Sunday, June 18, 2023

The Book Wheel and Other Obscure Inventions

 By Nancy J. Farrier

Someone recently shared a picture of this fun invention with me and I had to read more about the book wheel. I realized this would be a good post for here but it was too short so I’ve added in some other unusual inventions. I hope you enjoy this little foray into obscure inventions that never caught on for obvious reasons.


Ramelli's Book Wheel
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The Book Wheel


In 1588, Italian Agostino Ramelli published a book that included pictures of his invention, The Book Wheel. To utilize this invention, the reader would be seated on a chair while the wheel, very much resembling a water wheel, could be turned so the reader had access to potentially a dozen books. 


Agostino Ramelli, Public Domain,
Wikimedia Commons

Ramelli’s idea was to help readers, especially those with conditions like gout, who were unable to move around. This wheel would hold the books they needed to peruse and they could easily maneuver the levers to change to the book they desired to study. The wheel could be operated with either the hands or the feet.


The invention did not become a craze, although in 1985, Daniel Libeskind, an architect, recreated Ramelli’s invention, which was then put on display at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 1886. Libeskind renamed the Book Wheel, Reading Machine, but the design was Ramelli’s.


The Cyclomer


The Cyclomer, By Nationaal Archeif,
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

I found this invention very interesting but found little information on it. The Cyclomer was first shown in Paris in 1932. It was the world’s first amphibious bicycle. The wheels were hollow to help the Cyclomer float. There were also four smaller floats, two in front and two in back, to help with flotation and stability.


Unfortunately, The Cyclomer did not work out. The bicycle did not get traction on land or in the water. Instead, it was back to the drawing board. Other amphibious bicycles have been invented since, but none have worked well enough to become popular for everyday use.


Wooden Bathing Suits


Spruce Girls, UW Digital Collections,
Wikimedia Commons

Finally, a stylish bathing suit that can help you stay afloat if you don’t know how to swim!

Back in 1929, the Gray Harbor Lumber company in Washington state had a campaign that showed off the “Spruce Girls.” While their intent was to garner interest in their products and tourism in their area, the bathing suits proved quite interesting.


The suits were made of pieces of spruce veneer, which was easy to find and relatively inexpensive. One of the demonstration videos had an interview with one of the girls. She said her father had finished a house and had leftover pieces and strips of veneer which she and her sister used to fashion the suits. 


Spruce Girls, UW Digital Collections
Wikimedia Commons
The bathing attire didn’t catch on even though it was said to be lightweight and durable. The added benefit was that for inexperienced swimmers, the suit could help keep them from sinking. The company said so far none of the suits had cracked or warped. None of the Spruce Girls even mentioned if the suits were comfortable. I wonder.


Have you ever heard of any of these inventions? They were so unique and fun. I had a great time researching them. While I’m not planning to try bicycle that goes on water, that book wheel is pretty interesting. Now I’m off to shop for a wooden bathing suit. How about you?

Nancy J Farrier is an award-winning, best-selling author who lives in Southern Arizona in the Sonoran Desert. She loves the Southwest with its interesting historical past. When Nancy isn’t writing, she loves to read, do needlecraft, play with her cats and dog, and spend time with her family. You can read more about Nancy and her books on her website:


  1. Hi Nancy! I have never heard of any of these inventions, they sound pretty interesting but I'm not surprised that they never caught on. Especially those wooden bathing suits...

    1. Linda, I can't imagine those bathing suits being comfortable. They were unique though.

  2. Thank you for posting today. These are quite an assortment of odd inventions. I bet at times authors who do lots of research would like that book wheel!

    1. Connie, that book wheel fascinated me. I thought it would be fun to have anyway since I'm usually reading more than one book at a time.