A Restful Invention

Recently I have begun taking the bus to work several days a week. Gas prices, traffic and incompetent drivers being the leading cause for this decision. My short ride on the bus provides a sometimes welcome respite at the beginning or end of the day. One of my favorite things to do on the bus once we hit the highway is to close my eyes and catch a few winks of sleep. And with two kids at home under two years I’ll take it whenever I can get it!

One of the problems with sleeping on the bus is where to prop up my head in order to the most comfortable. The window works for a time but eventually the vibration of the bus becomes annoying. Tilting my head forward brings on a nasty neck ache. And leaning on the shoulders of strangers quickly leads to an elbow to the rib cage and/or nasty words. Think about this problem yourself. Think of the many times you have nodded off in class, in your office, in the library, reading this blog. How to solve this problem which has plagued mankind for eons? Once again I turn to history and a Connecticut Invention.

By the mid 19th century rail travel was an accepted and common way to travel from place to place in Connecticut and many other parts of the country. Several companies operated in Connecticut including the Providence, Hartford and Fishkill Railroad and the New Haven, Hartford and Springfield Railroad. Freight and passengers crossed the state on the tracks day and night. Surely many of the passengers sleepily drowsed through their trips, put to sleep by the click clack of the track only to be awakened by squeaking brakes, screeching horns or a kink in the neck. Allen B Wilson of Waterbury had just the invention to solve this problem: the Portable Head-Rest he patented in 1856. Wilson is much better known as the inventor of the first practical sewing machine and partner in the Wheeler and Wilson sewing machine company formerly located in Bridgeport Connecticut. For a time in the late 19th century the company produced nearly 600 sewing machines a day in what may have been the largest sewing machine company in the world.

In his patent application Wilson used some very descriptive language to describe the usefulness of the head-rest. He suggests its use by “a sleeping railroad traveller” who can take advantage of the design of the head-rest and its features including those that help the traveller “cover and protect the vest and breast pockets from robbery on rail road cars and in other places where a person may be sleeping in a sitting posture.” Glad to know I am not the only one who finds it necessary to sleep in a sitting posture on occasion…….

Whether or not one of these head-rests survived to today is unknown. I think there would be a market for these things today. Weary travelers, sleepy office workers, drowsy school bus riding kids, bored church goers etc. I wish I had one for my trip home today on the bus. (I’m sure the guy sitting next to me does too……)


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