Celebrity Invention: Zeppo Marx's Heart Rate Monitor and Heating Pad

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for 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. Two week's ago we looked at Gummo's contribution, this week: Zeppo.

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 Apparatuses #1 and #2: "Cardiac pulse rate monitor" and "method and watch mechanism for actuation by a cardiac pulse."

These two patents were filed within months of each other and used together.


Clearly, Zeppo was the fashionista of the clan. That is one hip watch.

And, not only does it look good, it also advises its wearer of an irregular heartbeat using an electric-powered magnet, which regulates pulse.

The unit is provided with an electric motor that is operated by the power of a small electric cell in a circuit that is intermittently closed by a pulse-actuated switch and which rotates a permanent magnet. The latter is enclosed in a housing that is held in a position corresponding to normal by a hairspring, said housing, under drag of the magnetic field of the magnet, being moved rotationally in the direction of magnet rotation, when the pulse rate is above normal, due to a more continuous energizing of the motor by the pulse, and said housing, under bias of the hairspring, being moved rotationally counter to said magnetic drag when the pulse rate is subnormal. A color-coded telltale advises of lesser pulse-rate variations in either direction. An audible alarm is provided to warn of excessively high or abnormally low changes of the pulse rate.

The electric cell powers a magnet that corresponds with the wearer's "normal" heart rate. If the pulse changes to an excessively low or high rate, the magnet detects this change, triggering an "audible alarm."

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Rebecca Greenfield is a former staff writer at The Wire.

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