Now that Food Tech week is winding down here at PopSci, it's time to sit back, rest our hands on the shelves of our full bellies and listen to the old timers tell us a few yarns about back in their day.
The periodic table of elements, organized thoughtfully from hydrogen to ununoctium, is a tribute to the accomplishments of modern chemistry and physics. Since Dmitri Mendeleev developed an early version of the now-ubiquitous layout in 1869, discovering a new element has been a surefire way for a scientist to grab a place in the history books--and in the pages of Popular Science.
Despite having a readership made up mostly of men, Popular Sciences of old knew their way around a beauty parlor. Especially from the 20s to the 40s, PopSci offered makeup tips and advice to female readers, saying in effect "Look! We've got incredibly detailed cutaways of how things work AND beauty knowhow! What more could you want?"
When scientists take a break from studying, researching or inventing to devise a practical joke, the stakes are sky-high, sometimes literally. Who else can dangle a car off a bridge, or pull out a monster mask on a space station? A look into our archives finds an abundance of wild prankery.
By Ryan Bradley
Posted 04.24.2012 at 11:59 am 61 Comments
The complete back issues of this magazine—all 1,680 of them—are stored in a walk-in closet in our New York offices. We don’t often visit the place. It’s musty and locked, and only one person keeps a key. But to put together our May issue on the Future of Flight, which arrives the same month that Edward L. Youmans founded Popular Science Monthly in 1872, we spent many hours there. During our sojourn, things took a turn for the strange.
Just 15 minutes a day! Absolutely free! Guaranteed results! The same breathless promises have been prying open our wallets for decades, offering hope for beauty, health, popularity and eternal youth. We combed the archives for the most brazen scams from the 1920s to the 1940s. Some seem harmless, while others are downright sinister (such as Alois P. Swoboda, who even managed to swindle Woodrow Wilson, with his supposed secret to "supreme life.")
When Atari's Pong first came out, Popular Science had a succinct opinion: Playing a game on a video screen was "one of those novelties that everyone will shortly get tired of." We've never been so glad to be wrong.
Popular Science's history isn't all flying cars and geodesic domes. Readers of the past liked to have fun, too! Unfortunately, their opportunities to do so, as far as we can tell, were somewhat limited.
We don't see a lot of cryptozoology - the study of animals that have not yet been proven to exist - in the pages of PopSci these days, but that's what we have the archives for. Buried within the decades upon decades of "real" science, filled with "facts" and "research" are some gems of articles, where we chart the progress of believers searching for creatures we strongly suspect they may never find, but secretly hope they will.
Considering I was between the ages of -2 and 8 for the first 10 installments of the Best of What's New, it's remarkable how many vivid memories I have of the 1980s' and '90s' greatest innovations. I owned and loved the computer game that let you print out clothes for your Barbies. My dad taught me the rules of hockey by watching Red Wings games with me on Fox, where infrared technology left a streak of color behind the fast-moving puck so I could follow it. And I even built and programmed a Lego Mindstorms robot at nerd camp one summer.
I have never understood why people who aren't circus clowns ride unicycles. They seem designed specifically to create wipeouts and, subsequently, schadenfreude (a lesson our writer learned all too well in 1967 when he undertook the massive challenge of learning to ride one). But who knew that tucked away in the pages of PopScis past were some of the weirdest, most delightfully retro-futuristic unicycles of all time? Now we all do. And I don't think it's a stretch to say our lives are all the better for it.
As terrifying as this cover is, we won't lie, it's a pretty accurate depiction of how we feel about our vehicles on a bad day. Car maintenance doesn't come naturally to everyone, least of all first-time car owners in the 1920s. This week, we're taking a look at some old school car safety and maintenance tips, mostly from the glory days of stick shift and all that entailed for rookie motorists.
Now that we've spent this week looking at all the incredible ways data is gathered, computed, analyzed and used, we thought we'd take a look through the archives to see how we got to this data age to begin with.
Without question, Alexander Graham Bell's master invention changed our lives and revolutionized the way we communicate. But science is never satisfied, and so we began a steady stream of improvements to the telephone that took it from rotary dials and operators to the unique problems of autocorrect and Siri's witty retorts. Today, we take a look back at the ever-evolving history of the telephone.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.