Let’s be honest: at some point or another, we’ve all thought up some harebrained idea we were certain would be the “next big thing.” While most of us never acted on these thoughts, a select few actually put in the time, money, and effort to see their dream become a reality. Yet as they sat back to enjoy the fruits of their labor, they soon realized that some ideas are better kept in your head.
These inventors intended their creations to be used for good, though one way or another they became dangerous, detrimental, or just plain annoying. So next time you’re about to patent stainless-steel underwear or edible dinner plates, remember these inventors and the ways their creations turned their lives — and the world — upside down.
1. Emoticons: Now more commonly known as emojis, these seem like an easy, innocent way of getting an emotion across over text or digital message. Yet Scott Fahlman, creator of emoticons, thinks otherwise, saying his invention has now contributed to the downfall of the written language.
2. Mother’s Day: When Anna Jarvis held the first Mother’s Day in 1908, she bought 500 white carnations to memorialize her mother posthumously. By 1914, Congress had made Mother’s Day a national holiday, though Jarvis soon renounced the celebration as having become “too commercial.”
3. Labradoodles: How could someone regret creating an adorable dog? Well, Wally Conron, the man who first bred the doodle back in the ’80s, believes creating the crossbreed has led to puppy mills and unsafe breeders cranking out as many labradoodles as they can without regard for the animals’ welfare.
4. Cubicles: Before we had open-floor office spaces, we had cubicles, which were initially seen as an upgrade over the mazes of small personal offices common with most businesses. Yet Bob Probst, creator of the cubicle concept, later disavowed his invention, saying, “The cubiclizing of people in modern corporations is monolithic insanity.”
Air Force Material Command
5. Atomic Bomb: Despite J. Robert Oppenheimer receiving most of the credit for the creation of the atomic bomb, it was Albert Einstein’s work that made it possible. Yet Einstein lamented his role in the weapon making, saying if he hadn’t believed Germany was close to developing bombs of their own he “would have never lifted a finger.”
6. K-Cups: The coffee industry was revolutionized by the invention of K-Cups and other instant coffee pouches, though creator John Sylvan has regrets: The little cups make it easier to fuel consumers’ caffeine addictions, and their single-use plastic design is terrible for the environment.
Travis Estell / Flickr
7. Flappy Bird: In 2014, Flappy Bird became an overnight sensation on the iTunes App Store, earning a staggering $50,000 a day in in-app advertisements alone. However, creator Dong Nguyen pulled the innocent game from the store for good after claims of addiction and overuse left him guilt-ridden.
8. //: The World Wide Web has vastly improved our quality of life, though there’s one aspect of the information system creator Tim Berners-Lee wished he’d done without: the double-slash after “https.” “Really, if you think about it, it doesn’t need the //,” he told Business Insider. “I could have designed it not to have the //.”
9. Planes: The Wright Brothers are known far and wide for the invention of the airplane, with Orville Wright having sky-high hopes for his creation. Believing his “aeroplane” would one day end all wars, he was horrified to see his invention bombing cities and, later, carrying WMDs.
Air Force Museum
10. Pop-up Ads: Intending to create a means of advertising something without actually putting an ad on a webpage, coder Ethan Zuckerman inadvertently created the Internet’s worst nightmare: the pop-up ad. He came to regret his invention after annoying, virus-laden ads began appearing on nearly every webpage.
Pascale PirateChicken / Flickr
11. The Raleigh Chopper: The hottest bike of the ’70s, designer Tom Karen was completely against the 2004 revival of the classic ride. Though it may have looked cool, the bike was slow, heavy, and difficult to control, leading to plenty of injuries during its heyday.
12. Facebook: Mark Zuckerberg may not regret the creation of Facebook, but Sean Parker, one of the earliest proponents, certainly does. He believes Facebook takes advantage of “vulnerability in human psychology,” creating a “social validation feedback loop” that equates a user’s number of “Likes” to their personal worth.
Christopher / Flickr
13. Pepper Spray: Kamran Loghman knew he’d created an effective means of neutralization when he helped the FBI develop pepper spray in the ’80s. But after numerous incidents of misuse by both law enforcement and civilians, he told The New York Times: “I have never seen such an inappropriate and improper use of chemical agent.”
Shaw Air Force Base
14. Comic Sans: Intended as a replacement for Times New Roman in comic speech bubbles aimed at children, Comic Sans has become the most overused, abused, and misused font out there, a fact creator Vincent Connare told The Wall Street Journal he deeply resents.
15. Dynamite: Alfred Nobel’s creation did wonders for the mining industry and seemed to have no downside — then, people started killing each other with it. Matters got so bad that Nobel was even labeled “The Merchant of Death,” which he worked the rest of his life to distance himself from.
16. Anti-Virus: You’d think John McAfee, creator of McAfee Anti-Virus, would be a huge proponent of his product; instead, he hates it. He openly claim to uninstall the program from every computer he buys, and his creation of the software has now made him the target of hackers.
Gage Skidmore / Flickr
17. Blink Tag: Most people don’t remember the “blink” tag, which was a piece of HTML code that made text flash for effect. Lou Montulli originally created the tag — while drunk — as a simple way to spice up a webpage… until it started triggering epilepsy.
18. Electronic Monitors: Bob and Kirkland Gable saw their invention as a means of bringing communities together through accountability. They were disappointed to see that people weren’t willingly signing up to be tracked by their neighbors 24/7; they were also upset that electronic tagging is now primarily used on prisoners.
19. Agent Orange: In an effort to get soybeans to set their pods earlier in the season, Arthur Galston developed a herbicide that could do so. The U.S. military turned Galston’s invention into a weapon, dubbing it “Agent Orange” and dousing millions with it during the Vietnam War.
Air Force Museum
20. Shopping Mall: When Victor Gruen first conceived of the shopping mall back in the 1950s, he envisioned them as a place where entertainment and culture could combine, much like in a European city center. Years later, however, Gruen came to realize that malls were actually destroying cities, putting many small mom-and-pop shops out of business.
Not all inventors regret their inventions, though there were plenty in the early 20th century that got some pretty strange looks when they revealed their latest creation. Today, when you’re sick in bed, you might pull out a laptop and binge Netflix; in 1935, you pulled out your bed piano and knocked out a few afternoon symphonies.
2. Television Glasses: Hugo Gernsback, the man known today as “The Father of Science Fiction,” dared to dream of strapping a television set to his face in 1963 — so he made it happen (and later inspired future 3D glasses, too).
3. Man from Mars Radio Hat: Speaking of entertainment on your head, in 1949, Victor T. Hoeflinch created this hat, which allowed wearers to listen to the radio on the go, so long as they didn’t mind wearing a hat that wasn’t exactly a fashion statement.
4. Dimple Maker: In the ’30s, a smile was nothing without a set of dimples to go with it. But the dimple-less were not the hopeless: the Dimple Maker could force dimples onto their smiles by digging into their cheekbones. It did not work well.
5. The First PET Scan Device: As if going in for a PET scan wasn’t scary enough, the first machine capable of performing one was this wire-wrapped monstrosity, developed at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, New York.
6. Portable Sauna: Back in 1962, a Finnish inventor realized that being unable to step into a sauna wherever he went was comparable to actual torture. So he created the portable sauna so he could live every moment in hot, steamy bliss.
7. Sunscreen Vending Machine: Tennis courts, swimming pools, and beaches of the 1940s offered this vending machine, which dispensed little globs of sunscreen right into your hands. Honestly, weird as this was, it could come in handy today!
8. Cone Mask: The inventor of these masks wanted to protect the wearers’ faces from things like hail and rain. Somehow, getting pelted with rain was a big enough problem that he couldn’t just, you know, tilt his head down like three inches
9. Pedal Skates: In 1913, Charles A. Nordling understood people look for any excuse possible not to walk, so he created the pedal skates. A bit cumbersome, yeah, but unlike many other items on this list, they nobly served their purpose for a while.
Online Bike Museum
10. Cigarette Pack Holder: Because smoking one cigarette at a time was totally inefficient (and totally lame by 1950’s standards), this 1955 invention allowed smokers to stop dreaming about chain smoking an entire pack and start doing it.
11. All-Terrain Car: Invented in 1936, this English automobile ascended and descended slopes as steep as 65 degrees. With, what, 12 tires, it must have cost an absolute fortune to manufacture. Speaking of all-terrain…
12. Cyclomer: With six flotation devices, the cyclomer — also called “The Amphibious Bike — was designed to function on land and in water. In practice, it was clunky on dry land, borderline deadly in the water, and no one liked it much.
13. Goofybike: So the cyclomer didn’t catch on, but that wasn’t the end of all bike-alteration efforts. The Goofybike — seen in Chicago, 1939 — sat four people, one of which worked a sewing machine that kept the bike’s weight evenly distributed.
14. Pedestrian Shield: To reduce fatalities, inventors drummed up a shield reminiscent of a train’s cowcatcher to slap on the front of automobiles. It doesn’t look like a much better alternative to the front of a car.
15. Fax Newspaper: Imagine just wanting to catch up on your daily news and waiting (and waiting) for the darn newspaper fax to show up! Cool, but a paperboy standing on the corner was probably more efficient.
16. Shower Hood: Marketed as a way to keep your makeup intact, the shower hood prevented water from hitting your hair or face, which kind of defeated the major purpose of taking a shower altogether.
17. The Baby Dangler: Today, naming your device “The Baby Dangler” would make your peers mock you at best and land you in prison at worst; but back in the day, it was the perfect name for a device that strung up a baby between mom and dad.
18. A Radio-Controlled Lawn Mower: The lawn’s not going to mow itself, so why not invent a small mower operated with a remote control? Developed in the 1950s — and later celebrated by British royalty — the device survived time and still exists!
19. Ice Mask: There were plenty of reasons to drink in the 1940s, and inventors knew it. That’s why one developed the ice mask, which advertisers touted as a cure for the morning hangover.
20. Wooden Bathing Suits: These barrel-like suits were invented in 1929 and, allegedly, acted like flotation devices for swimming (wood floats, after all). But they must have been restrictive!