At Slate, Dan Kois offers a brief history of Segway, the ingenious but too-hyped and too-dorky electric ride that became a joke upon its release. Twenty years on the current owner of the brand is a Chinese go kart company that used to sell cheap knockoffs (you can now buy their Segways from Amazon for about $500, lopping at least a zero off the price of an original) and now uses the name for all sorts of scooters. Kois has an unexpected angle: he was the literary agent who set up a $250,000 book deal that was ground zero for the hype campaign.
The Segway flopped so badly that one of its first boosters still keeps his in the garage, "to remind me," he said, "of my own fallibility."
The Segway also reminds me of my fallibility. To this day, thinking about it fills me with dread. That's because in 2001, I was a young literary agent—and Dean Kamen's book was my first-ever big deal. The cascading series of miscues that tanked the Segway began with that book proposal, its leak, and the ensuing hype. And I've always had a sick sense that the leak was somehow my fault. So I set out to report the story, to wade back into the mess I made when I got in way over my head, and to figure out once and for all the answer to a question that's eaten at me for 20 years: Did I kill the Segway?