The Surprising Ancestors of Today's Top Tech

The latest gear makes conquering the elements look like child's play. Here, we look back at four time-tested innovations that helped get us there.

Ryan Stuart
(Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Roald Amundsen exploration arctic

The latest gear makes conquering the elements look like child's play. Here, we look back at four time-tested innovations that helped get us there.

Ryan Stuart

Then

In 1643, Italian physicist Evangelista Torricelli created the first barometer, a 35-foot-tall tube filled with water that rose and fell as air pressure changed (low meant clouds, high meant clear).

barometer early evangelista torricelli tube weather history of barometer
(Anton Lefterov)


Now

Modern barometers use mercury or electrical pulses to gauge air pressure and are small enough to fit inside watches, like Suunto’s Ambit ($500).

Suunto ambit barometer hat hiking camping exploration
(Suunto)


Then

In 1856, British natural historian William Thompson lowered a plate-glass camera into Waymouth Bay, near Dorset, and tripped the shutter by pulling a string. He captured the first underwater photo—and flooded his camera in the process.

complexity Mid-Atlantic nobody North America USA Washington, DC plate glass camera 19th century
(Bettmann/CORBIS)


Now

Pocket-size waterproof cameras, like Pentax’s WG-3($300), can shoot 16-megapixel photos and HD video while 15 feet underwater.

pentax wg3 waterproof camera photography outdoors wild hiking camping exploration
(Pentax)


Then

During the 19th century, a sailor from Gloucester, England, stitched a wide-brimmed, elongated cap out of oiled canvas—the sou’wester.

oil canvas exploration gear old ancient arctic
(Bert Hardy)


Now

This summer, Outdoor Research releases the Force 9 Sombrero ($75), a slightly more stylish, Gore-Tex-equipped version of the classic cap.

outdoor reasearch force 9 sombe hat exploration hiking camping sun protection
(Outdoor Reasearch)


Then

In 1883, American electrician Charles Fritts used selenium and gold to make the first solar cell. It couldn’t generate power, but it was used in early cameras as a light meter.

Innovative Pioneering Old Fashioned Inventions first solar battery charles fritts
(Popperfoto/Getty Images)


Brunton’s Explorer 20 ($260) has six solar cells that make enough juice to charge a GPS, a DSLR, and radio batteries in about an hour. It also weighs 15 ounces and folds up to the size of a magazine.

(Brunton)

Filed To: Design and Tech
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