Top 10 Inventions with Disturbing Backstories

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Top 10 Inventions with Disturbing Backstories

VOICE OVER: Peter DeGiglio WRITTEN BY: Garrett Alden
These products have some truly disturbing backstories. For this list, we'll be going into the surprisingly dark or upsetting origins of many common inventions and everyday items. Our countdown includes Kleenex, Baby Monitors, Bicycles, and more!
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Top 10 Inventions With Disturbing Backstories


Welcome to WatchMojo and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Inventions With Disturbing Backstories.

For this list, we’ll be going into the surprisingly dark or upsetting origins of many common inventions and everyday items.

If there’s a shocking origin of an invention you’re shocked wasn’t originally on our list, let us know in the comments!

#10: Kleenex

The name brand in facial tissues, to the point where they’re practically a synonym for them, Kleenex got their start during the First World War. While their signature product would have certainly been useful for people with the Spanish Flu in 1918, it wasn’t actually introduced as a facial tissue at that time. In fact, it was for another even deadlier danger that they were developed. During the war, cotton proved in short supply. What later became known as Kleenex in 1924 was first created as a type of crepe paper that was used as filters in gas masks. A Kleenex might seem like poor protection between your lungs and deadly gas, but it was better than having no filter at all!

#9: Telegraph

Samuel Morse was not the first person to think of a telegraph, but his world-famous Morse code and development of a single wire telegraph allowed communications over long distances to really take off. It’s unfortunate that his interest in telegraphy was likely the result of a personal tragedy. Morse was also an artist, and would frequently go on trips away from home for commissions from his clients. During one of these trips, Morse received word that his wife was sick and hurried home directly. Tragically, she was already dead and interred when he arrived. Had Morse been able to use his later invention, he likely would have been able to see her during her final days.

#8: Magnetic Tape

While it may be outdated now, magnetic tape was revolutionary for storing audio and later video recordings in the 20th century, for everything from radio to TV. However, this innovation was first perfected in Nazi Germany. German electronics companies developed the improved recording technologies during the ‘30s, and by the advent of World War II, the Nazis had improved audio recordings compared to their Allied foes. It wasn’t until the Allies’ victory that magnetic tape was discovered by other countries and proliferated throughout the rest of the world. Plenty of innovations came out of Nazi Germany, but this is one of the more surprising.

#7: Baby Monitors

Baby monitors are one of new parents’ best tools. Keeping one in your child’s room lets you hear their discomfort and cries from anywhere in the house. But the necessity for these devices was hammered home by one of the United States’ most infamous kidnapping cases. Famous aviator Charles Lindbergh and his wife went through every parent’s nightmare in 1932 when they awoke to discover their son missing, and a ransom note in his bedroom. The kidnapping was called the crime of the century, and Charles Jr.’s heartbreaking death left an impact on parents all over the country. Eugene McDonald was one such, and created the Radio Nurse in 1937, the world’s first baby monitor, to listen in on his infant daughter’s room.

#6: Radar

The World Wars in the early 20th century were also an arms race to see who could create the next deadly weapon. One idea that fascinated scientists and military leaders alike was the concept of a death ray. British scientists hoped to discover a way to use radio waves to kill foes at a distance. However, the power requirements were enormous. Ultimately, they hit on the idea of using the echoes of radio waves to detect incoming airplanes in the sky, which was arguably even better, tactically speaking. While many nations came up with the idea independently, Britain, with help from American factories, figured it out first. Thus, radar was born.

#5: Vibrators

Let’s all try to be mature about this, okay? Vibrators are sex toys, yes, but they weren’t originally used with sex in mind… explicitly, anyway. The electric vibrator was invented in the 19th century and was used to relieve various maladies, including pain relief, tumors, and hysteria. The last of these was the most pertinent to vibrators’ eventual purpose, as it was essentially medical professionals misunderstanding women experiencing… frustration. And the fact that the relief of said frustration was considered a medical procedure at the time is just all kinds of disturbing.

#4: Ammonia Fertilizer

Fertilizer is essential in crop growing and natural sources can often lack the nitrogen that leads to efficient crop yields. Enter Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch. These two German scientists created the Haber-Bosch method, which creates ammonia from nitrogen in the atmosphere. Most of the world’s annual food production comes as a result of fertilizer created from this process, and it’s likely the world couldn’t support as many people as it does today without it. However, the two of them also worked on weapons development during the First World War, with Haber being considered the father of chemical warfare, due to his work on chlorine gas. Something to think about the next time you’re doing yard work.


#3: GPS

The Global Positioning System, or GPS, is a satellite system that can track signals all over the globe. It’s also owned and operated by the United State military. While some may find this disturbing, what’s arguably more upsetting is why the U.S. military began allowing use of it by almost anyone. In 1983, Korean Air Lines Flight 007 was flying from New York to Seoul via Alaska. A navigation error led to the plane flying into Soviet airspace and the civilian craft was shot down. While the tragic loss of life was awful and led to a rise in tensions between the two superpowers, President Ronald Reagan decided to make GPS available on a global scale to prevent similar avoidable losses of private aircraft.

#2: Bicycles

What do climate change, a volcano, and dead horses have to do with the creation of the bicycle? Everything! 1816 was the Year Without Summer. It was so-called, because a massive volcanic eruption in Indonesia the previous year coated the world in ash and clouds for nearly a year. This led to people slaughtering their horses for food when crops could not grow. And with horses being the primary mode of transport, the inventor Baron Karl von Drais was inspired the following year to invent the first hobbyhorse, or velocipede – known today as a bicycle. While cycling didn’t catch on immediately, his invention proved that a dark year for the world could lead to good things.


#1: Treadmills

Treadmills have been around for thousands of years in some form or another. However, while their use as a man or animal power source for mills is well-documented, fewer people know about their connection to prisons. Like the treadmills connected to farms or actual mills, penal treadmills did power devices, but they were also a form of punishment for prisoners sentenced to hard labor. Most often seen in England, these torturous machines tormented prisoners in 6 hours shifts. Naturally, they were eventually abolished, but they were still used for most of the 19th century. Really puts your workout into perspective, doesn’t it?
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I agreed with this very shocking & very surprising list. Wow!