Wacky Patents 2 – Ouija Board

This post was first published on 14th November, 2014.

Next up in the series of Wacky Patents is a board game which has spooked people for ages! This humble board game has been a source of spook for many. Ouija (pronounced wee-jee) is derived from compounded French word, ‘Oui’ and German word, ‘Ja’, both meaning “Yes”. It was originally a trademark owned by Kennedy Novelty Co. which later became generic when people started to use the word for any talking board. What was previously used as a medium for communication with the dead, was later patented with certain improvements.

The US Patent Office granted Letter Patent No. 446,054 in 1891 to Elijah J Bond, for his invention of a certain new and useful improvement in “Toy or Game”. In the patent application, Bond says that his invention relates to improvements in what he designates as “The Ouija or Egyptian-luck Board”. The invention discloses a Board of suitable size and thickness with letters of the alphabet, numbers from 0-9, ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ in the corners and ‘Good-bye’ at the bottom in combination with a table provided with legs and a pointer which is operated by hand.

This is how it works. Two or more people sit around the Board, hold the pointer (or planchette which is a droplet-shaped device with a small opening), ask questions and watch the pointer moving on its own spelling out the answer.

Some say that it was just a means of entertainment, while others say that it was a means of communication with the dead. Whatever it might have been, it was certainly out of the ordinary how this invention was granted a patent.

When Bond and Helen Peters, Bond’s sister-in-law, sat around the table and asked what they should call the Board, the board spelled out “Ouija”. When asked what it meant, the board spelled out “Good Luck”. It does not end there. When Bond made an application to the Patent Office, the examiner required them to demonstrate their invention because if they could not prove the working of their board, they would not get the patent. So Bond took Peters (who was considered a strong medium) with him to the Patent Office. Knowing that they did not know his name, the examiner asked them if the board could spell out his name. When they sat down with the board and asked the question, the planchette actually spelled out his name! Petrified by this, the Patent Examiner granted the patent.

So much was Bond’s obsession with the Ouija Board that his grave has a Ouija Board for a gravestone. Now that’s what I call a “Spooky Patent”.

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