Many of the most commonly used products in everyday life change practically every year, sometimes multiple times a year. These changes are often driven by fashion, with stylistic adjustments reflecting changing tastes and trends. Sometimes new technology or new regulations lead to significant changes in a product's functionality. When trends and technology develop and change in tandem, consumers will see marked variations in tried and trusted products that eventually leave a well-loved invention almost unrecognizable in its modern form.
The following products have changed almost immeasurably over time, because many clever inventors over the years have figured out improvements that make each product easier to use, more appealing to the modern eye, or both. Are the latest incarnations of these inventions the best possible forms, or are there more changes still in store for these time-honoured inventions?
10 Lawn Mower
Lawns, first an indulgence for the rich and powerful in the 16th century, became an attainable reality across the classes through the intervening centuries. Of course if you're going to have a lawn, you're going to need something to cut the grass with.
9 Perambulator / Baby stroller
The Perambulator was a staple for any couple with a baby. First popularised in the 19th century, it was a sturdy carriage with four wheels, a wicker crib to keep baby comfortable and safe, and a handle to control the contraption. They were large, cumbersome and expensive.
8 Vacuum Cleaner
These floor cleaners use a partial vacuum to suck up dirt, dust, etc. The first units were invented in the United States in the 19th century and were hand powered. The next iteration was the motorised vacuum cleaner, which was gasoline powered and so large it required a horse drawn wagon to move it from house to house.
The truly portable vacuum cleaner, created in Britain in the early 20th century was again hand powered. The electrification of the portable unit was accomplished by James Spangler of the United States in the early 20th century; this developed into the cylinder cleaners with the upright being introduced in the 1920’s along with disposable filter bags.
7 Clothes Iron
While clothes have been pressed by different means for over one thousand years, the flat iron was created in the middle ages; this iron plate with a handle was manufactured by blacksmiths and the owner would heat the iron over a fire before using on clothes.
This type of iron would cool down quickly, however, so the next innovation was the box iron which would contain a reservoir of still-burning coals to provide an iron which would remain hotter for longer.
People have been toasting food items for thousands of years over open flame. Sliced bread started to be toasted over an open fire or grill by being placed on long forks or metal framed baskets. The first electric toaster was developed in Britain in the late 19th century and was a series of elements against which the bread was placed; the consumer then turned the bread by hand in order to toast the other side.
5 Water Kettle
4 Motor Car
The motor car, with internal combustion engine, was developed in France at the beginning of the 19th century and was powered by hydrogen. This was usurped by the gasoline powered motor car developed in Germany in the 1880’s. As both of these contraptions were aimed at replacing the horse drawn carriage, they both were a carriage based designs with three or four wheels.
This basic design, with the engine at the front or back, has remained the same for the majority of motor cars up to the modern day, with the four wheel variety being prevalent. The four stroke engine was developed in the latter part of the 19th century and replace the two stroke engine with diesel internal combustion engines being developed in Germany at the end of the 19th century.
For our purposes the first toilets can be described as a hole with some manner of removing the subsequent refuse; early examples have been found in Crete comprising of large pots flushed out by piped water, a function that is still the basis of modern toilets. The first modern toilet had it’s debut in late 16th century Britain with the installation, for Queen Elizabeth 1, of a raised cistern that flushed water into the toilet.
2 Light Bulb
The first incandescent light bulbs (the application of an electrical current to heat a material until it glows hot and produces visible light) were developed in Britain in the middle of the 19th century by Joseph Swan and Warren de la Rue but these designs were impractical for commercial use; either not employing a good enough vacuum within the glass bulb or utilizing materials that were too expensive.
The first practical light bulb was developed in the USA by Thomas Edison towards the end of the 19th century using a good vacuum within the bulb and also utilizing carbonized bamboo as the filament. The next innovation was the introduction of the tungsten filament in the early 20th century, which increased the life of each bulb. This basic composition of light bulb, with design and material tweaks, remained the same until the introduction of the compact fluorescent bulbs in the 1990’s; these bulbs operated on a different principle of exciting mercury vapour by an electrical current which then in turn reacts with a phosphor coating inside the bulb to produce visible light.
1 Telephone, Calculator, Television, Alarm clock, Wristwatch, Camera
This one is a bit of a cheat but worthy of the number one spot. Each of the products has had its own evolution as stand alone products that are still purchased today. But all of these products have also converged to become one product that is sold in even greater quantities every year. This is of course the Smartphone; which was first introduced to Japan at the end of the 1990’s and has now become an integral part of many people’s lives.
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