Originally published December 29, 2010
One of my favorite magazines, at least from a vintage perspective, is Popular Mechanics. You can find nearly every issue going back to 1905 at Google Books.
For many years (back as far as 1908), Popular Mechanics Press, the parent company to the magazine, published a series of special editions in a format they called “Kinks.” There were issues on Press Tool Kinks, Drill Press Kinks, Jig and Fixture Kinks, Screw Machine Kinks, and my favorite, Home Kinks. These special yearly editions followed the basic format of the monthly magazine but put the main emphasis on tips sent in by readers. Click on any image for a larger version.
The Home Kinks issues featured today are from 1945, 1948, 1949, and 1950. There are so many good scans that I’m breaking this topic into two parts. This first look is mostly at the kinks themselves. Next week I’ll focus on the illustrations in the kinks issues.
In fairness to Popular Mechanics, the term “kinks” didn’t always have the implications it does today. According to Websters, the definition for “kinks” is multi-faceted.
A kink can be a short, tight twist or curl caused by a doubling or winding of something upon itself; a mental or physical peculiarity; a clever, unusual way of doing something; a cramp in some part of the body; an imperfection likely to cause difficulties in the operation of something; or unconventional sexual taste or behavior.
What you’ll notice about these particular kinks is that our idea of safety, especially for children, has clearly changed over the years. Some of the suggestions sent in by readers seem a little shaky by today’s standards.
And as with many household tips, some of these kinks seem like more trouble than they’re worth. I’ve never had the occasion to slice off a button, but if I did, I’m not sure I’d need a fork to assist me. But I have, indeed, used a pica gauge to measure scale drawings. And if I had a boat, I think the idea of a porthole phone booth is terrific.
The beauty of Home Kinks was that it gave a forum for people to share their great ideas, even if they seemed obvious or of little practical application. I mean, when was the last time you spilled mercury, and would you really have had a feather nearby to use in the clean up?
It’s easy now to make fun of these issues, but of course you have to put them in context to judge them fairly. My dad was a Home Kinks kind of reader and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out he had submitted a tip or two.
I suppose we still have the equivalent of Home Kinks in the likes of Real Simple magazine and Martha Stewart Living: titles that specialize in handy household hints and techniques. But the days of back-seat playpens and see-saws made from oil drums is clearly over, for better or for worse.
Follow Gene on Twitter: https://twitter.com/SAWG