In 1903 Josie Baldwin of Tremont patented an idea benignly labeled the “Chest-Bandage” that was, in practice, a boned corset for lactating women that squeezed so tight it collected milk as fast as the new mother produced it. The corset had holes for a pair of dangling rubber bags.

Its purpose: simultaneously doing away with the need for a breast pump while “a healthful bodily condition of the wearer is maintained.”

The look on the hand-drawn model’s face in the patent appears somewhere between neutral and amused.

It’s perhaps no mystery why the Chest-Bandage didn’t take off; most women, of course, having a natural aversion to being continually milked in public.

A check of old Maine patents online finds all sorts of similar gems nearly lost to history.

There are no road signs as you enter town bragging “Lewiston: Home of the ‘Electrocuting Rat Trap’ and the ‘New and Useful Urinal.'” But whether because of the inventions’ fleeting popularity or questionable usefulness, that fact does nothing to diminish their creators’ inventive bursts.

No fewer than seven cow-tail holders? Invented right here. The pocket knife that doubled as a pistol? Ditto.

Still more patents were nudged along by Maine talent.

The quest for a better cockroach repellent brought researchers to Kidney Pond in Baxter State Park back in 1977. The hope: develop a bug dope that would work against the dreaded German cockroach – “among the most difficult of cockroach species to control” – and other pests like the black fly.

So that spring, four subjects doused in different types of repellent from bare wrist to bare elbow ambled about Baxter State Park holding their arms over their heads, sitting, squatting and generally making themselves available to black flies.

Wouldn’t you know? They got bit. According to the patent, “Landing rates ranged from 14 to 40 per minute” depending on the repellent.

Black flies have never been known to play hard-to-get.

But, of course, one had to be sure. So human subjects were sent back out in the park to try to get bitten some more in June 1978 with more repellents. The patent, unfortunately, fails to list the most potent repellent out of all the testing.

And you thought Ben-Gay smelled funky?

In 1866, A.J. Peavey of South Montville invented the Improved Combined Pistol & Pocket Knife. (The year before, he’d invented the basic model.) When whittling or stabbing wouldn’t do, the knife’s blade could be folded back. The handle doubled as the gun barrel.

“Very convenient for being carried in a person’s pocket without danger of being prematurely discharged,” Peavey assured in his application.

Jamie Pelletier, manager at Reid’s Guns & Cigars in Auburn, believed he’d seen a picture of the old novelty in a catalog.

“Law was handled, in some cases, a lot differently than these days. To me that would be something that somebody could quietly defend themselves with,” Pelletier said.

Frankly, he thought the weapon didn’t seem nearly as practical as Ebenezer Pierce’s Combined Bomb-Gun and Harpoon.

Pierce, who moved from Hallowell to Massachusetts, designed his 1880 piece for whalers. A shaft mounted with a gun was lobbed at the animal. On impact, the gun fired an ignited bomb.

“It would be like a self-propelled grenade in today’s terms,” Pelletier said. “I think that was a sure-fire, one-shot kill.”

It seems likely that users of Joseph Grow’s Improved Liniment could have been wishing for such a death.

In 1864, the Brunswick man invented a medicinal rub with one gallon of vinegar, two quarts of turpentine, a dozen eggs and their shells and a half-pint of “skunk grease.”

And users of Newell T. Fogg’s brainchild? Dead.

Fogg, from Sanford, invented the Body Adjuster in 1938, a board with short legs that could be tipped to raise a corpse’s head or feet.

Genevieve Keeney, director of the National Museum of Funeral History in Texas, said funeral directors would have used it while a coffin was being built. The extra step ensured that the body cooled in a position that looked comfortable, like it was sleeping on a pillow.

“Aesthetically, it’s more accepting when you view the body as if it were sleeping rather than just laying out straight and stiff,” she said. “It’s a comfort item.”

Mooo!

Getting nailed by a cow tail back in the day? A way bigger problem than the non-farmer might imagine.

Seven different Mainers took out patents for cow tail holders from 1889 to 1936. Most anchored the tail to a hind leg in some manner.

Charlie Varney, a retired dairy farmer who lives in Greene, had a farm in Turner in the 1950s. He hadn’t heard of the invention.

Tails were a problem around fly time, he said. They didn’t flick with enough force to knock over a milking bucket, “they’d just irritate the hell out of you and switch you in the face.”

As for that other milking device, the Chest-Bandage, Tremont Historical Society records show corset-inventor Josie Baldwin was a local dressmaker. Muriel Trask Davisson, society president, comes from a family with long roots in Tremont, a little town on Mount Desert Island. She’d never heard of the Chest-Bandage.

“I was a nursing mother and I’m not sure I needed something like that,” added Trask Davisson.

More online

Need to read more about the variations in cow-tail holders or the dread German cockroach? Look up weird patents yourself at Google.com/patents


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