All right, before I
get a bunch of hate mail from all the Herberts in the audience, let
me explain that it wasn't the inventor's real name that was
unusual. It was his nickname that was a bit odd. I'd like to
reveal his nickname to you at this point in the story, but that
would give away the ending, so I've sprinkled some hints throughout
the story instead.
Herbert was born in New York in 1901
as the youngest of five brothers who would eventually "go West" to
pursue their careers. The three oldest brothers were very involved
in the family business, while Herbert only dabbled in it. His
next-oldest brother, Milton, worked in women's clothing for a while.
No, Milton didn't wear women's clothing, but he worked as a
dressmaker before joining his brothers in a behind-the-scenes type
of role. That's enough monkey business about his brothers; let's get
back to Herbert's career.
Herbert had several jobs over the
years, including that of a horse breeder (the brothers preferred a
day at the races over a night at the opera), a grapefruit grower, a
commercial fisherman and an inventor. Did Herbert have much of an
impact as an inventor? You bet your life he did. It is also a role
which very few people know anything about.
He created two inventions that were
significant, for better or worse: a wristwatch for cardiac patients
and a clamping device that was used in World War II. His wristwatch
for cardiac patients had an alarm that went off every time it
detected an irregular heartbeat. The inspiration for this device
came from a friend who had this condition.
Herbert sold thousands of his
patented wristwatch invention and it probably saved some lives, but
his next invention helped end thousands of lives. It ended the war
as well. Known as the Marman clamp, it was used to strap down the
atomic bombs aboard the airplane that dropped them in Nagasaki and
[to top of second column
in this article]
It wasn't his career as an inventor
that earned Herbert his fame and popularity, but rather his career
as an entertainer. His unusual nickname may have given him some
notoriety in this career. Herbert worked with his brothers in his
first career; in fact, his famous older brother Julius once claimed
that Herbert was the most talented of all the brothers. Herbert grew
tired of that business, though, and gave it up despite the
opportunity it offered him.
You see, unusual nicknames were
common in Herbert's family. If you want proof, you can check with
his brothers -- Leonard, Adolph, Julius and Milton -- who were also
known as Chico, Harpo, Groucho and Gummo.
It was the youngest brother, Herbert
-- the "Fifth Marx Brother" -- who invented both the wristwatch for
cardiac patients and the clamping device used in World War II. You
probably remember him as Zeppo.
I mentioned earlier that there are
some hints spread throughout this story. If you go back and read it
again, you'll find the names of some of the Marx Brothers' movies,
including "Go West," "Monkey Business," "A Day at the Races" and "A
Night at the Opera." There's also the Groucho Marx television show,
"You Bet Your Life," that was mentioned earlier.
Invention Mysteries is written each
week by Paul Niemann, whose company, Horsefeathers Publishing, is
taken from the name of a Marx Brothers movie. He can be reached at
© Copyright Paul Niemann 2004