Retro Revelations: 40 Inventions That Are Much Older Than They Appear

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Lighters were invented before matches. Lighters were invented in 1823. It wasn’t until 1826 that a man named John Walker from England invented the first actual match. It was the kind which needed friction to light. It wasn’t until 5 years later a Frenchman named Charles Sauria developed a match that used white phosphorus.

2. Leonardo da Vinci introduced the idea of contact lenses in his 1508, wherein he described a method of directly altering corneal power by wearing a water-filled glass hemisphere over the eye. In 1888, German ophthalmologist Adolf Gaston Eugen Fick constructed and fitted the first successful contact lens. These were large scleral lenses, which rested on the less sensitive rim of tissue around the cornea and were made from heavy blown glass.

3. The first vending machine was invented 2000 years ago in 1st Century Roman Egypt and it sold Holy Water. When a coin was deposited, it fell upon a pan attached to a lever which let some water flow out. A counterweight snapped the lever up and turned off the valve once the coin was tilted off the pan. Coin-operated machines that dispensed tobacco were being operated as early as 1615 in the taverns of England.

4. Pipe Organ is one of the oldest instruments still used in European classical music that has commonly been credited as having derived from Greece. Its earliest predecessors were built in Ancient Greece in the 3rd century B.C. Greek engineer Ctesibius of Alexandria is credited with inventing this organ.

5. Video games became popular with the beginning of the golden age of arcade video games in 1978 and the release of Atari 2600 in 1977. But video games had existed long before this. The earliest example of a video game is from a patent that was filed in 1947 named a “Cathode ray tube Amusement Device.” It was inspired by radar display technology. It consisted of an analog device that allowed a user to control a vector-drawn dot on the screen to simulate a missile being fired at targets, which were drawings fixed to the screen.

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6Digital Distribution of Video Games

Digital Distribution of Video Games

Platforms like Steam and Xbox Marketplace have changed the way games are delivered and consumed by gamers. These have made it easier for consumers to play games without the exchange or purchase of new physical media. The first example of the digital distribution of video games was seen in 1981 with Gameline, a service which allowed Atari 2600 owners to use a specialized cartridge to connect through a phone line to a central server and rent a video game for 5–10 days. Also, computers of the 80s were capable of saving and loading games to/from cassette tapes in a tape recorder. This basically worked by interpreting the audio data as game data. This prompted some pirate FM radio stations in the 1980s to broadcast games right over FM radio every weekend.

7. The ancient Romans (the wealthy ones) had central heating in their homes. They used a system called 'hypocaust' that produced and circulated hot air below the floor of a room, and also warmed the walls with a series of pipes through which the hot air passed. The earliest example of such a system was the temple of Ephesus that was built in 350 B.C. Excavations at Mohenjo-Daro in what is now Pakistan have unearthed what is believed to be a hypocaust lined with bitumen-coated bricks. If it fulfilled a similar role, the structure would pre-date the earliest Roman hypocaust by as much as 2000 years.

8. The oldest known musical instrument is a 43,000-year-old flute that was carved from a bear femur. This is older than the extinction of Neanderthals, domestication of animals, the extinction of Ice Age mammals, and the invention of the wheel.

9. Ancient Romans used a mixture of limestone, water, and volcanic ash to make concrete. This mixture and its curing technique produces a stronger and more environmentally friendly concrete than modern Portland cement. By 25 B.C., Romans had even developed a recipe for concrete to be specifically used for underwater work, which is essentially the same formula we use today. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the technology to make concrete was lost for nearly 1000 years before it was found again in the 14th century.

10. The first submersible of whose construction there exists reliable information of, was designed and built by a Dutchman named Cornelis Drebbel in 1620. It had Oars that stuck through leather seals and had snorkel hoses for air. The first military submarine was the Turtle which was built in 1775. It was a hand-powered acorn-shaped device designed to accommodate a single person. The Turtle was used during the American Revolutionary War.

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113D Movies

3D Movies

The earliest confirmed 3D film shown to an audience was ‘The Power of Love,’ which premiered in Los Angeles in 1922. Even before this, in 1915 audiences were presented with clips of random scenes shot in 3D at the Astor Theater in New York City.

12. The earliest known written reference to ivory billiard balls is in the 1588 inventory of the Duke of Norfolk. By the mid-19th century, elephants were being slaughtered for their ivory at an alarming rate, just to keep up with the demand for high-end billiard balls.

13. Scottish inventor Alexander Bain received British patent in 1843 for his "Electric Printing Telegraph". The first device resembling the modern fax machine was the pantelegraph which was invented by an Italian physicist. He introduced the first commercial telefax service between Paris and Lyon in 1865, some 11 years before the invention of the telephone.

14. In the 1st century A.D., Greek mathematician Heron of Alexandria invented the first known automatic door. He described two different automatic door applications. The first application was used to open temple doors. The device used heat from a fire lit by the city's temple priest. After a few hours, atmospheric pressure built up in a brass vessel caused it to pump water into adjacent containers. These containers acted as weights that, through a series of ropes and pulleys, would open the temple's doors at about the time people were to arrive for prayer. Heron used a similar application to open the gates to the city.

15. Even in the earliest days of silent film, color was used in motion pictures. The technique utilized in the earliest color films like "Vie et Passion du Christ" ("Life and Passion of the Christ") (1903) and "A Trip to the Moon" (1902) was stenciling, in which each frame of a film was hand-colored. The process to hand-color each frame of a film — even films much shorter than the typical film of today — was painstaking, expensive, and time-consuming. The first feature film with a sound was The Jazz Singer, which was released in 1927.

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Humans made animated art tens of thousands of years ago. The 21,000 years old cave paintings in Lascaux, France were made in such a way that flickering oil light would create the illusion of motion on the cave-painted animals. When the cave was discovered in 1940, more than 100 small stone lamps that once burned grease from rendered animal fat were found throughout its chambers. A flickering flame in the cave may have conjured impressions of motion like a strobe light in a dark club.

17. The check is older than cash. Ancient Romans are believed to have used an early form of check known as praescriptiones in the 1st century B.C. Credit predates the check and it actually predates writing. According to historians, the concept of using a valueless instrument to represent banking transactions dates back 5,000 years, when the ancient Mesopotamians used clay tablets to conduct trade with the Harappan civilization. While still cumbersome, a slab of clay with seals from both civilizations certainly beat the tons of copper each would have had to melt down to produce the coins of that era.

18. Although the Pythagorean philosopher Archytas of Tarentum (5th century B.C.) is the alleged inventor of the screw, the exact date of its first appearance as a useful mechanical device is obscure. Though invention of the water screw is usually ascribed to Archimedes (3rd century B.C.), evidence exists of a similar device used for irrigation in Egypt at an earlier date. The screw press, probably invented in Greece in the 1st or 2nd century B.C., has been used since the days of the Roman Empire for pressing clothes. In the 1st century A.D., wooden screws were used in wine and olive-oil presses.

19. Catheters were used as early as 3,000 B.C. to relieve painful urinary retention. In those times, many materials were used to form a hollow catheter, some of which were straw, rolled up palm leaves, hollow tops of onions, as well as, gold, silver, copper, brass, and lead. Malleable catheters were developed in the 11th century. In time, silver was used as the basis of catheters as it could be bent to any desired shape and was felt to have an antiseptic function.

20. During the 5th century B.C., ancient Greeks ate snow mixed with honey and fruit in the markets of Athens. In 400 B.C., the Persians invented a special chilled food, made of rose water and vermicelli, which was served to royalty during summers. The ice was mixed with saffron, fruits, and various other flavors. A frozen mixture of milk and rice was used in China around 200 B.C. They poured a mixture of snow and saltpeter over the exteriors of containers filled with syrup, for, in the same way as salt raises the boiling point of water, it lowers the freezing point to below zero.

213D Printing

3D Printing

3D printing has burst into the mainstream media in recent years, but in reality, it has been around since the 1980s. Patent for stereolithography process was filed in 1984 and the technology used by most 3D printers to date, i.e., fused deposition modeling was developed in 1988. It has been gaining mainstream attention because most of the patents used in manufacturing them have expired, which has made them affordable.

22. Dr. Pepper was released in 1885, one year before Coca-Cola. Even before that carbonated lemonade was widely available in British refreshment stalls in 1833. The first company that sold carbonated water was established in Geneva in 1783. Even before carbonated drinks, in the medieval Middle East, a variety of fruit-flavored soft drinks were widely drunk, such as sharbat, and were often sweetened with ingredients such as sugar, syrup, and honey.

23. Earliest proposed dates for the origin of cheesemaking range from around 8000 B.C. when sheep were first domesticated. Since animal skins and inflated internal organs provided storage vessels for milk, it is probable that the process of cheese making was discovered accidentally by storing milk in a container made from the stomach of an animal, resulting in the milk being turned to curd and whey by the rennet from the stomach.

24. Music streaming was invented in 1897 in New York. It was called the Telharmonium and took up the entire basement of the Broadway building it was located in. It was 220 feet long and it used different sized/cogged gears spinning beneath a pickup (magnetic coil) to create different tones. These different gears and pickups were connected to an organ on the main floor of the building. Key presses would activate the corresponding tone to play from the Telharmonium and it had pedals and such to shape the sound. It delivered this music via the telephone, and subscribers could have the operator connect them.

25. Fidget Spinners have been around since 1993, but it wasn't until 2017 when they became a craze, partly because non-autistic children picked up the practice from autistic classmates. They are sold by shops catering to people with special sensory needs, as a calming device. In general "executive pacifiers" like the fidget spinner have been around since the 1920s or earlier, and include Newton's cradle and the drinking bird.

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