Popular Science 1872, 1936 – Nothing New Under the Sun!

Google Books has a plethora of old photographs, books, and magazines available for free viewing.  This makes it a whole lot easier than looking through microfilm at a library, and you don’t even have to be looking for anything in specific.  One day I was perusing through old issues of Popular Science and found some quite interesting things.

Popular Science May 1872 – A lot of talk about G_d!

popsci1First, since this is a blog largely about the intersection of Jewish belief probably more so than patents and science, I found in interesting that in the May 1872 issue, one can find a rather lengthy article on the immortality of the soul as it pertains to scientific inquiry by a Reverend T.W. Fowle.  It seems the debate still hasn’t changed.  Among the things, the author says are:

Rationalism will approach mankind rather on the side of the virtues of the intellect.  It will uphold the need of caution in our assent, the duty of absolute conviction, the self-sufficiency of men, the beauty of law, the glory of working for posterity, and the true humility of being content to be ignorant where knowledge is impossible.  Religion will appeal to man’s hopes and wishes recorded in Nature and in history, to his yearnings for affection, to his sense of sin, to his passion for life and duty, which death cuts short.  And that one of the two which is truest to humanity, which lays down the best code of duty, and creates the strongest capacity for accomplishing it, will, in the long-run, prevail; a conclusion which science, so far as it believes in man, and religion, so far as it believes in God, must adopt.  Here, once more, it is well nigh impossible to discern the immediate direction of the conflict, whatever may be our views as to its ultimate decision.  Science is almost creating a new class of virtues; it is laying its finger with unerring accuracy upon the faults of the old morality; it is calling into existence a passion for intellectual truth.

Ironically, after the pessimism permeating how far reason can talk humanity after the devastating worldwide upheavals of the first half the 20th century, society would largely flip Reverend Fowle’s position on it’s head.  Namely, while I would argue that religion and science should ultimately have entirely resolvable conflicts (or one of them is incorrect), Fowle puts “absolute conviction, self-sufficiency of men, the beauty of law, the glory of working for posterity, and the true humility of being content to be ignorant where knowledge is impossible” in the “rationalism” column.  I’d put them more in the “religion” column.

“Then, down on page 122, “Sir W.M.W. ull, Bart., M.D., F.R.S.” discusses “The Nature of Disease” and discusses “God’s will”.

Popular Science October, 1872 – Climate Change

In turns out discussions of climate change are nothing new.  In an article entitled “Has Our Climate Changed?” the author tells us, “In Western Europe there is a belief that a great amelioration has taken place in all the Baltic countries since the time of the Roman domination.”  The author discusses the facts behind or lacking in such claims, but take a look at this chart, where he tries to find modern evidence:

hudson(click to enlarge)

The conclusion, based on temperature and river data (does the Hudson river even freeze over anymore?) is that there wasn’t climate change in the 1700s and 1800s.

Popular Science March 1936 – Communications Developments

By 1936, after the age of “reason” has taken over, worldwide discontent over WWI and a population in a state of depression, Popular Science is rather upbeat.  It’s hard to see negative signs of society in this science paper, and strikingly, many of the topics under discussion continue to be just the same today!

Take a look at this (click on any image in this article to enlarge):

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That is an advertisement for an “automatic secretary” which which delivers messages in “the speaker’s own voice!”  It would take until 2003 for the government to start looking at ways of banning robocalls.

Then we’ve got short hand code for telegraphs:

It seems, back in 1936, i was considered an improvement to write “KUBOR” for “we are shipping to your agent in your care in Shanghai” over a telegraph line.  Little did they know that by 1990, their grand-children would be using short codes on America Online to ask a stranger for his age, sex, and location or to tell a person that they’re laughing. LOL!

Popular Science March 1936 – Vehicle Developments

Take a look at the Lincoln Tunnel.  I love this article:

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The article touts how the tunnel was “built in record time” with a hydraulic wrench.  I want to say . . . we certainly have not progressed in this area!  New Jersey Governor Christie rightly canceled a project for a new rail tunnel which would have cost somewhere around $14 billion, connect to no where people want to go in New York City (requiring a further transfer to Penn Station), and had to be designed to absurd depths underground to avoid red tape.  Still, we can marvel at the Lincoln Tunnel which was scheduled to open in 1938 with “a real novelty in tunnel design – a roof of glass.  Eight thousand panes of cream-colored glass will line the top of the tube.”  This way, the article tells us, they don’t have to clean it!  I was in the Lincoln tunnel yesterday . . . I can confirm. LOL.  KUBOR!

Then the article tells us,

Eventually, an underground highway may link the Midtown Tunnel with a projected tube under the East River . . . giving motorists a through route between Long Island points and New Jersey mainland.

That is actually a quite interesting story, and the plan was only officially cancelled by Mayor Rockefeller in 1971.  One of the plans involved running the highway right through the middle of the Empire State Building.  In the end, it just proved far too expensive to buy up land in midtown Manhattan.

Well, here’s one downer – the German development of a vehicle that can travel on both land and water:

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The vehicle travels at “1.5 miles per minute” . . . 90 miles per hour.  Not bad.  Today, similar vehicles are used for “Duck Tours” in Boston:



Back to automobiles.  Take a look at the Plymouth (later bought by Chrysler) ad for a new engine:

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“No premium fuel is required and owners report 18 to 24 miles a gallon.”  Let’s see . . . that was in 1936.  My 1988 Oldsmobile got about 16 miles a gallon on a good day, my 1988 Caprice about the same, my mom’s Mercury Topaz circa. 1994 got about 20 miles a gallon, and our minivan gets about 20, maybe 21.  Okay, my Kia gets about 25 or 26, but aside from the fact that we’re still using miles per gallon instead of a much more useful inverse, gallons per mile . . . seriously?  Our fuel efficiency is of the same caliber as when Charlie Chaplin was in theaters?

Here’s some more car innovations which haven’t changed . . .

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This one is dear to me for a simple reason – in 2013, automakers have returned to putting two seats in the front, taking out the middle seat.  If your family or carpool is larger than the car, well, this 1936 innovation is hard to come by today, but in the world of Torah observant Jews in the United States where mass transportation is largely non-existent as is busing to private schools, there are those who install these things today.  You can take a 7-seat minivan all the way up to 9 seats this way.

. . . and finally, the scams remain the same!

I have an article over on my Patent Law Firm website about my meeting with an invention promoter.  These are people who promise you riches if you just pay them $10,000 or so.  They tend to be scam artists who start off with “call for your free brochure.”  The ads in the back of Popular Science in 1936 have almost word for word text compared to companies like Davison today.  Click the image to enlarge:



Since 1999, however, such companies get sued by the Federal Trade Commission and have to disclose the number of clients they have and number that have made money.  Davison buries the following required disclosure on it’s website:

The total number of customers who have contracted with Davison in the past five years is fifty eight thousand eight hundred sixty five (58,865). The number of customers who received a net financial profit as a direct result of the company’s services over the company’s history, since 1989, is twenty eight (28).

To translate, they have been paid by 58,865 suckers, all of whom lost money except for 28.  That’s a 0.0048% success rate!  Yet, people are still fooled by the same old ads even with these disclosures . . . take a look at some of those ads from 1936: “unpatented ideas can be sold”, “patent your ideas – send for free book”, “inventions promoted”, “take out your own patents”.

The more things change, the more things remain the same.


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2 Responses

  1. Debbie Rudin says:

    re: climate change – So either there was no climate change but there is now because the river used to freeze but it no longer does, or there is another reason besides temperature that the river does not freeze anymore. Perhaps there is more boat traffic so the river is churnning more and not freezing.

  1. October 12, 2015

    […] I enjoy reading history books for some reason and even more so, those from previous times because you can also learn about the biases of the the time when the pick was written as opposed to those of your own time which are already well known.  Older books are closer in time to the event they describe and apt to be more accurate (I’m willing to be proven wrong).  By looking in the past, you can also become aware of current biases you didn’t even realize were so.  Science magazines are just as fun this way. […]

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