When you think about the modern, everyday conveniences that make our lives just a tad bit easier (or safer, more enjoyable, healthier), it’s easy to take them for granted. They weren’t always available at our local stores. But just how long have these things been around? If you had to guess when something like contact lenses were invented, you might say in the 1970s, since it seems that people really started wearing them a lot in the ’80s. You would be wrong. What about the vacuum cleaner? Practically every ad featuring a housewife from the 1950s showed a woman vacuuming in her dressing gown, so one might think that the vacuum was invented not long before that. Wrong again.
As it turns out, there are countless items in our lives that were invented far earlier than you might have ever guessed.
7. Vacuum Cleaner — 1901
While the model that was ultimately released in 1901 was slightly more sleek than the vacuum in the image above, we have to say that it’s pretty clunky. Can you imagine lugging this thing around your house, trying to suck up lint and pet hair? It’s no wonder we might have thought that the vacuum was invented later — because a model that one could actually use in an efficient manner was still a ways away. Nonetheless, they had to start somewhere, and the device that Daniel Hess invented sucked up at least some things. But unlike the vacuums of today, it didn’t use brushes. Instead, it had tubes to suck up dust. It’s a good thing that Dyson has had some time to perfect the model.
6. Gun Silencer — 1902
You might wonder why anyone would have even needed a gun silencer back in 1902 (it was called the Maxim Silencer back then), but the device was marketed for sporting uses. (Interestingly, the techniques that were used to silence guns were also used in the development of car mufflers.) President Theodore Roosevelt was apparently a fan of the Maxim Silencer, and agents in the Office of Strategic Services (which was a U.S. wartime intelligence agency) also used it.
5. Mechanical Toothbrush — 1930
One can only imagine what the 1930s version of the mechanical toothbrush looked like. It undoubtedly needed to be plugged in, and you can only guess how many people risked electrocution as a result of brushing their teeth over a sink full of water. Obviously the progress made in the area of rechargeable batteries worked wonders for this little machine that can whisk tartar and plaque away in just two minutes, twice a day.
4. Electric Guitar — 1935
Surprisingly, the first 25″ scale electric guitar that was made didn’t look much different from what musicians play today. It is just incredible that it existed as early as it did, since we didn’t hear much of it until the late 1940s and well into the 1950s. Nonetheless, the Electro-Spanish Ken Roberts model (shown above) was designed to play standing vertical, which would have made rock concerts at the time a little awkward.
3. Microwave Oven — 1946
Considering how much Hungry Man and Lean Cuisine dinners were marketed and consumed in the 1980s, it is surprising that this extremely handy household device showed up in the ’40s. The technology was discovered by accident, by an engineer named Percy Spencer. He realized that chocolate that was near a radar he was working with began to melt from the microwaves. The model above, called the Radar Range, was where the technology landed in 1961. Fortunately, models have become increasingly smaller and cheaper and are excellent for popcorn and “urban” s’mores.
2. Contact Lenses — 1948 (Disposables 1987)
Early versions of the contact lenses were actually corneal lenses that only sat on the cornea of the eye. Rigid lenses are what followed, but they proved to be dangerous since they didn’t allow oxygen to permeate through the membrane. By the time people began wearing contact lenses with great regularity, these design issues were addressed and ultimately disposable lenses were created in the late 1980s.
1. Car Seat Belts — 1959
Who can recall a childhood full of lying down in the back seat for long car rides, or riding in the middle of the front seat, between mom and dad, with feet up on the dashboard? Clearly we had seat belts back then, since they were invented in 1959, but they didn’t become a mandatory part of driving for quite some time after that.