Halloween is approaching and though this tradition is foreign to Spain, it is increasingly becoming popular here, especially among young people as a result of globalization. Therefore, it is a good moment to show a series of inventions that really fit in this celebration. As expected, most of them come from the U.S.A.

In the 19th century and due to several real cases which appeared in the press and especially to a popular short story by Egar Allan Poe called “The premature burial”, people really feared being buried alive. As a result numerous inventions aimed at preventing that “accident” were patented. Here you have a sample:

US81437 (A) Alarm Bell for coffins.
US766171 (A)  Apparatus for signaling from graves
US465548 (A) Annunciator for the supposed dead

The next two inventions also seem to be set in Halloween. They were patented at the beginning of the 20th century, when the so-called spiritism was flourishing and the ouija was an indispensable tool.

Patent US1400791 (Ouija Board)
Patent  US1322727 “Spirit message conveying device”

The first patent on a Ouija Board was granted in 1891 and there is a curious story behind it. The applicant Elijah Bond was an entrepreneur and a patent agent whose main purpose was not spiritism but business. It was not straightforward for him to get a patent on the board because several actions were submitted by the USPTO requesting evidence of its functionning . In order to overcome this hurdle, Elijah took his sister- in-law (Helen Peters, a renowned medium) to the USPTO where a séance took place. The head of examiners attended it and, although neither Bond nor Peters knew his name, the board guessed it and spelled it properly. The head of examiners, a little bit pale after the spooky experience is said to have granted the patent US446054 entitled “Toy or game. Elijah Bond, who was a patent agent and was usually in contact with the patent office, probably knew his name beforehand……….. Anyway, if you are interested in further information on the Ouija, this article at the “Smithsonian Magazine” is really recommendable.

First Patent on the Ouija Board US446504
The functioning of the board is explained in the description but no reference is made to the involvement of spirits.

Returning to the “beyond”, the next invention consists of a missile or torpedo which, placed under the coffin, would shatter into pieces any grave robber. The description is really frightening:

My invention has for its object to provide means which shall successfully prevent the unauthorized resurrection of dead bodies; and with this end in view my invention consists of a peculiarly-constructed torpedo, adapted to be readily secured to the coffin and the body of the contained corpse in such manner that any attempt to remove the body after burial will cause the discharge of the cartridge contained in the torpedo and injury or death of the desecrator of the grave”.

Patent US208672 “Coffin-Torpedo”

The following invention is also distressing. It refers to preservation of corpses and it consists of introducing them in a chamber where vacuum has been made. Drawings are extremely creepy.

Patent US748824 “Method of preserving the dead”

And what about the following one, that could have been filed by Henry VIII or his executioner, were it not for the fact that this one is intended to be used in plays, to show beheading in a very realistic way. Let’s hope that not so real…..

Patent US420995 “Beheading block and ax”

The gadget below is directly related with Halloween tradition. It is a receptacle to collect the sweets obtained during the “treat or trick” walk, although ,of course it is also designed to scare, thanks to an inflating mechanism.

Patent US6419541B1 “Device for collecting treats”

In the next patent drawings which seem to come from one of those “horror tunnels” so popular at this time of the year, you have some of the typical Halloween characters.

Scarecrow (US1167502) and (US2013038020) shooting target
Amusement device with pop-up figure US2002098770 and Halloween Skeleton Decoration USD332420

The subject of the next patent is a device for evacuating a burning building , turned into a vampire?

Patent  US912152 “Fire escape”

In the next one, terror is used to obtain a confession from an alleged criminal. The suspect is kept inside a dark room, where a ghostly skeletal figure appears in a mirror. The harrowing scene will cause the detainee to confess, a confession which will be duly recorded.

Patent US1749090 “Apparatus for obtaining criminal confessions and photographically recording them”

Although they are not the usual protagonists in Halloween celebrations, what can be more frightening than chemical weapons? and some of them were patented as it is shown in this blog entry (in Spanish).

Patent DE438818 on Zyklon B

Once we have seen that patents also belong to the world of spiritism, mystery, the paranormal and horror, I have nothing else to say, but to wish you a happy Halloween.

Leopoldo Belda-Soriano

En español


  1. Zyklon B (still in production under another name) was not used as a chemical warfare agent. It is a pesticide repurposed to carry out the Holocaust. It’s history should be the subject of a book, as it deeply involves Fritz Haber, a German Jew who received the Nobel for co-inventing the Haber-Bosch process leading to synthetic fertilizers and who pioneered using chlorine gas in chemical warfare. Scientists at the Haber Institue developed Zyklon (“Cyclone”, later Zyklon A).


  2. Thank you for clarifying that Zyklon B was not a chemical weapon, though it is still terrifying.


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