12 Things that Are Surprisingly Older than You Think

by Aleena Khan3 years ago

7 Fax Machines

Though slow and blurry, the first fax machine called the “electric printing telegraph” was already in use 178 years ago. It used the electric signals of a telegraph passed through a chemically soaked paper. The chemical would evaporate, leaving behind marks of morse code.

Fax Machine
Image Credit: European Patent Office/ Wikipedia.org, Wikimedia.org

In 1843, Alexander Bain invented and patented the world’s first fax machine. He was inspired by the telegraph and designed a machine that could send images through wires using electric signals.

Over time, the fax machine evolved, and in 1964, Long Distance Xerograph was invented by the company Xerox. Documents could be sent to a fax machine located anywhere in the world in six minutes.

Today, fax machines are available as a stand-alone or as a computer peripheral with varying speed and resolution and still remain a relevant communication device in a modern office.

(1, 2)

8 Oreo

The first Oreo cookie was sold more than 100 years ago in Hoboken, New Jersey as the Oreo Biscuit. They were packed in metal canisters and sold for 25 cents per pound.

(Left) Oreo Packaging in 1912. Image Credit: Businessinsider.com, Unsplash.com

The National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) first sold Oreo cookies in 1912. The name was trademarked and registered on March 14, 1912. The cream-filled cookie was a knockoff of Hydrox, a similar cookie sold by Nabisco’s competitor, Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company (later rebranded Sunshine.)

The Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company was a result of two brothers, Jacob and Joseph Loose, falling apart. They had previously worked together and ran the Loose Brothers Manufacturing. Jacob acted as the president and expanded the company. However, he fell sick and had to hand over the control to Joseph.

Joseph Loose was quick to merge the company with its competitors to form Nabisco. This was done against the wishes of Jacob. So when Jacob recovered from his illness, he formed the Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company to prove his merits.

Hydrox was their most successful product. As a fierce competitor, Nabisco launched Oreo, a cookie similar in taste and design. Initially, it didn’t sell well against Hydrox and was seen as a cheaper knockoff.

However, when the fad of Hydrox died out, Oreo became the national favorite and continues to be the most popular cookie. (1, 2)


9 Contact Lenses

Contact lenses are a 137-year-old invention of the 19th century. The idea is even older and can be traced back to sketches of Leonardo da Vinci in 1508.

Contact lens
Image Credit: Pixabay.com

The first contact lens was created in either 1887 or 1888. F.A. Muller and Adolf E. Fick are both credited with producing the world’s first wearable glass contact lenses to correct vision.

The origin of their invention dates back to 1508 in da Vinci’s manual “Codex of the Eye.” There, he suggested the use of a glass hemisphere filled with water to alter the power of the cornea.

The contact lens of Adolf E. Fick covered the entire eye and was not gas permeable, reducing oxygen supply to the cornea. This caused serious side effects and hence could be worn only for a few hours. (1, 2)

10 Wristwatch

The first wristwatch was produced 450 years ago, in 1571. It was a gift by the Earl of Robert Dudley to Queen Elizabeth I of England. Three centuries later, in 1810, Abraham-Louis Breguet crafted the official “first” wristwatch on the order of the Queen of Naples.

Queen of Naples
Queen of Naples. Image credits: François Gérard/Sothebys.com

As the clocks in the 16th century lacked accuracy and did not have a minute hand, the gift received by Elizabeth I, a watch that was designed to be worn on the arm, was likely inaccurate. The bejeweled wristwatch was called an “arm watch.”

In 1810, the Queen of Naples, Caroline Murat, commissioned a  special watch to be created by Abraham-Louis Breguet. The result was the first watch that would be called a “wristwatch.”

Irrespective of the convenience and portability, wristwatches were not worn by men and remained a women’s-only accessory until World War I.  They were considered feminine. Also, it didn’t help for men to wear a watch on the wrist where it would be exposed to the elements and undergo plenty of wear and tear. (1, 2, 3)


11 Vending Machines

Vending machines are ancient. In the first century in Roman Egypt, a coin-operated machine dispensed holy water. Even modern vending machines are 138 years old. They debuted in the 1880s in London, England, and were used to dispense postcards.

Vending Machine
(Left) Hero’s drinks dispenser from the Pneumatica. Image Credit: Famousscienitsts.org, Unsplash.com

The great mathematician and inventor Heron of Alexandria built the first known vending machine in Roman Egypt to enable the proper distribution of holy water among worshippers. The deposited coin acted as a weight to operate the lever and open a valve. This would allow water to flow out of the machine.

Such machines have appeared in history at various times, one being in 1615. They were machines in England, accepting coins to dispense tobacco.

The advanced vending machine was invented in 1883 by Percival Everitt. Though initially used for dispensing postcards, they soon became popular and were placed at public places to sell postcards, envelopes, and notepaper. (1, 2, 3)

12 Flush Toilet

Though modern flush toilets became popular in the mid 19th century, it was first designed 425 years ago by Sir John Harington and also has roots in the Roman and Indus Valley civilizations.

Flush Toilet
(Left) First water-flush toilet (Right) Ancient Roman latrines, Ostia Antica. Image Credit: dkfindout.com, Fubar Obfusco/wikipedia.org

The flushing mechanism in our toilets is undoubtedly one of the most important and convenient inventions in sanitation. It has made human life easier and cleaner.

Though flush toilets look modern, they are ancient in origin. Communal latrines which flushed away human waste through a continuous stream of water were used across the Roman empire between the 1st and 5th century CE. Even the Indus Valley civilization dating back to 2600 BCE had toilets with a drainage system that would flush away waste.

The prototype on which modern flush toilets are based was first designed by Sir John Harington in 1596. The toilet used 7.5 gallons of water to flush and could be used by 20 people between flushes. He installed his invention at Richmond Palace for his godmother, Queen Elizabeth I. (1, 2, 3)

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