There’s an old rumor floating around that Charles Duell, commissioner of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (1898 – 1901), once said, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” With that, he quit his job at the end of 1899.
While this has been debunked, one could see how Duell might have been compelled to make that statement upon examination of Joseph Aster’s invention in 1899 – not because Aster’s invention was so incredibly remarkable, but because it was so absurd. Fishy, even.
Near the end of May 1899, Joseph Aster of New York, NY, filed a patent for a revolver he very plainly called a “foot operated revolver.” Upon seeing the drawing he submitted, it is clear that his design was anything but plain.
Designed to be disguised, Aster’s revolver was concealed in the body of a fish. The barrel protruded out from the mouth and the cylinder occupied the largest part of the cavity. A hammer was located further back near the tail.
The fish sat horizontally, balanced on its two bottom fins which were, in fact, the trigger. When you applied pressure to the top of the fish, the fins were depressed and the gun was discharged. The patent application and drawing that Aster submitted did not mention the size of the fish or the caliber, but the drawing does show six chambers in the cylinder.
Despite the unusual design, Aster received approval for his foot operated revolver in January 1900. He was issued patent number 641,620.
What target audience, exactly, he was trying to reach with a fish revolver you put on the floor and operate with your foot isn’t clear. What is clear, however, is that Aster must have had quite the imagination – and a lot of confidence that people wouldn’t be suspicious about a fish sitting out of water on the floor somewhere.
Some inventors have completely changed the way we live our lives. As such, their names are remembered through the ages: Thomas Edison. Samuel Colt. Henry Ford. There are plenty of others.
Unfortunately, other inventors don’t do such a great job of changing the way we live. This would be the case for Joseph Aster. The only records of him as an inventor exist in their relationship to his fish gun. It isn’t known if his design ever made it to production. If it did, no examples survive. Since Joseph didn’t submit an actual patent model, the foot operated revolver disguised as a fish exists only on paper.
One thing is for sure: if you ever enter a building and there’s a line of odd-looking fish sitting on the floor, you might want to get out of there as soon as possible!
Logan Metesh is a firearms historian and consultant who runs High Caliber History LLC. Click here for a free 3-page download with tips about caring for your antique and collectible firearms.