Celebrity Invention: Kurt Vonnegut's Tobacco Pipe Cleaner


patentsrichfamous_280(2).jpgSome celebrities aren't just pretty faces. A few of them are also touched with that Yankee prowess for tinkering and invention. In this weekly series, we introduce you to the Patents of the Rich and Famous.

Inventor: Kurt Vonnegut, Sr.

Known For: Most notably: He's Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s dad. But besides fathering one of the most influential science fiction authors of the 20th century, Kurt Sr. had quite the little business of his own. In the early 20th century Vonnegut inherited his father's successful architecture firm, and became a big-deal architecture dude of his day in Indiana. He even built some famous buildings, including Indianapolis's Das Deutsche Haus, which stands today as the symbol of the region's German American heritage. Unfortunately, once the depression came, commissions stopped, leaving Vonnegut broke and bored. As he encouraged Kurt Jr. to pursue a more lucrative and practical career -- sending his son to Cornell to study chemistry -- he smoked his tobacco pipe and twiddled his sooty thumbs.

Then, it hit him. He had really dirty digits.

So while his son was off learning science, fighting in WWII, and writing ad copy for General Electric, Vonnegut got back into designing.

Invented Apparatus: "Tobacco Pipe"

While the patent title may lead you to believe that Kurt Vonnegut invented the tobacco pipe, he didn't. He just made it more awesome by adding a nifty little "tubular member", which allowed a pipe cleaner to move through the pipe, making cleaning one's tobacco pipe easier and neater.

To this end the invention provides a bowl and stem unit preferably integrally formed and having a tubular member slidably mounted therein and carrying a bit at one end.

Rationale Behind Invention:

All patent application filers need to demonstrate why their new invention is novel and worthwhile. Why did Vonnegut take the time to modify this classic design? 

From the foregoing specification it will be apparent that the invention provides a pipe which can be readily cleaned with a maximum of digital cleanliness. In many cases the use of a cleaner is not necessary

Ah, yes, a maximum of digital cleanliness. [Editor's note: "a maximum" should be the collective noun for nerds. Try it out: "a maximum of nerds." It feels good, right?]

Also, let's be honest, without any buildings to design Vonnegut had a lot of time on his hands. As scholar Rodney Allen explains, Vonnegut Jr. referenced his father's demise, saying that after the depression his father turned into a "putterer". Allen adds, that the pipe "is the perfect metaphor for the change in his life: from big buildings to a personal pipe."

Off Label Uses:
We tried our best to avoid an obvious marijuana joke, but let's be honest: what pothead wouldn't want an easier way to clean his pipe?
Future Directions for Research: Smoking connoisseurs like to make sure they're puffing the good stuff. Perhaps Vonnegut Sr's descendants could install a microspectrograph to analyze the tobacco right in the pipe. That information would be sent over Bluetooth to the Tobacco app on your iPhone, where it would be available to share through all applicable social media.

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Rebecca Greenfield is a writer based in Brooklyn. She was formerly on staff at The Atlantic Wire.

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