8 of the Wackiest Multimillion-Dollar Inventions

"Why didn't I think of that?" is the question we ask ourselves when we ponder kooky inventions that make their creators millionaires overnight. You know the ones we're talking about-toys or gadgets that seem crazy at first, but end up completely sweeping America with their near overnight success. Following are eight of our favorite wacky, wildly successful inventions we wish we'd thought of.


1. Crazy Straw
12 Crazy Loop Straws, $6.99, amazon.com

In 1936, Arthur P. Gildersleeve of Denver, Colorado, added a twist (multiple twists, really) to the basic drinking straw. His "crazy straw" design met the need of parents whose children refused to drink certain liquids, such as fruit juices, milk, and the like, which are necessary in a balanced diet, according to AmericanHeritage.com. Today, silly straws, sold under names like Krazy Straws, are available in all kinds of shapes and sizes, including triple looped designs and even build-your-own variations.


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2. Pet Rock
USB Pet Rock, $9.99, thinkgeek.com

Pre-1975, if someone told you that they could convince more than 5 million people to pay $3.95 for a rock that they could simply go outside and pick up off the ground for free instead (minus the cute packaging), you wouldn't have believed it. And then, in 1975, Gary Dahl did just that with his invention of the Pet Rock. According to Time magazine, Dahl was tired of the hassle and responsibility that came with animate house pets and so came the idea for an inanimate, completely self-sufficient pet that would make him a multimillionaire in just six months. Pet Rocks were packaged in cardboard shipping crates, complete with straw for the rock's comfort and holes so it could breathe during transport. It arrived to its new owner along with The Pet Rock Training Manual-a hilarious and totally useless set of guidelines for new pet owners, including housebreaking instructions that read "Place it on some old newspapers. The rock will never know what the paper is for and will require no further instruction."


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3. Chia Pets

Barack Obama Chia Pet Head, $25.98, prankplace.com

"Ch-ch-ch-Chia!" Rumor has it, the first Chia Pet-or clay animal covered with chia seeds, which grow when watered-was the ram, which was marketed and distributed in 1982 by Joseph Enterprises. Since the ram, numerous other animal and cartoon figurines have been released, including puppies, kittens, bunnies, a professor, Elmer Fudd, Homer Simpson, and most recently, President Barack Obama.


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4. Sea Monkeys

Sea Monkeys Ocean Zoo, $8.99, toysrus.com

Herald Von Braunhut began marketing Sea Monkeys, a variant of brine shrimp that are sold in their natural state of suspended animation as dry powder that come to life when poured into water, in 1957. According to wikipeida.com, Sea Monkey sales increased when comic book illustrator Joe Orlando drew comic book ads showing humanized sea monkeys enjoying life in their underwater fantasy world. Since then, billions have been sold and have generated fan websites, a television series, and a video game. If that wasn't enough to solidify the success of this kooky invention, it is reported that astronaut John Glenn took 400 million "Amazing Sea-Monkeys" into space with him in 1998.


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5. Slinky
Classic Slinky Toy, $5.29, retroplanet.com

In 1945, Richard James debuted his toy consisting of a helical spring that stretches and can bounce up and down and perform a number of tricks, including traveling down a flight of steps, at Gimbel's Department Store in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. According to its official website, all 400 Slinkys for sale were purchased in 90 minutes. Since then, over 300 million Slinkys have been sold worldwide.


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6. The Backwards Bathrobe

Snuggie Fleece Blanket As Seen On TV, $12.98, amazon.com

Who knew America was struggling to keep our arms warm while watching TV, cheering on our favorite sports team, blogging on our laptops, and reading books on our couches? Gary Clegg, that's who! In 1998, Clegg created the Slanket, which preceded the more popular Snuggie. According to Wikipedia.com, the Slanket was actually the brainchild of Clegg's mother, who made him a blanket with a single sleeve to keep him warm in his cold dorm room, which he later adapted to become the two-sleeved Slanket. As of February, 2009, one million Slankets were sold. Then came the Snuggie, made by Allstar Products Group of Hawthorne, N.Y., which outsold its predecessor. The Snuggie initially sold single for $14.95, and later in sets of two for $19.95. As of January 2009, more than 20 million Snuggies have been sold. The sleeved blanket sparked a cultural phenomenon, resulting in organized Snuggie-clad groups participating in pub crawls and sporting events. There are Snuggies available in designer animal-prints, for your kids, and dogs too!


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7. The Clapper

The Clapper, $24.95, asseenontv.com

The same company who brought us the Chia Pet invented the Smart Clapper-the smart little gadget that, when plugged into a wall, turns your light on or off when you clap. Simple, effective, and super convenient for those of us too lazy to move to operate our household electronics. The Clapper, which first went on sale on September 1, 1986, has been featured in movies and television shows including Night at the Museum, Bruce Almighty, The Simpsons, and Spongebob Squarepants.


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8. Silly Bandz
Silly Bandz - Dinosaur Pack - 24 Count, $4.95, brainchild.bcplabs.net

The latest kooky crazy to sweep the nation are these colorful silicone rubber bands, molded in fun shapes, which stretch to grace your wrists and return to their original shapes when taken off. According to Wikipedia.com, they were created in 2002 by a Japanese design team who wanted to introduce a more environmentally-sustainable rubber band as an office product. Robert Croak, owner of Toledo, Ohio-based BCP Imports (known for distributing the Livestrong wristbands), encountered the bands on a business trip and decided to re-purpose them as a toy by making them larger and thicker, and marketing them as a fashion accessory. The first Silly Bandz sets were sold online in November 2008. In early 2009, Learning Express in Birmingham, Alabama, became the first retail store to stock Silly Bandz. Now they are carried in approximately 18,000 stores in 25 states. Silly Bandz, which cost $5 per pack, may have begun as a fad for kids, but they're quickly becoming stylish accessories for adults, too! Mary-Kate Olsen, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kelly Ripa are among the celebs who've been spotted rocking the Silly Bandz trend. See 14 themed Silly Bandz styles and let us know if you're ready to jump on this band(z)wagon!


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Reprinted with Permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.