Category: inventions

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Duct tape was initially used during World War II for a very specific military purpose: keeping ammunition boxes sealed. It quickly became clear that it was useful for many other things, as well. And its incredibly adhesive qualities as well as inherent waterproofing led to soldiers calling it “duck tape,” referring to a duck’s wicking feathers.

After the war, former American soldiers who went to work in construction spread the word about the amazing new tape. It ended up being used for all sorts of HVAC applications, but mostly for holding ductwork together, so “duck tape” became “duct tape.“

Chicago Tribune, Illinois, August 23, 1891

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The first automated car wash was – where else – in Detroit. It opened in 1914 with the imaginative name of “Automated Laundry.“ It was a luxury service for a luxury good, because the process took all day! The car had to be pushed, by hand, through brash wash components. It was not until the 1950s that the conveyor belt was added.

Han purple was an ancient Chinese pigment which is thought to have been created as early as 800 BCE, but the most famous examples of its use date back to around 220 BCE when it was used to paint the Terracotta Army and murals in the tomb of the first emperor Qin Shi Huang at Xi’an.

Han purple peaked during the Han Dynasty, then declined, and then vanished from the historical record entirely – along with knowledge of how to make the color.

It was not until the 1990s that scientists were able to replicate it. The process to make the copper barium silicate pigment was extremely intricate. For one thing, it involved the grinding of precise quantities of various materials. And for another, it required heating to between 900 and 1,100 degrees Celsius. Amazing that the process was discovered so long ago!

In 1965, Harvard students used a dating questionnaire and an IBM 1401—an early version of the computer—to match co-eds seeking love. Students would fill out a questionnaire. It would be copied onto punch cards, and fed into the computer, and within seconds 5 potential partners would be spit out. Workers would then mail the results back to the student.

The service was called “Operation Match,” and it cost about $3 per person (or about $22 today).

In 1884, electrical engineer Rookes Crompton wrote, “At the recent Crystal Palace Electrical Exhibition, a couple from the country asked the price of an incandescent lamp at one of the stalls, and being supplied with it for 5s., expended a box of matches in trying to light it, and then declared the whole thing was a swindle.”

Koreans invented moveable type made of durable metal in the 1200s CE. The oldest existing book made from moveable metal type is the Jikji a collection of Buddhist teachings, hymns, eulogies, and poetry. It was compiled by a Korean Buddhist monk named Baegun, and printed in 1377.

Archaeological evidence suggests the wheel was invented in Mesopotamia around 4500 BCE. But about 300 years, it was used for making household implements, not transportation.

When the wheel was put on a vehicle, it was only for war, not cargo. With heavy, cumbersome wooden wheels they were perfect for driving through – or over – enemy soldiers. Lack of good roads delayed the wheel’s civilian usage for a couple more centuries.

In 1916, a Manhattan chauffeur George Boyden patented a new way to navigate. Installing a phonograph in the car, which would play audio recordings through a megaphone in front of the steering column. “The talking machine at the proper times will announce the directions whereby the driver will be enabled to follow a predetermined route.”

So that the phonograph knows exactly where the car is, it was to be connected to the car’s wheels. It would announce instructions only after the car has traveled certain predetermined distances. “For example, if it is desired to make a record to guide the driver from Chevy Chase to the Treasury Department [in Washington, DC], the record among other things would contain the directions ‘U street turn to the left,’ and knowing the distance between Chevy Chase and the corner of 18th and U, for example, [a record of this distance would be registered with the mechanism] and the desired direction spoken into the machine. From a cylinder prepared in this manner a matrix would be made for the production of permanent records.”

Boyden called his invention a “Chart for Vehicles.”