Tag Archives: americana

48 Insane Old-timey Inventions That You Won’t See Around Today

The wristwatch is one of the oldest pieces of technology we still use en masse. Dating back to the 1600s, it’s been around forever, and with smartwatches, it’s here to stay.

But some old inventions are more obscure… and mind blowingly crazy!

1. The Baby Stroller/Scooter


For mothers who don’t have the energy to walk and push (read: all mothers). Notice that there’s no baby in there. Hmm…

2. Goggle Umbrella


Admit it. You’ve always wanted to hold your umbrella that low down. In order to make this possible, here, from Japan, is the goggle umbrella

3. The shower hood


Every woman’s dream is to have a nice hot shower, without having to wet their hair. However, I’m not sure the sound of water hitting plastic is much better.

4. Cigarette holder for two


For the romantic smoker. Some may think it’s more intimate to pass the cigarette from one mouth to the other. But they haven’t tried smoking at the same time.

5. Smoke 2 Cigarettes at once


You could share one cigarette between two. Or two cigarettes between… 1. This was for the classy lady who needed a bit more tar in her life.

6. Suspended baby carrier


Early feminists must have been proud of this display of a man sharing the load. These two are ice-skating, proving that a couple can do fun things with their baby, without getting angry at each other.

7. Baby gas-mask pram


Those were tough times. As bad as you think things are, just be thankful your baby doesn’t need this pram.

8. Bed Piano


For the bedridden pianist. This was basically the equivalent of making music on your Macbook while sick in bed.

9. Cigar Protector


People were really dedicated to smoking back in the day. The cigar protector made sure that nothing – not even the rain – could get in the way of some grimy lungs.

10. Pipe sharer


Another romantic piece of smoking paraphernalia. These two men may have found it difficult to kiss, but at least they could share a pipe.

11. Dimple Maker


Now you can get plastic surgery to make dimples – it just requires a small nip and tuck in the inside of your cheeks. Back then, they had knobs.

12. Dog Restrainer


I think many dog owners have wanted one of these for their wild pooch. This small dog doesn’t seem like the target market though.

13. Chain Smoker


Wow, people loved smoking. We’ve had two men sharing a pipe, and a woman with two cigarettes at once. This device takes the cake for self-destruction.

14. Extendible Ears


Sort of like in Harry Potter, but not really at all. This invention from Japan makes things louder (and then softer as everyone you love leaves you).

15. Face protector


Hate getting rain or snow in your face, but don’t mind looking like a platypus? This one’s for you.

16. Folding Bridge


A nifty way of keeping unwanted people from crossing you moat. Also, probably a nice way to spend a Sunday morning with the kids, extending your folded bridge to get to Church on time.

17. Longest RV Ever


This is another invention that extends. One of the biggest problems you hear about RVs, is that people can’t get their whole extended family inside. So that they can enjoy a nice holiday with 30 lovely and now very close relations.

18. Hair dryer


This may look insane, but before the modern hairdryer, long hair was a disaster to wash. Especially in winter. I have no idea how it works, but it’s creative use of a stocking.

19. Ice-Mask for hangovers


This beautiful piece will switch one problem for another, that just might be worse. To be fair, there still isn’t a good cure for the hangover.

20. Portable hat radio


And you thought it was inconvenient to carry a walkman around. In wartime, radio was the only source of information, so we can forgive this man for wanting it on him at all times. And yes, I assume that all old photos were taken during wartime.

21. Gas mask for horses


See. Old photo, wartime.

22. Tires for the tacky


Illuminated tires were good for one thing only, and that was to give this lady light in order that she could do whatever it is she was doing.

23. Inbuilt coffee machine


We still don’t have coffee machines in our cars. The reason is that you need a lot of power to boil water – like, a lot. Your kettle is the reason for your high electricity bills. Tea is ruining your life!

24. Tubey life-”jacket” thingy


The kids in the photo still haven’t lived this one down. From what I heard, after this made the rounds, they went into their rooms, never to come out except to be occasionally humiliated.

25. Fruit-Pain Measurer


I don’t know why anyone thought this was a good idea. Even if we could measure the pain fruit would feel if it was human, numbers would mean nothing until we got fruit to talk and tell us how they’re feeling.

26. Parallel Parking


We need the equivalent of this today. Parking is such a disaster, that when I get offered one I take it. Even if I’m not going there.

27. Portable Sauna


So that you don’t have to use the one at gym, and sit around with sweating naked people. Also, it’s portable, meaning you can sneak it into your office and do work from there.

28. Radio Pram


People really loved their radios. I’ll just assume it was wartime, and they needed to know where the nearest bunker could be located at all times. For the safety of the baby, y’know.

29. Lying-down reading glasses


The age-old problem of how to read comfortably. Basically, divert your eyesight. Still doesn’t solve the problem of your fingers getting numb or sweaty – it’s always one or the other.

30. Camera with a revolver


To make the NRA’s mouth water. Again, I have to assume that somewhere, people were killing each other for sport, and this was the only way to stay safe. And get photo evidence of your kill in the bargain.

31. Suspended Baby Cage


And you thought Michael Jackson was bad. Look, he held his kid out a window, but at least he didn’t lock it up in a cage and suspend it there.

32. Tire brooms


Popped tires must have been a common problem, for someone to have come up with this makeshift solution. This looks more likely to work as part of a Canadian sport than to protect tires from debris.

33. Walk dogs while driving


If you care about your dogs health, but not your own, you can take all of them for a walk without standing up. There are so many things that could go wrong here, I’m glad there’s not an “after” picture.

34. Wooden Bathing suits


Really? Someone thought this was a good idea? Maybe they had a lot of wood lying around, and not much else. Maybe it was… you guessed it… wartime.

35. Faxed newspaper


Because the news was so important. This is the 1930s precursor to the Huffington Post. Could you do without it? I couldn’t.

36. Amphibious Bicycle


For land and water. I can’t see this guy going into water dressed like that, but maybe he was worried about flooding. This is the sort of bike you don’t need to lock up.

37. Bulletproof glass


This is still a thing, so no need to scoff. I wouldn’t like to be the man it’s tested on though. Even today, bulletproof glass isn’t perfect.

38. Car with pedestrian shovel


In case you hit a pedestrian, he would be safe. And he’d get a free ride. So it’s a win for everyone.

39. Early GPS


It’s a piece of paper that scrolls as you go. Clever, but I can’t imagine it’s much use if you make a wrong turn.

40. Electrically heated jacket


Made for police. I’m uncomfortable with an electrical blanket, so I can’t imagine wearing one of these without being sure of sudden death.

41. Ice Sailboat


In the 1600s, there were those that believed a new ice-age was coming. This boat was designed to sail on ice in addition to water.

42. One-wheeled motorcycle


Two wheels are for babies. Safety is never an issue with motorcycles. If you can’t take the risk, drive something with four wheels. At least that’s what the creator believed.

43. Breast washer


Some babies won’t drink from anything that’s not spotless. This French creation ensured that even the fussiest infant could eat.

44. Cigarette case


Another cigarette invention. As much as they loved smoking, they had far too much paraphernalia for their own good.

45. Feet Bikes


Like those roller shoes that kids used to wear. Except for adults. Crazy adults.

46. Isolator


For scary writers who don’t want to see anyone ever.

47. Poker Face


The perfect answer to your total giveaway face. These are now illegal everywhere, as they are thought to bring horror movies to life.

48. Swim Mask


Yet another mask to give you nightmares. If you need this to swim, you’d better get your own pool.

Which is your favourite? Are there any more crazy inventions from the last few millennia we’ve missed?

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1959 Girl Watcher Magazine – The Maxim of the 50s

The June 1959 issue of Girl Watcher Magazine – the equivalent to today’s Maxim Magazine.  This is from 54 years ago, which means people who are in their 70’s now were reading this for risque enjoyment.  Your grandparents were indeed sexual beings and that is how your parents and then you got here.  We tend to think that modern America is more sexualized, which it is, but even in Ancient Rome the walls of ruins are covered with sexual graffiti.  There have always been men who always want to stare at pretty women.  I reposted this here because I think it is part of our ‘history’ that people forget.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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The Forgotten Giant Arrows that Guide you Across America

The Forgotten Giant Arrows that Guide you Across America

In “don’t be a tourist” “Nostalgia” on November 15, 2013 at 6:58 pm

If you’re ever really lost on a road trip across America, and I’m talking really lost (let’s say the battery on your smartphone just died along with that compass application you downloaded for situations just like this), perhaps you might be lucky enough to find yourself next to one of the giant 70 foot concrete arrows that point your way across the country, left behind by a forgotten age of US mail delivery.

Directional Arrow

Photo by Clay Fraser

Certainly a peculiar site to come across in the middle of nowhere, 50 foot, possibly 70 foot long, with weeds crawling through its concrete cracks, abandoned long ago by whoever put it there. This arrow may point your way out of the desert but it’s also pointing to the past.

Photo via Core77

Long before the days of radio (and those convenient little smartphone applications), the US Postal service began a cross-country air mail service using army war surplus planes from World War I, many piloted by former army flyers. To get the planes and everybody’s mail safely across the country by air, the postman was going to need a little help.

In 1924, the federal government funded enormous concrete arrows to be built every 10 miles or so along established airmail routes to help the pilots trace their way across America in bad weather conditions and particularly at night, which was a more efficient time to fly.

Painted in bright yellow, they were each built alongside a 50 foot tall tower with a rotating gas-powered light and a little rest house for the folks that maintained the generators and lights. These airway beacons are said to have been visible from a distance of 10 miles high.

The Air Mail route from New York to San Francisco with beacon locations.

A model of one of the arrows and beacons at the IPMS (International Plastic Modelers Socity) Nationals contest in Loveland, CO, which you a pretty good idea of the layout.Photo via here.

By World War II, radio was king and the airway beacons were obsolete. Taking anything they could get, the government took down the towers and recycled them as scrap metal for the war effort.

It’s unknown exactly how many airway lighthouses remain (project anyone?) but one preservation program called Passport in Time has protected three beacon sites from falling into complete disrepair, saving the generator huts and a neighbouring 1930s cabin that served as a residence for the fire lookout.

There is also this fully restored restored tower and its generator shack in New Mexico.

While no one bothered to remove the concrete arrows, many have probably been caught up by development but an outline could still be visible from the air if they were just covered over by a grass lawn. Or maybe you might just come across some concrete remains that seem very out of place in the middle of a field…

Image by Henry Brean for Las Vegas Review

Here’s a link to one of the giant arrows on Google maps as well as a website listing the original locations of Eastern and Western beacons, siting which ones have been found/ destroyed/ preserved etc.

Anyone feel like getting lost on purpose to go on a treasure hunt for these giant arrows to the past?!

Sources: A very welcome tip from a reader! as well as Core77this forumThe History Mystery Exaxaminer.


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The First Ferris Wheel


The Life and Explosive Death of the World's First Ferris Wheel
The Life and Explosive Death of the World’s First Ferris Wheel

1893 marked the 400 year anniversary of Columbus’ landing in the New World. To commemorate the anniversary, the 51st US Congress of 1890 declared that a great fair—the World’s Columbian Exposition—would be held on April 9th of 1893 in Chicago and Daniel H. Burnham, father of the skyscraper, would oversee its construction. If only he could find enough civil engineers to pull it off.

Despite the formation of a group of engineers and architects known as the “Saturday Afternoon Club” that met weekly to discuss the expo’s progress and acted as a straw poll regarding architectural and engineering decisions, few civil engineers wanted to actively participate in the work. So Burnham employed an age-old, surefire tactic to drum up volunteers for the project—he bagged on the French. Burnham first chided the club for growing complacent in their success and swaddling themselves in accolades for past deeds rather than striving to exceed their previous triumphs and introduce some—any—novel feature in their architectural works. Nothing “met the expectations of the people,” as he put it. Burnham argued that the Eiffel Tower, which was built by Gustave Eiffel for the Paris Exposition of 1889—and centennial of the French Revolution—was leagues beyond anything the gathered crowd had designed in recent memory. It was high time that the Americans launched a cultural counter-punch to reclaim their prestige.

This got the crowd’s attention—specifically, the ear of George W. Ferris, a bridge-builder from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and owner of the G.W.G. Ferris & Co., which inspected structural steel used in railroads and bridges. While the group rallied against initial suggestions of just building a bigger tower, Ferris sketched out a revolutionary new attraction on his napkin that would put the Eiffel to shame.

The Life and Explosive Death of the World's First Ferris Wheel

The buttressed steel wheel that Ferris designed was truly original—so much so that the structure’s design had to be derived from first principles because no one on Earth actually had experience constructing a machine of this size. By the winter of 1892, Ferris had the acquired the $600,000 in funding he needed but had just four months of the coldest winter in living memory to complete construction before the expo opened. To meet the deadline, Ferris split the wheel’s construction among several local machine shops and constructed individual component sets congruently and assembled everything on-site.

Construction crews first struggled with laying the wheel’s foundation. The site’s soil was frozen solid three feet deep overlaying another 20 feet of sand that exhibited liquefaction whenever crews attempted to drive piles. To counter the effects of the sand, engineers continually pumped steam into the ground to thaw it, then drove piles 32 feet deep into the bedrock to lay steel beams and poured eight concrete and masonry piers measuring 20 x 20 x 35 feet. These pylons would support the twin 140-foot towers upon which the wheel’s central 89,320-pound, 45-foot-long, 33-inch-wide axle would rest. The wheel section measured 250 feet across, 825 feet around, and supported 36 enclosed wooden cars that each held up to 60 riders. 10-inch steam pipes fed a pair of 1000 HP engines—a primary and a reserve—that powered the wheel’s movement. Three thousand of Edison’s new-fangled light bulbs lit up the wheel’s supports.

The Wheel opened on time and ran until November 6th of that year. A $.50 fare entitled the rider a nine-minute continuous revolution (which followed an initial six-stop revolution as the attraction was loaded) with views across Lake Michigan and parts of four states. To say that the attraction was a success is a bit of an understatement—the Ferris Wheel raked in $726,805.50 during the Expo. And adjusted for inflation, that amounts to $18,288,894.91. Not bad.

The wheel fell on hard times after the fair, though. It was first moved in 1895 to nearby Lincoln Park, then sold in 1896 when Ferris died of tuberculosis at the age of 37, and then moved to St. Louis in 1904 for the World’s Fair. But by 1906, after 13 years of operation, the original Ferris Wheel had fallen into disrepair and was eventually slated for demolition.

As the Chicago Tribune retold,

It required 200 pounds of dynamite to put it out of business. The first charge… wrecked its foundation and the wheel dropped to the ground… as it settled it slowly turned, and then, after tottering a moment like a huge giant in distress, it collapsed slowly. It did not fall to one side, as the wreckers had planned… it merely crumpled up slowly. Within a few minutes it was a tangled mass of steel and iron thirty or forty feet high. The huge axle, weighing 45 tons, dropped slowly with the remnants of the wheel, crushing the smaller braces and steel framework. When the mass stopped settling it bore no resemblance to the wheel which was so familiar to Chicago and St. Louis and to 2,500,000 amusement seekers from all over the world, who, in the days when it was in operation, made the trip to the top of its height of 264 feet and then slowly around and down to the starting point.

Following the blast that wrecked the wheel, but which failed to shatter its foundations, came another charge of 100 pounds of dynamite. The sticks were sunk in holes drilled in the concrete foundations that supported the pillars in the north side of the wheel.

While the original Ferris Wheel did eventually fall, its legacy and the public’s love of the attraction continues in carnivals, street fairs and amusement parks around the world.

[Wikipedia – About – Navy Pier – Hyde Park History – Image: Library of Congress]

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