15 Weird Gadgets That Revolutionized Everyday Life

Some of the most important inventions that shaped our world were invented in the last century. Some of the devices we take for granted each day were once rare.

There have literally been thousands of interventions to mention here. Still, I have decided to focus mainly on electronics of the early 1900s. From portable entertainment to keeping the light on in your home, there’s plenty of room for debate over which one changed the world the most. Which gadget has had the most significant impact on today’s society?

1. Microwave Oven

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It’s hard to imagine a world without the microwave oven. The device that made leftovers an easy meal also gave us some of the most iconic snacks of the ’80s and ’90s. If you’re a Gen Xer or a millennial, you probably grew up on microwavable meals like bagel bites, Hungry Man dinners, and Hot Pockets.

Microwaves revolutionized the way we cooked our meals. Not only could parents save leftovers and reheat them, but they also provided a way for people to buy frozen meals and conveniently heat them up.

2. Sony Walkman

Sony Walkman
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We all take advantage of having unlimited entertainment on our cell phones and tablets these days, but 30 years ago, there were no such things as smartphones. When Sony came out with the portable Walkman, it blew people’s minds that they could take their music on the go.

The Walkman sold over 200 million products and led the way for portable music, which would eventually lead to compact disc players and downloadable MPG players that can hold over 1,000 songs.

3. Philips N1500 VCR

Philips N1500 VCR
Image Credit: Colin McCormick – CC BT-SA 3.0/Wiki Commons.

In 1972, Philips released the N1500 at-home video cassette recorder. The device was the original form of Tivo, capable of recording life television onto square cassettes. No longer did you have to be at home to catch your favorite shows.

The technology evolved, and the VCR achieved mass-market success in the 1980s. It led to a new trend of at-home entertainment that would take the world by storm. Soon, old movies were re-released on VHS, leading to the revival of old films and watching movies at home.

4. Atari 2600

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Video game consoles have come a long way since the Atari 2600 was released in 1977. The blocky 8-bit graphics were the first version of the at-home gaming experience. Originally priced at $199 (about $800 adjusted for inflation), it is credited with inspiring generation after generation of future gamers.

Original games like Space Invaders and Pac-Man caused sales to skyrocket, leading the way to future consoles like PlayStation and Xbox.

5. Polaroid Camera

Using an instant camera
Image Credit: Thomas Jantzen – CC BY-SA 2.0/Wiki Commons.

For those of us younger than 40, you might not remember the complicated process of going to the department store to get our photos developed. While that technology was the standard until the early 2000s, the Polaroid camera gave us the instant gratification of getting our photos developed within a few minutes.

The camera hit the market in 1977, and the Polaroid photographs filled up 80s family albums. The retro look became so popular that 40 years later, it became a filter on the famous social media platform Instagram.

6. Toasters

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Toasters have been a standard appliance in most kitchens since the start of the 1900s. Introduced in 1909, they were modernized to toast both sides of bread and popped up automatically in 1920. That means for over 100 years, this simple appliance has been giving us a warm breakfast to start our days.

These are so popular that in 2023, the appliance is believed to have brought in over $4.3 billion in revenue since its invention.

7. Automated Teller Machine (ATM)

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We might take these cashpoint machines for granted, but when they were first implemented in the 1960s, they were groundbreaking. Back then, banks were only open during certain hours, and if you needed to buy groceries, gas, or tickets to a movie and didn’t have cash, you were out of luck.

With these machines popping up outside closed banks, customers could access their money during off-hours. No longer would you have to wait in line at the bank for petty cash. Electronic banking is now the norm, and these machines were at the forefront of bringing that trend into the modern day.

8. Victrola Record Player

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The standard phonograph was invented in 1877, but the Victor Talking Machine Company’s Victrola first made audio players a staple in the living areas of most Americans. Not only was it a form of entertainment, but it was also a decorative piece and a sign of luxury. Classical symphonies and opera singers were often played at parties and ceremonies.

Eventually, the Victor Talking Machine Company was bought by RCA, which was later a titan in the television and movie-making industry.

9. The Refrigerator

LG Smart Refrigerator
Image Credit: LG Electronics.

Think about how important the invention of refrigeration is. Not only does it help us preserve food, but it also keeps medicine fresh. Before refrigeration was readily available, people often froze their food with ice and snow or bought only what they were eating that day.

With these fridges becoming more common in homes, they allowed families to keep food longer, save money, and plan weekly meals. They were also vital for doctors and psychologists working with vaccines and medicine for everyday ailments.

10. The Compass

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Ask any Boy Scout what the most essential invention ever made was, and they might tell you it was the compass. They make a good argument that these handy devices have saved many lives.

Although the Chinese are credited with making the first compass out of lodestone in 200 B.C., it wasn’t until about 1050 A.D. that people began suspending the lodestones so they could move freely and use them for navigation. Today, we have GPS to get us to our location, but this idea might have been the foundation for modern navigation.

11. The Common Nail

Hammer and Nail
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The basic nail is one of the most overrated inventions of the last couple of centuries. This nifty gadget, used a million times a day around the world, dates back to 3400 B.C. Bronze nails, dating back to ancient Egypt, are believed to be the precursor to the modern steel nail.

Before they were readily used, structures were held together by rope or mud. It is safe to say these nails made our homes so much more secure than rubbing mud between two-by-fours.

12. Batteries

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Batteries were once the most vital device in your kitchen drawer. They turned on your toys, powered the television remote, ran the smoke alarm, and kept your clocks working. Those are just the uses of household batteries.

Today, household batteries have taken the back seat to USB chargers, but the same technology is used to power electronic vehicles. There’s no argument that these little power sources have changed the shape of history in a short time span.

13. Television

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I’m not going out on a limb when I say Americans are obsessed with their televisions. Just look at all the cable options, streaming services, and sports broadcast on our T.V.s. Every week, there is a new show or movie to keep us entertained.

I’m not sure that would have been imagined when the first color televisions were sold in the 1950s. Once a luxury item, most homes in 2024 have multiple T.V.s with technology that would have blown viewers’ minds in the ’50s.

14. Light Bulb

Light Bulb
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The modern light bulb we use today was first introduced to the public just over 150 years ago. Humphry Davy pioneered the technology before it was improved by Thomas A. Edison in 1879. That led to him using metal filaments in his bulbs, which slowly evolved into the bulbs we use daily.

This is easily one of the most essential inventions of all time. Could you imagine watching and streaming your favorite show by candlelight?

15. Telephone

An old rotary dial telephone
Image Credit: Berthold Werner, Own Work – CC BY-SA 3.0/Wiki Commons.

Of course, I have to list the ancestor of the current item most of us are addicted to. Before the smartphone, there was the original telephone, which changed the way humans kept in contact forever. When Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone, he could not have imagined the impact he would have on society.

People could now communicate with family and businesses around the globe. This technology would eventually lead to home phones, mobile phones, and smartphones, which are arguably the most important inventions of the last century.

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