“Disruptive” tech companies want you to believe their new products spring into existence fully-formed and without precedent. Sort of like Pinocchio, if Geppetto had developed Pinocchio to revolutionize music streaming, or if he’d given him laser cannons for arms. But brilliant people and scientists have been having good ideas forever, and even the most striking modern tech is usually just a fancy variation of something that came before. The main difference is just that Silicon Valley uses a hell of a lot fewer pigeons.
Computer Dating Was Around In The 1960s ... And It Was Weird
Thanks to the proliferation of sites and apps like Match.com, Tinder and, uh, Sizzl, single people have more ways to meet eligible, bacon-obsessed weirdos than ever before. Whereas your hot-to-trot ancestors had to physically go into town and scope out the local saloon (or cave), you could theoretically meet the love of your life online tonight while simultaneously taking the biggest dump of your life. Recent evidence even suggests that marriages started over Yahoo mail are stronger than traditionally-found relationships. So maybe it comes as no surprise that almost immediately after the computer was invented, scientists were already trying to harness its power to get laid.
In the 1930s, a man named George W. Crane developed a questionnaire specifically to rank the quality of wives. Either the husband or wife could take the test, and the woman in question would be ranked via a series of merits or demerits based on how she stacked up on the test. For example, a wife that swore a lot received five demerits, but if she reacted “with pleasure and delight to marital congress,” then she’d get a whopping ten merits. That helps balance out wives who swear in bed, apparently. Crane then took this priceless information and developed a computer system designed to help add all those points up and have the world’s first definitive hot-or-not list for wives
"Don't judge me."
A couple decades later, Crane founded a new organization, called the Scientific Marriage Foundation, that helped invent the entire concept of “computer dating.” Utilizing Crane’s old questionnaire, hopeful lovers would mail in their responses, send any of their vital statistics (health points, charm level, magic proficiency etc.), and then wait. Their information would get put into a computer that would process the information and spit back out a presumably perfect match. So, yeah, even though all of 1969 NASA’s computing power couldn’t hang with your current smartphone, these computers were powerful enough to find love, at least for around 5,000 marriages over the course of three years.
It wasn’t long before other matchmaking companies began utilizing computers in mankind’s never ending quest for love. One such company, Operation Match, even released a pretty dope-ass advertisement in the 60s celebrating all their so-called “computer marriages."
It’s just kept growing from there ever since. Computer dating programs continued to spread in the 70s and the 80s, but the landscape had shifted dramatically with increased usage of phones and photos in conjunction with algorithms. At that point, we’re basically cheating the system by focusing on whether we like the way somebody looks or whether we can have a conversation with them, instead of fully trusting in the all-knowing love computers. We are so primitive.
You Could “Stream” Live Music Over The Telephone ... In 1906
Today, you could theoretically attend a Justin Bieber concert via your friend’s Facebook feed without having to worry about high-register hearing loss from screaming pre-teens. This may feel like a new development in live-streaming music, but, in fact, some version of that technology predates not only furbies and bell-bottom jeans, but rag time music and, hell, pretty much the entire 20th century.
In 1893, Thaddeus Cahill was experimenting with these newfangled “telephone” things, when he realized that different electrical frequencies sent down a phone line created specific, unique tones. Furthermore, he noticed he could nail down exact electrical frequencies required for certain musical notes, and that he could theoretically make 12 different tones for each note in a musical scale. Eventually he rigged all of his ideas together with a keyboard instrument and created an organ monstrosity called a telharmonium. It was so well-built, it could actually mimic the sounds of instruments like trumpets and pianos, making it the world’s first synthesizer.
Saw XVIII: Phoning It In
Before Cahill’s invention, the only way to hear live music was to physically stand within earshot of somebody playing a lute or whatever. This was back before Nickelback was able to remind you how you remind them of what they really are via powerhouse speaker systems that project for miles from John Cheese’s house concerts. Every live concert at the time was acoustic, which as we all know is the worst kind of concert. Recorded music was becoming more popular, but radio wasn’t really a thing yet, so you still needed to be pretty close to the phonograph to hear anything. The telharmonium changed all that ... for awhile.
The first big performance for the machine happened on September 29, 1906, and it was so successful that several businesses in the area immediately purchased subscriptions. Mark Twain, the machine’s first private subscriber, was quoted as saying, “Every time I see or hear a new wonder like this I have to postpone my death right off. I couldn’t possibly leave the world until I have heard this again and again.” The ability to “pipe in” live music was incredible and unprecedented, and everybody wanted a piece of the action.
The only reason we aren’t calling in for some sweet, sweet synthesizer music today is because of the telharmonium’s early death. As innovative as the machine was, it was expensive to build ($4 million in modern money), and the sound quality ranged from exquisite to horrific, depending on the phone line caliber. Also, it could be annoying as hell when sometimes the music would filter in on people’s phone conversations, even if they weren’t subscribers.
That's how Slipknot got started.
The service was ultimately suspended in 1916 just 10 years after its debut, but the innovation and technology behind the project ultimately paved the way for modern-day synthesizers and a great deal of modern music. So, yes, for better or worse, Cahill is the reason the local radio station plays Chainsmokers 13,000 times a day.
Portable Music Has Been Around For Nearly 100 Years
It’s estimated that around 2.5 billion people own some form of smartphone. That means it’s possible for over a third of the world’s population to carry Creed’s entire discography around with them no matter where they go. Portable radios, especially in cars, became a thing more early on, but you couldn’t really choose the music you listened to until the cassette players of the 70s. Unless you were Swiss.
Long before Walkmans (Walkmen?) were even a twinkle in Sony executives’ brightly colored turtlenecks, Swiss hipsters were blasting their favorite records on what appeared to be portable cans of tuna called Mikiphones.
Between 1924 and 1927, it’s estimated that well over 100,000 of these bad boys were manufactured in Switzerland. Although a Mikiphone could easily fit into the pocket of a traveling audiophile, it did still require a bit of assembly to actually function. Mikiphones were technically phonographs, which meant they still had to accommodate full-sized vinyl records. So although listeners may have wanted to listen to their favorite swing band while running or whatever, the Mikiphone required some extensive assembly:
But hey, Mikiphones were still way more portable than anything that existed elsewhere in the world. Before that, you had to pretty much hire a band to walk down the street behind you, like your own personal WWE intro.
Spy Satellites Existed In The Early 1900s ... As A Bunch Of Pigeons With Cameras
These days, the “sorry I'm late, I got lost” excuse is only legitimate if you're over 60 or you live in the Himalayas. Just too much of the known world has been mapped out by satellites, and there are more ways than ever to get ahold of that information. And it’s not just to help you find a new trampoline park, either -- the military uses satellites so sophisticated, they can target a single enemy truck for a missile strike from hundreds of miles away. Back in the early 1900s, though, finding your friend’s log cabin was a bit more difficult. Primarily because the best satellites at the time were less sophisticated technological marvels and more fluffy pigeons with cute, little cameras strapped to their chests.
In 1908, a man named Dr. Julius Neubronner patented the miniature pigeon camera with a built in timer. Rather than being laughed out of the patent office, the invention actually managed to get Neubronner a bit of worldwide renown, especially after a few international expositions. Large crowds would gather to see his pigeons at work. Neubronner would send the bird into the air, and a timer in the camera would automatically snap a picture every few minutes, and the photos would be exposed via gusts of air. Then, because he was a bit of a showman, Neubronner would develop those exciting landscape photos into postcards people could take home with them.
Of course, people writing home to their grandmothers weren’t the only ones excited about these pigeon satellites. The cute little buggers were used extensively during World War I to help map out enemy locations. The birds had a range of 60 miles, so they were actually able to cover quite a bit of ground. The pigeons were particularly useful during the battles of Verdun and Somme where they were used most extensively.
"I'm Dr. Neubronner, and I'd like to show you my invention: psychopathy."
It must have been a hard pill to swallow for the Axis powers, slowly realizing their carefully laid plans would be thwarted by a bunch of fluffy spies with tiny cameras.
Thomas Jefferson Could CC People On His Letters By Hand
Nowadays, it’s incredibly easy to add additional recipients to a message you’re writing. In fact, it’s probably easier to accidentally send everybody you’ve ever met that hilarious Photoshop of your boss as a Spice Girl, than it is to, you know, not ruin your entire career. But back before the advent of email, you would have had to draw the whole thing out, over and over, one at a time for each of your stupid friends. Or at least it would have been that way, if nobody had invented the polygraph machine.
We realize that when we say “polygraph machine,” most of you probably picture some sweaty Russian spy attempting to evade the FBI’s questioning while hooked up to one of those lie detectors from the movies. But in reality, the first polygraph was literally just a machine that allowed a user to write multiple drafts of a letter simultaneously. Quick Latin lesson for you: Poly means “many” and graph means “write.” It wasn’t until much later that polygraph was synonymous with tense interrogations.
The way it worked was that you’d grab ahold of the pen you’d use to write and just start writing your hilarious novel however you normally would. The pen was hooked up mechanically to a second (or third or fourth) pen, and the machine would duplicate the writer’s hand motions on a separate piece of paper. For people writing long, important documents, the polygraph machine was a necessity.
Speaking of which, that dude who wrote the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, was such a fan of the thing, he called it, “The finest invention of the age.” Even today, Jefferson’s historic home of Monticello has a copy of the machine on proud display for visitors. Seriously, Jefferson was a total nerd about it. He once said he couldn’t live without it which seems ... kind of depressing.
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