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?
We've featured some wacky ideas over the past century, including instructions on how to turn razor dispensers into miniature tank models, but most of these projects were proposed by regular people like you and me. During the interwar era, we ran a series of monthly contests that asked readers to devise alternate uses for everyday objects, such as old automobile tires, hairpins, and electric fans. One contestant soldered a hairpin onto his glasses to repair a broken nose piece. Another pinned his daughter's nose shut for eleven months to correct its stubby appearance. And impressively enough, a cook from Nebraska replaced the blades of his fan with butcher knives to create a potato slicer (now that's a project we would love to see on video, if home video were a thing in 1919).
After the second World War, we started publishing a "X uses for Y" column where we recommended ways to resurrect various household items. While none of these projects involved freewheeling butcher knives, they project this quaint notion of a simpler time that we love projecting onto the past. Before kids started owning their own cell phones, they could use a garden hose and a couple of cups as a "telephone" line between their tree houses and the ground. Porcelain doorknobs could be used as a pestle for crushing herbs. Spools could be used as jump rope handles. And with a wooden plank, some parchment, a few rubber bands, and an empty coffee can, you could make a toy banjo! All this, just when we were wondering how kids entertained themselves before video games and TV became commonplace.
Click through our gallery to see offbeat uses for soap, plastic wastebaskets, shaving cream lids, and more.
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.