Some inventions change the world. For example, consider the plow’s invention, which allowed people to develop efficient agriculture. This eventually allowed people to begin settling down in cities. Our lives have been revolutionized by electricity, the light bulb. More recently, technology such as the iPhone has changed the ways of life in more modern times.
But some inventions have been a bit less revolutionary for humanity while still making their inventors wealthy. These oddball inventions may not have changed anyone’s life for better or worse. But they definitely changed the lives of their creators. Maybe they weren’t typical entrepreneurs who followed rigorous morning habits but that’s okay. Read on to learn more about inventions that seem useless but made their creators millions via Business Insider and Cad Crowd below.
If your biggest weakness in the morning is hitting the snooze button on your alarm clock, then you may want to consider getting Clocky. Clocky is an alarm clock on wheels that runs away before the sleeper is able to hit the snooze.
The idea straddles the line between obvious and ludicrous. For its inventor, Gauri Nandi, the idea was hugely successful and made him a millionaire. While sales have tapered off since Clocky was first launched in 2005, it has still been very profitable.
What Whoopie Cushions were to generations of children and their horrified parents, the iFart app is to today’s technology-driven kids. The app costs only $0.99 and can be downloaded onto a smartphone. Press the button, and you get a loud fart.
But what sets the iFart app apart from its Whoopie Cushion predecessor is that you get to choose what the fart sounds like. You can choose between “uh-oh,” “predator,” “windbag,” “silent but deadly,” and many others to get just the right sound to petrify those around you. The app has been so successful that its creator, Joel Comm, has made hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Sara Blakely, the Spanx creator, lived in Florida, where the weather is too hot and humid for pantyhose to be comfortable. She was getting ready to go to a party one night when she decided that her garments were not working out for her, so she cut the feet off. Inspired, she moved to Atlanta and used $5000 she had saved as a fax machine saleswoman to create new underwear based on her cut-off pantyhose.
As a solution, she began Spanx, which is now a multi-billion-dollar company. The flagship product is a slimming pair of women’s underwear that allows the wearer to fit into dresses and pants that are otherwise a bit too snug. Spanx is one invention that no one thought of, but Blakely is now a billionaire.
Mood rings were one of the most iconic accessories of the ’70s. They were just quartz stones with liquid crystals that would change color based on the wearer’s ambient temperature. The New Age frenzy of the 1970s when they first came out led to the pervasive belief that the rings were actually telling what a person’s mood was based on his or her body temperature.
The rings became so popular that some of the top celebrities of the day, including Barbara Streisand and Muhammad Ali, sported them. Initially, the rings in a silver band sold for $45, and the ones in a gold band sold for $250. Mood rings made their creators insanely wealthy.
Joseph Friedman was already known as an up-and-coming inventor when he took his young daughter to get a milkshake in the 1930s. The youngster had trouble drinking her milkshake, seeing as the straw was too high for her to reach it while sitting down on the counter.
Friedman’s solution was to wrap a screw and some wire around the straw so that it bent. When he removed the screw and wire, the straw had developed a corrugated pattern and was permanently bent. His daughter drank her milkshake in perfect contentment. In 1939, he patented his bendy straws. The idea was so successful that bendy straws are now featured in the Smithsonian Institution.
Do you remember Furby, the alien-like robot doll that walked the fine line between cute and creepy? Its eyes would follow you around. It would say cute (or creepy) little phrases without even being prompted. Children could teach their Furbies to speak English over their native tongue of Furbish. Spinoffs included Furby Baby, which was a smaller version that learned English more quickly, and Furby Friends, including the iconic Furbacca.
These miniature monsters took over the toy market in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Over 40 million were sold in the first three years of production. People who had Furbies as children are still scratching their heads as to why they even wanted one in the first place other than the bandwagon appeal of wanting what their friends had. But some people were very concerned about the creep factor of Furbies, including the National Security Administration, which banned Furbies from all of its buildings. Officials were afraid people would use a Furby to record classified information and take it out.
Any 1990s kid who was up on current times either had a Beanie Baby collection or had a friend with more Beanie Babies than you can count. The things were never sold in major stores like Wal-Mart, which added to their appeal. But you could get smaller versions of Beanie Babies in your Happy Meal at McDonald’s.
Everyone knew that Beanie Babies would one day be worth a ton of money once they were no longer on their market. Hence, kids figured that using all of their allowances to buy the latest Beanie Baby was a better investment than saving for college. And since everybody bought them, there are still so many around that they are next to worthless, unlike the original Cabbage Patch dolls, which are actually quite valuable. But to the maker, they were immense value. They made him $4.5 billion.
In 1963, an insurance company paid Harvey Ross Ball $45 to create an icon that would boost employees’ morale. $45 was worth a lot more in 1963 than today, and making the yellow smiley face took all of 10 minutes of Ball’s time. The simple little icon was an instant success.
It did its job in the insurance company, but what made it took off was when entrepreneur Franklin Loufrani registered the smiley icon as a trademark. Today, his son Nicholas makes millions of dollars every year when companies such as Zara pay to use a smiley face on their products. You may have things in your closet that have the smiley logo thanks to Ball and the enterprising Loufrani.
If you were a kid in the 1990s, either you or someone you love (or more likely, you and all of your friends) had a Tamagotchi. The little egg-shaped devices fit into your hand and had just three buttons for you to take care of the digital pet that lived on the screen. So it was basically a video game that you had to continually monitor to make sure that your little Tamagotchi pet didn’t die.
The little device took off in the 1990s so much that upwards of 70 million were sold to children who could not imagine how absolutely useless they were. But taking care of a digital pet, using just a couple of buttons to clean up after it, may have been appealing to parents who didn’t want to get a real-live pet that actually has to be cared for.
In Japan, this octopus-shaped toy made of an elastomer was known as Tako and amused children when it would walk down the wall. One Japanese mother sent some of the Tako to her son, Ken Hakuta, in the United States, thinking that he would also get hours of meaningless pleasure out of watching a sticky toy octopus walk down a wall.
Hakuta got more than meaningless pleasure out of the little toys he branded in the United States and sold as Wacky WallWalkers. After the toys were featured in The Washington Post, they took off like wildfire and became a hit among children in the 1980s They were even given as the prize in cereal boxes. By the time the hysteria over Wacky WallWalkers had faded, Hakuta had made $80 million.
In 1975, a new toy debuted that puts all toys, before and after, to shame, for its alarming mediocrity yet incredible success level. This was none other than the pet rock. It was literally a small, smooth rock that came inside a cardboard box on a soft bed of hay. And it was supposedly a pet.
And lots of people bought it. Within the first six months of its debut, five million people had bought pet rocks for the price of $3.95 each. In 1975, $3.95 was worth a lot more than it is today. Were people just more gullible back then? Had they had one too many LSD doses when they bought their pet rock? Maybe. But you have to hand the creator props for what was an incredibly successful marketing campaign. He became a millionaire by selling people rocks inside cardboard boxes.
Not everyone was cut out for sports. Who actually thinks intercepting a rock-hard baseball with their hands is fun? Before you say that you’re supposed to use a glove to catch a baseball, keep in mind that I’m talking about the 1980s when kids were still licking lead paint from cribs that their parents had used in the 1950s.
Scott Stillinger wanted to make a ball that was softer and easier to catch, so he tied together some rubber bands. In so doing, he created the prototype for the Koosh Ball, which would skyrocket to the top of must-have toys for children in the 1980s. The little rubber balls are safer to throw around than baseballs and much less aerodynamic as well. Still, Stillinger’s toy was an instant hit.
Everyone knows that college students are notoriously broke, but this one takes the cake. A dental student who needed money decided to partner with an ex-college football player to come up with a toy would help them make ends meet. The result was the infamous Billy Bob Teeth, a hit since their creation in the early 1990s.
Halloween would not be complete without at least one person wearing Billy Bob Teeth and trying to convince the other trick-or-treaters they are real. Plenty of other novelty toys have spun off of the iconic hillbilly teeth, including Zombie Feet Sandals. The broke dental student who came up with them? He and his football-playing friend became filthy rich.
Do you remember the first time you saw a commercial for a Snuggie blanket? It was supposed to solve the most trivial of first-world problems, including the fact that you had to (gasp) reach out from underneath a regular blanket to turn the page of your book or use your TV remote. Snuggie was a blanket with sleeves so you could continue reading or channel surfing while remaining warmly cocooned.
Few products have received more ridicule than the Snuggie, which was a bathrobe that you would wear backward. But it had many successful commercials and had sales in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Whoever invented the Snuggie was a genius who had no qualms about taking people with first-world problems to the cleaners.
If you have been to a school playground lately, you have probably seen kids playing with Silly Bandz, swapping them with their friends, or counting them to see who has more. Silly Bandz are basically just rubber bands shaped in different designs, such as hearts, leaves, butterflies, peace signs, and more. You wear them as bracelets or use them instead of rubber bands.
Kids can’t get enough of them, and school teachers and administrators are complaining that the rubber-band bracelets are distracting kids from learning. Many schools have actually banned Silly Bandz because they cause so much disruption, but this is only a sign of how successful they are. Who would have thought that multi-colored, shaped rubber bands would make someone so much money? Playground envy plus a successful marketing campaign created the scourge that is Silly Bandz.
Has your family ever broken a wishbone at Thanksgiving to see who gets the bigger side? Most of the wishbone game’s history has been limited to only two players, as a turkey has only one wishbone. But Ken Ahroni of Lucky Break solved that problem by creating plastic wishbones.
Now, anyone who wants to be a contender for the lucky part of the wishbone can challenge someone – all year round, not only on Thanksgiving! The plastic models are even conducive to vegetarians and vegans, who might otherwise balk at the idea of breaking an animal’s bone for good luck. The products earn Ahroni’s company millions of dollars every year. Really, what could be more useless?
Many people wear eye protection to shield themselves from harmful UV rays that can cause eye damage, including cataracts and blindness. So if you wear them yourself, why shouldn’t you give your dog some to wear, too? The dog’s eyewear has to be secure enough that it will stay on.
And for this reason, Doggles became a thing and one of the most ridiculous inventions of all time. Doggles are goggles that will keep your dog’s eyes safe from UV rays as he engages in the most doggie of all doggie tasks, including putting his head out the car window, running around the backyard, and going for a walk. Animal lovers and celebrities alike have taken to Doggles to solve all of their doggie eye-care dilemmas.
In the game of pool, the eight ball will either cause you to win or lose. Shoot it in too early, and you lose. Scratch on it, and you lose. Get it in last, and you win. The same principle holds for whatever genius created the Magic 8 Ball toy. It should have sunk him, but instead, he became one of the wealthiest toymakers of all-time.
The toy is nothing more than a ball that is filled with an alcohol and dye solution. A “window” allows the user to look inside and see what message is revealed on the 20-sided die. Yes, no, maybe, it will pass, no doubt, ask again, are the statements that may come to the window when someone asks the Magic 8 Ball a question. This fortune teller has helped children make their most important decisions for decades.
Plenty of people want to cut their own hair but don’t want to deal with the mess, right? Sure, why not? The creators of Flowbee figured that this problem was one that they could address if they could only find a way to attach hair trimmers to a vacuum cleaner hose. That way, the hair would immediately get sucked up by the vacuum cleaner and not make a mess.
Rich Hunts, the creator of Flowbee, figured that his product was perfectly viable and took it to late-night television. Over two million people have bought their own Flowbee so that they can cut their own hair with a vacuum cleaner. Who would have thought?
In 1943 while World War II was raging, a naval engineer named Richard James accidentally knocked a large spring down a flight of stairs. Rather than retrieve it and get right back to work, he watched it slowly inch down the stairs. He then became inspired to create one of the most pointless, iconic, and best-selling toys of all time.
Slinkies were so successful that within the first 90 minutes of James selling them, he sold 400. They have remained popular to this day, albeit with bright colors and patterns that his navy buddies could have never imagined.
Antenna balls are little balls that you can put onto your car’s antenna for a bit of style, without the potential of rubbing off the car’s paint job the way that bumper stickers do. Jason Wall was inspired to create them by a Jack-in-the-Box commercial, and within a year, he had sold more than a million dollars’ worth.
With the immense success of antenna balls, Wall secured accounts to sell his product through major retailers, including Wal-Mart. In 2009, he became the CEO of his own company, In-Concept Inc., which continues to create the entirely useless but profitable antenna balls.
Stuart Andrews was a high school shop teacher spending his days teaching kids basic carpentry skills. One day, he had the brilliant idea of creating bracelets that you could slap onto your wrist. Thus began the slap bracelet phenomenon, which have been a bane to teachers and school teachers since 1990.
The multi-colored bracelets have been immensely successful, making Andrews as much as eight million dollars in the year 1990 alone. Many kids would wear five or more at a time, and they would have contests with their friends to see who could wear the most (along with competitions to see who could get the most Beanie Babies). More intrepid playground adventurers would see who could get their arms redder with slap bracelets without crying.
Every year, millions of children write letters to Santa Claus at the North Pole. While the city of North Pole, Alaska (not too far from Fairbanks), gets its share of Santa mail, Byron Reese was an entrepreneur who saw the potential in so many children writing letters to Santa Claus.
He began “Santa Mail,” a startup that receives letters written to Santa Claus and provides individual responses to every child. Parents include $10 with their child’s letter to Santa Claus, send it to Byron’s company, and wait expectantly for “Santa’s” response to come into their mailbox. In 2009, 300,000 kids wrote letters through Santa Mail at $10 a pop and Byron’s earnings went through the roof.
Do you need help working on that million-dollar grin? The Happy Smile Trainer is a bit of silicon designed to be worn in the mouth. It forces the wearer into a smile that mimics the one of Jack Nicholson’s Joker, with the idea that it trains people’s muscles into a vibrant and youthful grin. Perfect when you need to prepare for a job interview or meeting and have to look like you actually want to be there.
The crazy thing is that the Japan-based company that manufactures and sells Happy Smile has succeeded. At $52 a pop, the creators were probably smiling all the way to the bank. Many fans adore this crazy villain from DC Comics, so this smile will never go out of style.
Eric Nakagawa and Kari Unebasami looked at a picture of a fat cat and went into a laughing fit that lasted for a solid 73 minutes. Not wanting to keep their newfound joy to themselves, the men launched icanhascheezburger.com, a website that features pictures of animals with captions. The most infamous of the images were of a fat cat wanting to eat a cheeseburger.
The website became so immensely successful that in 2007 they sold it for two million dollars. The new owner, Ben Huh, created six sister websites and even published a book to increase the profitability of the domain. The book alone made him $500,000, and the websites get thousands upon thousands of hits every day.
Have you seen any of the incredibly annoying commercials for HeadOn? The advertisers must have figured that commercial jingles are a thing of the past. The go-to now is to get a slogan spoken in an irritating monotone is the way to capture an audience today. If nothing else, the method is cheap.
“HeadOn, apply directly to the forehead.” And then the commercial repeats it two more times just in case you weren’t sure how to use it yet. The little wax-filled tube is supposed to relieve headaches instantly, but it isn’t even backed by any scientific evidence that it works. Still, over six million lines (of literally almost nothing but wax) were sold for eight dollars each.
Barbara Millicent Roberts, better known as Barbie, has long been the subject of controversies over body image and materialism. Her unrealistic body proportions were inspired by a cartoon character known as Bild Zeitung, popular in a newspaper in West Germany. In 1959, the toy company Mattel debuted the Barbie doll.
The doll immediately created a firestorm of controversy along with a windfall of cash. Barbie dolls have remained immensely popular, and by the early 1990s, Mattel was generating over a billion dollars in income just by selling Barbies. Ruth Handler, the co-founder of Mattel and creator of Barbie, became absurdly wealthy.
The creators of Big Mouth Billy Bass were inspired by a wall-mounted bass fish and wondered, ‘What if it could talk?’ The result was a plastic bass fish mounted on a frame, and it sings and talks when you press a button. The toy missed the 1998 Christmas season, debuting on January 1, 1999. Usually, that kind of timing would kill a new product, but not so with Big Mouth Billy Bass.
In the year 2000 alone, the company sold one million singing bass fish. While its popularity has decreased in recent years, it is still on many major retailers’ shelves. People still buy it as a gag gift for relatives at Christmas.
This iconic toy from the 1950s, which remains incredibly popular today, was inspired by accessories used by Native Americans when telling stories. Richard Knerr and Arthur Melin had the idea of marketing their Hula Hoops as exercise products that would use the abdominal muscles.
They filled the hoops with sand or water and began selling them in 1957. They sold 25 million in the first four months alone, and within two years, sales had gone up to 100 million. At the height of the Hula Hoop craze, one of the companies that manufactured them had to make 50,000 every single day. Needless to say, Knerr and Melin made plenty of money from their invention.
The success of Silly Putty is a story not about the creators who had a great idea but rather about a marketer who was determined to make their product a success. The truth is that we don’t know who actually invented Silly Putty – possible names include Earl Warrick, James Wright, and Harvey Chinn. But the fortune that Silly Putt made in the 1950s and beyond went to Peter Hodgson.
Hodgson wanted to make the toy popular, and he had to borrow money to do it. Sales were low for a while, but in August of 1950, The New Yorker featured an article about it. Silly Putty became an instant hit, so much so that within three days, Hodgson sold 250,000 for a dollar apiece. It was so popular that Apollo 8 astronauts took it with them into outer space.