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Extraordinary Inventions: Victorian-Era Prank Machines

Link - article by Julia Suits

Creators of these pranks were America’s original hi-tech geeks of the new electric age.

You will remember our hilarious serious Weird Inventions by Guys; this time we give you a treat from Julia Suits, author of the "The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions" (None of this material has appeared on the web anywhere else, so this is exclusively for DRB readers)

"It's as if Buster Keaton and Harry Houdini took over Montgomery Ward and branched out into weird."

At the beginning of the twentieth century, 40 percent of American men belonged to a fraternal lodge, and they were hazing their newbies with squirting goats, spanking machines, electric chairs and carpets, and the like. Nearly all their prank devices came via catalogs published by the makers,the DeMoulin Brothers Company, from 1896-1930.

Embodiments of fraternal mischief, the prank machines were inventions of three sons of a French immigrant carriage builder in Western Illinois. The DeMoulins were among America's high-tech geeks and makers at the peak of the "Golden Age of Invention." You can read more about the DeMoulin brothers and their wacky inventions in this book: www.juliasuits.net

Nationwide, the years 1907 through 1911 saw the most patents granted--about 16,000 per year. Of the hundred-plus patents the DeMoulins filed between 1895 and 1929, several dozen were granted. Among them were these:

1) 945708 Wireless Trick Telephone

"When the candidate attempts to answer this telephone, a 32-calibre blank cartridge will be exploded with a loud report, and at the same time white powder will be blown with a strong blast from the transmitter into his face." $35.00

2) 976851 Invisible Paddle Machine

The initiate, thinking he is showing off his manliness with an ordinary strength-testing device, is surprised by the sudden simultaneous actions of a 32-calibre blank cartridge exploding at the rear, a paddle striking "where his mother used to apply her slipper," and a spray of water discharging in his face. $21.00 $33.50 (with electrical shock attachment) $0.45 (box of 50 extra blanks)

3) 1200472 Knife-throwing Stunt

"Believe us, it's a dandy. Perfectly harmless, but a complete deception." The candidate believes that the knives are being thrown by the Arab, but the knives are concealed back of the wall and thrown out through slots with a thud by means of springs operated from behind. This, in coordination with an electric current passing instantly through the arm, gives the sensation of being cut by the edge of a blade. $155.00 (including knives)

4) 920837 Lifting and Spanking Machine - Watch video

As the candidate lifts up on the handles, a spring is released causing the paddle to strike him on the "kazabo," and a blank cartridge to explode with a loud report. That is not all; there is also an electric motor concealed under the platform that turns on a good current of "juice" $12.50 (50 blank cartridges included)

5) 1455113 Low-Down Buck - Watch video

"We thought we had about reached the limit when it came to inventing goats, but out of the realm of our imagination and ingenuity we have produced another specimen--a real rip-snorter." Only the large wheel runs on the floor. The small wheels might be compared to the hoofs of a goat in action--they hit the floor, occasionally. $53.00 Rough Rider or Cowboy Outfit...$7.50

6) 925878 Pledge Altar

The candidate kneels before the altar in a darkened room, when--Lo! Up before him jumps a skeleton with large, illuminated, glaring eyes; a blank cartridge is exploded; a stream of water hits him in the face; an electric shock is shot into his knees. $76.00

7) 927717 Surprise Chair

"The startling effect produced by a backward trip, accompanied by a loud explosion, is superior to that caused by a flying trip on a loop-the-loop. It produces the real plunging feeling with absolutely no danger to the occupant, as it is well padded and the rockers prevent it from jarring." $15.00

8) Sea Serpent - Watch video

Used with electric carpet "to keep the candidates in line." "Consists of heavy canvas body 20 feet long, well stuffed, and having grotesque head with "squak" attachment, supporting straps every five feet." Cost: $30.00 (additonal length, $0.75 per foot)

9) 961847 Devil's Slide

This clever and substantial arrangement features a chair that is securely held in place by a trigger. When released, the chair and candidate fall backward and precipitously plunge forward down the track. At the bottom, the attendant uses the squirt gun with telling effect. $155.00 Extra Squirt Gun, $2.00 (for those desiring two)

10) 943219 Fuzzy Wonder Goat - Watch video

"Fuzzy Wonder" is a spectacular Goat in every respect. It gallops, rears,wobbles, kicks,and bucks by the up-and-down motion of the handle-bar. The body is well-upholstered with best tanned wool skin, and has horns and eyes. Goat is packed in a chest with hinged cover, lock and key. Weighs about 200 pounds. $82.00 Horse, Donkey, Tiger or Camel Body, instead of goat body, extra...$10.00

Here is the "Humpy Dump" variation:

And that's not all! Here are a couple more, even more harrowing experiences:

See more crazy hazing inventions and buy Julia Suits' book here:




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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Simply hysterical!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awesome, thanks for the post!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why wasn't this stuff taught to us in history class? I would have paid attention!


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