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Dear Reader,

January weather in the Northern Hemisphere has always encouraged people to spend more time indoors. In the 19th century, reading and hobbies became popular; in 2021 we tend to rely on electronics. It’s interesting to see how the technology of entertainment has changed since then. Also, not trying to be a downer but let’s look at radiation this month, it’s important. Lastly, because people living on the coast of Western Europe no longer have to fear “the fury of the Norsemen,” they’re kind of fun: Vikings.

Editor headshot

I hope you enjoy the journey!
Dan Schlenoff
, Editor of “50, 100 & 150 Years Ago”

The Technology of Entertainment

the phonograph

Edison’s “talking machine”—the phonograph. It turned out to be the ancestor of all portable music. (December 1877)

December 1877

“Mr. Thomas A. Edison recently came into this office, placed a little machine on our desk…” and with that, the phonograph was invented.

April 1939

“Here Comes Television!” The electronic components had been worked out; the article was in celebration of the arrival of programming.

November 2000

A section on digital entertainment accurately predicts that music, movies, games, and television will merge into digital data playable on a variety of devices.

Radiation Consideration

Barn Swallow

Barn swallow living near the destroyed Fukushima nuclear reactors gets a blood test for genetic abnormalities (then gets released). (February 2015)

June 1910

Just a decade after the discovery of radioactivity, articles lauded “the curative power to radioactive substances.” I kid you not. People drank this stuff.

February 1982

With safer medical use of radiation well-established, the danger of background radiation was considered to be “slight.”

February 2015

Four years after the Fukushima nuclear plant contaminated hundreds of square miles, a report on how radiation was affecting local flora and fauna.


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Figurehead from a Viking “dragon ship,” about A.D. 850. Norse raiders sailed in such ships and spread terror. (May 1967)

May 1893

An exact replica of the ship excavated in Sandefjord, Norway, sets sail for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The ship is still on display in Geneva, Illinois.

May 1967

A thoughtful review of the archaeology of Viking settlements emphasizes their settlements and trading networks as well as their raids.

January 1995

Egil, a real-life Viking hero of Norse sagas, who lived and died in Iceland, may have spent his life battling a rare disease.

January Issue: Active Body, Active Brain

Check out the latest issue of Scientific American

Read the issue

For more highlights from the archives, you can read January’s 50, 100 & 150 Years Ago column


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