Throwback Thursday: A 200-Story 'Airport Skyscraper', The Poochmobile, And This Dangerous Ice Machine

November 1939: A Popular Science issue so beautifully strange, "red demons" don't even make the list.

November 1939 Cover

Popular Science

Each week at Popular Science we have the pleasure of taking a headfirst dive into our archives to discover the world and its future through the eyes of our long-past reporters. This week we turned back the dials 75 years and stumbled across a doozy of an issue from November 1939. Happy Throwback Thursday!

We Plopped Down A 200-Story 'Airport Skyscraper' In Midtown

A Modest Proposal

Popular Science

1939 was a heady time in America. As the rest of the world careened into war, the U.S. was barrelling out of the Great Depression into a New Deal-fueled industrial megaboom. Skyscrapers sprung up all over the country during this era, and airships ruled the skies. So it makes perfect sense then that we took New York commerical artist Nicholas DiSantis' idea for a supertall airport seriously. Here's how it would have worked:

Commuters living 100 miles or more from the city would fly to work in their private planes. Landing on the roof, they would descend by elevators and moving platforms to an outdoor parking space for 250,000 private cars and taxis, whence they would be whisked without delay to their destination. Similar facilities would serve passengers arriving by transport planes and airship lines. By centralizing air and land terminals in one building, the "aerotropolis" would save time now lost in journeying to and from airports far from the heart of a city.

Why the building needed to be 200 stories tall instead of, say, two, remains unclear. But DiSantis apparently spent five years researching the project so we defer to his judgement.

(And, yes, that is the Empire State Building in the bottom right for scale.)

Planting Stars And Stripes In The Antarctic

Bigger: Still Better

Popular Science

The 30s also saw a push to divvy up the Antarctic among world powers. The U.S. decided it was time to "take possession, by actual occupation" of land claimed for Old Glory by American explorers in the nineteenth century. The means to that manifestly destined end, apparently, was the powerful "snow cruiser" proposal pictured above.

Crunching snow and ice beneath ten-foot pneumatic tire, throbbing with the combined 400 horsepower of its mighty diesel engines, a fifty-five-foot juggernaut with a swift airplane poised on its broad back soon will roll into polar lands of mystery. As fantastic a land craft as the strangest creations of fiction, this "snow cruiser" heads an array of scientific innovations that will serve the forthcoming U.S. government expedition to Antarctica and the South Pole.

Perhaps the wildest part of this flight of land-grabbing fancy was that it actually got built -- though whether it managed to traverse 15-foot crevasses as its designers claimed is unclear. You can see it in action in the video below:

Unfortunately, as you can see in the video, this machine turned out to be a bit unwieldy in practice, according to a 1980 article in Wings magazine. When first unloaded on the icy continent, the cruiser wouldn't move at all. The crew discovered it worked better driven backward, but eventually they abandoned the monstrosity to the elements. It's been rediscovered once or twice over the years, but now lies buried in a very cold grave.

We'd Like To Try This One

Raw Fun

Popular Science

While we think this was a great idea, we're obligated to tell you not to try it at home.

(Note the man in the canoe directly in the line of fire.)


It turns out, the field of human-catapulting lives on -- or at least it did in 2013 in the form of this air-powered behemoth designed to launch base jumpers off a West Virginia bridge:

Made For Base Jumpers

A "One Dog-Power" Contraption


Popular Science

Popular Science has always believed in the power of human ingenuity to overcome all obstacles. In this case, the obstacle in question must have been a deep and abiding suspicion that America's terriers and hounds just weren't pulling their weight. A mysterious 80-year-old man identified only as "Z. Wiggs" had the solution: an automobile powered by a dog in a giant hamster wheel. There's one canine that didn't get away with layabout antics that day. Mush!

And Finally...Um...This

An "Electric Massaging Barrel"

Featuring "a vibratory action to tone up the system generally".Popular Science

We have no idea how many customers used this invention, but we feel reasonably confident that it didn't work as intended.