Before Ford's Model T entered mass production, cars were largely a novelty, a curio for those privileged enough to afford them. They sputtered odorous gases, crawled at speeds barely faster than a horse's gallop, and stirred up so much dust that you'd need to wash up after disembarking. Pretty cool!
There's something timeless about a good detective story. At the end of a long day, it's nice to know that the clues check out, the crooks get caught, and everyone goes home happy. During the early 1930s, Popular Science capitalized on the mystery genre by running a series of articles detailing how the modern detective incorporates science into crime detection. We were enthralled by scientists who could trace a bullet to its weapon simply by examining it under a microscope. We were thrilled that a person's gender and age could be determined from a single strand of hair.
Every month for the past 138 years, we've showcased inventions and concepts for mechanisms aimed at improving life. Sometimes this meant curing cancer, other times it meant having fun, and on rare (and scary) occasions, it meant building something because you could.
For every airplane, computer or chemical weapon appearing in our archives, there are a ton of other inventions that are, to put it bluntly, rather pointless. At best, they're well-intentioned but a little impractical. Let's take a look, shall we?
Going by our archives, the only thing more hyped-up than flying cars and humanoid robot assistants were cool futuristic homes -- homes that could converge their walls to create new rooms, that could adapt to any environment, and that could play with your children while you took an afternoon nap. In terms of functionality, houses of today haven't changed much over the past fifty years. We still use good old brick, marble and cement as building materials. We still turn the microwave and TV on by our ourselves. For the most part, we still do our own chores. So what happened?
For all our talk on "the future now," there is one future we'd prefer to delay for the next five billion years, and that's the inevitability of our planet's destruction. Mankind's speculated on the end of the world for thousands of years, but it wasn't until recent centuries that people began attaching scientific possibilities to doomsday scenarios, instead of blaming the gods for our demise.
Over the years, Popular Science has strived to answer your questions about the world we live in. What's on the moon? Why don't we have flying cars? How do magnets work? As compelling and relevant as these questions are, though, none inspires as much fury as the age-old debate on whether men and women are equally capable.
For the most part, we answered no. Like it or not, our magazine has always been a product of its time, and for at least the first 70 years of our 138-year history, we held men in higher esteem because science and feminist literature had not yet given us reason to believe that women could accomplish much on a grand scale.
As lovers of science and innovation, few things delight us more than tinkering around with spare parts. In our 138 years of publication, we've showcased scores of similar-minded inventors who could turn scrap heaps into motorcycles, robots, and four-wheelers. These people aren't just hobbyists, they're visionaries capable of imagining great machinery from what others had deemed broken and useless.
While people have created a great number of things from scratch, cars stand out as the prime project for professional engineers and bored tinkerers alike. We don't blame them - who wouldn't enjoy taking their invention for a celebratory spin upon completion? Join us as we take a look at some of the more curious vehicles assembled in garages over the past hundred years, and decide for yourself whether they're clever or the work of a crackpot.
Few things have inspired as much mythology and mystique as the moon. We've credited it with triggering madness, housing deities and rousing werewolves. Even after the age of Enlightenment, astronomers hyped up the moon so much, that the more we found out about it, the more unglamorous it became. By the time Popular Science came around, most astronomers were fairly certain that the moon was dead. In fact, by 1887, we declared the moon a "frozen and dried-up globe, a mere planetary skeleton, that could no more support life than the Humboldt glacier could grow roses."
When it comes to technological advances, few periods were as prolific as the Cold War era, which saw the mass distribution of color TV sets, the ubiquity of electrically-powered domestic appliances, the invention of personal computers, and of course, the launch of Sputnik and the first man on the moon. It was an eventful 45 years, but during periods of high political tension, the threat of nuclear war colored our excitement with apprehension.
Throughout the interwar period and during World War II, we kept one eye open as Stalin groomed the Soviet Union for world domination, but it wasn't until 1946 that we took active measures to contain the communist ideology. As an American magazine, Popular Science jumped aboard the anti-USSR bandwagon, publishing several articles informing readers of the latest, most ominous Soviet technology. What can we say, the prospect of being obliterated by an orbiting H-bomb put a slight damper on our usual enthusiasm for invention.
If there's one thing our archives will attest to, it's that times change, but the holiday spirit remains constant. For 138 years, the most wonderful time of the year arrived without fail, whether we were at war, in the midst of a Communist takeover, or mourning over failed space expeditions. That being said, we've compiled several of our favorite holiday DIY, how-to's and gift guides from over the past hundred years. You'll be surprised at what we put at the top of our wish lists just a few decades ago.