Retrotechtacular: Fantastic Backyard Inventions Of Yore

News corporation [British Pathé] created many newsreels and documentaries throughout their 60-year history. Recently, the company released scores of films from their archives and put them on the internet. Here is a delightful collection of short films they created that highlight strange and wonderful inventions in various fields, including transportation and communication.

One of the standout inventions is the Dynasphere, a mono-wheeled vehicle that probably deserves its own week in the Retrotechtacular spotlight. There are a couple of pedal-powered planes that may have inspired the Gossamer Condor, and a hover scooter that resembles an air hockey striker and doubles as a leaf blower. In another film, a man drives a Vespa to the banks of the Thames and parks it. He pulls a fin down from each side of the scooter, turning it into a seafaring craft. When he snaps his fingers, a cute girl appears from somewhere just outside the frame. She climbs on the back, and they take off across the water.

The average running time of these films is about two minutes. Some of them are much shorter, prompting many questions. Fortunately, most of the video descriptions have links with more information about these marvelous inventions. Almost all of the inventors in these films show a complete disregard for safety, but nearly everyone involved seems to be having the time of their lives.

Thanks for the tip, [Paolo].

Retrotechtacular is a weekly column featuring hacks, technology, and kitsch from ages of yore. Help keep it fresh by sending in your ideas for future installments.

9 thoughts on “Retrotechtacular: Fantastic Backyard Inventions Of Yore

  1. I let the Pathe News clips run in YouTube suggested order after the video clip above finished. Two interesting observations. One, those newd shorts really were the hackaday.com of the past century. Two, a common thread in most of the early experimental machines that prematurely killed their feasibility was systematic instability. That is something you can easily cure today with an Arduino and a PID loop. There could be value in revisiting some of those old ideas with new implementations (*cough* HaD readers *cough*). And I’m stricken with just how good these young whipper snappers have it in 2015.

    1. The thing that really amazed me about that one was that they were able to get a license plate for the bathtub/car. What a different world. Nowadays you would probably end up on some watchlist for even trying.

  2. Not cheap to use. Some of these strips of history are in sad shape. Scratches galore, and have they the worn sprocket holes where the picture jumps up and down. They are ripe for restoration. Evening out the exposure for starts, a defect that was there from the beginning.
    Still looking for the scene where the narrator describes the mono wheel on the beach with the humorous line: “wondering how many waffles per mile it made?”. I remember that line from the BBC Omnibus on American TV Sundays in ’53 or’54. I was 1 or 2 years old.

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