Mark Twain once said, “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope.”
As with most things, Twain was absolutely right. Even a lot of “modern technologies” are really just updated versions of older creations, polished and given a fresh coat of paint.
10 Video Games
The general consensus is that the history of video games began with Pong. But in reality, these games had been entertaining us long before Pong’s release in 1972. Back in 1958, Dr. William Higinbotham was working at Brookhaven National Laboratory, designing a simulation to calculate the trajectories of missiles and bouncing balls. He had a moment of inspiration during his research when he realized his creation could be used for entertainment.
Higinbotham called his new game Tennis for Two, and it used trajectories to bounce a “tennis ball” (represented by a point of light) around a court, with a net in the middle. The screen was a 12.7-centimeter (5 in) oscilloscope, and the game was controlled by a large box with a rotating knob. Tennis for Twonever hit stores because it was extremely similar to a design Higinbotham had used in a federal-owned lab, meaning the US government would’ve owned the game should he try to commercialize it.
But even before Tennis for Two, there was the Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device. Patented in 1948, this was a massive, closet-mounted cathode ray computer. As for the gameplay itself, knobs were used to adjust the speed and trajectory of an artillery shell that the player aimed at a predestined point on the screen.
These points were overlain with transparent pictures of airplanes. In other words, the airplane images were actually placed on top of the screen. (After all, this was the ‘40s, and the level of graphical detail needed for an in-game plane would’ve been impossible.) Next, the player would try to hit the target by maneuvering his artillery shell toward the preset point/airplane. If the player managed to hit the target, the shell would blur, simulating an explosion.
9 Mobile Phones
Mobile phones have been around for a lot longer than you would probably suspect. The first “true” mobile telephone call was made in 1946. Long before iPhones, a team at Bell Labs had already made a wireless phone service available in about 100 cities.
Naturally, it was expensive, with a monthly service fee of $15. That’s about $150 by today’s standards, with an additional fee of 30–40 cents per call. And since the equipment weighed about 36 kilograms (80 lb), the “mobile” function was mainly limited to automobiles. In addition to the price and weight, it was also a party line that could only handle about three calls at one time in one city. Due to its price and technological limitations, it was far from popular.
But there was a slightly more viable option in 1922. Although this device was labeled a “wireless telephone,” it was not what we could consider a mobile phone today. Nevertheless, it was a way to wirelessly connect with family members over great distances, and in the 1920s, that was quite an achievement.
The device was a kind of one-way crystal radio that was used to listen to messages. It was large and required an umbrella to act as the antenna. However, it didn’t need a power source since the antenna provided the energy. Old advertisements for the phone appealed to women who wanted to call their husbands wherever they were at the moment. Of course, that also meant hubby had to carry the bulky radio and constantly listen for the phone call. Given all that, it’s not surprising this particular device never caught on.
The first modern bra was patented in 1914. It’s said that Mary Phelps Jacob created the undergarment as a way to have support without wearing a corset, which she said was like wearing whalebone armor. Her bra was essentially two handkerchiefs sewn together and tied around the neck. It was not very comfortable, but compared to corsets, the bra was far lighter and less restrictive.
Still, in Jacob’s time, corsets were all the rage, so women would only wear bras in the privacy of their own homes. But after World War I kicked off, the metal used to construct corsets was needed to help the war effort, thus leading to the popularity of the bra as we know it.
However, a recent discovery has placed the invention of the bra in the 1400s. A team of archaeologists unearthed a vault of ancient clothes in Castle Lengberg, located in Tyrol, Austria. Inside the vault were 2,700 textile fragments. Among the shoes, shirts, and codpieces were four examples of medieval bras. These were arguably even better than Jacob’s 1914 version because they had distinctly cut cups.
Each bra was also differently designed. One looked like the longline bra of the 1950s, with an extra piece that extended down the ribcage. This particular bra was fastened with lace. Another was elaborately decorated with needle-lace, sprang-work (a form of knitting), and finger-loop-lace. So in addition to being one of the earliest bras ever invented, perhaps this is also the first example of lingerie.