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.
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.
I haven't been completely fair in the material I select for these archive galleries. In between covering space colonies and robots, I've neglected a feature of PopSci that is as prevalent in the year 1900 as it is now that we're nearing 2011: the advertisements.
When was the last time a film scene blew your mind? Plenty of people will cite Avatar's dizzying 3-D battle sequences. Others may name the rotating hotel hallway scene in this summer's Inception. Now ask your grandpa the same question. Chances are, he'll answer that Avatar in IMAX was cool, in a seizure-inducing way, but it doesn't compare to the first time he watched a movie in color.
Nothing makes you wish for a high-speed rail, a flying car, or a teleportation device like having to travel over Thanksgiving. Apparently, the future of chaos-free commuting is in Europe, Japan and China, where passengers enjoy the luxury of trains that glide along at 200 miles per hour. Meanwhile, those of us living in America get to choose between radioactive scanners, enhanced pat-downs, and the joy of holiday highway congestion. Injustice! Suffice to say, our maglev train envy is making the spirit of Thanksgiving a little harder to grasp this year.
For as long as ships have been around, naval powers have competed for supremacy on the seas. After the steam engine's invention in the 19th century, warship design underwent a major upheaval, culminating in an arms race for the best battleships and cruisers. Some of these ships went on to become famed World War I and II icons. Others never made it past the blueprint stage. You'll find that when it comes to naval warfare, the Popular Sciencearchives favor both the formidable and the funny speculations, as long as they contribute to a bright (Allied) future.
In September 1954, we compared the kitchen to a wife's workshop. This was the post-war era, after all. The 1950's are commonly referred to as America's favorite decade: a golden age of consumerism, economic prosperity, and conservative social mores. While engrossed in the Cold War, the media propagated how wholesome American housewives could enjoy superior household appliances as a reward for the country's endorsement of capitalism. In the spirit of domesticity, Popular Science published several features geared toward making kitchens as efficient, snazzy and high-tech as possible.
Although the issues of climate change and crude oil have received plenty of media coverage over the past decade, scientists have been working for over a century to develop technology capable of replacing conventional fuels with renewable energy.
You could even argue that society has attempted to harness renewable energy since ancient times. Over the past 138 years, Popular Science has seen engineers adapt Dutch windmills into wind turbines, water mills into commercial tidal power facilities, and Roman hot spring-powered underfloor heating systems into geothermal electric power plants.
For the past hundred years, we've been dreaming about flying cars. Transportation has come so far since the automobile's invention that flying cars seem like a natural part of what life should be by now. Who hasn't suffered rush hour traffic without imagining one's vehicle zipping above the congested highways? Flying cars would be fun to drive. Flying cars would eliminate the hassle of finding a ride to and from the airport. But, unhappily, flying cars have yet to achieve ubiquity.
It's not as if the automobile industry has lacked viable candidates for a mainstream f.c. We perused our archives to unearth a number of flying cars that we'd love to take for a spin.