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Great Ideas from 1862: A Look in <em>Scientific American's</em> Archives [Slide Show]

Some of these inventions from a century and a half ago were very successful, and some were limited by a lack of understanding of real-world conditions (such as basic science, feasibility or cost) or an overestimation of their utility.

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  • ANCHORS AWEIGH:
    ANCHORS AWEIGH:

    Whether you're setting out in a sailing ship or a steamship, you have to haul up the anchor. Brown & Harfield's widely used designs for capstan and windlass made that task easier.

  • ANCHOR TRIPPER:
    ANCHOR TRIPPER:

    Designed as a secure way to make dropping a big anchor easier. Unfortunately, in high waves the anchor would have bashed a hole in the side of the boat.

  • SWING BRIDGE:
    SWING BRIDGE:

    Canals criss-crossed the country in 1862, leading to this design for a bridge that does not need approach ramps, activated by a crewman on a passing barge (apparently to the surprise of the horse that was about to cross).

  • EVOLUTION OF NUTCRACKERS:
    EVOLUTION OF NUTCRACKERS:

    An elegant and efficient design in the form of a bird's head. By 1862 English walnuts and native black walnuts were readily available for eating and cooking.

  • LETTERBOX:
    LETTERBOX:

    a sensible and aesthetically pleasing design. Stoutly built, it could last longer than the U.S. Postal Service.

  • SECURE STAMP:
    SECURE STAMP:

    The envelope has a die-cut hole and the stamp is affixed directly to the letter; the dated cancellation mark leaves its imprint on the letter for posterity—and for any future legal cases.

  • EASY LAUNDRY:
    EASY LAUNDRY:

    “The accompanying engraving illustrates another alleged improvement in machines for washing clothes.” Apparently even back then we didn’t think this device was going to lighten the burden of domestic labor.

  • TOWEL DRYER:
    TOWEL DRYER:

    Old-fashioned Yankee ingenuity. The wooden bars fold out to hang wet dishtowels on, and fold up and away when not in use. My family has one like it in the low-tech kitchen in our old summer house in Maine. It's very useful.

  • ROAD SCRAPER:
    ROAD SCRAPER:

    Patent number 34,194 for moving earth or stones while building roads, ditches or cellars. Within a few years he would have upgraded the motive power from bullocks to steam engine.

  • STEAM EXCAVATOR:
    STEAM EXCAVATOR:

    An early but cumbersome attempt to harness the power of steam. “The use of the ponderous machine here illustrated is to excavate earth,&rduo; which is dumped into hand-pushed carts (only one of which is shown here).

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