9 Bizarre and Endearing Inventions From 100 Years Ago

Popular Mechanics has long profiled interesting new ideas and inventions, even if those innovations were destined to go no further than the magazine's pages.

1. Electric kitchen table, 1917

Even in the early 20th century, there was still a frightening amount of housework needed to keep the average home running. The "Electrified Kitchen Cabinet" was intended to help the modern housewife solve that problem... in very specific ways. The Kitchen Cabinet could knead bread, chop food, and make ice cream by means of attachable hardware connected to belts and motors. It also had an automatic dishwasher and "a clock to break the circuit and the required moment, so that constant attention to the work in hand is not required."

2. The great "Sea Tank," 1917

The plans for the mighty Sea Tank were submitted to the Council of National Defense in 1917. Meant to assist in beach landing offensives (it was referred to as "somewhat" amphibious), the Sea Tank was basically two water wheels with gun turrets for hubcaps, as well as another turret mounted in the center of the axle. The axle would hold the landing crew as well. How was it supposed to move? With some complexity. "Powerful motors mounted on heavily weighted sliding platforms in the lower part of each drum engage cogged rings encircling the inner circumference of the cylinders. In tending to climb the latter they impose weight that revolves the drums and causes paddles to send the craft forward."

3. Convertible office desk, 1917

While some "almost-inventions" seemed to lay clear paths to failure before they ever came off the drawing board, others really seem like they could have made it. The Convertible Desk is a clever space saver, combining the nooks and crannies of a roll top with the ability to expand usually only found in Grandma's table at Thanksgiving. Fold the desk top wings once to have downward access to files and assorted necessities, and flip the folds to create a large drawing board.

4. Elevator to Jungfrau summit, 1921

This beautiful piece of engineering might have actually been built if WWI hadn't come along. The Jungfrau railroad was built over the course of 16 years, finishing in 1912. It was meant to increase tourism to that particular region of the Swiss Alps, by bringing passengers a good deal up the summit of the famous mountain. The elevator was intended to bring them the rest of the way, 2206 feet straight up. Though the elevator was never made, the Jungfrau train station is still the highest in the world, and its terminus under the mountain contains many caverns and tunnels designed to delight tourists.

5. Personal submergers, 1921

This "Submerging Boat," meant exclusively for fun and frolic at the beach, falls into the category of "What an incredible idea! That makes no practical sense!" It was neither a real submarine nor a personal speedboat of any merit. The depth it could reach was controlled by four "planes" mounted on the sides of the vehicle, which the driver controlled with foot pedals. The wheel controlled the rudder, and to prevent drowning there was a "buoyant ball mounted on a tubular guide on the stern of the boat." When the water pressure of the sinking vessel caused the ball to rise too high, it would strike a switch that cuts off the motor, keeping the passenger bobbing shoulder deep in the water.

6. Extendible gunstock for recoil, 1921

The adjustable, shock-absorbing gunstock was intended for the lady sportsman, whose love for athletics might not be outweighed by a sore shoulder from that nasty kickback. The stock could be lengthened or shortened to meet personal preferences by means of setscrews, and, reportedly, 70 percent of recoil was absorbed by the springs placed with the setscrews.

7. Elaborate auto bungalow, 1918

This 1918 "Elaborate Auto Bungalow" prototype looks similar to the recreational vehicles that would succeed it decades later. Except this one is quite a bit fancier, used by Captain Charles Percival, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Veterans of Foreign Wars, as he toured the country. It had a hardwood body with room for a typewriter desk, sink, water tank, and cabinets. Ahead of its time, but not by far.

8. Hand-powered velocipede, 1918

In 1918, the newest form of transportation in Paris was the hand-powered buckboard scooter. This "velocipede" was meant to be propelled with the same action as boat rowing, except with handlebars instead of oars. Steering? Why, you'd do that with your feet, of course.

9. 5-in-1 playground, 1918

The 5-in-1 playground is clever—and not even remotely safe. The slide was the starting point for all the other toys. Remove the slide board and place it over the "lower standard," and you'd have a teeter totter, plus monkey bars where the slide used to be. The board and lower standard could also support a little roller coaster, which was kept on track with flanges. We certainly don't advocate that talented home craftsmen try to recreate this perilous structure... but we  do  wish our own dads had thought to do it.

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Samsung Is Making a Phone You Can Fold in Half
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The iPhone vs. Galaxy war just intensified. Samsung is pulling out all the stops and developing a foldable phone dubbed Galaxy X, which it plans to release next year, according to The Wall Street Journal.

It would seem the rumors surrounding a mythical phone that can fold over like a wallet are true. The phone, which has been given the in-house code name “Winner,” will have a 7-inch screen and be a little smaller than a tablet but thicker than most other smartphones.

Details are scant and subject to change at this point, but the phone is expected to have a smaller screen on the front that will remain visible when the device is folded. Business Insider published Samsung patents back in May showing a phone that can be folded into thirds, but the business news site noted that patents often change, and some are scrapped altogether.

The Galaxy Note 9 is also likely to be unveiled soon, as is a $300 Samsung speaker that's set to rival the Apple HomePod.

The Galaxy X will certainly be a nifty new invention, but it won’t come cheap. The Wall Street Journal reports the phone will set you back about $1500, which is around $540 more than Samsung’s current most expensive offering, the Galaxy Note 8.

[h/t Business Insider]

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Why a Readily Available Used Paperback Is Selling for Thousands of Dollars on Amazon
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At first glance, getting ahold of a copy of One Snowy Knight, a historical romance novel by Deborah MacGillivray, isn't hard at all. You can get the book, which originally came out in 2009, for a few bucks on Amazon. And yet according to one seller, a used copy of the book is worth more than $2600. Why? As The New York Times reports, this price disparity has more to do with the marketing techniques of Amazon's third-party sellers than it does the market value of the book.

As of June 5, a copy of One Snowy Knight was listed by a third-party seller on Amazon for $2630.52. By the time the Times wrote about it on July 15, the price had jumped to $2800. That listing has since disappeared, but a seller called Supersonic Truck still has used copy available for $1558.33 (plus shipping!). And it's not even a rare book—it was reprinted in July.

The Times found similar listings for secondhand books that cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars more than their market price. Those retailers might not even have the book on hand—but if someone is crazy enough to pay $1500 for a mass-market paperback that sells for only a few dollars elsewhere, that retailer can make a killing by simply snapping it up from somewhere else and passing it on to the chump who placed an order with them.

Not all the prices for used books on Amazon are so exorbitant, but many still defy conventional economic wisdom, offering used copies of books that are cheaper to buy new. You can get a new copy of the latest edition of One Snowy Knight for $16.99 from Amazon with Prime shipping, but there are third-party sellers asking $24 to $28 for used copies. If you're not careful, how much you pay can just depend on which listing you click first, thinking that there's not much difference in the price of used books. In the case of One Snowy Knight, there are different listings for different editions of the book, so you might not realize that there's a cheaper version available elsewhere on the site.

An Amazon product listing offers a mass-market paperback book for $1558.33.
Screenshot, Amazon

Even looking at reviews might not help you find the best listing for your money. People tend to buy products with the most reviews, rather than the best reviews, according to recent research, but the site is notorious for retailers gaming the system with fraudulent reviews to attract more buyers and make their way up the Amazon rankings. (There are now several services that will help you suss out whether the reviews on a product you're looking at are legitimate.)

For more on how Amazon's marketplace works—and why its listings can sometimes be misleading—we recommend listening to this episode of the podcast Reply All, which has a fascinating dive into the site's third-party seller system.

[h/t The New York Times]

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