Between robots and AI, everyone's trying to predict the future these days. But looking backwards in time provides us with a wealth of useful, practical information. How did our forebears solve problems with little or minimal technology? What did mass-produced physical forms look like, before the advent of CAD, when people had to shape prototypes by hand? With this in mind, here's a look at our favorite vintage and antique designs that we covered this year.
Being from the 1800s, this portable Victorian travel light antedated the official start of industrial design—but whoever designed this was as focused on human factors as any 21st century industrial designer.
For Victorian-era retailers, the packaging technology was paper wrapping bound by twine. Twine came in spheres, a convenient shape for manufacturing but an inconvenient one for dispensing. Thus artisans devised cast iron or brass twine dispensing cages that could be counter- or ceiling-mounted.
When paper shopping bags became viable in the 1800s, these too required a dispenser. Here we see early examples, often with attached twine-dispensing cages.
In 1888, inventor Alexander Dey patented this Dial Time Recorder. Meant to keep track of when factory employees clocked in and out, it antedated the clock card machine.
In the late 1800s/early 1900s, apothecaries and drug stores needed a way to mix potions and confections. They used manually operated drink shakers like these:
At least one enterprising hipster bar had a replica constructed, and uses it to mix their cocktails.
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In the early 1900s, the rise in commerce led to an explosion of paperwork, supported by mass-produced pencils. Office workers needed a more efficient way to sharpen pencils than pocket knives. Dozens of designers came up with all sorts of crazy pencil sharpening mechanisms; we looked at a number of them here.
In the early 20th century, those who wore "campaign hats" needed a way to preserve the brim when not being worn. Thus these Masonite hat presses. Click here to see them alongside more modern versions.
When Alvar Aalto designed the Paimio Sanitorium in the 1930s, he designed noiseless, no-splash sinks for the rooms. He designed the sinks based on his own experience being bedridden and sick, and thus sought "to design rooms for weak patients that would provide a peaceful atmosphere."
In 1939, industrialist Jan Antonín Bata had a corner office in his 18-storey headquarters. The office, which had electricity, phone lines and hot/cold running water, was actually a working elevator!
In the mid-20th century, Japanese manufacturer Yamanaka Kumiki Works made these animal puzzles as children's toys. You can still find them today on Etsy.
Do you think you could figure out how this one goes together?
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In the 1950s, Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni designed the Taccia Lamp using cutting-edge production methods. The initial design was a failure, but the brothers persisted. Today the lamp is still in production by original manufacturer Flos.
In 1961, industrial designer Eliot Noyes designed the Selectric typewriter for IBM. It used an innovative "type ball" rather than keys, allowing users to quickly change fonts.