Chris Coltrane (chris_coltrane) wrote,
Chris Coltrane

Everyday Science: Scans From a Science Magazine, 1919-1921.

About twelve years ago, my Granddad unearthed a huge collection of a magazine called Everyday Science, from between 1919-1921. It was a popular science periodical focusing on the lay reader, and covered the stories of the day with minimal recourse to scientific language, focusing on those stories where the science was applicable to everyday life. They were tattered, and had that distinct smell of decaying crumbling paper. The rust from the staples had actually started to work its way through the pages, so we had to turn each one with the sort of care you might usually reserve for lifting injured roadkill. By reading it, there was every risk that the entire magazine might actually crumble in my hands. But it was worth the risk, because it was simply amazing.

I hadn't seen them for over a decade, and was sure that I'd thrown them away, in a fit of adolescent idiocy. So imagine my surprise, and sheer delight, when, while clearing out the loft of old junk (including almost every episode of Friends on VHS - how much of a winner was I as a teenager!), I found them not only all in one pile, but sealed in individual bags, every bit as fragile as the day I received them.

Let me share them with you. Here's a selection of my favourite articles, adverts and covers, like this genius invention for The Spinning-Top Cycle. Forget about such trifling issues as "safety", "centre of gravity" and "elegance" - any stylish gent will tell you that THIS is the best way to get around town!

If, for some ludicrous and unfathomable reason, The Spinning-Top Cycle doesn't appeal, then why not try The Winged Motor Car! A great idea, with just one slight flaw. Can you spot it? (Hint: the answer is "everything to do with this idea".)

Do you want the convenience and luxury of first-class rail travel, but with the fuel-guzzling wastefulness and the perilous danger of a budget airline? Then why not take The Flying Train! I want to know not only how it lands back perfectly on the tracks, but how it lands without the rotary blade being smashed to bits, because when the plane is on the ground, it looks like the blade gets awfully close. But hey: I guess that's why I'm not a scientist!

I think this is my favourite mode of transport though, and possibly my favourite front cover of them all. There's no explanation at all on the front cover as to what is going on here, and so far I've resisted the temptation to look inside for the answer, because I'm satisfied enough with the idea of taking a young girl, chucking her in a bag, tying her head to a massive cable, and sending her hurtling over a five hundred foot drop in the Amazon.

On the surface of things, this would seem to be suggesting the possibility of a Jurassic Park-style zoo. Alas, it's nothing quite as wacky as that; it's just speculation on what the earth might have looked like when dinosaurs roamed the planet. They were 98% correct. The only small detail that they missed out is the Tesco Metro, which scientists estimate has been in existence for the past 2 million years.

April 1920: Scientists now believe that the first man on earth was black. OMG!

But at least that cover had a bit of context. Can anyone explain to me where the science is on this cover? Is it the science of surfing? Everyday Science has a habit of doing this. Perhaps the story is "Black men learn how to harness the power of water"?

You know when you're out murdering animals for pleasure, and you get that great rush of joy when you get to watch that split-second moment, when the bullet you fired penetrates the skill of that stupid dumb bird, deer or bigfoot, and you see every single muscle on its face contract to show that, in that instant, it is feeling the most intense pain that it is possible for any one creature to feel? Don't you just wish that you could have a photo, to treasure the moment? Well, if science has anything to do with it, you'll not be wanting for too much longer!

Kids get the tooth fairy. Adults get the electricity fairy!

Here's another one where the "science" is possibly debatable. I can only guess that some scientists got a load of policemen, popped them in a lab, attached electrodes to their nipples, and added increasingly corrosive chemicals to their skin until they worked out how to harness the natural electrical current stored within the gooey insides of every law enforcer.

In my opinion, possibly the most baffling thing of all is that this magazine is actually the child of a model railway magazine. Did you notice how, below the title, it says "Incorporating Models, Railways and Locomotives"? It used to be a separate magazine, of which I appear to have two copies. It's easily three times as thin as Everyday Science. So presumably the people who wrote this thought to themselves "Let's keep on covering model railways, but also cover as many science stories as we can in a month." Which is a bit like Woman's Own saying to themselves "Let's keep on writing about 60 pages a fortnight about soap stories, psychics and recipes, but as well as that, let's write an extra 120 pages about every debate in the House of Commons and Lords."


The articles are, for the most part, aimed at the casual reader. There's very little in the way of jargon (at least by today's standards - I'm assuming that someone in 1920 would know what an electron is, but perhaps I'm being naive?), and the vast majority of the stories are the sort where the knowledge might actually give practical advice for ways to live your life (if you're mental), or shed some light on the way that society is, or could be, run. Below are three London-centric examples, all covering different aspects of the London Underground. The first discusses the possibility of using the Underground for carrying cargo.

The second is entitled "Solving the Problem of The 'Tubes'". No, silly, they're not trying to fix the internet - they're trying to find ways of speeding up people's journey on the London Underground! I've made this one super-big, for your eyes.

Finally, an idea that is actually quite awesome, though no doubt would have been a logistical nightmare to keep updated - a "silent guide" where tourists press a button to say where they want to go, and the map lights up to tell them the best route. I wonder whether it was designed to accommodate closed lines? I don't suppose they had engineering works in those days - after all, the lines had only just been built!

The articles range from the informative to the absurd. The pen-and-blotter idea is okay, but man, how fly would you look with a pair of these badass skates on?

In 1920, the idea of a "Vending Machine" was science!

If it weren't for this article, Christmas shops might not be cursed with novelty singing fish. Science has a lot to answer for.

This machine looks perfectly safe. What could go wrong?

This is a GENIUS idea. If this chap sees someone driving over the speed limit, he'll drive up beside 'em with his beefed-up ride. See that big bulky tank on the back of his car? That's actually a speedometer, with the numbers printed in foot-high black writing. The idea is that if someone is speeding, this guy shows them their speed - so not only is the speeder made aware of their misdemeanour, but so is everyone else in the local vicinity. Presumably no-one has considered the fact that this chap has to also drive over the speed limit to inform them of this? In fact, he'd have to drive even faster to actually catch up with him. I like how the article says that the speedometer "makes patent, not only to the driver, but to all concerned, including the police, the speed at which it is travelling." Which means that this dude isn't working for the cops! He's just some guy who wants to be able to cruise along the streets at a sweet 30 miles an hour, and get away with it. AMAZING.

Here's a new type of helicopter and plane combination: the Alerion, designed to give the highest probability of decapitating its driver. I did a quick Google for this and couldn't find anything, so I assume that this was quite a short-lived experiment. Which is strange, considering how much money the French are claimed to have invested in it.

ADVERT TIME! Most of them weren't all that funny or unusual, or sexist or racist. I'm uncomfortable about the fact that I'm actually disappointed about this. But this one made me laugh, because the advert reads like your dad having a go at you for being a long-haired layabout. IF NOT, WHY NOT? Consider well your future!

The right-hand column shows the typical adverts. Nothing particularly unusual, and only of mild interest. But I'm sure that your attention was caught more readily by the left hand side. Because it's written in such a clinical, logical and neutral way, it actually ends up being quite creepy. Once again, printed big, for your "eyes".

Will we ever harness atomic energy? Everyday Science speculates on how we could solve all our energy needs. Was it Seinfeld who had that joke about how pointless it is measuring things in "horse power" once you get beyond six horses?

It seems that the energy crisis isn't actually as modern as we might believe...

tl;dr - Everyday Science grapples with the idea that gravity's effect on light might lead to us all viewing the world as if we were looking through a "curved mirror". Also, look out for the two TRUE SCIENTIFIC FACTS at the very bottom of the page.

Very interesting one, this - at the top, Everyday Science ponders precisely how much money there is in the world; in the bottom-left, a revolutionary new store experiments with the idea of letting customers in a shop pick things up from a shelf to take it to a cashier; and on the bottom-right, a bit more context to the weird Electric Policemen front cover I showed you earlier. On the one hand, it's a great way for people in 1920s Boston to drive at night; on the other hand, the policeman looks like a twat. Still, swings and roundabouts, eh?

In 1921, someone invented the jukebox!

But alas, not even the esteemed and venerable Everyday Science is immune to the temptations of pseudoscience (though it was nice to see the word "quackery" at the top of one article). Here's an article which I think is discussing the possibility that human "brain waves" are like light and sound waves - emitted out of our bodies, and senses by others. "...thought-transference and other spiritistic (sic) phenomena are due to radiations from the living human body and are not referable to disembodied spirits." Come to think of it, I wonder if any scientists have ever studied the frequency of a Mexican wave?

This story about telephones was interesting in itself, as a snapshot of their development, but I was particularly interested in the comment at the bottom of the page. Now that everyone in the world knows that people only pay attention to the very first and last adverts during a TV ad break, perhaps ITV would do well to adopt this approach.

And finally, Everyday Science discusses a few of the nut-jobs who weren't entirely convinced at the idea of the earth being round:


Here's all of the magazines together. You might be surprised to hear that I can't find a single thing about them on the internet. Usually there's something about things as old as this in the archives of a museum, even just in passing, but I can't find anything other than a few cursory mentions of its previous incarnation, Models, Railways and Locomotives. I presume they'd made a collector of such things very happy. If they're worth a bob or two then I'll happily sell them; until then, they'll be a pleasure to keep. Especially if I want to learn a new novel way to hang my trousers or comb my moustache using a simple ten ton motor.


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