Ten Ridiculously Complicated Early Auto Innovations

Not all inventions can be a home run right off the bat. Most evolve over time to become the devices we all know and love. Take these early versions of automotive inventions for example, which, to continue the baseball analogies, were slightly off base.


10) Early Seat Belt (1938)

It’s hard to believe that seat belts weren’t required by law anywhere in the US until the 1980s, but the devices were around for decades prior — as this king-sized, multi-person “safety belt” shows. (Fur coats apparently served as an additional buffer in the event of a car accident.)


9) Early Turn Signal (1933)

Thankfully, this overly complicated early turn signal never caught on. Modeled after a traffic light, it utilized a red, yellow and green light on each side of the car, the various combinations of colors translating into a variety of intended maneuvers, from left turn to right turn to “I’m about to signal for a turn” to even a turn signal that means that the driver ISN’T going to turn.


8) Early Car Alarm (1931)

Although this ad seems to imply that this device spoke words to scare off would-be car thieves, it actually hooked up to the car horn and if the mechanism was jostled by someone bumping into or entering the auto, the horn would beep repeatedly. Some people reportedly even hooked the device to a buzz coil that would shock the thief. Ah, the good old days…


7) Early Car Radio (1930)


6) Early Air Conditioner (1933)

This article on the first automobile air conditioner — described basically as a refrigerator attached beneath the car — casually predicts an improvement in air conditioning technology to the point where A/C will become standard in vehicles, “along with a decrease in the danger of suffering carbon-monoxide poisoning.” Cross your fingers and hold your breath!


5) Early Window Defroster (1930)

Because we could all use more open flames in our vehicles…here’s as basic an idea for a window defroster as there ever was: basically a candle attached to a suction cup. Voila! You may set yourself on fire, but at least your windshield won’t be icy.


4) Early Child Seat (1936)

How did anyone survive riding in cars during the 1930s? Not only were there no seat belts, but children rode around in contraptions like this elevated chair that “provides the child with full vision”…of the windshield as she goes flying through it.


3) Early Cruise Control (1931)

This rudimentary cruise control consisted of a foot-operated pedal that triggered a small arm to attach itself to the steering wheel, allowing the driver to keep the wheel steady with his feet while he lights a cigarette or bounces a baby on his seatbelt-less lap.


2) Early Automatic Trunk Opener (1952)

It’s kind of amazing that it took until the 1950s to invent a trunk that opened by push-button. It’s even more amazing that they put in on the back seat, meaning you have to get out of the car to push the button.


1) Early Vanity Plates (1938)

The thought of letters appearing on license plates was apparently alien to folks in the 1930s, but our brave forefathers eventually took a leap of faith that an alphabetic system for plates could work and would not be abused by the masses. Ahem.



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