Smithsonian Collections Blog

Highlighting the hidden treasures from over 2 million collections

Collections Search Center

Friday, November 1, 2013

Failed Invention? Go Figure!

Manikin parts, circa 1930s
True story: not all inventions succeed. We tend to hear about and celebrate the inventions that change and advance the ways in which we live and experience the world. We don’t always know and talk about failed inventions, but looking at inventions that didn’t work is an important aspect of documenting the invention process. Understanding the failure as well as the contributing factors is just as important as determining why inventions succeed. Numerous issues, including the lack of access to manufacturing support, capital, raw materials and/or supplies, markets, in addition to poor timing, can lead to the demise of an invention. 

One example of a failed invention is a mannequin or “manikin” created by Landy Hales (1889-1972), an artist-inventor who was a master at using mechanical displays in department store windows. Hales patented a manikin (US Patent 2,129,421) and founded Hales Manikins, Inc. in 1941 to manufacture and sell them. The manikin was an articulated (jointed skeleton), child-size figure with a flexible outer covering of sponge rubber or elastic. As seen from these images, the manikin, assembled and disassembled, was extremely complicated. Hales built these small prototypes as an effective way to learn about what would and wouldn’t work and to determine if the manikin could achieve/perform the intended motion. Hales’s papers contain the records of his effort to patent, manufacture and sell manikins. The documents reveal through sketches, patents, photographs, correspondence, and the minutes of the Board of Directors for Hales Manikins, Inc. the processes he undertook. The visual documentation provides good evidence of Hales’s prototyping efforts to create a workable model.

Hales was unable to manufacture and bring to market his manikin. Even after extensive research, experimenting, and construction of models, patterns and forms, a workable model for the display market was never produced. Hales’s financial backers, Monford Trillett and Mackubin, and Legg & Company, were not willing to spend more money on the venture and Hales Manikins, Inc. was dissolved in 1948. Hales Manikins, Inc. was one of many creative ventures Hales pursued in his lifetime. His layered posters and window displays for Macy’s are recognizable and well documented. To learn more about Hales's inventive life, visit the Archives Center and the Landy Hales Papers.

Blueprint of drawing for skeleton framework for child manikin, circa 1930s

Alison Oswald, Archivist
Archives Center, NMAH

No comments:

Post a Comment