Celebrity Invention: Gummo Marx's Packing Rack

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for 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. And maybe you learn a little bit about how patent literature works along the way.

Inventor: The (lesser known) Marx Brothers: Gummo and Zeppo. This week we will look at Gummo's contribution.

Known For: Zeppo and Gummo were the handymen of the family.

Unlike their siblings, these younger brothers didn't really make it big in the vaudeville world. They got about as far as the picking-the-quirky-nickname part, and then dropped out of the act. Gummo (aka Milton) was part of the original Marx performance, appearing with Groucho in an act called "The Three Nightingales". But then, World War I came along, Gummo got drafted, and left acting behind. After the war, he took the logical turn into the dress making business.

Like Gummo, Zeppo (aka Herbert Manfred) started out acting, appearing in the early films, but left the family business to operate a parts manufacturing company known as Marman Products Co.

Perhaps intimidated by their older brothers' slapstick celebrity, Zeppo and Gummo aimed for fortune, not fame, by inventing useful, quotidian items. Combined, Gummo and Zeppo hold four U.S. patents.

Take that, Groucho, Chico and Harpo.

Invented Apparatus: Up this week, Gummos "packing rack"

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Gummo thought he could solve the eternal storage conundrum: how do you optimize fitting things into containers? What he came up with is a compartmentalized stuff organizer, with spots for things of all different sizes.

This invention relates particularly to racks for assembling miscellaneous articles for insertion into inclosing [sic] containers.

Among the objects of the invention are to provide a rack wherein can be assembled miscellaneous articles within predetermined dimensions, in graduated sizes to fit fabricated containers in various sizes to fit the aggregation of articles whereby packing of the same is facilitated.

Rationale Behind Invention: It's the middle man of organizational tools. Unfortunately Gummo's invention never caught on, and we're still grappling with the issue today:

Off-Label Uses: Gummo intended for the invention to organize garments. But we suspect the rack was used for exactly the opposite. What do messy people do when gifted an empty shelf on which to put things? Fill it with junk -- and disorganized junk at that.

Here's the lesson: disorganized people will remain disorganized no matter how many patented Marx brothers shelves they buy. It's deeper than the gadget.

Future Directions: Ikea.

Next Week: Zeppo Marx.

Presented by

Rebecca Greenfield is a former staff writer at The Wire.

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