Porsche
Porsche

6 Products That Were Ahead of Their Time

Porsche
Porsche

Not even early adopters were ready for the initial versions of these products.

1. The Hybrid Car

In 1900, a young Ferdinand Porsche used both a battery-powered wheel hub drive and a petrol gas engine to create a hybrid 100 years before you started feeling guilty for not buying a Prius. The Lohner-Porsche Hybrid could reach speeds of 22 mph, and go 124 miles on a single charge/tank. Not bad for 1.7 tons of turn-of-the-century innovation.

2. Picture phones

Wikimedia Commons

If there is one thing all retro future predictions had in common, it was picture phones—and in the mid-'60s, it seemed like they might actually become a reality. Western Electric spent years researching and testing the Western Electric Picturephone®. They brought it to the World’s Fair in 1964 to see what people thought of the prototype. They hated it. Undaunted, Western Electric continued to develop the Picturephone and put it on the market in 1970. Everyone still hated it; it was big and ugly and offered little advantage over telephones.

3. The VCR

There was a flurry of confusing and unsuccessful attempts at a home video recorder in the early 1960s, and among them was the 1963 Telcan (television in a can!). The Telcan was connected to your television in a manner I can’t possibly understand, and could record 20 minutes of grainy television (40 if you switched the reels at the end). It cost a reasonable-ish £60 (around $3000 in today’s money), but came in a kit you had to assemble yourself. It was put on the market in 1963 to a completely dumbfounded public, appealing only to wealthy tech nerds. By 1964 the company that made Telcan was liquidated, and only two Telcans are believed to exist today.

4. Edison Talking Doll

This creepy little darling, made in 1877, wasn’t just the first talking doll. She also contained the first phonograph intended for home use. The child would wind the handle of the phonograph inside the doll’s body, causing the needle to cross over a wax record of a nursery rhyme. It cost the equivalent of two weeks' salary, and was entirely too fragile for children. The steel needle wore out the wax quickly, and of the 500 dolls sold, most were returned for a refund. In fact, they were only marketed for a month before production ceased. As for Edison’s own opinion: “The voices of the little monsters were exceedingly unpleasant to hear."

5. Washing Machine

Wikimedia Commons

Some historians say that the invention of the washing machine was the greatest thing in history to further women’s rights. They aren’t being funny; laundry was an all-consuming torture before the washing machine. Women had to scrub every sheet, napkin, diaper, and dirt-caked pair of work pants in the house, on a washboard, in endless cauldrons of boiled water, with lye soap that burned their hands raw, before moving on to the hoisting, hanging, drying, and ironing. The first washing machine to use a drum and agitator (like we use today) was invented by William Blackstone in 1874 as a gift for his wife. Other inventors had tried variants, but Blackstone’s hand cranked design would be the model for all to come after. Long after. It would take about 50 years for the machines to become properly electronic (in a way that didn’t cause constant outages and shocks from the water) and thus a household staple.

 6. Microwave oven

The first microwave ovens, produced in the mid-1940s, were intended for restaurant use—which was the only viable option because they were six feet tall, weighed 750 pounds, and cost $5000. But they allowed restaurants to keep food in the refrigerator until it was ordered, increasing freshness and decreasing waste. The Radarange, intended for home use, came out in 1947. It was still the size of refrigerator, but more reasonably priced at $3000. Microwave ovens remained unpopular for nearly 30 years, as people associated them with radiation and horrible cooking. By 1975, microwaves had had a few years to shrink both in size and cost, and to prove they didn’t cause brain tumors. That was the year they outsold traditional ovens. 

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images
How a Hairdresser Found a Way to Fight Oil Spills With Hair Clippings
Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images
Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images

The Exxon Valdez oil tanker made global news in 1989 when it dumped millions of gallons of crude oil into the waters off Alaska's coast. As experts were figuring out the best ways to handle the ecological disaster, a hairdresser from Alabama named Phil McCroy was tinkering with ideas of his own. His solution, a stocking stuffed with hair clippings, was an early version of a clean-up method that's used at real oil spill sites today, according to Vox.

Hair booms are sock-like tubes stuffed with recycled hair, fur, and wool clippings. Hair naturally soaks up oil; most of the time it's sebum, an oil secreted from our sebaceous glands, but it will attract crude oil as well. When hair booms are dragged through waters slicked with oil, they sop up all of that pollution in a way that's gentle on the environment.

The same properties that make hair a great clean-up tool at spills are also what make animals vulnerable. Marine life that depends on clean fur to stay warm can die if their coats are stained with oil that's hard to wash off. Footage of an otter covered in oil was actually what inspired Phil McCroy to come up with his hair-based invention.

Check out the full story from Vox in the video below.

[h/t Vox]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
This Waterless Toilet Made of Mushrooms Could Be Key for Refugee Needs
iStock
iStock

In many parts of the world, toilets remain out of reach. An estimated one in three people in the world don't have access to a toilet, and one in nine people don't have access to safe water (in large part because of that lack of toilets). A group of students from the University of British Columbia have come up with a new way to give people without plumbing clean, safe places to do their business, and according to Co.Design the key is mushrooms.

The MYCOmmunity Toilet, which just won the 2018 Biodesign Challenge, is a portable toilet kit designed for refugee camps that uses a mycelium (a mushroom product) tank to eventually turn human waste into compost. Everything needed to set up the toilet is packed into one kit, which users can set up into a small, sit-down toilet with a traditional seat and a tank for waste. The appliance is designed to fit into a refugee tent and serve a family of six for up to a month.

The toilet separates solid and liquid waste for separate treatment. Enzyme capsules can be used to neutralize the smell of urine and start the decomposition, and poop can be covered in sawdust or other material to tamp down odors and rev up the composting process. After the month is up and the tank is full, the whole thing can be buried, and the mushroom spores will speed along the process of turning it into compost. The kit comes with seeds that can be planted on top of the buried toilet, turning the waste into new growth. (Biosolids have been used to fertilize crops for thousands of years.)

The University of British Columbia students—led by Joseph Dahmen, an assistant professor in the architecture school, and Steven Hallam, a professor in the department of microbiology and immunology—competed against 20 other design teams at the 2018 Biodesign Summit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in June, taking home first prize. They hope to further refine the prototype in the future, and according to Co.Design, test it out at local music festivals, which, with their outdoor venues and high volume of drunk pee-ers, are the perfect venue to stress test waterless toilet technology.

[h/t Co.Design]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios