Spanning from the 1930s through the 1960s, the vintage inventions on this list may have been created decades ago, but they still look futuristic today. Some are brilliant, some are barmy, some are downright baffling, but one thing is undeniable: all of them were far, far ahead of their time.
1. Frigid-Temperature Facial Protectors
There are some truly delightful things about walking in a winter wonderland, but you have to take extra precautions to protect your body from the ravages of the cold weather. Photographed in 1939 in Montreal, these women have decided to tackle the harsh Canadian winter a little bit differently.
No, this bizarrely futuristic invention is not by any means a fashion statement, though it is of course intended to be as subtle as it possibly could be — which is asking a lot. These translucent cones were designed to keep people’s faces warm but visible during snow storms, and to shield them from wind chill.
2. High-Flying Jetpack
You’ve seen them on cartoons from The Jetsons to Jimmy Neutron, and there has sure been a fair share of them on the silver screen. If you had to ask any random person what they imagine the crème de la crème of futuristic inventions must be, chances are decent that they’d answer: a jet pack.
But did you know that jet packs have actually been invented and used, improbable as it may seem? While functional jetpacks had already been around for decades by the time this picture was taken in 1975, this crowd still looks understandably blown away — both by the sight and the sound!
3. 360° Glow Tires
There are some things that we’re just so accustomed to seeing in our everyday lives that we don’t stop and wonder why they are that way, and what they would look like if something about them was different. For example, have you ever wondered why car tires are a drab shade of black?
So why not spice things up a bit and make them more jazzy? That was the idea that tire manufacturer Goodyear had in mind in 1961 when they created this glowing tire with a series of bright light bulbs inside the rim. Goodyear even wanted to produce them in several colors. The lady here is demonstrating how well they provide light for her to fix her stocking.
4. Robotic Razor Arms
Snapped in 1957, this photo was taken at a nuclear facility during a test on a mildly frightening-looking futuristic invention. They had acquired new robotic equipment, and thought of an ingenious way to demonstrate their capabilities. However, their human guinea pig might have felt just a bit anxious as they took a chance on him.
Turns out that the engineers needed to demonstrate just how delicately the machine arms could handle the objects placed in front of them, and with what precision they would be able to operate. So, naturally, they chose to give their employee a nice, close shave. If his expression says anything, he’s not exactly thrilled.
5. Face Mask On The Rocks
You got home from a rough night at the bars and forgot to have that ceremonial life-saving glass or two of water before bed, and now you’ve woken up with a splitting hangover that simply cannot be ignored. There are some home remedies out there — and then, there’s this particularly creative futuristic invention.
Thinking so far outside the box that it removes the box entirely, the “Hangover Heaven” mask was designed by none other than cosmetics company Max Factor in the 1940s to help soothe the faces of actresses from bright studio light without smudging their makeup. Covered with ice cubes, the refrigeratable headpiece was eventually repurposed for its now-namesake moniker.
6. The Smallest Mini Car
Apparently in the future we won’t have a need to give our friends a ride anywhere, because we’ll be far too busy being economically and environmentally efficient. Hailing from the tiny town of Peel on England’s Isle of Man, the Peel Engineering Company created this wondrous and adorable mini car in 1962.
The P50 has its own place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the smallest car ever produced. It was so tiny, in fact, that you could pick it up and drag it around like an overweight suitcase should you wish. Just think of how much time this would save on searching for parking in the big city!
7. The Compact Suitcase Scooter
They’re coming for you, and there’s no way to escape. You can’t leave the house anymore without them sneaking up behind you on the sidewalk and dinging their bell at you until you let them pass. Electric scooters are here, and they are here to stay. But guess what: they’ve been around for way, way longer than you think.
Though free-standing motor scooters have been around since the turn of the 20th century, this woman was photographed in the 1960s on a most unusual invention: a portable suitcase that doubles as a scooter! Surprisingly, it could reach speeds of up to 35 miles per hour. Designed in France, this nifty little contraption must have seemed like the mother of all futuristic inventions.
8. Rocket-Powered Rescue Device
No, despite the shape of it, this is not intended to be a rocket ship that will help this woman testing it out blast off into the atmosphere. Called the Shapson Aquaplane, it was actually intended to save lives, as ominous as it may look. But its usage was more than a bit clunky.
The tanks strapped to the woman were buoyant, and intended to be used by lifeguards as they raced to extricate people from the water who were in trouble. It could get up to 12 knots in speed, but to activate it required rotating the levers in front, turning on its propeller. Sounds like it might have taken a little too much time to be practical… just saying.
9. The Magnificent ‘Motorwheel’
This wild ride looks as though it was plucked straight out of Star Wars or Back to the Future, but it predates them by a long shot. Wheeling its way down the road, this single-giant-wheeled motorcycle hit the dusty trail in 1931. It looks as though you’d have to maintain extraordinary balance to keep it upright.
But despite that, the driver seems pretty confident. He’s a Swiss engineer taking the otherworldly Motorwheel out for far more than just a spin. In fact, this moment captures him on his way from Arles, France to the French Riviera and then Spain. The device runs thanks to a wheel spinning on a rail inside a rubber tire.
10. The Mechanical Broth Blower
Honestly, who doesn’t love a nice bowl of soup? Moreover, who wants their broth served to them disappointingly at room temperature? You need it piping hot, but sometimes you’re just so hungry that you can’t wait to eat and end up burning your tongue. All those soup-related frustrations were apparently solved in the 1940s with this mechanical novelty.
Don’t feel like blowing on your spoon, or is your blowing simply not cooling your soup down fast enough? This futuristic invention is taking us one great leap forward into a brave new world of fine dining. There’s an actual powered fan attached to that soup spoon that was developed help soup eaters and their poor tongues.
11. Personal TV Torpedo
Some brilliantly creative thinkers have brought us some incredible inventions that revolutionized our lives and took us that much farther forward into the future. This unwieldy contraption, however, simply cannot necessarily be counted among those such inventions. The next time you worry you’re addicted to your smartphone screen, pause and reflect just how far we’ve come.
This giant tube, which looks more like an oversized CVP pipe unit than its intended usage, was actually designed to be a portable television in the 1960s. Of all the futuristic inventions that accompanied the hype surrounding the Space Race, this one has to be one of the biggest head-scratchers. Talk about Netflix and not chill.
12. The Amphibious ‘Amphicar’
So you love going in the water, but you can’t afford owning both a car and a boat. No problem: introducing the Amphicar! While the military has had amphibious vehicles in use as long ago as D-Day, having an everyday car like this submersible model pictured in 1965 is a whole other ballpark.
Just imagine your friends’ surprise as you calmly steer your hot rod off the main road and straight into the nearby lake. We wonder what would have happened if the manufacturers of this magic set of wheels sought to enter the space race too. Sadly, we are yet to see a flying car in our lifetime.
13. Tuba Mirum
At first glance, this series of gigantic tubes resembles a set piece from Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, a Monty Python animation, or just the latest and brassiest addition to the local symphony orchestra. While it can’t fire anything, this futuristic-looking old-school invention was actually meant to be used as an instrument of war.
This bizarre behemoth contraption dates all the way back to World War II, and was used by the Japanese military in attempt to help detect the approach of enemy planes by listening carefully for their rumbling engines. Pictured at the scene is Japan’s Emperor Hirohito inspecting the invention, unaware that the Allies have managed to invent radar.
14. Motorized Water Skis
Are you tired of the traffic on your daily commute to the office? Do you live in an area with an abundance of waterways standing between you and your destination? With the contraption seen here and other similarly futuristic inventions, one could cheat the system — though the deed was quite precarious, especially while dressed to the nines.
These are motorized water skis, essentially enormous duck feet with propellers attached. Although it may be an effective way to avoid the hindrance of vehicular land traffic, the look on this demonstrator’s face isn’t necessarily giving the impression that while innovative, they’re not an unwieldy hassel as well.
15. The Gas-Resistant Stroller
In the years leading up to World War II, tension was in the air across Europe. Even here in 1938, the year before the Germans invaded Poland and Britain declared war, the English were well aware of the threat that stood before them. Concerned about the possibility of gas attacks, they distributed gas masks to the public — and took even more drastic precautions.
This cheery device that looks like a coffin with a chimney is actually a stroller designed to be safe for a baby to breathe in and able to withstand a gas attack. The British had vivid memories of the gas used in the trenches in World War I, and were not about to let that catch them off guard again, no matter how severe it looked.
16. The Car-Washing Robot
If you enjoying those nice little chats with Siri on your phone or Alexa in your home, and constantly marvel at the wonders of modern technology, then you’ll be amazed to know robots as early as the ’60s could be voice-controlled and even recognize human voices. Of course, along with technological advancement, came advancements of a different sort.
With great leaps and bounds forward into the future came the inevitable question: what roles usually employed by humans can technology take over? A robot that could wash the car, was no doubt high on the list. While this vintage creation looks futuristic beyond its years, we could think of plenty of other chores we’d also want this sudsy bot to take on.
17. Early Prototype Portable TV
The craze of television technology has impacted and forever defined an entire generation. It became a must-have appliance for family households the world over, and once it became a fixture of modern life, the addiction swiftly and irreversibly set in. But what if you left your home before the digital era? How would you feed your fix then?
Nowadays, any cab user in New York City (and many other places) is well accustomed to the squawk of that television set built into the backseat of the vehicle. But having a portable television for your ride half a century ago must have been just too incredibly miraculous to handle.
18. The Sci-Fi Worthy Scalp Servicing Contraption
This couple appears to be enjoying themselves thoroughly, with a nice little night cap. It looks as though they’ve ripped this device out of the wife’s hairdresser and brought it home for a rollicking good time free of charge. Only they’re not getting coiff touched ups.
This nicely-proportioned sci-fi-looking invention was designed to give the user a thorough skull massage. It was air-powered and fairly lightweight. But the question that has to be addressed is how much noise did it make? Would anyone really able to carry on a conversation and truly enjoy your relaxation? Seems like it would be worth a try.
19. Remote Controlled Lawn Mower
Owning a lovely, big lawn was considered the height of success in mid-century suburbia, but with great grass comes great responsibility. All that space has to be regularly maintained, and pushing a lawnmower around can be quite tedious. But along with suburban sprawl came futuristic inventions like this one.
These ladies in suburban Paris were photographed reaping the benefits of having a lawnmower that stood out from all the rest: it was remote-controlled! In the 1950s era residential areas, this was just the tip of the iceberg. There were even mowing machines designed to seat the driver comfortably inside a glorified hamster ball with air conditioning and a foam cushion. Sounds like the grass certainly was greener for the owners of these futuristic yard maintenance contraptions!
20. More Than A Purse
With that saucy eyebrow raised, this product model knows she’s touting something rather extraordinary. Long before the days of Spotify, iPhones, iPods and disc players, and a generation before Walkmans and boomboxes came this nifty little contraption. It came with its own batteries and earphones, and packed a whole lot of style.
This radio transistor sat comfortably on its very own beanbag chair base, in tasteful shades of tartan, which in turn could be placed rather awkwardly on the shoulder as one strolled around. But don’t worry about it falling off: that’s what that strap was for. You could even remove the cushioned base and pop the speaker in a pocket. Pretty handy, no?
21. Bed Periscope Prism Glasses
There’s a unique time of the night when the brain is just awake enough to want to get stuck in a good book, but the body is too tired to stay properly upright. What’s more, holding that book over your head makes your arms tired eventually. But back in 1936, this futuristic invention had that covered.
No, those aren’t tanning bed shades. Called Hamblin glasses, this bizarre pair of specs looked unwieldy because it had mirrors attached to it. That allowed the reader to lie down comfortably without straining their neck while they got a few chapters in before tucking off to sleep. It looks a bit barmy, but we think Google Oculus should definitely look into a next-generation revamp.
22. The Vintage, Pull-Out Piano
In today’s era, vast achievements and inventions have been made to better the lives of people with disabilities and to further incorporate them into the rest of society. But even as far back as the 1930s, inventors were thinking outside the box, wondering what activities the handicapped were missing out on.
This ingenious device is a piano specially designed so that people who were bedridden could still play. It had a collapsible board on a wheel so that they did’t even have to sit up in bed in order to tickle the ivories. This lady looks overjoyed. Luckily music devices have come a long way since then and typically take up a lot less space.
23. The See-Through Sea Craft
Seen in 1941 is a model inside this see-through rowboat with a sleek look that must have seemed very futuristic at the time. Made of lucite plexiglass, this water-bound ride was advertised as being able to hold up to five people, and was capable of taking on rough waters.
Although most of us are not unfamiliar with the concepts of the glass-bottom boat or the transparent paddle board these days, we can’t deny that this vintage creation was way ahead of its time and remains relevant to today’s watersports market. Who doesn’t want an uninhibited view to accompany their rowing pleasure?
24. Motor-Powered Roller Skates
There are some common traits uniting a lot of the futuristic inventions that came out of the 1960s. For some reason, designers and innovators back then just couldn’t get away from the temptation to make literally everything motorized. Take, for example, these motorized roller skates. Why walk to work or take the bus when you could zip along in these bad boys?
This businessman, briefcase in tow, is seen filling the gas tank of this motor-powered wheely kicks before he continued on his way to the office. And while the idea was certainly innovative, it wasn’t exactly the ideal option for green transportation.
25. The Pre-Skype
Our parents and grandparents probably never imagined that one day, and that day is today, we would be able to not only talk with someone on a tiny phone but also see their face on our screen, live, wherever, whenever. This futuristic invention in Japan may not seem so novel now, but it was certainly a forward-thinking technological advance in its heyday.
Seen at Toshiba’s headquarters in Tokyo in 1968, this man was captured on film testing out his company’s new model of video phone. The concept of being able to dial someone up and actually see their face live on the screen at the same time must have been nothing short of revolutionary for them.
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