When a new idea comes along, people often don’t know what to make of it. That’s why so many inventions begin as light diversions and reach the development stage only much later, when applications finally suggest themselves. In this view, though necessity is still the mother of invention, whimsy is just as assuredly its father.
Here, a look back at when today’s technologies were way ahead of their time:
In 1928, a woman dried her hair with a big, intimidating contraption; now she can use a handheld device. (Photos: Left, Hulton Archive/Getty Images; Right, imagetwo/iStockphoto)
The “Phrenometer” brain-wave detector dates to 1907. Now Japanese companies are developing less immobilizing versions to provide alternative controls for video games. (Photos: Left, Topical Press Agency/Getty Images; Right, Honda)
Pedal-powered stilts were a whim back in 1930; today, mechanical legs from the Japanese company Cyberdyne help disabled or elderly people walk. (Photos: Left, Hulton Archive/Getty Images; Right, Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images)
Wintertime tanning under UV light was tried in the 1940s but remained very rare for many years after that. Now tanning is a huge commercial business, with tens of thousands of often-compulsive customers. (Photos: Left, Harry Todd/Fox Photos/Getty Images; Right, Okan Metin/iStockphoto)
A wired hands-free phone headset in 1950 still kept you tethered to the wall, but today we’re all wireless and hands-free. (Photos: Left, Al Barry/Three Lions/Getty Images; Right, William R. Minten/iStockphoto)