Amazing History Tech

6 First Versions Of Now Common Tech Gadgets

Technology is always advancing. What seems like the pinnacle of gadgetry one year may look like the equivalent of two paper cups and some string the next. In fact, ever tech device you take for granted today had its origin years before you might have guessed in forms—and weight classes—you would never want to deal with now…


Television (1925)

John Baird standing next to his invention the world’s first television transmitter


Granted, the very first TV doesn’t look like anything what we now recognize as a television set. There’s no screen, there’s no sound, and the sheer number of wheels involved would lead one to think this was originally used to mill corn. But with this rather curious device—consisting of sewing needles, an old hatbox, bicycles parts, and a used tea chest that combined somehow initially resulted in a 1000-volt electric shock—Scottish inventor John Logie Baird became the first person to transmit a scanned image wirelessly. And to celebrate that tremendous achievement and promote his invention, Baird chose to horrify humanity by televising as that first image the ghastly, distorted head of a ventriloquist dummy named “Stooky Bill”…

very first televised image featuring head of a ventriloquist dummy


Baird later went on to broadcast the very first long-distance television picture in 1927, transmitted the first color image in 1928, created his own video recording device that same year, and in 1941 demonstrated his own 3-D television image. There’s also a pretty fair chance he invented time travel and warp drive, though such inventions have yet to be found in his workshop.


Laptop Computer (1975)

photo of first portable computer the IBM 5100


Okay, we’re playing a little fast and loose with the term “laptop” here. The IBM 5100 was actually the very first portable computer. But given that it weighed 55 pounds, IBM was also playing fast and loose with the term “portable,” especially when most people need a spotter when lifting wicker. In fact, the only thing that truly made this portable was that it featured a carrying case handle, providing the same easy, on-the-go mobility you would get from bolting a shoulder strap to a Honda Civic. But to be fair, a mere decade earlier comparable computing power would have clocked in at half-a-ton and caused your small intestine to shoot out your ass like peanut brittle snakes every time you tried to lift it. Retailing for $9000—$30,000 today—the IBM 5100 was geared for corporations or exceptionally wealthy, forward-looking individuals who also blindly bought hovercars without realizing they had actually purchased a biplane with a rear spoiler. Sales were not fantastic and so the computer was discontinued in 1978. A few years later the first successful portable computer, the Osborne 1, came out at a mere 23 lbs and so only occasionally caused an executive’s shoulder blade to eject forcibly from their body.


Cell Phone (1973)

Motorola executive Martin Cooper holding the very first cell phone


Inspired by the “Star Trek” communicator, the very first cell phone was unveiled on April 3, 1973, when Motorola executive Martin Cooper (seen above) placed a call to industry rival Joel Engel of Bell Labs, essentially making the cell phone one of the few technological achievements to be introduced with a “f*** you.” Selling for $4,000 ($16,500 today), weighing a little over two pounds, and affectionately dubbed “the brick” by those who like to indulge in passive-aggressive nicknaming, the cell phone took some time to catch on, especially in a decade where people were used to pay phones, just screaming out loud, or simply shrugging their shoulders and saying, “Eh, I didn’t really want to talk to that idiot anyway.” Sales didn’t really take off until the 90’s, when people started to realize cordless phone wouldn’t let them have loud, personal conversations on public transportation, and later when the rise of texting made everyone realize no one would ever have to talk to anyone ever again.


Digital Camera (1975)

very first digital camera made by Kodak


Grandpa Simpson once described the fax machine as “nothing but a waffle iron with a phone attached.” And in a similar fashion the first digital camera (courtesy of Kodak) looks like someone nailed a slide projector to an external floppy drive then added a cassette tape to the side because “the kids love their Fleetwood Mac.” Yet that cassette tape was precisely what was used to capture the 0.01 megapixel black-and-white photos, each taking approximately 20 seconds to upload. Then to see the see the photos a special playback device was needed to display them on a television set. Throw in an eight-pound camera weight and you had a device that would make taking photographs if not an excruciating ordeal than at least something that would make your dad mutter, “God dammit” every time the family gathered for a photo op. Oddly enough, although first invented by Kodak, the digital camera is what ultimately drove Kodak into bankruptcy years later, since the company just couldn’t stop thinking “The kids love their photographic film…and paying to process film…and accidentally losing the negatives so they could never make another copy of their photos again.”


MP3 Player (1998)

first mp3 player the MPMan F10


Though it looked like someone hot-glued a 1978 Timex digital watch to a wallet, the MPMan F10—which sounded either like a TRS-80 game sold in the back of “Creative Computing” magazine or an anime character that turned into military aircraft—was a huge leap in music players. No longer did you have to use up all your battery power rewinding cassettes on a Walkman or listen to the Discman skip every time you jogged, sneezed or moved. Now all you had to do was encode all your music yourself into the mp3 format and then hope you recognized all eight songs the memory could hold because the miniscule screen certainly wasn’t going to tell you what you were listening to. That said, the MPMan F10 was lightweight, came with a rechargeable battery, and made it look like you were constantly walking around with a portable heart monitor.


Home Video Game System (1972)

Magnavox Odyssey home videogame system with all accessories


Before there was Atari, before there was even Pong, there was the Magnavox Odyssey. Featuring knob controllers that made it seem like you were constantly trying to figure out a combination lock, the Odyssey came without sound, color or a means to keep score. But it did have game after game of blocks hitting other blocks back and forth between blocks, all differentiated by what plastic overlay you put on your television screen. In fact, as you can tell by the following commercial, those overlays (which fit just two types of TV sizes) were the only things that would let you know if you were playing hockey, tennis, football, or just apparently going on the lam across the United States…

The system also came with all the things one would expect from a video game system if you couldn’t count on the “video game” part to keep you entertained, including play money, poker chips, dice, and a roulette wheel overlay, giving every five-year-old the chance to just shut off the TV and open up his own casino in his parents’ garage. Unfortunately, most consumers thought you had to own a Magnavox TV for the system to work and eventually the Odyssey stopped production. Meanwhile, the system’s creator went on to make the electronic game Simon, which required no overlays or dice but just you handing over complete control of your life to four color lights and a beeping noise.




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