In PopSci’s 138 years of publishing, we’ve seen some things. For instance, we were around in 1877, when Professor Alexander Graham Bell successfully used his telephone on wires between Boston and Salem. We were there when movies first started to talk. We’ve been here throughout the audio evolution, from LPs to cassettes to CDs to MP3s. We witnessed the birth of the Internet. We’ve seen a lot.
For this gallery, we’ve hit the archive and assembled a few of our often-breathless first looks at these now-ubiquitous, then-revolutionary technologies that went on to reshape our modern lives.
Click to launch the photo gallery
Some inventions, such as the fax machine, excited us, and others we approached with surprising caution. MP3 players didn’t appear on the cover until 2001, three years after we first covered them.
The unveiling of the telephone received only a simple news brief (in a section called “Popular Miscellany”).
Sometimes we were right and sometimes we were wrong, but regardless of the thinking of the time, we’ve got it all documented for your browsing pleasure. Click through our gallery to see PopSci‘s first stories on everything from the introduction of talking motion pictures to the unveiling of the first MP3 player.
The First Working Airplane: March 1904
Since the magazine started in 1872, writers were writing about just how close humankind was to flight, offering design ideas for the world’s first “aeroplane.” And then it happened: brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright completed the first successful flight in December 1903. Read the full story in Aerial Navigation
A Trip to the Moon? In Your Dreams: April 1919
Although humans needed until 1969 to complete their first moon landing, they were thinking about it for a long time. In fact, scientists were writing PopSci articles about how they would try to land on the moon five decades before the fateful launch of Apollo 11. Read the full story in Hurling a Man to the Moon.
Race for the Talkies: October 1922
Five years before the first feature-length motion picture with dialogue, The Jazz Singer, hit theaters, film experts debated the advantages of adding sound to silent pictures. Meanwhile, scientists around the world were making strides in recording and syncing audio with video. Professor Joseph Tykocinski Tykociner experimented by using light beams to record “photographs” of voice vibrations. Grindell Matthews, from England, developed an entirely different method that involved a mirror, a funnel, and two cameras. Once perfected, the addition of sound changed film forever, making talking pictures, or “talkies,” the norm. Read the full story in Will America or England Win Race to Make Movies Talk?
The First Electron Microscope: August 1940
Those shifty electrons seemed to be the key to everything. At $18,000 the first electron microscope was quite the pricey endeavor but since it was adopted into regular use, scientists have made huge micro discoveries. Read the full story in New Wonders From Electrons
Color TV Makes a Splash: July 1941
It’s true. TV was once in black and white. Like I Love Lucy, the rest of the tube’s programs like the news and sports games were all in black and white until one Dr. Goldmark and his team brought color to the small screen. Read the full story in Full Color Television
Radar Saves the Day: October 1941
The American and British governments kept the research under wraps for years. But once World War 2, they found themselves needing the technology — radar, short for “radio detection and ranging” — to protect their soldiers. In this article, PopSci reported on how the British used radar, which they called a “radio locator,” to determine when enemy planes were coming overhead and to help allied planes navigate at night. What now is used for tasks such air traffic control started off as a tool to save lives. Read the full story in How Warplanes Fight at Night.
Early Lasers: October 1960
Light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation had several possibilities in its early days from TV and radio to searchlights and… death rays. The article, unfortunately, did not predict those clever little pocket lasers. Read the full story in Ruby That Amplifies Light
Cassette Tapes : June 1968
Before they were retro, cassettes were revolutionary. They were convenient, small and being adopted worldwide. Now, they’re more outdated than vinyl despite the obvious chronology dilemma. Read the full story in Tape Cassettes: Pop-In Packets of Sound
Life Before TiVo: April 1970
Being able to record shows on this videocorder must have been as exciting in the 70s as TiVo was in the 00s. Thanks to scientists efforts to give the public TV when and where they wanted it, we now have on demand HD streaming in 2010. Read the full story in New Cassette Video Recorder Will Play Color Tapes Through Your TV
The Auto-Focus Lens: August 1971
This six pound camera hardly looks convenient, but it marked the first time photographers could snap shots without worrying about the focus of their lens. Luckily, camera’s have since lightened up while maintaining the perks of auto focus. Read the full story in The Lens That Focuses Itself
The First CD Players: October 1979
CDs were so smug before they became nearly obsolete. They were supposed to be perfect with minimal distortion but a scratched CD soon became the most irritating sounds of the modern audiophile’s world. Read the full story in Laser Plays Super Hi-Fi From Pocket-Size Disc
Email Renders Snail Mail Obsolete: September 1980
In the time before e-mail was something people did every day, it was a strange and complicated process. It also took eight minutes instead of eight seconds. Read the full story in Electronic Mail
The First Fax Machines: October 1988
At the time of its conception, faxing was the fastest way to get those important files around town. While it’s still used from time to time, the birth of the .pdf has made it less than outstanding. Read the full story in Don’t Mail It… Fax It
Enter the Internet: June 1995
Teased on the cover as “The Internet: Why Bother?,” this 10 page feature described the internet as an interesting time waster that you should check out to be “hip.” Little did we know it would become the essence that would drive the rest of our lives. Read the full story in Drowning in the Net
Hello, MP3 Players: December 1998
Just 12 years ago the limit on how many songs we could carry around in our pockets was 500, not 5-10,000. This little device made music more accessible to the masses while over-saturating our eardrums with riffs and melodies, but now, it can play and record videos, too. Read the full story in A Walkman for the Internet