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Jan. 11, 1902 — Popular Mechanics Is Born 77

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the a-star-is-born dept.
Today, back in 1902 Henry Haven Windsor published the first issue of Popular Mechanics, helping to empower geeks of future generations with straightforward explanations of scientific and mechanical advances. "The magazine has reported both the brilliant and ridiculous ideas of its times, depending on the writer, scientist or editor. It once published an article about a Philadelphia physician who supposedly used X-rays to turn blacks into whites: probably not a great editorial decision. Betting on blimps over planes for so long might not have been advisable, and hyping excessive consumption during the birth of the environmental movement in the 1960s also rates a demerit. But beyond those probable transgressions, Popular Mechanics paved the way for the people’s incursion into science’s once-exclusive domain. Its longevity argues that science and its sometimes inscrutable possibility have raw mass appeal — even if the subject is cars with steering wheels in the back seat or self-diagnosing appliances."
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Jan. 11, 1902 — Popular Mechanics Is Born

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  • It's Blacks, not blacks you insensitive clod.
  • Love the old ones! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by GrahamCox (741991) on Monday January 11, 2010 @07:36PM (#30730864) Homepage
    I picked up a bunch of PM's from a second-hand bookstore that run from about 1949 through 1960, about 8 or 10 in all. They have pride of place on the shelf in 'the smallest room' and make great bogtime reading. The optimism of that era! The small ads are my favourite, everyone seemingly on the make with this scheme or that, amazing what seemed a viable business at the time, like chrome-plating baby shoes or plans for converting a push-mower into a ride-on. But even the big articles are mind-boggling, like the bizarre concept, quite seriously researched apparently, of using a separate "pusher" plane to get heavy bombers into the air (instantly made pointless as soon as jets started to improve even slightly, and never mind how many accidents it would have caused in practice).

    And the car reviews are great as well - one copy has the release of the Edsel, which is just a straightforward review saying it has this and that, and what should appeal to buyers, A later one has an article explaining why it was such an inevitable disaster! (Which strangely the first article hadn't predicted at all). Tail fins and white picket fences, and not a care in the world - great reading!
    • by spun (1352)

      The small ads are my favourite, everyone seemingly on the make with this scheme or that, amazing what seemed a viable business at the time, like chrome-plating baby shoes or plans for converting a push-mower into a ride-on.

      Jeez, man, have a look at the ads in the current ones! Yeah, it's cute and funny when they are old and aren't actually targeted at you, but when you read the current PopMech and realize, THIS is how dumb the advertisers therein think that you are, well, it kind of takes a lot of the enjoyment out of reading them.

      • But surely I would want to buy magic water that has covalent bonds at a different angle from normal water, or a mutated exercise bike that will turn me into a bodybuilder with just 2 minutes exercise a day.
    • But even the big articles are mind-boggling, like the bizarre concept, quite seriously researched apparently, of using a separate "pusher" plane to get heavy bombers into the air (instantly made pointless as soon as jets started to improve even slightly, and never mind how many accidents it would have caused in practice).

      And 50 years later, we have Mothership Eve and SpaceShipOne.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by GrahamCox (741991)
        Ah, but a big difference between carrying another plane slung below or on the back (Example from the 30s [wikipedia.org]), and having a separate aircraft push one into the air using a kind of towbar: Cover image [popularmechanics.com]
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Tablizer (95088)

      The small ads are my favourite, everyone seemingly on the make with this scheme or that, amazing what seemed a viable business at the time, like chrome-plating baby shoes or plans for converting a push-mower into a ride-on.

      Today we call them "wacky dot-com's" and "spam".
         

    • by plopez (54068)

      But even the big articles are mind-boggling, like the bizarre concept, quite seriously researched apparently, of using a separate "pusher" plane to get heavy bombers into the air (instantly made pointless as soon as jets started to improve even slightly, and never mind how many accidents it would have caused in practice).

      Made even more pointless by the fact that the Germans, and possibly others, used RATO packs in WWII.

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      They have pride of place on the shelf in 'the smallest room' and make great bogtime reading.

      ... everyone seemingly on the make ...

      You know, there are other, less lavender, ways of communicating the same ideas...

      ... favourite ...

      Ah, nevermind. I see what the problem is now.

      • by dzfoo (772245)

        Wow! A Slashdot pedant criticising proper English for, er, being proper.

                -dZ.

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      Tail fins and white picket fences, and not a care in the world - great reading!

      And mad as a bag of frogs.

  • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Monday January 11, 2010 @07:36PM (#30730868) Homepage
    I always preferred Popular Science to Popular Mechanics. While Pop Mech explained new technologies, Pop Sci has a lot more about the really cool stuff about how the world around us works. Both are very good though. Pop Sci was founded well before Popular Mechanics. According to Wikipedia it was founded in 1872 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Popular_Science [wikipedia.org].
    • PopSci and PopMech seem to echo their names, PopSci being a bit more esoteric. In the early years, PS even published articles by a philosopher.
  • by fyngyrz (762201)

    All Popular Mechanics does is demonstrate that the people populating the middle and left of the IQ Gaussian are active consumers. In this, it stands shoulder to shoulder with the National Enquirer, Fox News, and any number of other amazingly low quality media outlets.

    • Re:The Gaussian (Score:4, Interesting)

      by westlake (615356) on Monday January 11, 2010 @08:59PM (#30731698)

      All Popular Mechanics does is demonstrate that the people populating the middle and left of the IQ Gaussian are active consumers. In this, it stands shoulder to shoulder with the National Enquirer, Fox News, and other amazingly low quality media outlets.

      This is really quire unfair when you look at the magazine historically.

      Popular Mechanics published science and craft projects for both kids and adults for the better part of 100 years.

      The books, with titles like The Boy Mechanic, have been reprinted often - and the originals are treasured.

      Mission Furniture: How to Make It [doverpublications.com]

      How To Draw Cartoons the U.S. Army Way! [blogspot.com]

      Popular Mechanics Build-It-Yourself Ranch-Type House [digmodern.com]

      • by fyngyrz (762201)

        I don't think it's unfair at all. Drawing cartoons, framing up a basic home, and making simple furniture is hardly the domain of only bright people. Popular mechanics simply doesn't aim very high. In terms of articles, many are purest garbage, printed without significant editorial care for accuracy or fact-checking; many are "bites", that pernicious trend towards being as minimal as possible, while at the same time being over-hyped. Very similar to network television.

        If you want thoughtful articles with

      • by Guppy (12314)

        This is really quire unfair when you look at the magazine historically.

        Popular Mechanics published science and craft projects for both kids and adults for the better part of 100 years.

        It's amazing how better written old Popular Mechanics were, a lot closer to what Make magazine [makezine.com] is now, at least in spirit.

        By comparison, modern day issues are mostly consumer-toy magvertisements and fluff pieces.

        • It's amazing how better written old Popular Mechanics were, a lot closer to what Make magazine is now, at least in spirit.

          Popular Mechanics has been scanned for Google Books.

          You might begin with September 1930: The cover? Fritz Lang's rocketship from The Woman in the Moon.

          Feature articles on Outer Space, The Britannic, lightning hazards in flying, oil tankers, clouds, spies, skiing .... 175 pages in all.

          The writing is crisp and clear, art and illustration first rate.

    • by DesScorp (410532)

      All Popular Mechanics does is demonstrate that the people populating the middle and left of the IQ Gaussian are active consumers. In this, it stands shoulder to shoulder with the National Enquirer, Fox News, and any number of other amazingly low quality media outlets.

      That's pretty arrogant. What would you consider a better alternative for people interested in practical solutions to mechanical problems, and curiosity about the latest planes, cars, etc? It sounds like you're looking down on people that like to work on their own cars and fix their own sinks.

      I think lumping PM in with the National Enquirer says more about you than it does about PM.

      • by fyngyrz (762201)

        That's pretty arrogant. What would you consider a better alternative for people interested in practical solutions to mechanical problems, and curiosity about the latest planes, cars, etc?

        Doesn't matter one whit if there's a better alternative, or not. The fact is, the quality of the magazine is extremely low, and the responsibility for that lies with the editorial staff, or whoever is controlling the editorial staff. Content is minimally informative, often incorrect, poorly researched, and at times out

  • Whites (Score:5, Funny)

    by Un pobre guey (593801) on Monday January 11, 2010 @07:39PM (#30730918) Homepage
    It once published an article about a Philadelphia physician who supposedly used X-rays to turn blacks into whites...

    Actually, he turned white people into charcoal, which is technically black.

    Popular Mechanics was not about science at all. It was mainly engineering and technology. Science is something else entirely.
  • by Capt.DrumkenBum (1173011) on Monday January 11, 2010 @07:40PM (#30730922)
    I picked up a copy of PM, for the train trip home. Over all not bad, but I kept looking forward to the ads in the back. When I finally got the the ads, I was disappointed. No ads for highly improbable devices, no ads for army surplus jeeps at $20. I miss the old days!

    Now get off my lawn!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I can still remember reading their first issue about transistors. This would've been in the early 1960s. I mean, it was cutting edge research at the time. Virtually nobody knew what a transistor was, and only slightly more people knew about computers. It's unbelievable how much of an impact they've had since then!

    I would've been under 10 years old, but I was damn interested in physics and electronics. I begged my grandfather to pay for a subscription, and eventually he did. I'd read those magazines from cov

  • comparison (Score:5, Funny)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Monday January 11, 2010 @07:47PM (#30730990)

    ... has reported both the brilliant and ridiculous ideas of its times, depending on the writer, scientist or editor.

    For a minute, I thought they were talking about slashdot!

  • It once published an article about a Philadelphia physician who supposedly used X-rays to turn blacks into whites: probably not a great editorial decision.

    Does it have a reverse mode? I wanna bigger you know what.
         

    • Using X rays on that part of your anatomy might not turn out so well.

      • Using X rays on that part of your anatomy might not turn out so well.

        Maybe not so well for him, but for the rest of society... think of the children*!

        * that this guy might have otherwise

  • Sad, though, that the magazine has been abused for political gain by engaging in a straw man attack [wtc7.net], instead of addressing the science [bentham-open.org] properly.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by gyrogeerloose (849181)

      If you ask me, attacking the "9-11 truth" (and there's an oxymoron if ever there was one) movement only adds to Popular Mechanics' credibility. I've spent a lot of time at the various WTC conspiracy Web site and if there's any real science (or credible evidence) presented on any of them, it's damned well hidden.

      FYI, don't bother to try and argue your case with me--I won't read it or reply. It's a waste of time arguing with conspiracy theorists.

  • Funny how the most egregious crimes of the topic are listed right in the summary, before we even get to any relevant information. It's as if it's an attempt to inoculate the topic against an expected "topic is racist and discredited; pay no attention to it further; here are a list of the high crimes and misdemeanors committed by topic" attack in the comments. It's a sign of our modern times. What would archaeologists from the future say about a culture that put such priority on this information, putting

    • by JoshuaZ (1134087)

      Funny how the most egregious crimes of the topic are listed right in the summary, before we even get to any relevant information. It's as if it's an attempt to inoculate the topic against an expected "topic is racist and discredited; pay no attention to it further; here are a list of the high crimes and misdemeanors committed by topic" attack in the comments. It's a sign of our modern times. What would archaeologists from the future say about a culture that put such priority on this information, putting it up front in inscriptions?

      Hopefully, they'll say that we were an honest society willing to discuss our flaws and not pretend they didn't exist.

    • I liked it. They aired the flamebait material and suggested everyone stfu about it. They might say this was useful in the early days of the Internet, when people found the Internet allows them to complain about stuff a lot longer than they should.

  • by gyrogeerloose (849181) on Monday January 11, 2010 @08:10PM (#30731228) Journal

    If they weren't, we'd all be flying autogiros and speaking Esperanto by now.

    • mi ne povas aud vi, la rotoroj estas tro lauta!

    • by teko_teko (653164)

      Here are some of the funny ones: http://www.woot.com/Blog/ViewEntry.aspx?Id=10506 [woot.com]

      How come we never see these awesome vehicles?

      • Great stuff, thanks for the URL. I especially liked the one cover with the propellor-driven ice racers that said "Written so you can understand it" right under the magazine's title. That says a whole lot about PM's target audience.

    • by DesScorp (410532)

      If they weren't, we'd all be flying autogiros and speaking Esperanto by now.

      You can't really lay that at the feet of PM. Everyone thought we'd all be in flying cars and rocket packs and colonies on Mars by now. From the 30's to the 60's, we were incredibly optimistic about what the future would bring. And then we got there. We made it to the moon. Everyone had a car. Everyone had a TV. And we found out that life was as hard and boring as ever. Worse, we found out that there were limits to our wonder machines. Rockets make little difference in getting to Mars if you can't get there

      • by MtViewGuy (197597)

        In the end, besides the fuel consumption and noise problems, it was essentially FAA flight restrictions that pretty much ended the idea of large-scale use of really personal flying machines besides an airplane.

        Interestingly, NASA's Highway in the Sky research project could finally make it possible for everyone to have their own personal flying machines, since we finally will have a system in place to control potentially tens of millions of personal flying machines that could fly as high as 250 meters off th

  • by TrippTDF (513419) <hiland&gmail,com> on Monday January 11, 2010 @09:02PM (#30731726)
    "Popular Science? More like Nerdular Nerdence."
  • Love the rag but isn't this just a shameful plug?
  • I used to collect Popular Mechanics and Popular Science in the days of my misspent youth, but after a few years I noticed that the technologies and products that they covered had a habit of never actually being implemented/practical in real life (kinda reminds me of Wired and Omni in that fashion as well)... The anti-gravity technology article [http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/research/1281736.html] was the last straw and after that I gave up reading PM and PS altogether.... After canceling I began
  • Windsor didn't take long before showing off the big guns, including freelancers as different as Thomas Edison and Babe Ruth, Edward Teller and Ted Williams.

    Sigh. When Windsor died in 1922, Teller was a teenage kid living in Hungary. He didn't become a well-known public figure until after WW 2.

    This is why I rarely read Wired. Their writing is always breathlessly hyperbolic, confusing, and misleading. Too bad, because they do cover a lot of stuff I care about.

  • 1910 issues online (Score:5, Informative)

    by fm6 (162816) on Tuesday January 12, 2010 @12:49AM (#30733436) Homepage Journal

    One of the books in Google Books is this collection of all the articles from the first issues of 1910.

    http://bit.ly/7Xwqj5 [bit.ly]

  • They go back as far as 1915 - but not to the first issue :(

    Read Popular Mechanics on Google [google.com]

  • Seriously - if it's been on the cover of a Popular Mechanics as an "Artist's Rendition" it never gets built.

  • They want their newsworthy story back.
  • Some of the old ones make particularly great reading. The optimism is palpable. Here's June 1956 as a starting point. [google.com]

The degree of technical confidence is inversely proportional to the level of management.

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