Smart Celebrities Who Made Cool Stuff

Smooth Criminal Dance

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Smooth Criminal Dance
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Star Makers

We don't often think of celebrities as people who might be hard at work tinkering in a workshop or lab, but plenty of stars have made multimillion-dollar deals for things far beyond what brought them notoriety in the first place. For instance, LeBron James hopes he'll join the ranks of multi-hyphenates making cool stuff now that big names like Nike and Epic Games have invested in his company, SpringHill, which spans the film, television, gaming, consumer products, audio, and live-events businesses. But he's far from the only star who thinks big. Here are some notable celebrity inventions — and we're betting most of them will surprise you. 

Related: 31 Restaurants and Bars Owned by Celebrities

Neil Young
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Neil Young

The famed member of Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young loves toy trains. How much? He is a part owner of model train company Lionel LLC, owns his own massive collection housed in a 3,000 square-foot barn, and has seven patents for model train-related gear. One of his inventions was to help his son, Ben, flip the switches on the trains, as Ben's cerebral palsy made it difficult to do. Young created the "Big Red Button," a remote control device that was easier for Ben and others to see and use. He also created a sound system to make the train noises more realistic. It was Young's inventions that also helped Lionel emerge from bankruptcy in 2008.

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Jamie Lee Curtis and daugher during Mercedes-Benz Shows LA
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Jamie Lee Curtis

The "Halloween" actress was inspired to create Dipe and Wipe, a disposable diaper with a pocket for a wipe after she was caught without a way to clean up while changing her daughter in 1987. Though she patented the design, she held off on marketing it because biodegradable products weren't yet available — though she admitted during a recent interview with Jimmy Kimmel, it's something that could be made now without the environmental costs.

Related: Celebrities With Brands That Cater to the Common Folk

Smooth Criminal Dance
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Michael Jackson

In the video for "Smooth Criminal," the singer appeared to lean, straight-legged, toward the floor without falling. It wasn't a magic trick. Instead, he wore shoes which hitched onto a device hidden in the floor. Jackson and two co-inventors received the patent for "a specially designed pair of shoes which will engage with a hitch member movably projectable through a stage surface" in 1993.

Christie Brinkley 1998
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Christie Brinkley

In 1991, the supermodel Christie Brinkley hopped on the patent train. She designed an educational toy that helped children master the alphabet.

Bing Crosby Photo
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Bing Crosby

The beloved crooner also had an idea about how to solve a problem — getting your window blinds to stay where you wanted them to stay. Crosby got a patent for a window sash holder that did exactly as advertised — the holder developed enough friction between the sash and window frame to hold the sash where you wanted it, but not enough to stop the sash from moving. Even better, Crosby created the Crosby Research Foundation to fund young inventors.

Paula Abdul performs onstage
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Steven Spielberg
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Zooey Deschanel Lettuce Grow
Lettuce Grow
Van Halen 1986
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Eddie Van Halen

The Van Halen guitarist is known for his two-handed tapping technique when he plays — but holding the guitar's neck while he did it was close to impossible. To solve the problem, he created a support that could raise the fretboard. He filed for a patent in 1985, noting the support wasn't just for guitars but any stringed instrument. 

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Wonderland Postage-Stamp Case
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Lewis Carroll

Most people know Lewis Carroll for his most famous creation: "Alice in Wonderland." But many don't know that he loved to write letters and was often annoyed when he tried to find postage of various denominations. Thus, he combined his two passions — Alice and stamps — to create the Wonderland Stamp Case, which featured 12 pockets for stamps and some "pictorial surprises," Carroll's phrase for drawings of Alice and other characters from the book. First released in 1889, surviving stamp cases have sold for $8,000.

Steve McQueen Stands Next to Race Car
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Steve McQueen

The actor Steve McQueen loved racing on screen ("Bullitt") and off of it — so much so he considered becoming a professional racer. He also had some ideas on how to improve the cars he drove, receiving a patent for an improved bucket seat.

Related: 25 Most Iconic Movie and TV Cars

Prince Rogers Nelson 1993
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Director James Cameron
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James Cameron

The director of "Titanic" holds a number of patents, most of them making it easier for him (and others) to film underwater. One of his creations is an underwater film dolly that allows a camera operator to film while moving underwater.

Julie Newmar
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Julie Newmar

There was more to Catwoman than you might have suspected from watching her appearances in the 1966 series "Batman." Newmar received a patent for "pantyhose with shaping band for cheeky derriere relief." The cure for flat-bottomed girls, the pantyhose featured an "elastic shaping band" stretching from front to back to fit "between the wearer's buttocks to delineate the wearer's derriere in cheeky relief."

Patent Model of Abraham Lincoln's Invention
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Abraham Lincoln

Before he was POTUS, Lincoln had a job in shipping, specifically in sending goods down the Mississippi River. When one boat was stuck in shallow water, he came up with the idea of a contraption that would place bellows on the bottom of the boat to use air to move it out of jams. Though Lincoln got a patent for the device, it was never produced — the heft of adding the device didn't make it a practical addition. To date, Lincoln is the only president to ever hold a patent — even if it wasn't such a great invention. 

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Florence Lawrence, c. 1908
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Florence Lawrence

Though she isn't a household name these days, silent film star Lawrence appeared in almost 250 films and even today we all owe her an enormous debt — not for her films, but for her inventions. Thanks to her acting career, she was able to buy a car, a rarity at the time. Lawrence loved driving and, in 1914, created a mechanical signaling arm that raised or lowered a flag on a car's rear bumper to let other drivers know which way a car was turning. She also invented a brake sign that popped up when the motorist pressed the brakes. Today all vehicles feature turn signals and as well as brake lights, but Lawrence never bothered to get her inventions patented — and thus never made a cent or received recognition for her creation. Her mother did patent her own invention in 1917 — the first electrical windshield wipers — but didn't see a profit from that, either.

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Marlon Brando plays the bongos
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Marlon Brando

Before there was drum-loving star Matthew McConaughey, there was drum-loving star Marlon Brando. The Oscar-winner was so passionate about drumming he received four patents, all of them for parts of a one-key tuning system for conga drums.

Related: Big Celebrities Who Grew Up in Small Towns

Bill Nye New York City Ballet Spring Gala
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Bill Nye

Sure, he's the science guy, but he's also an inventor of … a better ballet shoe? As anyone who knows professional ballet dancers can attest, they don't often wear sandals lest people see their misshapen feet — an unfortunate side effect of dancing en pointe in uncomfortable toe shoes. Nye's invention, which was inspired after he met a group of dancers, creates a reinforced toe box that offers more support to the foot so that pressure isn't concentrated on the toes.

Hedy Lamarr in 'The Conspirators'
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Hedy Lamarr

Back in the 1930s and '40s, Hedy Lamar was considered the most beautiful actress in Hollywood (she was the inspiration for Snow White) — but she was more than just another pretty face. In 1942, Lamarr and composer George Antheil created a device meant to block enemy ships from jamming torpedo signals. They found a way to make the transmitter and receiver jump from between frequencies so that the enemy couldn't block a message before it moved (this became known as frequency hopping). The U.S. Navy rejected the idea, and Lamarr and Antheil never received a cent before their patent expired, even though their idea ultimately became the basis for Wi-Fi and GPS.

Filmmaker George Lucas
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George Lucas

While it's not exactly an original invention, Star Wars toys are surely smart patents to hold — so it's no surprise that director George Lucas has a patent on all of the toys that evolved from his films. His first parent, for a Boba Fett action figure, he shared with co-inventors Joe Johnson and Ralph McQuarrie. And if you have one of those early Boba Fett's, good news — today they're worth between $1,000 and $2,000. 

Related: You Won't Believe How Much These Collectibles Fetched at Auction

Albert Einstein Blouse Patent

Albert Einstein

The scientist most famous for his theory of relativity also had some ideas about fashion. A former employee of the Swiss Patent Office, he had 50 patents, one of which was for a "new, original, and ornamental" blouse. The blouse was expandable thanks to two sets of buttons, meaning that a few pounds gained or lost could be accommodated either way.

Francis Ford Coppola
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Francis Ford Coppola

Director Francis Ford Coppola holds a patent for a t-shirt with ... a turtle on it. The turtle's shell is divided into numbered regions to "permit the wearer to identify for a third party a particular location on the wearer's body" to make it easier to tell someone where they have an itch they'd like scratched. Look, not every idea can be "The Godfather."

Related: Which Celebrities Besides Tom Hanks Have Dual Citizenship?

Harry Houdini Patent Art

Harry Houdini

The famed magician knew a little something about getting himself out of tricky situations underwater, and not surprisingly the diving suit he patented in 1921 reflects that. It was a suit that allowed the diver to get out of it without help thanks to a locking joint in the middle. While it was a handy asset for a magician, Houdini created it to help the U.S. Navy, which had lost soldiers who had been trapped in their diving suits or had flooded hoods.

Oliver Gal 'Mark Twain'S Scrapbook 1873' Framed Blueprint Art

Mark Twain

When we think of the writer Mark Twain (aka Samuel Clements), we likely think of Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, not scrapbooking. It turns out Twain loved to scrapbook but found the process frustratingly cumbersome. In 1872, he invented a self-pasting scrapbook. His invention made him a pretty penny — $50,000 in 1885 (the equivalent of almost $1.4 million today). Twain had another idea patented, too, for adjustable and detachable garment straps.

Andy Warhol with Bianca Jagger
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Lori Greiner Shark Tank
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Lori Greiner

The "Shark Tank" guru isn't just savvy at business — she's been creating products since 1996 and, according to her website, has 120 patents. She's developed jewelry and clothing organizers, kitchen tools, travel bags, and other goods, mostly in the organizing space.

Ventriloquist Paul Winchell
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Paul Winchell

If people know Winchell's name, it's probably not from his children's show ("The Paul Winchell Show," 1950-1961) or even his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but instead for being the original voice of Tigger in the first Disney cartoons of "Winnie the Pooh." Winchell, who had medical training, was the first person to build and patent a mechanical artificial heart. That was only one of several patents he held for items that included battery-heated gloves and a flameless cigarette lighter.

Penn Jillette
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Penn Jillette

The towering magician received a patent in 1999 for a "hydro-therapeutic stimulator." If you're wondering, that was a fancy way of saying Jillette has created a hot tub meant to stimulate female users with strategically located water jets.

Rockman Amplifier
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Tom Scholz

The guitarist for the band Boston also has his master's degree in engineering from MIT. Scholz not only created the home studio that allowed him to capture the unique guitar sound of "More Than a Feeling," he's created The Rockman, a headphone guitar amplifier.

Lawrence Welk Accordion Ashtray

Lawrence Welk

The bandleader famous for "champagne music" received two patents — one in 1953 for an ashtray that looked like an accordion, and another for a menu card that looked like a singing rooster.

Zeppo Marx
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Zeppo Marx

Even though he was considered the unfunny punching bag of the Marx Brothers, Zeppo was much happier offstage working as an engineer and inventor. He received three patents, one for a vapor delivery pad for distributing moist heat and two patents as part of a team for a cardiac pulse rate monitor.

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Gallagher Slot Machine
The United States Patent and Trademark Office


No, the comedian's patent has nothing to do with watermelons or mallets. Instead, the patent is for an upgraded slot machine with "improved entertainment."

Actor Charles Fleischer
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Charles Fleischer

The voice actor known for "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" also has a patent. He created a toy egg that can be pulled apart, bounced, stretched, and more, which was patented in 1979. Sounds fun.

Television personality Jamie Hyneman
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Jamie Hyneman

The star and producer of the long-running TV show "MythBusters" might be expected to be an inventor on the side. In 2002, he patented a "remote control device with gyroscopic stabilization" for use in remote-control toys. Though the show is off the air, he's currently doing research and development for his company, M5 Industries Inc.

Gary Burghoff, circa 1974
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Gary Burghoff

It turns out Radar on "M*A*S*H" had a little more time to ponder fishing than we knew watching the show. The actor who played the dutiful corporal created an "enhanced fish attractor" that let fishermen fill the device with chum to theoretically lure fish within range. He received a patent for it in 1992.

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