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.
Granted, not everything featured in this gallery is an electronic device -- after all, the average person during World War I could hardly envisage living room television sets, let alone portable ones. In late 1917, the hottest portable device was an army bread mixer, which could prepare 6000 loaves of dough in just an hour. The catch? You needed a truck to take it around, which isn't so bad considering the machine's capabilities.
Our personal electronics coverage escalated after World War II, beginning with the advent of portable radios and TV sets. Compared to iPods and smartphones, these devices were not small. In fact, a 1959 portable TV was the size of a shoebox (and it weighed 15 pounds, which is roughly equivalent to six 11-inch MacBook Airs). By today's standards, that's heavy, but in the 1960s, this device was a revelation. It was the perfect accessory for family vacations. Instead of reading a book at the beach, you could watch a couple of shows on your battery-operated TV set. Instead of telling ghost stories around the fire, you could watch Leave It to Beaver on your 9-inch battery-operated machine (at this point, such behavior was a novelty, and not a cause for derision). Thus began our compulsive need to have gadgets on us at all times.
Click through our gallery to see the shoebox-sized TV, the first portable VCRs, and more "go-anywhere" devices from the years before digital technology.
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.