer that had to be cocked with the fingernail and seven cartridges – each .06 caliber, which is less than a BB gun. Obviously, it was intended to be used at close range to inflict maximum damage, a hypothesis further supported by the absence of a barrel (which means it would have very little range or accuracy from distance). More likely, the gun was used for self-defense to ward off would-be attackers and rapists or perhaps as an assassin’s tool if the bullets were laced with a poisonous substance.
Forget Wolverine, these hand-claws (known as Tekko-kagi) were really used by bad-ass Japanese ninjas. Welded from horse-shoes, the claws would help deflect blows from swords or other implements and aid in climbing walls and fences, not to mention their merit as weapons in their own right.
4) Pigeon-guided homing missile
B. F. Skinner was an American psychologist who is most famous his writings Verbal Behaviour and Walden Two on human behavior. Lesser known are his attempts to construct a weapon for use during WWII using the navigating abilities of pigeons. Skinner wanted to install pigeons in the noses of missiles, with a screen in front of them upon which the target was visible. The pigeons would peck at the target, thereby directing the missile. Despite successful trial runs, the project was eventually scrapped because, in Skinner’s own words, “no one would take us seriously”.
5) Exploding Rats
Again developed during WWI, the exploding rat was a weapon idea by the British Army. It was theorized that by stuffing a rat carcass with plastic explosives, the Germans would actually do the hard work themselves by shoveling the bodies into their furnaces and blowing themselves up. However, their first shipment of the bombs was intercepted and the project abandoned. The Germans, impressed by the audacity and innovation of the British, paraded the rats on display in their military schools and kept an eye out for future exploding vermin.
6) The Bat Bomb
Another weapon involving animals, the bat bomb was also developed for use in WWII to start fires in inaccessible places in Japan. The idea was that planes would drop parachuted containers with Mexican free-tailed bats inside, each with a timed incendiary bomb attached. Released overnight, the bats would take refuge in Japanese buildings far and wide – which, being made largely of paper and bamboo, were highly flammable – and then detonate the bomb the following morning, starting fires all over the country. The project was approved by President Roosevelt and over $2 million was spent on it but it was eventually deemed too slow-moving and expensive, and finally abandoned without having being tested in the field.
7) The Gay Bomb
A non-lethal weapon which purportedly does what it says on the tin, the gay bomb was a theoretical bomb developed by the Wright Laboratory in Ohio in 1994. The idea was to spray powerful aphrodisiac chemicals over enemy troops, with the apparent intention of causing them to become sexually attracted to each other. Research on the pheromones involved in such a weapon has been inconclusive and the bomb itself never really made it past the theoretical stage; though the Wright Laboratory was recognized by the Ig Nobel Prize awards in 2007. The awards are a parody of the Nobel Prize and their self-described intention is to “honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think.” The Wright Laboratory declined to attend the award ceremony.
8) Who Me?
Another non-lethal weapon, Who Me was developed by American forces during WWII and was a canister filled with spray that smelled strongly of human feces. The idea was to covertly spray the substance onto the enemy, thus humiliating him and demoralizing the troops as a whole. The idea lasted only two weeks and was declared a complete failure, not only because it was ridiculous but also because the spray was incredibly difficult to control, meaning the sprayer more often than not ended up as pungent as his target.
9) The Puke Ray
Back in 2007, Homeland Security developed a handheld torch which would emit a combination of LED light that would not only blind the enemy and disorientate him, but actually induce nausea and vomiting. The weapon apparently has a range of up to 2.4km and rival technology has been investigated by Laser Energetics Inc (who have named their device the Dazer LaserTM) and the US Navy. It is unclear what happens when the subject wears sunglasses, or, more ominously, carries a mirror.
10) Dr Zippermeyer’s Whirlwind Cannon
This one surely belongs in Hanna-Barbera. Not only did Dr Zippermeyer of Austria have a suspiciously cartoonish name, he also invented a cannon apparently able to create a miniature tornado. We’ve heard a lot about US and Allied wacky weapons during WWII; this one came from the laboratories of the Nazis. Smaller prototypes were successful with a 200m range, though a functioning machine was never reproduced on a bigger scale (thankfully!) When Allied forces discovered intelligence on the cannon, they dismissed it – along with some other of Dr Zippermeyer’s inventions – as “crackpot notions”.