iOS app Android app

John Geoghegan
John J. Geoghegan reports on unusual inventions that fail in the marketplace despite their innovative nature. His non-fiction book, Operation Storm: Japan's Top Secret Sumbarines and Its Plan to Change the Course of World War II, about underwater aircraft carriers designed to attack New York City and Washington, DC, as a follow up to Pearl Harbor was published in March 2013. You can visit him at

Entries by John Geoghegan

6 Reasons Why the Movie Elf Is a Disaster

(194) Comments | Posted December 3, 2013 | 8:08 AM

elf will ferrell

Elf is a holiday movie classic which many people consider on par with A Christmas Story, Holiday Inn, and It's a Wonderful Life.

Certainly, there's a lot to like about Elf. First, its opening credit sequence wonderfully mimics the charm of the...

Read Post

8 Reasons NOT to Give Thanks This Thanksgiving

(37) Comments | Posted November 27, 2013 | 4:23 PM

Sources for slides:








Read Post

Embracing Failure

(1) Comments | Posted October 2, 2013 | 3:41 PM

I specialize in writing about unusual inventions that fail in the marketplace despite their innovative nature. As a result, I see a lot of failure both in business and people's lives. In fact, it's no exaggeration to say that failure is all around us. Consider the following:

Read Post

A Brief History of Book Vending Machines

(11) Comments | Posted March 25, 2013 | 2:52 PM

There are lots of reasons why a white elephant technology doesn't catch on. Sometimes the technology is ahead of its time. In other cases, no amount of time can make a misguided technology useful or attractive.

Then there's vending machines that sell books.

The first book-dispensing vending machine...

Read Post

Underwater Aircraft Carriers?

(16) Comments | Posted March 15, 2013 | 1:02 PM

There wouldn't seem to be many good reasons for designing a submarine to launch airplanes, but during the past one hundred years at least six countries have experimented with the concept some with surprising success.

Germany was first to try in 1915 when a floatplane pilot teamed up with a...

Read Post

Off the Rails -- Part II

(0) Comments | Posted February 28, 2013 | 4:04 PM


The Army Transportation Corps was impressed enough with R.G. LeTourneau's Sno-Freighter (see previous post) to order an upgrade. The result was the Logistics Cargo Carrier, or LCC-1, fondly referred to as the Sno-Train (shown above with Letourneau standing in front).

The Sno-Train's...

Read Post

The Trouble With Meteors

(47) Comments | Posted December 23, 2012 | 11:45 AM

Watch the TEDTalk that inspired this post.

Phil Plait works up a pretty good lather in his TEDTalk, How to Defend Earth from Asteroids, about the dinosaur die off 65 million years ago.

Many scientists believe the dinosaurs were wiped out by a meteorite...

Read Post

Off the Rails: Part I

(1) Comments | Posted December 18, 2012 | 5:30 PM

During the cold war, the U.S. Army needed to build 78 radar stations to warn against a Soviet first strike attack. Furthermore, they needed to build them in a hurry. Unfortunately, the radar stations were to be located in the remotest part of northern Alaska. In fact, the area was...

Read Post

Visionary, Coward or Conman?

(2) Comments | Posted December 11, 2012 | 3:14 PM

When John F. Cooley began building the Cooley Air Ship in 1910, he intended it to be the largest airplane ever flown, but that wasn't it's only 'first.' Cooley's aircraft looked like something from a Jules Verne novel (see photo below).


Made of...

Read Post

Orbital Weapons Platform

(0) Comments | Posted November 27, 2012 | 4:06 PM

The problem with new technologies is that it's not always clear how useful they are especially in the beginning. Take, for example, the Air Force's X-37B scheduled for its third blast off before the end of this month (the launch has already been postponed once). Though still in the experimental...

Read Post

Admiral Byrd's Antarctic Snow Cruiser

(4) Comments | Posted November 26, 2012 | 11:06 AM

Admiral Byrd's Antarctic Snow Cruiser (see diagram below) was built in 1939 to support his third Antarctic expedition. It was a huge, one-of-a-kind invention designed to house scientists while they traveled to the South Pole and back over a 12-month period. It sported four, independently-steered, pneumatic tires 10 feet tall,...

Read Post

Not Your Father's Jet Pack

(4) Comments | Posted November 21, 2012 | 7:54 AM

Ever since Sean Connery donned a Bell Rocket Belt in the 1965 movie, Thunderball, every guy who's reached the age of reason has wanted a jet pack of his own.

Unfortunately, the technology has suffered from some severe limitations. For example, Connery's jet pack only generated enough thrust to...

Read Post

Goblins From the Sky

(0) Comments | Posted November 20, 2012 | 7:48 PM

Why does it seem like the largest investments in white elephant technology are made by the military? Is it because they have the biggest budgets? The most exotic needs? Or an inability to learn from past mistakes?

Take the XF-85 Goblin (see photo below). Designed by McDonnell as a parasitic...

Read Post

Asteroid Defense, Or How to Stop a Species Killer

(3) Comments | Posted November 6, 2012 | 7:22 PM

The B612 Foundation is working with NASA and the United Nations on an Asteroid Deflection Program designed to prevent Near Earth Objects (NEOs) from colliding with earth.

This may sound like the stuff of science fiction, or even white elephant technology, but given that the asteroid Apophis...

Read Post

Wind-Powered Cargo Ships

(7) Comments | Posted October 30, 2012 | 3:26 PM

For thousands of years wind was the preferred means of moving cargo across the sea; then came steam, and most recently, bunker oil. Despite these innovations, several companies have decided to go back to the future by designing cargo ships that use wind-power along with a conventional or bio-fueled engine...

Read Post

What Is White Elephant Technology?

(0) Comments | Posted October 23, 2012 | 4:25 PM

What is white elephant technology? The answer is simple. Any unusual invention (past or present) that fails to find a wider market acceptance despite its innovative nature qualifies as white elephant technology. Examples include: aquatic jet packs, wave-powered boats, flying aircraft carriers, an asteroid deflection program, pedal-powered submarines, aerial rowboats,...

Read Post