In the 21st century, most of us take the technology we have for granted. But we shouldn’t forget that there was once a time when even the most ordinary household items were thought to be revolutionary. What may seem like pretty basic products today — hairdryers, toasters, lawnmowers — were once groundbreaking inventions! And the first iterations of these inventions were very different from what they look like today. Let’s take a look back at the earliest prototypes of the products we use today to see just how much they’ve evolved!
1. The hair dryer
Imagine getting up in the morning to go to work, and drying your hair with that thing. Believe it or not, what you see above is a hair dryer, which was designed in 1890 by Alexander F. Godefrey. He was an enterprising French stylist looking for a way to dry his client’s hair with expediency.
Godefrey’s hair dryer paved the way for the future hand-held and light hair dryers that we know today. But his was huge, consisting of a big chair with a sort of helmet that was connected to a series of pipes.
2. The microwave
A hugely common kitchen appliance today, the microwave was actually created by accident. A defense technology engineer named Percy Spencer — who worked for Raytheon — discovered that a radar magnetron could melt a nut cluster when it struck one in his pocket by accident. After a bit more research with an egg and some popcorn kernels, a patent was put forward for this “method of treating foodstuffs.”
The Raytheon microwave oven debuted commercially in 1947, as the “Radarange,” and the huge refrigerator-sized contraption cost somewhere between $2,000 and $3,000 initially. The invention would change the way many people heated their food forever, effectively inventing an entirely new method.
3. The portable watch
The invention of the watch was achieved way back in the early 16th century. Yes, really. You can credit the German locksmith and inventor Peter Henlein for kickstarting the watch revolution, with the Watch 1505 — or PHN1505 or Pomander Watch of 1505 — being created by him in 1505 in Nuremberg. Heinlein’s watch looks nothing like a Rolex or a Casio that people would one day come to wear.
The watch was constructed out of fire-gilded copper shaped into a sphere, with an oriental pomander and a mainspring. It was to be worn as a pendant, rather than on the wrist. There are still some copies of it knocking about that work today. You might need between $50 and $80 million to pick one up, though.
4. The telephone
The man most widely credited with creating the first telephone is Alexander Graham Bell, but the concept was in the works for several years before Bell secured a U.S. patent for it in 1876. Bell’s patent and subsequent demonstrations were successful, though, in showcasing a device designed for “transmitting vocal or other sounds telegraphically… causing electrical undulations.”
The first Bell telephone — or talking telegraph — was constructed in 1875 and improved a year later. It looks very different to even the landline phones in operation today. The telephone was, of course, a revolutionary invention that changed the way the world communicated long-distance. Transcontinental phone lines began operating in 1915.