Today in TIME Tech History: Revolving Doormat (1935), Stratospheric Balloon Ride (1946), ‘Videodisc’ Players (1980) and More

Let’s hop in the TIME Wayback Machine to see which notable tech-related stories were published on January 21 between 1923 and today.

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Let’s hop in the TIME Wayback Machine to see which notable tech-related stories were published on January 21 between 1923 and today.

If you’re a TIME subscriber, you can click each headline to read the entire story.

Science: Einheitlichen Feldtheorie (Jan. 21, 1929)

It means “A Coherent Theory of the Electro-Magnetic Field” and is the title of a five-page paper of highest mathematical formulae which Relativist Albert Einstein worked on for ten years and last week handed to the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin for criticism. Soon it will be published.

Science: Gadgeteers Gather (Jan. 21, 1935)

They were the humble rank & file of U. S. idea men, indefatigable purveyors of small ingenuities, perpetual optimists who swell the total of U. S. patents to some 50,000 a year. For example, Albert Giese of Benton Harbor, Mich., had heard a shocking story that 15,000 to 20,000 milkers are blinded every year by the restless tails of cows. His patented cow-tail restrainer was on display last week among 484 other inventions.

Having pondered the fact that many a criminal knows how to slip out of handcuffs, A. C. Elliott of Denver, onetime Royal Mounted policeman, invented a pair of escape-proof steel mittens. Miss Iris Adrian was happy to demonstrate.

Another inventor observed that people wiping their feet on doormats all wipe with a rearward motion, which gradually flattens the bristles and decreases the efficacy of the mat. Some callers are too lazy to wipe their feet at all. Both problems are taken care of by his revolving doormat which gives the feet a circular scouring while the visitor stands still.

E. Carlstrom of Chicago contributed a tear-gas gun which a woman may conceal beneath her skirt, ready for use at the approach of a molester. Miss Catherine A. Moran pulled up her dress to show how it was used.

Science: Tugging at the Ropes (Jan. 21, 1946)

In the atomic age, 61 -year-old Dr. Jean Piccard, talking about his stratosphere gondola, sounds a little like a kind-faced granddaddy reminiscing about the fringe-topped surrey. Yet the Piccard plan for another balloon trip to the stratosphere—his first since 1934—interested scientists last week…

Now professor of aeronautics at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Piccard wants a gondola hoisted by 100 balloons arranged in a cluster. Each will be made of thin plastic material capable of swelling to 100,000-cubic-ft. capacity in the stratosphere.

Business: Disc Wars (Jan. 21, 1980)

The consumer electronics business has produced some fierce marketing wars, but none is likely to be quite so cutthroat as the struggle that is starting for control of the videodisc industry. Videodisc players look much like any stereo deck, but, plugged into a TV, they play prerecorded movies, sports events, opera, sitcoms and documentaries. They promise to advance significantly the cause of viewers’ lib, giving TV addicts freedom to watch what they want when they want to watch it.

Science: Better Spyglass on the Stars (Jan. 21, 1985)

Because the exceptionally dry and stable atmosphere over Mauna Kea makes the site among the world’s best spots for star gazing, six telescopes have been built on the volcano’s crest, and two more are under construction.

Now an extraordinary newcomer will join that celestial company. The California Institute of Technology, working with the University of California, will build the world’s biggest optical telescope on the volcano’s crest; construction could begin as early as 1986. The mammoth instrument, made possible by a $70 million grant to Caltech by the W.M. Keck Foundation, will have an innovative mirror system nearly 400 in. in diameter, which is twice the width and has four times the light-gathering capacity of today’s reigning optical telescope, the 200-in. Hale device at Mount Palomar, Calif.

VIDEO GAMES: Super Mario Takes a Dive (Jan. 21, 1991)

The ascension of Nintendo was one of the great triumphs of entertainment marketing. In just five years the Japanese company transformed a moribund U.S. video-game market into a $4 billion industry and created a video character, Mario, whose popularity rivals that of Mickey Mouse. But fads are subject to the law of gravity. Even as it was announcing record earnings for 1990, the world’s largest computer-game maker confirmed last week what retailers have been saying for months: the Nintendo market has gone into a spin.

A LOT OF MOXI (Jan. 21, 2002)

Probably the loudest buzz of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week surrounded the new venture from WebTV founder Steve Perlman. Moxi is a set-top box that’s got it all: digital video recording (like TiVo, but even easier), a DVD player, 80 GB worth of storage for your music CDs, Internet access and, most important, wireless home networking (so you can access its features from any TV or PC in the home). Moxi will launch at the end of 2002 as part of the Echostar satellite system, which is itself likely to merge with DirecTV. Can world domination be far behind?

Reinventing The Radio (Jan. 21, 2002)

Two months after its national debut, XM Satellite Radio looks as though it may take off. The service has already signed up 30,000 subscribers. General Motors has invested $120 million and will offer XM as an option in 20 different models, starting with the Cadillac I took for a spin. Sony and others are selling after-market receivers for $300 and up that work in any car. And the subscription price of $10 a month seems pretty affordable.

More tech history here…

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