The iPad of 1935
here’s no denying that devices like the iPad, Kindle and Nook have dramatically changed the way that many people consume media. Last year, online retailer Amazon announced that electronic book sales had surpassed print book sales for the first time in history.
The future of the book has quite a few failed predictions in its wake. From Thomas Edison’s belief that books of the future would be printed on leaves of nickel, to a 1959 prediction that the text of a book would be projected on the ceiling of your home, no one knew for sure what was in store for the printed word.
The April, 1935 issue of Everyday Science and Mechanics included this nifty invention which was to be the next logical step in the world of publishing. Basically a microfilm reader mounted on a large pole, the media device was supposed to let you sit back in your favorite chair while reading your latest tome of choice.
It has proved possible to photograph books, and throw them on a screen for examination, as illustrated long ago in this magazine. At the left is a device for applying this for home use and instruction; it is practically automatic.
Additional text accompanying the illustration reads, “You can read a ‘book’ (which is a roll of miniature film), music, etc., at your ease.”
Though René Dagron was granted the first patent for microfilm in the year 1859, it was New York banker George Lewis McCarthy who developed the first practical use for microfilm in 1925, allowing him to make miniaturized copies of bank documents.
Eastman Kodak bought McCarthy’s invention in 1928 and the technology behind the miniaturization of text was adopted rapidly throughout the 1930s. In 1935 the New York Times began copying all of its editions onto microfilm.
Microfilm was a practical instrument for archiving printed material for a number of institutions in the 1930s, including Oglethorpe University, which was preparing the Crypt of Civilization. The Crypt was sealed in 1938 and is intended to be opened in the year 8113. The December, 1938 issue of Popular Science included an article on the preparations necessary for that enormous time capsule, including the use of miniaturized text not unlike the concept above.
This article originally appeared at Smithsonian magazine.