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On this day in 1869, Fisher A. Spofford and Matthew G. Raffington of Columbus, OH, who apparently tinkered a bit when they weren’t teaching at the Ohio School for the Deaf, obtained U.S. Patent 95,531 for a “New and Improved Water-Velocipede.” While it might sound like the name of an insect, it’s actually just a fancy term for a pedal boat, of the sort that kids rent at amusement parks. Spofford’s and Raffington’s innovation had something to do with the configuration of the toothed wheels and drive shaft that utilized pedal power to turn a set of paddle wheels in the rear of the boat. 

However, Spofford and Raffington weren’t the first to think of the idea of peddling instead of paddling. A few months before, in July 1869, David Farmer had patented a design for an ingenious “land and water velocipede,” a bizarre sort of amphibious bicycle. Basically, a rider attached floats and a paddle wheel to the bike when he or she wanted to cross a body of water. And at least a dozen other 19th-Century inventors would come up with similar contraptions, as this American Artifacts article details. Our favorite, perhaps, was 1894′s Pinkert Navigating Tricycle, a vehicle that two large balloon tires in the rear to enable it to float. Laugh all you want, but in 1883, an intrepid cyclist-sailor used a similarly outlandish floating tricycle to cross the English Channel in about eight hours.

And with that, here are the science and technology stories of the day.

600-year-old worms among surprises of 10-year sea survey. The international Census of Marine Life details about 6,000 newly discovered species.

New method could make IVF more effective. Octomom will be glad to hear about this, probably.


Test tube baby pioneer wins medicine Nobel. She liked this story too, no doubt.

Want to save 350 million barrels of oil a day? Don’t waste food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that we end up throwing away 27 percent of  our food, and that in turn wastes about two percent of our energy usage.

Rising physics rock star will spend her MacArthur grant on quantum non-demolition. No, that isn’t some sort of tiny demolition derby in an alternate universe. It involves isolating an individual proton without trashing its quantum states.

Milky Way sidelined in galactic tug of war, computer simulation shows. It turns out that the Magellanic Stream resulted from a past close encounter between the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, rather than the gravitational pull of the Milky Way. And boy, are we going to look silly to alien civilizations as a result.