Scanning Around With Gene: Home Kinks Part 2

Last week I introduced you to Home Kinks, special-edition magazines from the prolific publisher Popular Mechanics Press. The “kinks” in this case were helpful and unusual tips for homeowners to aid in daily routines and make life just a little bit easier. Many of those tips don’t quite stand up to today’s safety standards, but times were different back then: Product liability lawsuits weren’t as common and the government stayed out of the regulation business.
Today I’m presenting additional artwork from those issues, which date between 1945 and 1950. The Home Kinks publication was a yearly affair for Popular Mechanics Press and presented tips primarily sent in by readers. Click on any image for a larger version.

I could fill many columns with images from the various Popular Mechanics publications. The regular monthly issues are a treasure trove of great and often futuristic depictions of technology and science.

Popular Mechanics Press got its start in 1902 when publisher H.H. Windsor decided America needed a publication that was, in his words, “written so you can understand it.” Each issue was divided into two section: news reports on the latest technical and scientific developments, and a crafts section for the do-it-yourselfer.

The publication began as a weekly and sold for 5 cents. The first few years were difficult and a few times the publication almost didn’t make it. But Windsor had faith and stuck to his guns. Eventually the persistence paid off and Popular Mechanics Press became a publishing powerhouse of not just the main magazine, but lots of spin-offs like those pictured in this column.

By 1923 the company had moved into new Chicago headquarters that included a full composing and printing plant. Windsor died a year later and the company was taken over by his only son, H.H. Windsor Jr., who held the editor-in-chief reins for over 25 years. Before too long H.H. Windsor III was also involved in the family business.

By the 1950s the magazine had a monthly circulation well over 1 million and several international editions. Its classified advertising section was the largest of any publication in America, and it became famous for small back-of-the-book ads highlighting vocational and correspondence schools.

Every issue was chock full of practical tips and illustrations showing typical homeowners enjoying the benefits of their do-it-yourself efforts. Contributors over the years included such notable scientists as Guglielmo Marconi, Thomas Edison, and Alexander Graham Bell.

At its peak (just before being sold to the Hearst Corporation in 1958), Popular Mechanics Press employed nearly 500 people. The “Kinks” series of books and special editions was just one line of products they produced.

Popular Mechanics is still published today, though the annual Home Kinks editions were discontinued quite some time ago, and like all magazines things have changed. Gone are the extensive classified ads that were part of what made the magazine so special and fun to read.

People are still do-it-yourselfers, but we get our information and tips elsewhere, and for many, assembling a piece of furniture from Ikea is about as complex as it gets. For better or for worse, home offices now outnumber home workshops by a wide margin.
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Gene Gable has spent a lifetime in publishing, editing and the graphic arts and is currently a technology consultant and writer. He has spoken at events around the world and has written extensively on graphic design, intellectual-property rights, and publishing production in books and for magazines such as Print, U&lc, ID, Macworld, Graphic Exchange, AGI, and The Seybold Report. Gene's interest in graphic design history and letterpress printing resulted in his popular columns "Heavy Metal Madness" and "Scanning Around with Gene" here on
  • Anonymous says:

    The kitchen lazy susan is hilarious! Now Mom never has to leave the kitchen!

  • Anonymous says:

    I think Make Magazine (and the other Make ventures) are satisfying at least a few of the Popular Mechanics kinks! ;-)

  • Terri Stone says:

    Totally. And you know some of the Home Kinks readers would have gone to today’s Burning Man.

    Terri Stone
    Editor in Chief,

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