Advances in Miscreant Trapping

The follwing is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research.

A haphazard look at inventions to trap bad guys
by Alice Shirrell Kaswell and Stephen Drew, Improbable Research staff

In the lusty tussle between Good and Evil, technology has come to play a prominent role on each side. The side of Good more consistently documents its innovations. Here is a very partial selection of inventions invented on the side of Good, to try to trap persons engaged in Evil.

Three Ig Nobel Prize--winning Miscreant-trapping Inventions

Gustano Pizzo was posthumously awarded the 2013 Ig Nobel Prize in safety engineering, for inventing an electro- mechanical system to trap airplane hijackers. The system drops a hijacker through trap doors, seals him into a package, then drops the encapsulated hijacker through the airplane's specially-installed bomb bay doors, whence he parachutes to earth, where police, having been alerted by radio, await his arrival.

1. Detail from Pizzo's patent for trapping and disposing of an airplane hijacker.

For details, see U.S. Patent #3811643, "Anti Hijacking System for Aircraft," granted 1972.

Kuo Cheng Hsieh was awarded the 2007 Ig Nobel Prize in economics, for patenting a device, in the year 2001, that catches bank robbers by dropping a net over them. 

2. Detail from Hsieh's patent for using a net to scoop up a bank robber.

For details, see U.S. patent #6219959, "Net Trapping System for Capturing a Robber Immediately," granted 2001.

Charl Fourie and Michelle Wong were awarded the 1999 Ig Nobel Peace Prize, for inventing an automobile burglar alarm consisting of a detection circuit and a flamethrower.

3. Detail from Fourie and Wong's patent for an apparatus to roast carjackers.

For details, see International Patent WO/1999/032331, "A Security System for a Vehicle."

1892: Hurd's Pickpocket and Coat-thief Hand-grabber

J.F. Hurd's "Pickpocket and Coat-thief Detector" (U.S. patent 477940, granted 1892) took aim at thieves who would brazenly insert one of their hands into someone else's coat pocket:

The purpose of this invention is to provide a device adapted to be connected to or located at or within the pocket of a garment, by which an alarm may be sounded in case of any unauthorized intrusion into the pocket while the garment is suspended on a hook or peg, or in case of the removal of the garment.... There is present a circuit making and breaking device attached to the garment and a flexible connection from the same which extends across the pocket-space in position to be encountered by an intruding hand and caused to operate the circuit making and breaking device to close the circuit.

4. Detail from Hurd's 1892 patent for a "Pickpocket and Coat-Thief Detector."


1895: Walsh's Miscreant-trapping Fire Alarm Box

5. Detail from Walsh's 1895 patent for a "Fire Alarm Box.

Thomas Walsh's "Fire Alarm Box" (U.S. patent 545141, granted 1895) captures setters of false alarms:

This invention has for its object to provide, in connection with fire-alarm boxes or signaling apparatus, means which shall have a deterrent effect upon mischievous persons sending false alarms; and to such end the invention consists of an attachment in the form of an automatically-operated grip or handcuff acting to detain the person operating the alarm until the arrival of the firemen....

If a hand is passed through the handcuff to reach the operating handle d2, the moment it is rotated and the bolt freed so as to drop the rods f will be drawn together and so detain the person until such bolt is lifted.

To insure the passing of the hand through the handcuff an inclosing-casing g is used, which prevents the handle d2 being reached except through an opening g' in such casing, which is directly in line with the handle and handcuff.

1910: Plesac's Burglar's Fatal-step Mechanism

6. Detail from Plesac's patent for a device for a burglar to step on just outside a door or window.

Martin Plesac's "Burglar Apparatus" (U.S. patent 978396, granted 1910) apprehends a wrong-doer in the moment he or she takes the final step:

[This is an] apparatus for thwarting the efforts of burglars to surreptitiously enter dwellings, stores and other buildings; and it has for one of its objects to provide a simple, reliable, and efficient apparatus calculated to trap and securely hold a burglar when the miscreant steps and imposes his weight on the platform comprised in the apparatus....

A is a wall of a building. B is a window therein, and C is the main frame of my novel apparatus, which is suitably fixed in horizontal position to the inner side of the wall and is disposed slightly below the window, as shown....

In the opening D of main frame C is arranged a vertically movable platform F, slightly smaller in area than the opening, which platform F is yieldingly supported so that its upper side is normally flush with that of the main frame. The platform F is supported by horizontal bars G fixed to its underside, and upright coiled springs H interposed between said bars G and the horizontal portions of the hangers E and suitably retained in position....

It will be readily understood from this that when the jaw closers T are moved upward through the openings I and openings J, the said jaw closers will open and move past the doors L and by cooperating with the arms of the bail-shaped jaws will raise said jaws and carry the outer portions thereof toward each other; and it will also be understood that when the jaw closers T are moved downward, the jaws will swing or may be moved by hand downward and back to their normal positions flush with the upper sides of the frame C and platform F.

1924: Hargrave's Pistol-packing Briefcase

7. Detail from Hargrave's 1921 patent for a "Means of Defense."

Oscar V. Hargrave's "Means of Defense" (U.S. patent 1381301, granted 1921) allows a person who carries a briefcase to spring a surprise on a miscreant:

When a person is traveling, either on foot or in a public conveyance, he is exceedingly helpless against the unexpected demand of a highwayman. He can make no move toward drawing a weapon in the eye of the man who has him already covered by a gun....

The object of this invention is... a hand bag, grip dress suit case or other article of luggage, with a fire-arm, preferably an automatic pistol, so disposed that while a person has hold of its handle he can engage a finger with a small ring and by a slight pull thereon can discharge the pistol through a hole in the end of the grip, and if the latter has been casually swung around toward the highwayman, the miscreant will be either shot or frightened away.

In the drawings forming part of this specification, Figure 1 is a side sectional view of a part of a dress suit case provided with my means of self defense. Fig. 2 is a sectional elevation of the same looking at the muzzle-end of the pistol. Fig. 3 is a perspective view on a smaller scale showing the suit case being carried.

At one end of a suit case 1, preferably close beneath its top 2 is formed a box 3 provided with a hinged cover 4. Within this box is secured a fire arm 5, of well known form disposed to aim straight forward and to shoot through a hole 6.

1924: Goswick's Electric Robber Exterminator

8. Detail from Goswick's 1924 patent for a "Robber Exterminator.”

Samuel D. Goswick's "Robber Exterminator" (U.S. patent 1500188, granted 1924) was intended to energetically snuff out robbers if and when they try to ply their trade inside bank buildings or railway cars:

This invention relates to devices which are designated to protect banks and mail trains or the like against robbery, and wherein means is provided for electrocuting the robbers, so that the invention is herein termed a robber exterminator....

When either or both of the switches 24 are closed by an attendant within the car, the current is allowed to flow through the primary circuit and cause a high tension current in the secondary circuit to pass to the plate 10, hand rails 13 and door knobs 17. The current will also flow to the steps 9 through the wires 26. Thus, if one should attempt to rob the train, by forcing an entrance thereto, he will be immediately electrocuted by the high tension current when standing upon the steps 9 or plates 10 and at the same time grasping any of the hand rails 13 or knobs 17.

1926: English's Disarming Bank Robber Trap

9. Detail from English's 1926 patent for a bank "Burglar Trap."

Ernest English's "Burglar Trap" (U.S. patent 1607066, granted 1926) takes advantage of the fact that most bank robbers use at least one of their arms to reach for money:

In these views, 1 indicates a portion of a teller's cage which is provided with the window 2 through which money is taken in and dispensed. Usually a burglar or bank robber will approach the window and hold up the officials through the window and will seize the money by reaching in through the window. In order to catch and hold a robber when he attempts to secure the money I provide a part in the window which can be lowered so as to seize and hold the arm or hand of the burglar and thus prevent him from escaping with the money....

If an attempt is made to rob the bank the robber would naturally place his arm through the window to grasp the money and then the teller would simply step on the bar 18, which, through the cables 15, would retract the latches 13, thus permitting the bar 5 to drop upon the arm of the robber and thus hold him at the window and prevent him from escaping.... After the robber has been secured he can be released by turning the knob 20 from inside the cage to retract the latches 19 and the bar 5 raised.



The article above is from the January-February 2014 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

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