Posts Tagged ‘1900s’

1904: Predicting Skype

Sunday, November 19th, 2017

It only took a hundred years for this technology to truly take hold for the average person, but they sure understood what it would mean:


Some Objections to Proposed Telephone Attachment.

A man in Portland, Ore., has invented a telephone attachment that will enable the person at one end of the wire to see the face of the one at the other.  He calls this an improvement, and seems to think it fills a long-felt want.

If this fiendish device should find its way into general use the telephone would become a thing of terror.  How could you express your opinion of Central with her scornful eyes staring into yours.  How could you tell a dun that you had gone to Boston if he could look at your face while you said it? How could you escape a bore in the recesses of your club if he could catch you face to face on a wire?

The world owes something to modern science, but the inventors of wireless telegraphs and portrait telephones are overdoing things.  In the interest of the disappearing right to privacy they ought to be kindly but thoroughly suppressed.–New York World

Found in the November 25, 1904 Wahpeton Times.

Today, we carry a combination wireless telegraph and portrait telephone (also a motion picture camera, instant newspaper, cartographic archive, and wire recorder, among many other features) in our pockets and think nothing of broadcasting our face to the other end of a telephone call.   Well, many people.   I don’t Skype, or Facetime, or Snapchat, or whatever the next fun technology for communication both voice and face in a single message will be called.  Sure, it took better than a century to finally fill that long-felt want, but I agree, it’s overdoing things.

Glassless Goggles, 1907

Sunday, January 24th, 2016

Scientific, automotive, and news publications announced this marvel of modern design  in 1907:  Can you guess what they are?

Yes, they’re goggles, but what doesn’t come across in these images is that the “lenses” are actually steel plates.

“Looked at from the distance of two or three feet away these plates appear to be solid  and that by no means could the eyes see through them.  But a closer inspection discloses (A, B, and C) in the smooth surface of the steel.  They are in the form of a cross, with an additional shorter line above.  These lines are cut through the steel plate, and when the goggles are properly adjusted to the eyes of the person wearing them can see in all directions through these narrow slits as well as if they were an ample surface of glass.”

It might  seem counterinuitive — who can see through a tiny slit? — but what they’ve essentially created is a stenopaeic slit, a device used by opticians to detect astigmatism by filtering incoming light through what’s essentially an elongated pinhole camera.   Based on the direction of the line, and whether the eyesight through the slit in one direction versus the other, can tell how malformed the lens is.

Technically, someone with good eyesight should be able to see through the slits fine — and the French optician who designed these lenses made a horizontal and a vertical one, to allow some eye movement.  I don’t entirely get what the “A” line is for; my guess is for a modicum of peripheral vision.   One thing these googles do not take into account is the movement of the eye when looking around; there may be some limited vision when just moving the eye from right to left, or up and down, but when doing so the pupil and iris are moving in orbit around the center of they eye, which doesn’t translate well compared to a flat surface. Wearing these googles means looking straight ahead for the best benefit, which I suppose is generally how driving is done.  They may work OK, but I’d be hesitant to operate a moving vehicle with these in front of my face.

The technique found a resurgence during wartime as a means of protecting the eyes from shrapnel, since glass lenses pose a problem when struck by a small piece of metal at high speeds.  Owing back to the science behind the stenopaeic slit’s optical origins, the style was refined over the years and is now the snake-oil vision-enhancing product called “pinhole glasses“.  Pinhole glasses are believed to cure poor eyesight, for which there is little-to-no evidence.  The original steel googles purported to cure “swelling and conjuctivitis”…which I can only assume is due to keeping stuff out of the eyeball, versus any special scientific principle.

The “snake oil” link above also warns that driving while wearing the pinhole glasses is a really, really bad idea.  But, if you had tried these glassless goggles out, a hundred years ago, you’d already know that.

21st Century Aeroplanists, 1906.

Monday, August 18th, 2014

The promise of flying cars and jetpacks in the 21st century has been around a long, long time: here is a comic from the french journal Le Pele-Mele:


Aeroplanist to friend: “Just look down and you’ll see how backward they are in this part of the world.  Why, the peasants still go about in automobiles at a miserable fifty miles an hour.”

This was found in the 2 August 1906 edition of the Williston Graphic; note that the Wright Brothers made their first flight in December 1903 — a mere three years later, speculation had already grown to the point where, a hundred years hence, there would be no question that only backwards, primitive societies would resort to driving…ick…automobiles.   They were just as wrong about the lasting power of the stovepipe tophat as they were about personal  flight systems.

Vienna General Hospital, 1900s

Monday, April 7th, 2014

Alongside the glass plate of Sanssouci Palace is this ambulatory image:

The plate is marked “Hospital Yard, Vienna”.   I’m sure there have been many different hospitals in Vienna over the years, but the architecture clearly identifies this building: the Vienna General Hospital, otherwise known as “Allgemeines Krankenhaus der Stadt Wien”.  The image above would appear to be taken along that central promenade, facing towards the west; the central building on the right is clearly visible in the background of my magic lantern slide:

The Vienna General Hospital was built in 1694 as a home for the poor and invalid by Emperor Leopold I, and by 1696 it held over a thousand indigent patients.   Emperor Joseph II saw the poorhouse as capable of so much more than just housing the sick and poor, and turned the campus into a General Hospital, inspired by Hotel Dieu in Paris.   The grounds continued to be expanded unto the 19th century, but as the medical care of the 20th century improved, the old Hospital became less functional.

I tried to find a modern photo with the same perspective, but came up empty — not due to a lack of pictures of the grounds, but just the lack of coincidence in pointing a camera that direction.  You can look around the grounds in this photoset.

It’s not difficult to visit the area because in the late 20th century the Vienna General Hospital became the campus of the University of Vienna.  Although the buildings still stand today, there’s a lot more inside the walls of the old General Hospital than when the picture was taken.  About all that remains of its medical heritage is the “Fool’s Tower”, once home to the mentally ill, and now home of the Vienna Pathological-Anatomical Museum.

The Grip, 1903

Sunday, March 9th, 2014

In Guys and Dolls, the song “Adelaide’s Lament” rattles off any number of diseases that Adelaide might be suffering from — one is le grippe.   By the fifties, the name was pretty much obsolete: today, we call legrippe “the flu”.   Catarrh is another one of those obsolete disease names, too.  It mostly just means excessive mucous — today, that’s allergies or a cold.

Today, we advertise cures for these diseases with blobby green goblins, but back in 1903 the Peruna Medicine Company advertised their cures for lagrippe and catarrh with this strange vaporous banshee, spreading disease across the United States.  Well, the northern United States, completely missing the guy in the sombrero in the southwest, but they’ve known for a long time that Arizona is good for people with breathing problems.

Peruna was invented by Dr. Hartman — who, in the full ad, says he’ll give you personal advice if his tonic doesn’t work — as a cure for catarrh…which he believed to be  the cause of every other disease known to man.  Got mouth cancer?  That’s catarrh of the mouth — Peruna will fix it!  So, he advertised his Peruna as the cure for catarrh, which would then cure everything else, and sold millions of little bottles of his tonic.

Of course, Peruna didn’t cure the flu, or catarrh for that matter, but those self-medicating with Peruna likely didn’t care — analysis of the contents of Peruna at the time of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 found that the bottle contained “…1/2 pint of 90% proof spirits, 1.5 pints of water, a flavor cube and a little burned sugar for color.”    So, just about 50-proof alcohol, some flavoring and coloring, or like drinking cheap spiced rum straight from the two-pint bottle.  Needless to say, Peruna didn’t survive the Pure Food and Drug Act’s effects, aside from resurgence during prohibition for obvious reasons,  and now lives on as the mascot of Southern Methodist University Mustangs.

Sans-Souci Palace, 1900s

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

A few years ago I bought a small box containing ‘magic lantern‘ slides, small glass plates with photographs on them, at an antique store in Minnesota.  They’re essentially for use in the slide-projector of the late 19th century and early 20th century, a way to share photos with an audience.   Five plates are in the box, and in the interest of procrastinating other work, I decided to finally scan them today.

Here’s one of the most impressive: the Chateau de Sans-Souci:

You’ll need to zoom in to see the full detail.  Unfortunately the low contrast makes some of the distant objects hard to see — thankfully, the  Sanssouci Palance is still there.

The internet is an amazing place, where I can, from my comfy office find a photo taken a hundred years later, from almost the same vantage point:

One photo, taken on a glass plate smeared with a photosensitive chemical, mounted in a rudimentary camera made mostly of wood; the other created by photons striking a tiny sliver of silicon, housed in plastic and metal box made by a country that was still buried in feudalism when the first photo was taken.   Here’s a map; the earlier photo was taken further south, you can see the pathway entrance on the right.   The recent photo appears to have been taken from just south of the intersection.  Don’t get me started on the fact that I can pull up an aerial photo from my computer and map out locations…

After two world wars and a century of rain and snow and vandals, Victorians and Millenials looking at the same things as though it barely changed (the urn’s gone, unfortunately).  Here’s a closeup of that distinct statue on the right, the Sphinx by Georg Ebengech, carved in 1755:

Electric and Steam Shovels, 1905

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Ad for Electric and Steam Shovels, Vulcan Iron Works, Toledo OH, 1905

As technology changes, sometimes we get stuck on old terminology; we “dial” a phone, the first TV channel is “2″, and we flatten things with a “steamroller”.  Most steamrollers today, of course, are gas or diesel powered, but they’re still ’steam’ to us.   Steam-power ran most construction machinery in the 19th century, but slowly faded out as modern power systems became reliable.  I still call big loaders “steamshovels”, even though they haven’t been steam-powered in a hundred years – but, unlike many other forms of technology, steamshovels took a leap to electricity early on.  In fact, a lot of heavy machinery was (and still is) electric, because distance and freedom of movement wasn’t as big a deal, and effectively ‘outsourcing’ power generation reduced weight and complexity.  Vulcan Iron Works produced steam shovels since the 1890s, and in this 1905 ad they were showing their steps into The Technology of Tomorrow: Electric Shovels.   Vulcan was bought by Bucyrus five years later, and they’re still in making mining equipment today, although under the Caterpillar name.  As far as terminology goes, “Electric Shovels” are now known more generically as Power Shovels.

Niagara Falls Ride, 1905.

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

Click for full image

You might think Disney invented immersive amusement park rides, but he was a latecomer to the game. As trolley car services grew in cities, they looked for ways to expand ridership. One popular solution: buy land towards the end of the line, and build an amusement park. You can’t count on short-line railroad entrepeneurs to also be experts in weekend frivolities, so they had to get their attractions from somebody, and possibly a creative genius like Joseph Turner. Turner operated his New York business on the premise that the people of Kansas City would love the chance to visit Niagara Falls, complete with synthetic wind, water, and Native American legends. Read the entire ad here.

Seated Boy, Book in Lap, 1900s.

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

Click for full image

A hand-colored portrait of a seated boy, holding a book in his lap. Appears 1900s.

Man In Driving Gear, 1900s.

Friday, December 19th, 2008

Man in fur-collared, double-breasted driving coat, driving cap, with a pair of gloves in his hands. Appears 1900s. Photo by C.M. Howe, Erskine, MN.