Tuesday, April 21, 2009
The Tinkerer’s Handbook
I THINK IT WOULD HAVE BEEN A LOT OF FUN TO HAVE LIVED IN THE LATE 1930s. The Great Depression was over, and the American industrial machine was beginning to gear up. Americans were beginning to have a new hope for the future. And, since we had gasoline engines and electric motors to run things—well, why not come up with a new way to do an old chore? Tom Edison had invented the electric light, automobiles were getting sleeker and more powerful--things were just waiting to be invented. (Remember the earlier post here about the snowmobile tractor, Feb. 1, 2009).
Science fiction was overlapping and blending into the dreams people had about the future, so magazines (like the ones above) about inventions and progress were very popular. The “American Dream” was not a myth, it was a reality that could be achieved. A tinkerer in his or her garage could become rich just by thinking of and patenting the next invention. The U.S. Patent Office during the decade of the 1930s was swamped with ideas, from the “real thing” to the ludicrous. And magazines like Modern Mechanics and Inventions helped fuel that fire. Of course, WWII dimmed the hopes of many individual inventions and dreams with a slap of reality.
Remember, if you will, it was Halloween night of 1938 that George Orwell’s radio broadcast of War of the Worlds had tens of thousands of individuals freaking out because the Martians had landed. I tend to think they had read so much about the future, flying saucers and crazy inventions that they wanted to believe.
Later in the month, I’ll post some actual inventions that were showcased in this magazine, with some crazy ideas that you’re bound to enjoy.