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.
Our archives are filled with terrifying things -- flying tanks, radium faucets, and groundbreaking lobotomy techniques, to name a couple -- but few of them are as deliberately scary as the past century's amusement park rides and attractions. With names like The Wastebasket of Dizziness, The Ring of Death, and the Corkscrew of Fate, how could they not instill terror in even the most seasoned roller coaster enthusiasts?
The early 20th century saw the Golden Age of Roller Coasters, as well as the peak of Coney Island's popularity. As amusement parks flourished, so did our interest in thrill rides. How did engineers prevent roller coaster cars from toppling off the track? How did the Parachute Jump ensure soft, and not splattered, landings? And why would anybody want to roller skate down a loop-the-loop?
In between the newest line of Amazon Kindles,the upcoming iPhone 5 announcement, and the ever-increasing ubiquity of cameras and video game consoles, it's safe to say that we're living in the golden age of gadgets. For all the purposes they serve, our little devices reflect a singular priority among gadget geeks and newbies alike: sleekness. Few things make a gadget more desirable than beautifully packaged convenience.
Of course, the definition of "sleek" is relative to what's available for purchase. Nowadays, the 15-inch MacBook Pro is considered heavy at 5.6 pounds, but in the early 1920s, Corona's seven pound typewriter garnered praise for being lightweight. And even though the mid-nineties weren't that long ago, it's still amusing to see movie characters from that decade whip out cell phones the size of frying pans. If you enjoy comically large portable devices as much as we do, you're in luck because we've collected several more examples from our archives.
Radio hats. DIY jetpacks. Even those of us who never experienced a time when you could purchase science projects for $4.95 and telescope lenses for $1.95 can't help feeling a twinge of longing looking at these crowded, black-and-white illustrations.
A part of their charm lies in the element of surprise. Nowadays, you can scour a product's reviews online and zoom in on its photos before committing to a purchase. But magazine coupons are risky. Like Calvin, you could wait six weeks for a propeller beanie only for it to break upon assembly (and for your pet tiger to scoff when you demonstrate it for him). On the other hand, you could rip open the box to find something completely wonderful.
Venture into any apartment, and you're likely to find an object used for something other than its intended purpose. We've seen ground coffee used to repel ants, curtain fabric used as wallpaper, cardboard boxes used as coffee tables, and to the delight of DIY enthusiasts everywhere, a La-Z-Boy converted into a motorized easy chair. While most of us don't possess the expertise needed to turn chairs into moving vehicles, we've all struggled with the question of whether to dispose of an old household item, or to save it in case it came in handy later. Care to guess what PopSci would tell you to do?
In the early 1950s, we grappled with a life-changing dilemma: to buy a color TV set, or not to buy a color TV set? In retrospect, the right answer seems obvious, but the hassle of switching systems in those days meant that viewing black and white images was more tolerable than shelling out the money needed to make the transition.
A brief history lesson for those of you unacquainted with that era: in October 1950, following years of squabbling between various corporations, the FCC finally authorized CBS' system of color broadcasts as the national standard. Despite their successful campaign, CBS ran into a number of problems once they actually starting implementing their technology. Firstly, 10.5 million black and white TV sets had been purchased nationwide, and none of them could receive color programs. Since viewership was limited, advertisers were hesitant to sponsor programs that practically no one would see. The venture was doomed.
When it comes to practicality, geodesic domes are a contractor's worst nightmare. Where can you get windows that conform to hexagonal panels? Where should you install the pipes? Would a chimney look out of place? In spite of all these questions, we spent a good portion of the 1970s and '80s touting geodesic structures as the next big suburban fad.
The trend began, of course, after R. Buckminster Fuller received a patent for his geodesic domes in 1954. Although Fuller's idea wasn't entirely original, he is credited for formulating the structure's mathematics. Initially commissioned by the military and by specialized companies, Fuller's geodesic domes went on to become a viable solution to the postwar housing crisis. While most families continued buying conventional houses, fans of the geodesic dome spent several decades promoting it as a super strong, easy-to-build vacation home. If a second home were too expensive, you could always pitch stylish mini domes on your lawn.
Once upon a time, achieving the perfect tan involved basking outdoors with a paperback and a sheet of aluminum foil. But towing the line between a healthy glow and a blistering sunburn proved more challenging than expected. The further paleness fell out of vogue, the more interested we became in products and devices that could brown our skin without burning it to a crisp.
Nowadays, those of us without adequate sun exposure can visit tanning salons to attain a glowing complexion, but those living in decades past had to practice a little more creativity. Now that we're in the last month of summer, we thought we'd pay homage to the sunny days of yore by collecting some of the most enterprising suntanning technologies from our archives.
We've covered a fair number of amphibious craft over the years, most recently (and perhaps most memorably), a land-water ice cream truck that popped up on the Thames during Britain's National Ice Cream Week. And while you won't find any floating treatmobiles in our archives, the old-time amphibious vehicles we uncovered might prove just as charming.