7 game-changing cottage inventions

a cottage invention By Gyvafoto/Shutterstock

Love ’em or hate ’em, life wouldn’t be the same without these cottage inventions.

1. The composting toilet “Operating a composting toilet requires a level of labour beyond what many people are prepared to accept,” we wrote in October 1996. Maybe, but most cottagers learned to embrace them. These toilets were, afterall, a huge improvement over the world’s earliest composting units: ceramic containers. Collect human waste, store it inside a designated pot, wait for a long time for parasites inside to die, then use the result as fertilizer. Genius! But kind of disgusting! Thankfully, England’s Henry Moule patented a somewhat better version in 1860 (you “flushed” dirt over your waste).

2. The PWC Most early PWC models (the first Sea-Doo, 1968; the first Kawasaki Jet-Ski, 1973) were louder, clunkier, and more lake-polluting than today’s versions. But they still looked like PWCs. On the other hand, the very first PWC—the “Amanda,” from U.K. motorcycle-maker Vincent Engineers in the late ’50s—looked like a cross between a child’s pogo stick and a bumper car. It also sank; the fibreglass shell was prone to warping after too much exposure to sun.

3. Monopoly The original. Sure, games can drag on a little. And maybe those Chance cards send the wrong message to children. (Why does Mr. Moneybags look so upset about having to pay a Poor Tax? Dude, it’s $15.) But nothing beats this rainy-day cottage staple. 

4. The inner tube Before inflatable pizza slices we used the actual inner tube from huge pneumatic tires to float around the lake. Painfully. No one will forget the feeling of hot black rubber against bare flesh and that long pokey valve that inevitably jabbed you in the back. “They probably weren’t the safest of toys,” said Cottage Life editor Michelle Kelly in her essay about this cottage classic in 2001.  

5. The mousetrap The snap traps we use today aren’t wildly different from the varieties folks invented in the late 1890s and early 1900s. (The names were more jolly though: the “Out O’ Sight”; the “Little Nipper.”) This didn’t stop later inventors from trying to patent hundreds of elaborate and gruesome mouse-killing contraptions. Stop trying to build a better mousetrap, weirdos. 

6. The covered barbecue In the early days of grilling, wind got in the way of an even cook, and food ended up burnt. Or burnt and covered in ash. Enter American metalworker George Stephen. He had 12 kids, and he probably couldn’t afford to ruin any more steak. Inspired by the design of the spherical marine buoys he was making, he created the first dome-shaped lidded barbecue in 1952. (Oddly, the barbecue later inspired advances in marine buoy design. JK. That would be cool though.)

7. The lifejacket And the baby lifejacket. And the dog lifejacket. And the ferret lifejacket. And…well, you get it. Saving lives since 1854.

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