Learning Day: Jason Pargin’s Victorian Boner Alarms! 🌭

We’re coming up on the spooky season, so allow me to share with you the creepiest — and arguably most hilarious — series of images on my hard drive. These get worse as they go, which means that, just as in life, the real shit awaits you at the end. 

Below is an actual patent for a “surgical appliance” from the year 1900. Can you deduce how it works? If you can, you likely have the kind of hobbies that require using the “secret basement” filter on Zillow:

If you guessed, “An apparatus designed for a man to wear on his penis so that if he gets an erection, a switch will be flipped causing loud music to play,” then congratulations on getting it exactly right and also on surviving whatever upbringing replaced your imagination with a dark labyrinth of psychosexual horror. For those who need it spelled out, the diagram is a side view; see that mushroom-shaped part at the bottom? 

That’s a little cushion that goes behind the scrotum. The strap leading off to the right goes up the butt crack. The whole vertical mechanism to the left houses the user’s penis, so that it will remain caged when erect. “Wow, Jason, the proportions imply they’re expecting the wearer to have quite the hog!” Yes, but we shan’t get distracted by that right now. As for why such a device existed, well, buckle up…

Jason’s “horror but in the 1900HOTDOG-style novel, If This Book Exists, You’re in the Wrong Universe is out now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Bookshop! Finally! Fuck! It’s part of the John Dies at the End series but they’re not serialized, you can just start with this one! Do whatever you want! Some of you have been waiting for this for several years!

The above apparatus isn’t some wacky internet urban legend; the actual 1900 patent is right here. It’s designed to be worn to bed to prevent any kind of ejaculation by slamming the door on the devilish engorgement that precedes it. Here’s the key phrasing, straight from the government’s own archives:

“…as soon as an erection of the penis takes place the sliding rods will be forced outward and caused to engage with the adjustable contact-posts, thus closing the electric circuit and causing the bell or other device to be operated, thus awakening the sleeper…” via, “… a belt connection with any form of motor used to operate a graphophone, phonograph, or other instrument.”

That’s right; not only will this appliance play music to wake you up during a night-boner, you can pick your own theme! Reply in the comments with the song you want to play every time you get aroused. Mine would probably be “Du Hast” by Rammstein but I won’t explain why.

Anyway, here’s what the rest of the mechanism looked like; remember this is 1900, so the machinery needed to pull off this simple task probably occupied half your bedroom and sounded like a locomotive chugging uphill:

At this point, you’re probably expecting a history of the weird pervert who invented this device, but the reaction from the patent office at the time would’ve been something akin to, “Oh, it’s another one of these.” If this gadget never went into production, it’s only because the marketplace was already too crowded with similar ones. 

This was due to a widespread belief that peaked in the Victorian era that masturbation and other expulsions of semen caused madness. But don’t worry, this brief fad which terrorized millions of young men only persisted for, oh, about two hundred years. That’s why in the 1800s, devices such as this simple-but-surely-effective spiked ring could be purchased for the semen fiend in your life:

But then came the industrial revolution and the accompanying belief that all societal problems could be solved by some kind of steampunk contraption, usually one that was simultaneously whimsical and ghastly. Note that the boner-music patent doesn’t specifically say it’s to prevent the patient from cranking their hog, but it’d be awfully hard to do so without accidentally blasting Turkey in the Straw throughout the house. Many of these devices only boasted of preventing involuntary nocturnal discharge, not because manual discharge was okay, but because it’d have been insulting to suggest it was even a danger. That’d have been like selling a smartphone app today that reminds you once a minute not to expose yourself on the bus.

Here’s a patent for another device from 1899 and this time the illustration helpfully draws in the patient’s balls, to make it extra clear what it’s for:

I know what you’re thinking. “Wow, the proportions of the tube once again implies a patient with an especially long, girthy, succulent cock! Or… or is that normal?” Well, it’s adjustable to the patient’s genital size, see the little plunger inside Figure 1? This, of course, means that at some point it had to be fitted to the patient, which would presumably mean giving the patient an erection and maintaining it for the duration of the fitting process. Then, once fitted, it presumably required at least one test boner to make sure the alarm sounded properly. Parents were buying these for their sons!

Now that I think about it, the inventor presumably had to test all of the failed prototypes on his own engorgement, presumably having to endure several awkward trips to the emergency room in which he had to convince doctors and nurses alike that he wasn’t trying to design a steampunk Fleshlight. 

The premise of this device is mostly the same as the first, and in fact the patent declares it is simply an iteration of the “general class” of gizmos that perform the same task: When the patient gets a sufficient hard-on, the head of the penis will press a button that triggers an alarm (please imagine one of those AWOO-GAH!! alarms from old cartoons, or perhaps an air raid siren). This, it promises, will save the patient from, “…consequences which would otherwise occur.” 

Those consequences, as I mentioned, were the terrible effects on mental health caused by ejaculation. Clearly, if you want your lustful young man to grow up with a normal, healthy psychology, the best option is to strap a giant brass dick-sheath to his abdomen. And be sure to tighten the little straps that go under his balls! You don’t want him to be sexually weird when he grows up, do you, mom?

But that just brings us to the real horror, the reason I saved this column for the Halloween season. This final patent is from 1903 and you can see how the tech has advanced in the few years since the others. It’s clearly a sleeker, more modern design. 

At a glance, it appears to be more of the same, with a couple of notable additions. First, the hard-hog containment pipe sticks straight out from the body, presumably protruding from the fly of the pants in a way that likely would not escape notice on the playground (and yes, it was intended to be worn during the day). Second, you’ll note a wire coil that loops below, just big enough to ensnare the wearer’s scrotum. If that looks like it’s made to conduct electricity, you’re right! But we’ll get to that.

See, this patent is a little more explicit about its goals, that it’s not just about stifling nocturnal emissions, but also, “…as a preventive for self-abuse or masturbation frequently practiced by weak-minded boys or young men.” And unlike the first two, which were intended to be worn to bed, this improved device is, “…adapted to be worn at all times, permitting the patient to urinate without its removal.” But don’t worry, it of course still comes with, “an alarm to indicate the involuntary erection of a sleeping patient.” It does everything! It was the iPhone of mechanized tumescence snitches. 

As for that little coiled scrotal loop:

“When desired, the electric belt may be made considerably broader than shown in the drawings, so as to generate a current of electricity strong enough to assist the cure of sexual diseases, and the spiral suspensory 13, which is placed around the testicles, imparts a mild current of electricity to these parts.” 

“Wow,” you say, “to think that people were so paranoid about ejaculation that they voluntarily wore this stuff!”

Ha. Yeah. Maybe you should stop reading here. Seriously. Turn off your gadget and go buy several copies of my book

This is your last warning.

All right, see these little protrusions here?

I’ll let the inventor explain those:

“At the inner edge of the tube and projecting toward the body of the patient is a series of short points or brads (22). These are of sufficient length to cause considerable annoyance and pain to the patient should any attempt be made to manipulate the penis by means of the tube, thus serving to prevent weakminded and insane patients from practicing self-abuse.”

Yeah, this was designed to also be strapped onto patients at mental hospitals. The logic of doctors of the time was, “All of the young male patients in our asylum seem to occasionally want to masturbate, which must mean their masturbation is what caused their mental illness! We need a torture device to prevent this!” The logic was infallible, if your goal as a physician was partly to maintain the fiction that this activity was highly abnormal and that you weren’t polishing your own knob every day on your lunch break. 

That means this fucking thing was more in the category of a straightjacket, the patent noting that it can be, “…buckled in place, or the bands may be of sufficient length to be tied in difficult knots to prevent a weakminded patient from removing the device.”

When doctors are guided by puritanical superstition, horrors are wrought.

Don’t get me wrong, the whole thing is still absurd, in the same chilling and grotesque manner as the last seven years of headlines. The irony of living in a mad world is that sometimes the only sane response is to cackle at it like a maniac. For example: I bet you think all of these “surgical appliances” were invented by some kind of medical expert, maybe physicians going off what they observed in their own clinics or hospitals. Nope! 

The wacky inventor archetype that gave us Doc Brown and the dad in Gremlins was alive and well in the Victorian era. This last device, for example, was from an inventor named Albert Todd, who four years later would be granted a patent for a “Detonating Burglar Alarm.”

It’s amazing to think that people back then were living in a world in which even cutting-edge technology operated via wacky cartoon logic. Only, here’s the thing: when I say “back then,” remember that there are people who were alive when this patent was granted that are still around today

Or, to put it another way: You’re all familiar with Blade Runner, and some of the folks who made it are still in the industry. So it was a while ago, but not that long. Well, people in 1982 felt the same about events in 1942, and people in 1942 felt the same about this era of steampunk hog-tattlers. You’re only three Blade Runners away from practices so barbaric and insane that some of you still think this is a wacky joke article and that I had Sean create these patents with photoshop.   

Attitudes toward sex and masturbation didn’t start to come around until the Alfred Kinsey era in the 1940s and 50s. My parents were alive then. And, of course, that enlightenment was only in certain parts of the world — if you grew up without suffocating institutional stigma around your sex organs, you dodged that fate by a millimeter, via pure luck. And who knows how radically the situation can change just one Blade Runner from now? It is only through vigilance that the forces of ignorance and superstition are kept at- wait, I think I want my boner alert song to be “Word Up” by Cameo, is it too late to change it? 

Jason’s novel, If This Book Exists, You’re in the Wrong Universe is finally out on shelves everywhere, or if you don’t want to leave home, order it at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Bookshop

Seanbaby and Brockway started 1900HOTDOG as a way to grift government processed meat subsidies, and along the way accidentally assembled the best comedy team in novelty phone number history. This week all articles are free in honor of the fantastic columnists that make this site a place to be treasured and feared in equal measure.