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When what we now take for granted, was new and exciting.

July 25, 2010

Something that I have always found interesting is mechanical history. Not exactly gears and motors, but all those items under the generic heading of mechanical. From electricity to gadgets to the simple time saver items that we all use daily. And in some cases the technology we have left behind.

From an early age I have been fascinated with maps and encyclopedias and magazines. But not new ones. Instead I have been fascinated by the items from years past. Scientific studies of 100 years ago, or encyclopedias talking about countries that either no longer exist, or don’t exist in the way we know it now. Maps of places that have been swallowed whole by other cities or roads that have cone, gone, or changed in ways that they are unrecognizable. And gadgets that were revolutionary at one time, that are now either mainstays in society, or have fallen into the category of old and quaint.

Back when I was a kid, I would be given oddball items here and there. Box cameras, old records, tools, and other items. Some of them good, others not so much. Sometimes it was just the simple fact that certain consumables no longer existed, or were too difficult for a little country kid to find. But they always peaked my interest.

Recently I have been reading through Popular Science and Popular Mechanics issues that are now available on Google Books. While there has been controversy surrounding Google’s copying and cataloging of these books, it has proven to be a fantastic resource to me.

Now on to some of the things that I have noticed about magazines. They really were better back then. And the further back you go, the more interesting they become. Take a Popular Science, for instance. I dig through one from the last decade or two. There are plenty of stories on what scientists are doing, or what new things we can go out and buy. The go back and read one from the 1930’s. There are those items, but in the middle of all that are things you can do yourself. They teach you how. And I don’t mean “Cut this shape and then glue.” Instead they will show you what to look for, what parts you need, and how it all goes together. It’s fantastic. I’ll be honest, I keep threatening T with making her a potter’s wheel from one of the three versions that I have found over the decades in Popular Science, the best one was the oldest one in my opinion.

But one of the things I find the most fun are reading about what was then a new invention. The magazine cover is from January of 1931. First off, it just looks fun. Skiing wearing a set of wings like something out of a pulp comic. Sweet! Then you start reading. Instructions on how to make furniture, tools you can make at home, how-to guides. And then you add the features and news blurbs.

Here is the link for you to check it out.

So let’s start with my absolute favorite. Raising bunnies to make your own fur on page 23. 0_o Just think, the world was just different enough to have a major magazine showing some of the ins and outs of breeding, raising and killing rabbits so you can luxurious fur coats. Yeah I would love to see Better Homes and Gardens try and pull that shit now.

Page 34 shows something that many people that have done metal work are familiar with already. How different metals will throw different sparks under a grinder. Think, this was once a new concept.

Then scroll down to page 65 where the inventor Ethan Dodds, shows his patent for a reciprocating saw. It looks suspiciously like a sawzall to me….

And bounce down to page 98. Hardening and quenching methods for steel?? Hell I haven’t had a chance to do more than just browse through that article yet. And honestly I can’t wait to read it through carefully.

What’s happened? It seems that people have given up on discovering the world in ways that are deep and meaningful. We browse through knowledge, skim history, and seldom learn anything for it. It seems that we think cheap thrills is all we need. However there are lots of ways to find experts in any given field, but where are the “jack of all trades?” The people that may not know everything about anything, but are a wealth of knowledge of things across the spectrum. Those people always fascinate me. They were the 20th Century’s version of Renaissance men (and women). Where have they all gone? And how do we get them back?

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From → History, stupid shit

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