John Muir, naturalist and maker of odd inventions

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John Muir, Sierra Club founder and Yosemite savior featured in the new Ken Burns docoumentary, was a fantastically creative maker too! The Sierra Club has posted details about several of his inventions, including an alarm clock that knocks the leg out from under the bed, and his mechanical study desk, pictured above, that "would automatically light his lamp and fire, open the right book to study, and then change books after half an hour." "Was John Muir a Mad Scientist?" (Thanks, Orli Cotel!)


  1. This study desk was on display in the lobby of the Wisconsin Historical Society when I went to the UW. It’s probably still there.

  2. The Ken Burns doc pointed out some very impressive facts about Muir. Dayton Duncan, writer and co-producer of The National Parks film series, went as far as to say Muir could have been Thomas Edison.

    I’m proud to have studied some of the same subjects in the same settings as him at U of Wisconsin.

  3. Here in Martinez, CA, is John Muir’s final residence, administered by the NPS. $3 for adults–it’s a steal. If you find yourself in the Bay Area, it’s totally worth the trip, and bring a picnic to enjoy in the orchard! The Warehouse in Port Costa would be a nice stop off as well…they have an unbelievable selection of beers.

  4. 20 years ago i visited the muir woods near SF. It was beautiful there – and strange, no birds could be heard there. Maybe he invented the silent birds, too. ;)

  5. If you’re in Madison, Wisconsin, you can see Muir’s reading machine on display at the State Historical Society.

  6. all this time reading boing boing and seeing all the unique and wonderful machines posted, and today I see a unique and wonderful machine I pass by every day posted! The study desk/clock is indeed on display in the lobby of the Wisconsin Historical Society. It’s an amazingly intricate thing to behold.
    John Muir apparently had a lot of machine ideas:

    This letter from 1935 describes a visit to John Muir’s dorm room where he entertained his visitors by showing them his inventions and serving them crackers and jam.

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