For the first 12 years of the 21st century, there can be little doubt that Apple has been crowned supreme in the gadget arena, with their flagship iPhone marching across the face of the world like a gleaming, pocket-sized Genghis Khan. It’s hard to remember the quiet, grey, joyless world that existed pre-smartphone—the only positive I can think of is that it was a lot easier to make up random tidbits and trivia without being fact checked, like a Snapple cap of misinformation.
The iPhone has definitely carved out a teeny little space in the contemporary history books, but will it be remembered for centuries to come? When films from the year 2200 and beyond make little period pieces in our time, will all the set’s extras be in the background checking their gmail with museum-grade iPhone replicas? Or will they just be kicked into the miscellaneous corner of history, where unidentified bits of broken pottery and arrow heads go? Only time will tell. But in the meantime, here are 3 devices that were the iPhones of their day—they came around fast, became incredibly popular, and left some kind of lasting impact.
The Zippo Lighter
We forget how good things are today; in 1932—the year the Zippo came around—a large part of the world was still absent electricity, or used it far less than full time; even a large number of rural homes in the United States still went without it. Lighting furnaces, wood fireplaces, gas lamps, candles, and cigarettes (mostly cigarettes) was a daily activity for most of the world’s population.
The Zippo burst onto the scene and became the most popular lighter in history. It received such acclaim from the American military that the company manufactured exclusively for the American Armed Forces during World War II. A common practice was for people to hand-decorate their Zippos, with paintings, etchings, engravings, etc.—sort of like a prehistoric iPhone skin.
They remained hugely popular through the war of Vietnam, and only began to slow production in the early 2000’s, when smoking finally began a worldwide decline. But the wide range of custom decorations on vintage Zippos, and the fact that they’ve been found in almost every country on Earth, is a testament to their success.
The Waltham Pocket Watch
Time pieces had been in use for centuries by the time the Waltham Watch Company came around. They weren’t an innovator so much as a classic example of taking an existing, very common product, improving it, then watching the wildfire burn.
During the railroad era of the United States, the industry as a whole became completely dependent on accurate time pieces, possibly one of the world’s first industries to do so. Due to their understandable desire to avoid massive collisions, railroad workers had to chronicle which train would operate on a certain track at a given time—requiring precise, high-quality time pieces. During the 1860’s and 1870’s, there was a lengthy list of requirements regarding timepieces used by railroad employees—and only a few companies could meet their expectations.
The Waltham Watch Company built on its success to make some of the most popular pocket watches in the world, until they closed their factories in 1949. One last salute was given to the company by astronaut David Scott, who had a Waltham watch with him during his Apollo 15 mission to the moon.
Eli Whitney’s Cotton Gin
This gadget definitely had one of the biggest, longest impacts on the history of the United States. Patented in 1794, Eli Whitney’s Cotton Gin improved on previous gins throughout history, using a wire screen, small wire hooks, and a series of brushes to separate cotton fibers from their seeds, a process that was extremely slow and daunting when done by hand.
Whitney’s cotton gin allowed for up to 50 pounds of cotton to be harvested a day, a figure that made cotton one of the most lucrative crops of its time. This, unfortunately, had a disastrous side effect—prior to 1794, the slave industry in America was waning somewhat, but the productivity of the cotton gin re-ignited the demand for slaves in the southern United States, leading to the highest use in American history, ending only in the Civil War that erupted a half-century later.
While many devices are invented and improved for the use of war, very few have ever been a contributing factor in causing a war, especially a device with such innocent intentions as Eli Whitney’s cotton gin.
So next time you’re using your iPhone, take a second to google some gadgets from the past, and take comfort in the fact that your smartphone hasn’t (yet) created a war.
Author Bio:- John is a technology and gadget enthusiast and also writes as a freelancer for some highly respectable companies such as Protect Your Bubble, one of the leading smartphone insurance providers.