The Coffin-Torpedo

Okay. Okay. Okay.


Today we are looking at a patent titled, “Improvement in Coffin-Torpedoes.” I want to tell you every single thing about it at once, but we have to start somewhere. So let’s start with a picture.

A picture of a body in a coffin with a torpedo.
USP 208,672, FIG. 1

Why would you want a coffin-torpedo? Well, the object of this invention is “to provide a means which shall successfully prevent the unauthorized resurrection of dead bodies.” USP 208,672, p. 1 (emphasis added). I think they probably meant to say unauthorized exhumation, but let’s take it as written. Basically we’re worried about grave robbers.

And how do you stop unauthorized resurrection? You use “a peculiarly-constructed torpedo, adapted to be readily secured to the coffin and the body of the contained corpse in such a manner that any attempt to remove the body after burial will cause the discharge of the cartridge contained in the torpedo and injury or death of the desecrator of the grave.” Id.

So what do you do with grave robbers? You blow them up!

Here we have a picture of the torpedo:

A picture of a pipe bomb made to explode grave robbers.
USP 208,672, FIG. 2

When you open the coffin, a string (M) pulls out that pin (J) on the bottom, which releases the spring-loaded hammer (H). The hammer (H) hits the firing pin (F), which detonates the powder (C), sending balls (D) everywhere. The strings (M) appear to be tied to the body, so when someone tries to haul it out, splat goes the grave robber.

Basically it’s a pipe bomb. There doesn’t seem to be any provision for protecting the corpse from the shrapnel, so I assume the body goes splat as well. Which seems counter-productive if you’re trying to prevent desecration, but everyone has their own priorities I guess.

The fact that this is an “improvement” in coffin torpedoes suggests that there was already a thriving industry. As you may know, grave robbing was a problem back when medical science was getting its footing and needed lots of cadavers to dissect. Here’s a whole article on the phenomenon.

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