Research Finds: Popular Science and Popular Mechanics Colorful Covers

The past issues of Popular Science and Popular Mechanics provide a great primary source resource for innovations in industry and science. Whenever I’m searching these magazines, I often get distracted by the beautifully illustrated covers dating from the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. They illustrate the hope and excitement of new inventions of the period, even if some of the ideas seem a little harebrained! Here is a selection of covers with particularly amusing innovations, including a few that did eventually manifest in other designs.

Popular Mechanics, December 1930. The predecessor to radar, this device was designed to locate planes and track their speed.
Popular Mechanics, December 1930. The predecessor to radar, this “eared” device was designed to locate planes and track their speed.
Popular Mechanics, February 1924. A naval light pageant. This cover is particularly beautiful.
Popular Mechanics, February 1924. A naval light pageant. This cover is particularly beautiful.
Popular Science, January 1931. Adding this winged contraption while skiing could make you fly!
Popular Science, January 1931. Adding this winged contraption while skiing could make you fly!
Popular Mechanics, June 1926. At one point, the idea of placing airports/aircraft landing areas on top of skyscrapers was discussed. It was especially ideal in big cities where room for airport was scarce. I'm pretty sure this would have required one extremely large building to structurally support such an endeavor.
Popular Mechanics, June 1926. At one point, it was proposed to place airports/aircraft landing areas on top of skyscrapers. It was especially ideal in big cities where building airports near downtown was challenging. I’m pretty sure this would have required one extremely large building to structurally support such an endeavor – especially if you compare the scale of the airplane landed on top of this landing pad.
Popular Mechanics, 1921. The Auto Bungalow, the predecessor to the RV? Look, there's even room for your phonograph!
Popular Mechanics, 1921. The auto bungalow, the predecessor to the RV? Look, there’s even room for your phonograph!
Popular Science, March 1945. This one jumped out at me as a possible predecessor to the "mobile lounges" designed by Eero Saarinen for use at Dulles Airport.
Popular Science, March 1945. The airport bus. This one jumped out as a possible predecessor to the “mobile lounges” designed by Eero Saarinen for use at Dulles Airport.
Popular Science, November 1932. I had to end with quite possibly the craziest of the ideas - a railway for ocean liners. The idea was that you could move boats from inland waterways, including rivers, to oceans, without having to make huge detours.
Popular Science, November 1932. I had to end with quite possibly the craziest of the ideas – a railway for ocean liners. The idea was that you could move boats from inland waterways to oceans, without having to make huge detours. Somehow this just doesn’t seem… right.

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