Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 

10 Attempts to Build Better Mousetraps

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain 

As the saying often misattributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson goes, "build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door." The phrase is not literally about mousetraps, but about the drive to improve and perfect. And with thousands of mousetrap patents in the United States, it seems people can’t resist innovating new ways to slay vermin. (The Trap History Museum in Columbus, Ohio, has over 1500 different examples of mousetraps alone.) Nevertheless, the popular spring-loaded snap trap patented by William C. Hooker in 1894 remains the most popular option, aside from employing a feline hunter.

The variety of these mouse traps is astounding, and a bit harrowing, from electric cats to contraptions that approach Rube Goldberg machines. Here are 10 particularly ingenious examples.


The Nebraska State Historical Society recently shared their example of the curiously shaped trap, stating that the Victor Woodstream Corporation of Pennsylvania (best known for their snap traps marked with a “V”) still sells a version to confound wayward mice.When Nebraskan John H. Morris patented his trap in 1876, he stated that it could be used at “the entrance of stockyards.” Luckily for the cows, the elaborate trap—with its hinged door leading to a disorienting tunnel where a sort of seesaw closed the door—was apparently only ever marketed as the Delusion Mousetrap. Its ad explained the trap’s intricate process in rhyme: "The Mouse goes in to get the bait, / And shuts the door by his own weight, / And then he jumps right through a hole, / And thinks he's out; but bless his soul, / He's in a case somehow or other, / And sets the trap to catch another."


Back in 1882, James A. Williams of Fredonia, Texas, patented a rather alarming device illustrated by a mouse confronted with a firearm aimed down its burrow. Williams stated in his text he was “aware that burglar-alarms of various kinds have been used, and which have been connected to windows and doors in such a manner that the opening of the window or door causes a pressure upon a lever which discharges a fire-arm; but in no case have the parts been arranged and combined as here shown and described.” It may have been a novel arrangement, but it did follow other artillery traps, such as the "cemetery gun" intended to stop grave robbers in the 18th century.


In this trap patented by William K. Bachman in 1870, the mouse is responsible for its own undoing. The animal can go in the cage and step out, but if it gnaws through the bait on a cord, the door shuts. It’s a pretty basic idea, and unsurprisingly has many versions, such as one at the State Museum of Pennsylvania made of a couple of planks of wood and a metal wire.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Created in the 1920s, the Victor Choker Mouse Trap involved four entry holes, each with a loaded wire choker that would strangle any mouse that entered. Then you pressed a button and the bodies fell from the device, readying it to kill again. According to the Victor company, which is still in the extermination business, the trap evolved into their current Victor Tri-Kill trap, although as its name suggests, its slaying power has been downgraded from four to three.


This "portable electronic mouse trap that has a housing in the shape of a cat" is only successful if mice are comfortable strolling up to the gaping jaw of a predator. When a 2006 Wall Street Journal article interviewed its creator, Brooklyn postal worker Charles Jordan, he’d only made a prototype, and it was shaped like a boring box. But when complete, per the 2005 patent, mice are lured by a "reservoir of a fragrance that smells like fresh cheese." Upon entering, a motion sensor turns on a vacuum that sucks the mouse into a suffocation chamber. Then a “speaker informs a user when the collection chamber is full." If you want to see it in action (sort of), Patently Silly has animated its patent drawings on YouTube.


As previously shared on mental_floss, this trap patented by Joseph Barad and Edward Markoff in 1908 is one of the more outlandish designs out there. Similar to the choker trap, a mouse entering would suddenly find itself collared. But rather than being strangled by the collar, the device around its neck held a bell. Then, in theory, this “bell-rat” would return to its friends and family and basically terrify them with the endless ringing. As claimed in the patent, bell noise is "very terrifying to animals of the species named and that if pursued by such sounds they will immediately vacate their haunts and homes, never to return." And as for the “bell-rat,” it must run forever and never understand why it is suddenly such a bane.


Smithsonian American Art Museum Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Back in 2011, the Smithsonian American Art Museum opened "Inventing a Better Mousetrap: Patent Models from the Rothschild Collection," an exhibition that included this 1870 mousetrap model from John O. Kopas and George W. Bauer. Up until 1880, American patents were required to include a patent model sent to Washington, D.C., and you can still see the 19th century trap in the museum's Luce Foundation Center. It painstakingly demonstrates, complete with a tiny mouse and bit of cheese, how rodents would plummet through spring-loaded platforms set up over trap doors.


Bill Oviatt stated in a 1997 issue of The Rotarian that the idea for his mousetrap "came to him in a dream." Nicknamed the “Teeter Pong” as it involves a plastic PVC pipe containing a ping pong ball that rocks back and forth on a stand, he patented it in 1996. When a mouse enters the pipe, lured by some treat, it tips and the ball covers the exit. While the deadly teeter-totter isn’t yet mainstream, it did make it onto David Letterman’s show, although on the segment the mouse escapes the trap and flees in a taxi.


Internet Archive Book Images, Flickr // The Commons

"Extermination is certain," the 1921 advertisement for the “Peerless Mouse Trap” promised. Manufactured by the Automatic Trap Company [PDF] of Chicago, the trap involved mice climbing a structure and then falling into a deadly pool of water, a trapdoor resetting the whole thing as if no horror had occurred. Their promotional material could get downright Lovecraftian in its depictions of mice: "Their breath, saliva, and coat of fur are laden with germs and dirt that spread disease in their path. Increasing, as they do, out of sight and stealthily crawling forth to feed, their numbers are never fully apparent." While the complicated invention of connecting chambers didn’t take over the market, it might be worth looking in your attic corners for one, as an example recently sold for over $100 at auction.


A 2009 issue of Michigan Farmer [PDF] describes this trap, patented by one J. Gould, as having a succession of key-wound clockwork mechanisms that raised and lowered doors as a mouse entered a succession of rooms, doors slamming behind it. Gould's 1873 patent text is incredibly elaborate, listing each platform, lever, spring, crank, box, and drop door that composed the puzzle-like device. As with many of these traps that assume a mouse is a robotic creature that will stop at nothing for some scrap of food, it seems unlikely that it would catch the dozen mice it was designed to hold. Nevertheless, its steampunk-esque style demonstrates that no matter the current technology, someone is likely thinking of ways to use it to rid their home of pests.

Scientists Reveal Long-Hidden Text in Alexander Hamilton Letter

Age, deterioration, and water damage are just a few of the reasons historians can be short on information that was once readily available on paper. Sometimes, it’s simply a case of missing pages. Other times, researchers can see “lost” text right under their noses.

One example: a letter written by Alexander Hamilton to his future wife, Elizabeth Schuyler, on September 6, 1780. On the surface, it looked very much like a rant about a Revolutionary War skirmish in Camden, South Carolina. But Hamilton scholars were excited by the 14 lines of writing in the first paragraph that had been crossed out. If they could be read, they might reveal some new dimension to one of the better-known Founding Fathers.

Using the practice of multispectral imaging—sometimes called hyperspectral imaging—conservationists at the Library of Congress were recently able to shine a new light on what someone had attempted to scrub out. In multispectral imaging, different wavelengths of light are “bounced” off the paper to reveal (or hide) different ink pigments. By examining a document through these different wavelengths, investigators can tune in to faded or obscured handwriting and make it visible to the naked eye.

A hyperspectral image of Alexander Hamilton's handwriting
Hyperspectral imaging of Hamilton's handwriting, from being obscured (top) to isolated and revealed (bottom).
Library of Congress

The text revealed a more emotional and romantic side to Hamilton, who had used the lines to woo Elizabeth. Technicians uncovered most of what he had written, with words in brackets still obscured and inferred:

Do you know my sensations when I see the
sweet characters from your hand? Yes you do,
by comparing [them] with your [own]
for my Betsey [loves] me and is [acquainted]
with all the joys of fondness. [Would] you
[exchange] them my dear for any other worthy
blessings? Is there any thing you would put
in competition[,] with one glowing [kiss] of
[unreadable], anticipate the delights we [unreadable]
in the unrestrained intercourses of wedded love,
and bet your heart joins mine in [fervent]
[wishes] to heaven that [all obstacles] and [interruptions]
May [be] speedily [removed].

Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler married on December 14, 1780. So why did Hamilton try and hide such romantic words during or after their courtship? He probably didn’t. Historians believe that his son, John Church Hamilton, crossed them out before publishing the letter as a part of a book of his father’s correspondence. He may have considered the passage a little too sexy for mass consumption.

[h/t Library of Congress]

Scott Barbour/Getty Images
7 of History’s Most Unusual Riots
Scott Barbour/Getty Images
Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Some sociologists theorize that most rioters only join a crowd because the crowd is big enough to justify joining. But there’s always that one person who sparks the violence, and sometimes the reason for doing so can seem pretty baffling. Maybe a work of art scandalizes its audience, like the famous premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. Or maybe it’s simply a notable act of disrespect, like history’s first recorded mooning (in Jerusalem in the first century CE). From balloonists to brown dogs to daylight saving time, here are seven weird reasons things just got out of hand.


The Darts Invitational Challenge, an international tournament held in Melbourne, attracted international gawking in January 2015 during the finals match between Michael "Mighty Mike" van Gerwen and Simon "The Wizard" Whitlock. The dart players weren’t making a scene, though: Rather, hundreds of spectators, many of them drunk and in costume, began throwing plastic chairs as they watched (pictured above). The reasons for the fight remain unclear; footage and photos show police trying to control adults dressed as Oompa-Loompas, numerous superheroes, and, in one instance, in a ghillie suit (heavy camouflage meant to resemble foliage).


In 1864, balloonists were the great daredevils of their time, and a major draw for eager audiences. That summer, Henry Coxwell, a famous professional aeronaut, was set to make an appearance for 50,000 paying ticketholders in Leicester, England. Unfortunately, a rumor spread that he hadn’t brought his biggest and best balloon to the event. After heckling from the crowd, Coxwell deflated his balloon, and attendees rushed it, ripping it to shreds, setting it on fire, and threatening to visit the same fate on Coxwell. Rioters even paraded the remains of the balloon through the streets of town, which briefly brought residents a new nickname: Balloonatics.


Toronto was still a pretty rough place in the 1850s, but not so rough that the circus wouldn’t come to town. As it turns out, circus entertainers were also a tough lot back then, so when a group of off-duty clowns spent an evening at a brothel popular with the city’s firefighters on July 12, 1855, tensions came to a head. Accounts differ as to who started the fight, but after one firefighter knocked the hat off a clown things escalated into a full-on rabble intent on chasing the circus out of town. Only the mayor calling in the militia put an end to the uproar, an incident Torontonians credit with kicking off much-needed local police reforms.


A painting by Charles Soubre of the Belgian Revolution
Charles Soubre, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Not many nations can claim their independence started with an aria, but for 19th-century Belgians sick of living under Dutch rule, an opera was just the right fuse for a revolution. To honor the birthday of King William I of the Netherlands, a theater in Brussels put on La Muette de Portici, about an uprising in Naples against Spanish rule. One song, "Amour Sacre de la Patrie" ("Sacred Love of the Fatherland"), aroused nationalistic passions so much that after the opera ended, the crowd began destroying factories and occupying government buildings. That was August 25, 1830; Belgium declared independence on October 4.


Hamilton fans, take note: Everyone’s favorite Founding Father once tried to quiet a mob bent on burning corpses. For centuries, anatomists and medical students relied on gruesome means to learn about the human body. Cadavers for dissection class often came from grave robbers, since the corpses of executed criminals were the only legal source—and they were in limited supply. In New York in 1788, rumors abounded that medical students were digging up paupers’ graves and black cemeteries. When one mob came after the doctors responsible, Alexander Hamilton tried, and failed, to restore the peace. The crowd swelled to about 5000 before militiamen intervened, leading to up to about 20 deaths.


Photo of an anti-vivisection demonstration in Trafalgar Square, London, to protest the removal from Battersea Park of the Brown Dog statue
The Anti-Vivisection Review, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Riots against the dissection of dead human bodies were not rare in the United States at one time. But on December 10, 1907, a thousand Britons marched in support of vivisection, or surgery on live animals. At the center of the controversy was a small terrier allegedly vivisected without anesthetic in 1903 during a class at London’s University College. Animal rights activists erected a statue to the dog in 1906, which enraged area medical students, and protesters tried to destroy the statue using crowbars and hammers. For the 1907 march, 400 mounted police were deployed to contain marchers. The statue became such a flashpoint (and an expense to local authorities) that in 1910, it was removed and melted down.


Palingtrekken (eel-pulling) was once a popular contest in Amsterdam, in which a writhing eel was suspended over a canal and hopefuls on boats would leap to snatch it as they passed beneath (usually landing in the water instead). However, “eel-pulling” was also illegal—the government deemed it a “cruel popular entertainment”—and in July 1886, police intervened at a particularly large gathering in the city’s Jordaan district. Civilians threw stones and bricks at police, and when some nearby socialist protestors joined them, a riot broke out that lasted for several days. The army finally intervened and opened fire on the protestors. All in all, 26 people died and 136 were wounded, but somehow, the eel itself at the center of the riots was allegedly saved and auctioned off in 1913.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.


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