Yes, there is a vacuum cleaner museum and it does not suck

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Vacuums from the 1920s, including this Air-Way, which was the first to have disposable bags.
The Vacuum Cleaner Museum houses many devices from the 1920s, including this Air-Way, which was the first to use disposable bags.
Photo: David Pierini/Cult of Mac

ST. JAMES, Missouri — The first in Tom Gasko’s impressive collection of vacuum cleaners arrived before he was born. It was a summer day in 1962 and his mother, Jean, was pregnant and uncomfortably hot. The Rainbow vacuum salesman in her living room realized she was in no mood to listen to his sales pitch, so he placed ice in the vacuum’s water pan, switched on the machine and blew cool air on her.

 Eighteen days later, Mrs. Gasko had a new vacuum and a son who would grow up to collect one of every model of vacuum cleaner ever made in the United States.

Many of his 704 vacuums, including the Rainbow that brought sweet relief to his mother, is on display in a museum he curates in St. James, Missouri.

“If you turned on a vacuum and I couldn’t see it, I could probably tell you the brand just by the pitch of the motor,” Gasko told Cult of Mac. “I’ve always been fascinated by the motors and how subtle changes over the years to design affects the suction.”

Stopping bullets with silk was this priest’s unlikely calling

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A test of a bulletproof vest in Washington D.C. in 1923.
A test of a bulletproof vest in Washington D.C. in 1923.
Photo: Wikipedia

Casimir Zeglen was truly a man of the cloth. He was a Catholic priest — with an obsession for silk underwear — but the pleasure he got from silk touching skin was because it stopped bullets.

 The Chicago priest is credited with inventing the first bulletproof vest, a calling he answered in 1893 after the city’s mayor was gunned down.

The vests worn today by soldiers, police officers and marked men are made with lightweight armor and sophisticated, bullet-resistant fibers like Kevlar that evolved as weapons got more powerful. Yet they work much the same way as Zeglen’s silk invention: The material catches and deforms slugs, then spreads the force of the strike over a larger area of the vest.

Color photography first gained a peel thanks to potatoes

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This photograph was made in the early 1900s using the Autochrome process, which starts with dyed potato starch.
This photograph was made in the early 1900s using the Autochrome process, which starts with dyed potato starch.
Photo: Mervyn O’Gorman

The potato is one of the least colorful of the good Lord’s creations. But somehow, two French inventors figured out how the dud spud could help put color in our photographs.

 Before brothers Louis and Auguste Lumiere tinkered with taters, photographers were shooting three different pictures of the same scene through colored filters — red, blue and green — and then sandwiching the images for projection.

In 1904, the Lumieres pulverized potatoes into a starchy powder, which they then divided into three separate batches for dying violet-blue, green and orange-red. When mixed together and applied to a glass plate, the microscopic grains of potato filtered the light, creating a negative that could produce a color photo. The process was called Autochrome.

Hockey’s goalie mask saved face and grew into a bulletproof work of art

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Jacques Plante made history in 1959 when refused to play after a facial injury without a protective mask.
Jacques Plante made history in 1959 when he refused to play hockey without a protective mask after suffering a facial injury.
Photo: National Hockey League

In hockey’s early days, if you took a puck to the kisser you got stitched up and put back on the ice. No goalie would dare wear a protective mask — fans considered it unmanly. Coaches worried their netminders would lose their courage. Reporters echoed these judgments in their stories.

 But after stopping a hard wrist shot with his face early in the first period of a game against the Rangers in 1959, Montreal Canadiens goalie Jacques Plante refused to return without the crude, flesh-toned fiberglass mask he used in practice.

The press fussed at him, but Plante believed playing without a mask was like a skydiver jumping without a parachute. Plante’s ghoulish face cover went on to win over goalies, became an enduring symbol of the game and even evolved into a high-tech artistic statement for today’s goaltenders.

007 would Bond with these historic spy gadgets

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A spring-wound 35mm camera concealed in a modified cigarette pack was an ideal spy tool.
A spring-wound 35mm camera concealed in a modified cigarette pack was an ideal spy tool.
Photo: International Spy Museum

Never mind that espionage is a dangerous line of work. The secret agent game promises plenty of intrigue and lots of fun spy gadgets.

 If I knew exactly what today’s tools of the trade are, someone would probably have to kill me. Politics and enemies change but spies’ needs are essentially timeless: Disguises and false papers maintains a cover, tracking and listening devices record movements and conversations, and small, secret cameras copy documents and photograph dubious characters.

A hidden weapon can get a spy out of a jam. A concealed cyanide pill — so the intensely devoted might say — beats interrogation.

We love our spy stories. It is why the James Bond film franchise endures, James Patterson sells books and there are spy museums from Prague to Washington, D.C. (where there are two). Here’s a less-than-clandestine peek into the shadowy spy gadgets that filled the world of espionage over the years.

Exciting images from ‘Golden Age of Auto Design’ we almost didn’t get to see

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Charles Balogh, Ford Advanced Studio, 1953. Photo: American Dreaming
Charles Balogh, Ford Advanced Studio, 1953. Photo: American Dreaming

The concept artists who envisioned the future of the automobile created edgy, forward-thinking illustrations knowing their works might never be seen — and would likely get destroyed.

But some of the forward-looking art created during Detroit’s “Golden Age of Automotive Design” made it outside company walls, thanks to artists who lined overcoats with drawings or used boxes with false bottoms to smuggle out their work.

The car-centric art is the subject of a current exhibit at Lawrence Technological University in Detroit and is the subject of an upcoming documentary on PBS called American Dreaming.

Mobile cinema is quirky British history looking for a good home

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Britain's last mobile cinema, one of seven buses built by the government in the 1960s to promote modern manufacturing, is for sale on eBay. Photo: Jane Sanders
Britain's last mobile cinema, one of seven buses built by the government in the 1960s to promote modern manufacturing, is for sale on eBay. Photo: Jane Sanders

Mobile cinema today is a Netflix movie streamed on your smartphone. But movie history is full of fearless and devoted projectionists traveling to bring moving pictures to remote communities.

A piece of that history, an actual mobile cinema on wheels, is now for sale in Great Britain.

A fleet of seven government buses toured the country during the 1960s, bringing industrial films to companies to promote efficiency and modern production techniques. One survived the scrap heap, was restored and is now on eBay for about $184,000.

These smart-ish watches paved the way for the Apple Watch

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It's bulky looking but Casio's SATELLITE NAVI had GPS to help wearers find their way around. Photo: Svet Satova
It's bulky-looking but Casio's SATELLITE NAVI had GPS to help wearers find their way around. Photo: Svet Satova

The Apple Watch and everything it will do is not a new idea. Watches for years have been able to store data, give us directions, offer a means to communicate at a distance and, yes, show us our heartbeat.

 It’s just that you couldn’t get all of those functions wearing just one watch. For each function, there was a separate wrist gadget.

So on the eve of the Apple Watch launch, consider the technologically advanced timepieces that paved the way to this momentous day. You might be even more impressed with the power of your new device.

Early phone’s bizarre mechanism had dialing pegged

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This primitive dial phone was built by Western Electric in 1902 for communities too small for a fulltime operator service. Photo: David Pierini/Cult of Mac
This primitive dial phone was built by Western Electric in 1902 for communities too small for a full-time operator service. Photo: David Pierini/Cult of Mac

This week’s ode to a technological marvel of the past would be a better read on an iPhone 6. How else to fully appreciate the design of the device in your hand than to read about when function and form first met on the telephone?

 Among the many items found in my aunt’s home when she died last year in a small town in Michigan’s upper peninsula were two telephones that are examples of the first dial phone.

If the once-common rotary dial phone seems strange today, behold the calling function on this 10-pound candlestick phone. On a circular base are 100 numbers. In communities too small to have a full-time operator, each home was assigned a number.

First TV remotes made sedentary lifestyle a click away

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The remote control for the Zenith Space Command TV. Photo: Todd Ehlers/Flickr CC
The remote control for the Zenith Space Command TV. Photo: Todd Ehlers/Flickr CC

The person who named the first television remote control in 1950 knew exactly how it would transform Americans. It was called “Lazy Bones.”

 Sure enough, we became couch potatoes. But television today without a remote would be near impossible and far from relaxing. Who would want to stand at the set pressing the up arrow button to go through the infinite number of channels brought to us by cable and satellite TV?

You probably grew up with parents that referred to the remote as a “clicker.” That’s because early models had big buttons that made a percussive sound when pressed. The first TV remotes, like Zenith’s Lazy Bones, were tethered to the set with a long cord.