In 1879, a Tennessee man named Benjamin B. Oppenheimer filed one of the wackiest patent applications in history. Described as an “improvement in fire escapes”, Oppenheimer’s invention aimed to save the lives of people trapped in burning multi-storey buildings.
The diagram here tells most of the story, however for the record Oppenheimer’s patent application described his invention as:
“A headpiece constructed in the nature of a parachute, made of soft or waxed cloth, awning cloth or other suitable fabric. The parachute is about four or five feet in diameter, stiffened by a suitable frame and attached by leather straps or other fastening… Overshoes with elastic bottom-pads of suitable thickness take up the concussion with the ground. [This device allows] a person to safely jump out of the window of a burning building from any height and land, without injury and without the least damage, on the ground”.
Oppenheimer’s ‘parachute hat’ was granted a patent in November 1879 – but as expected, his invention did not take off (or jump off). More than a century later the US Army picked up on Oppenheimer’s shock-absorbing boots, citing his idea in a 1996 patent application for improved footwear for paratroopers.