If you've ever felt puzzled by the lack of similarities between polo and water polo, you're not alone; clearly, one inventor from the 1930s thought that the latter could benefit from the inclusion of ponies. As silly as it looks, the idea wasn't entirely unprecedented, nor was it original (two decades earlier, we covered an aquatic polo pony powered by a simple crank and gear). The era's growing demand for novelty sports, aided by the growing sophistication of mechanical gear, sparked trends that involved everything from motorized water horses to rowboat-inspired race cars.
In retrospect, these new sports seem faddish at best, but at least we can appreciate how they reflect the most important innovations of the early 20th century. The Golden Age of Aviation inspired bubble-chasing, where daredevil pilots competed to pop helium balloons with their airplanes. Back on land, the commercialization of motorcycles and outboard motors gave us a least three new varieties of polo: motorcycle polo, pontoon polo, and of course, water-horse polo. Hobbyists borrowed elements from pre-established pastimes to create their own sports. For example, one French meteorologist adapted his interest in winter sports for parachute sledding (similar to modern-day snowkiting), while beach-going Europeans used human hamster wheels to run on water.
Unlike most of the developments we cover in these galleries, none of these sports left a lasting impact. Polo players still use real horses, parachute sledding remains an obscure diversion, and we'd be hard-pressed to see a sport like bubble chasing outside of a Mario Party minigame. But what's history without its whimsical curios? In between all the depressions, wars and miserable whatnots of the past century, it's nice to know that people made time to gaze at pilots diving after balloons.
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.