Thursday, February 21, 2008

The 1920s Technology Update

It's certainly true that we live in a time of fast-moving technology, but those folks in 1928 were no slouches either. They were so busy coming up with new inventions that they barely had time to apply Odorono twice a week!

By September 29, 1928, the "talking pictures" had finally arrived. A lot of technological work still needed to happen -- sound syncing, improvements in sound recording and amplification, mixing techniques, soundproofing of studios -- but by that time people were pretty much ready to accept what the studio scientists were cooking up.

In a short article called "Black Magic," though, The New Yorker describes several other inventions that were establishing themselves.

I can't find any information about the main topic of the article -- "Photograms" --but it seems as though this technology had existed for some time (I recall articles much earlier in the magazine about the low quality of telegraphed photos).
Photograms are pictures, or documents, sent by wire the same as telegrams.

Newspapers use photograms for news pictures, in cases like the Florida hurricane. Lawyers send photograms of legal documents, making error impossible.

Musical scores are often sent--song hits of Tin Pan Alley are released in San Francisco within twelve hours. Fashions are sent from Paris.
The editors then make a keen distinction (keep in mind this is 1928).
Don't confuse all this with television. Television (are we boring you?) is very, very different. At the Radio World's Fair last week, which was terribly dull, we took a look at television. A man with a scrubby mustache let himself be televised. He showed his teeth and winked and leered, which is about as far as television has gone at present. The pictures didn't do justice even to that. His mustache was vague, and his chin finally faded out altogether. What we could see of him looked pretty grim. Nobody is using television yet and we can well understand why.
I can't find any substantial online references to this early television experiment, but it may have been one of John Logie Baird's 1928 transmissions between London and New York. If so, Baird's prototype had only thirty scanlines, a far cry from the 486 we're used to in NTSC-world. You can see one of those early facial images at the link; Picasso would have appreciated it.

Anyway, radio was still to be king for another fifteen years or so, and The New Yorker concludes with the latest advances (which would not have been news to anybody -- like me -- who'd been reading the advertising copy for the previous few months).
The only thing to report about the newest in radio sets is that they now mostly plug into the electric-light circuit--no batteries. They are also disguised artfully in period furniture. Some of them have liquor cabinets.
All true...during Prohibition no less! What has been confusing me is that these sets were advertised as plugging into LIGHT SOCKETS. Like, you twisted them into the socket of a lamp where you'd normally place the bulb. I'm wondering if this was a novelty idea or if electrical outlets were really scarce at the time.


Anonymous said...

wat the heck dude....this was NOT helpful....get a life!

Muffy St. Bernard said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the post!