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communal-map

The Google Maps of 1917

Before Mapquest and Google, there was the “electric directory.”

 

thinking-cap

Thinking Cap

Never worry about distractions again.

 

lp-audiobook

The First Audiobook: an LP for the Blind

Before they started playing music, LPs were used to play books for those who couldn’t see.

 

dream-recorder

The Dream Recorder (of 1926)

Scientists are getting closer than ever to capturing the contents of our dreams, a goal since at least the 1920s.

 

edison-tesla_fe

Nikola Tesla and the Myth of the Lone Inventor

We like our inventors to be lone geniuses, but it’s almost always the case that today’s giant is standing on the shoulders of yesterday’s.

 

A Santa Monica apartment building destroyed by the Northridge earthquake in 1994 (PHOTO: SPIRIT OF AMERICA/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Will California Build an Earthquake Warning System?

We’re a long way from being able to predict temblors, but what if we had even a few moments of warning before the shaking started?

 

Horse attachment as depicted in the 1937 Popular Science film "Horse-Friendly Auto Attachment"

Adding a Horse to the Horseless Carriage of Yore

Nostalgic for the nostalgia of yesterday? Popular Science had a thriving enterprise in the 1930s that looked back at wacky inventions from earlier years.

 

timemachinerobot

Your Granddaddy’s TiVo

Inventors have been trying to find a way to silence ads since way before Spotify, Pandora and Grooveshark

 

airtravel

Visions of Futuristic Air Travel (And Plenty of Leg Room!) in 1946

The vision of post-war air travel isn’t all that different from what well-heeled fliers can get today, but what a long, strange trip it’s been.

 

1919-electrical-experimenter-xray-diamond-sm

An X-Ray a Day Keeps Diamond Smuggling at Bay

One mine in 1919 South Africa had a foolproof way to see whether its miners were smuggling out raw diamonds: it gave them a radiation-laden scan at the end of every shift.

 

Illustration of a radio being installed in a car in the June 1933 issue of Radio-Craft magazine [Source: Novak Archive]

Distracted Drivers Are Nothing New

Forget cellphones. The real danger from distracted driving is the car radio—according to observers in the days before Sirius, in-car DVD players, and even web browsers.

 

steamcar

Steam-Powered Cars: California’s 1970s Smog Solution

Steam-powered cars may sound like a shout-out to the early 1900s, but in 1970s California the idea was building up a real head of, umm, steam.

 

Horse attachment for an automobile -- U.S. patent 777,369 issued in 1904 [Source: Google Patents]

Driving a Dead Horse: Making Cars Less Frightening in 1904

The traffic safety department is trying to get the nation used to today’s silent cars. Something similar happened at the beginning of the 20th century.

 

Nap Zapper

The Nap Zapper

An inventor’s shocking solution for office doldrums

 

Push-Button Promises

Big thinkers have been selling the push-button as the key to the future since way before the Jetsons. Try the 19th century.

 

Butter-Kist popcorn machine advertisement in the May 1919 issue of Popular Science [Source: Novak Archive]

Corn of Ill Repute: How Butterkist Helped Make Movie Popcorn Respectable

How a salt-of-the-Earth Midwest manufacturer learned to butter up customers and see its sales explode.

 

Who Owns the Books You Read?

The Supreme Court may soon rule on how the first sale doctrine applies to textbooks. But what about the ebook on your iPad? Who owns that?

 

Illustration of a bunny syringe from Robert L. Smeton's 1963 patent application

Pretty Much the Scariest Way to Give Kids Their Medicine

Bunny needles, puppy spoons, squirrel otoscopes. Here are some great, well-meaning ways to make children fear doctors AND cute fuzzy animals.

 

What Uber, Lyft and Sidecar Can Learn From the Jitney Cars of the 1910s

Ride-sharing took off in Los Angeles at the beginning of the 20th century, but it couldn’t beat City Hall.

 

When Santa Traded His Sleigh for an Automobile

The American Santa of the end of the 19th century was a lot fatter and in a car—much like the average American a century later.

 

homekinks

Life Hacks from 1946

Popular Mechanics‘ 1950s DIY “home kinks” for picnic tables, paint cans, medicine bottles and more.

 

The "smell organ" as illustrated by Frank R. Paul in the June 1922 issue of Science and Invention

The Olfactory Organ

A 1920s design for an instrument that you don’t hear but smell

 

Frederick W. Schmidt's invention of an animated retail window diorama (Nov 1922 Science and Invention)

Dazzle Shoppe: Animated Window Advertising In The Pre-TV Age

Before viewing the retail experience became the province of TVs and tablets, if you wanted to see possible presents dancing around you had to head to the windows of downtown department stores.

 

Illustration from the September 1919 issue of Popular Science magazine

The Sound Effects of Silence: SFX Before There Were Talkies

Before silent movies evolved into talkies, various efforts to create the aural ambiance depicted onscreen included this roomful of noise-making contraptions.

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That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.

Unlocking Consciousness

A study of vegetative patients closes in on the nature of consciousness.

Advice for Emergency Alert Systems: Don’t Cry Wolf

A survey finds college students don't always take alerts seriously.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

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