What 14 everyday items looked like when they first came out

Science & Society Picture Library/ GettyA television set in the 1930s.

Looking information up online, throwing a load of laundry in the washing machine, and flipping light switches are all part of daily life – but these actions, and the inventions that made them possible, weren’t always that simple.

Inventions we use every day without thinking – from cell phones to vacuum cleaners – all looked very different when they debuted.

Here are 14 photos that show what everyday objects looked like when they first came out.


Toothbrushes were used by ancient civilizations.

Science & Society Picture Library/SSPLThis toothbrush was made for Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte between 1790 and 1821.

Civilizations as far back as the ancient Egyptians rubbed “chew sticks” – branches with frayed ends – against their teeth. Bristle toothbrushes date back to 1498 in China, when the bristles were made from hog hairs.

American inventor H. N. Wadsworth patented his version of the toothbrush in 1857, and electric toothbrushes began appearing in stores in 1960.


Before electric refrigerators, “iceboxes” were made of wood and filled with ice.

Corbis/Getty ImagesAn icebox in 1910.

In 1835, Jacob Perkins patented a refrigerator with a liquid ammonia vapour-compression cycle. Before that, iceboxes used various materials to keep the ice frozen and the food inside cool, including cork, tin, zinc, sawdust, and seaweed.


The first vacuum cleaner didn’t suck up dirt — it just blew it away with compressed air.

Science & Society Picture Library/ GettyThe first vacuum in 1901.

The first vacuum cleaner was patented by inventor Hubert Cecil Booth in 1901. Upright vacuum cleaners with bags on a stick followed in 1907, invented by William Henry Hoover.


Alva John Fisher invented the electric washing machine in 1908 and patented the design in 1910.

Daily Herald Archive/ GettyA vintage washing machine.

The machine got the name “Thor” from the Hurley Machine Company of Chicago and included rollers to wring out wet clothes.


The light bulb had its origins in 1800, decades before Thomas Edison famously patented it in 1879.

Corbis via Getty ImagesEarly light bulbs, including Thomas Edison’s lamp, second from the right.

The light bulb’s origins date back to Italian inventor Alessandro Volta’s voltaic pile – the first electric battery – in 1800. This gave way to Humphry Davy’s 1802 invention, the Electric Arc lamp, which gave off light, but not for long enough to be commercially viable.

Inventors continued to test products over the following decades, and in 1879, Thomas Edison patented the first commercially successful light bulb.


Alexander Graham Bell’s first telephone, which was patented in 1876, involved more wires than phones do today.

Getty ImagesBell at the opening of the long-distance line from New York to Chicago in 1892.

Alexander Graham Bell placed the first telephone call between New York City and Chicago in 1892. His early phone design included a transmitter to turn vibrations from his voice into an electric current and a receiver to pick them up.


The first television set was called the Octagon.

Science & Society Picture Library/ GettyAnother early television set, the Emyvisor, which was invented in 1936.

Decades before television sets became the centre of American living rooms in the 1950s and 1960s, there was the the Octagon.

The Octagon, which came out in 1928, only played one show, a drama called “The Queen’s Messenger.”


An early iteration of the electric car was a tricycle with a motor attached.

bildagentur-online/UIG via Getty ImagesThe first electric car, the draft tricycle, by William Ayrton and John Perry, circa 1880.

French engineer Gustave Trouvé designed the first electric vehicle in 1880 by attaching an electric motor to his tricycle. In 1881, William Ayrton and John Perry of England built a similar electric tricycle, pictured above.

The first electric vehicle in the US was designed by William Morrison between 1889 and 1891.


Microwaves were invented by accident while engineer Percy Lebaron Spencer was testing magnetrons.

Paul Popper/Popperfoto/ GettyA microwave oven in 1946.

Spencer noticed that a chocolate bar in his pocket melted while he was testing magnetrons, defined as “vacuum tubes that produce microwave radiation and are used in radar systems,” according to LiveScience. He invented the microwave by building a metal box around them and found that the result could heat food faster than ovens. He filed for a patent in 1945.


Before laptops made computers portable, the first electronic digital computer took up an entire room.

Bettmann / Getty ImagesThe first computer.

The ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) was completed in 1946 and cost $US400,000 to build. The US government used it during World War II to perform calculations for the construction of a hydrogen bomb.


Ballpoint pens were popularised by László Bíró.

Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesAn advertisement for a biro, or ballpoint pen, in 1954.

Bíró worked as a journalist and painter, combining his skills to popularise the ballpoint pen. He built on an earlier patent by Wencel Climes and presented his version to the Budapest World Fair in 1931, then patented his ballpoint pen in Argentina in 1943.


The cell phone was originally the size of a brick.

Eloy Alonso/ReutersInventor Martin Cooper poses with the Motorola DynaTAC phone, the world’s first commercial handheld cellular phone.

Motorola developed the first handheld cell phone in 1973. It took 10 hours to recharge.


The first website was just a blank page with a few lines of text.

info.cern.chA screenshot of the first website from 1991.

Designed by Tim Berners-Lee, the site provided information on the World Wide Web project. It went live on August 6, 1991, and the URL was http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html.


Benjamin Franklin’s design for bifocals has remained mostly the same since he invented them around 1784.

Bettman / Getty ImagesA painting shows Benjamin Franklin looking at his design for bifocals.

Franklin’s “double spectacles” allowed him to both see across long distances and read text clearly up close. His original design is still in use today, with only minor updates.

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