10 Strange Ways People Did Things Before Modern Inventions

10 Strange Ways People Did Things Before Modern Inventions

Thanks to many brilliant men and women, we are now far more advanced in the field of science and medicine than ever before. Have you ever wondered what life was like before modern technology? How did people manage to do things without the help of machines or fancy contraptions? Well, they always found a way. Some of them might seem strange to us today but were totally justifiable at that time. Today, we have mobile phones, cars, airplanes to travel around the world and many other luxuries. Our ancestors were not as blessed as us to have such modern inventions. Life was much harder for them. Here, we are listing just a few such things that they had to endure.

1. Before modern refrigeration was invented, frogs were dropped into milk jugs to keep it from spoiling.

Frog, milk, inventions, life, people, history, fact, facts
Image: David Clode/Pixabay

In 1913, refrigerators for home use were invented but artificial refrigeration was developed in the early 1800’s. Before compact refrigeration systems were made available to the public, the task of storing foods, especially milk, was daunting. So, people in Russia and Finland came up with a conventional way to make milk last longer. In some parts of Russia, as well as Finland, people would drop frogs into buckets of milk to keep it from spoiling.

This sounds strange and even disgusting but oddly enough, the trick worked. Research conducted by Moscow State University organic chemist A.T. Lebedev shows that a frog’s skin is loaded with peptides and antimicrobial compounds; as potent against Salmonella and Staphylococcus bacteria as prescription antibiotics. People did this for centuries before modern refrigeration, and the technique reportedly survived into the 20th century in some rural areas.

2. Before the invention of the eraser, people used soft bread crumbs to erase pencil marks.

Before the invention of the eraser, people used soft bread crumbs to erase pencil marks.
Image: Pixabay

When we make a mistake, an eraser can be used to correct it. But, did you know that before the invention of the eraser, people used breadcrumbs to erase? In fact, the eraser was an accidental invention. It wasn’t until 1770, when British Engineer Edward Nairne, well known for his many inventions, made the discovery. He had picked up a piece of rubber by mistake, instead of breadcrumbs, and the process of ‘rubbing’ the mistakes from the paper was found.

Edward Nairne then started selling rubber (until then known as “gum elastic” or “caoutchouc”) but it was sensitive to weather conditions and crumbled when it was used. The solution came in 1839 when inventor Charles Goodyear invented the method of curing the rubber – vulcanization; thus removing the bad smell as well as making it more durable. Hymen Lipman then patented the technique of attaching a piece of eraser at the end of a pencil; but he later lost the license.

3. Before the invention of the alarm clock, the daunting task of waking people up was assigned to someone called a “Knocker Upper”.

Knocker upper, Manchester, waking up, life, history
Image: lancashireminingmuseum

In London, up until the early 1970’s, there existed a job called the Knocker Upper. This person was given the task of waking people up at unusual hours; especially miners or old town farmers who worked in shifts. These Knocker Uppers would go down the street to assigned houses with a long pole and tap on windows four to five times. In return for being awakened, customers paid them a set weekly fee.

The fee depended on the hours of operation, as well as the distance he/she had to travel to the client’s house. Until the early 1970’s, Knocker Uppers had a profitable business. Their goal was to find many customers in the smallest circle as possible, in order to cover as much ground as they could in a short time.

4. Before the invention of electricity and lightbulbs, people slept in segments.

Segmented sleeping, life, people, vintage, circa,
Image: Wikimedia

Before our cities were lit using electric light bulbs, it wasn’t uncommon for people to practice segmented sleep. In the past, people used to follow this unique routine where they slept for around four hours, then woke up and completed chores or work around the house. Then, they went back to sleep for another four hours. Today, if we don’t get a straight eight hours of sleep, we can’t function the next day.

Before modernization, those in upper classes would spend this time at night to write in journals or to practice art. Scientists also suggest that our brains are hardwired to sleep in two periods instead of one. Some people still follow this routine by taking a nap during the day and then sleeping throughout the night.

5. Before whitening strips, ancient Romans used urine to brighten their pearly whites and remove stains from clothes.

Roman Empire, people, history, Julius Caesar,
Image: Wikimedia

Believe it or not, urine was a key ingredient in many early medicines and folk remedies; which of course did not work. In fact, records show that the Romans used urine to clean their pearly whites; transforming their morning breathe to a whole different level. The main ingredient? Ammonia, which is found in today’s household cleaners. Apart from whitening teeth, Romans also used urine to remove stains from clothes.

The high pH in urine breaks down organic material, making it a perfect substance to remove stains. In ancient Rome, it was common to have vessels in public areas where passers-by would relieve themselves. The full barrels were then transported to a fullonica (a Roman laundromat) where it was diluted with water and used to clean clothes.

6. Before the computer was invented, there were human computers.

Human computers, people, computer, electronics
Image: Wikimedia

Long before personal computers were made, there existed people who were known as a “computer”. During the 17th century, a “computer” was hired to solve math problems or any other algorithms. In fact, a “computer” was someone who had a lot of patience and was able to sit tight and find a solution for the given issues. Astronomers and mathematicians hired these “computers” to work in shifts, solve a specific calculation and to record their findings in books.

7. Before cologne, bouquets were used to mask body odor.

bouquet, flowers, scent, smell, people
Image: Dallas Reedy

During the Medieval times, bathing was considered a luxury, and most people couldn’t exactly hide their body odor since cologne and other scents weren’t yet invented. In fact, some bathed only once a month. People however, found a way to keep the stench away. When people meet each other, they would hand out little bouquets to their friends to keep the smell at bay. A book written in the 18th century specifically recommends giving bouquets as a gift. “When you are in a crowd, smell to [the bouquet], and you shall pass through without difficulty.”

8. Answering phones to tell people what time it was used to be a popular job.

Speaking clock, hotline, woman, phone, call
Image: Wikipedia

Some of us might remember calling a hotline to know the time and temperature. The speaking clock hotline was first introduced in France in 1933, in association with the Paris Observatory. The service, which sounded automated, was in fact a real person who would answer the phone and tell you what time it was. Time and temperature could be known 24/7 and the job was so popular back in the day, that phone companies would hold competitions to find, “the girl with the golden voice.”

9. Before trains came along, the concept of time was irrelevant.

Train, time, concept, life, people, history
Image: Roland Lösslein

Clocks and sundials have existed for centuries. Until trains started connecting cities, knowing time was not that important. Once the railroad was introduced to the world, timekeeping was normalized. Before that, sundials were common and it wasn’t unusual to be a few minutes off with your neighbor; but it was never considered a problem.

Once inter-city transportation services were made available to the public, it became important to match up clocks with the train’s clock. The Great Western Railway Company in England was the first to standardize time for travel.

10. Before toilet paper was invented, people used whatever was available.

Toilet paper, history, life, people
Image: Unsplash

Toilet paper is a fairly modern invention. Before it was invented, people had to do some weird things to keep themselves clean. During the sixth century, some Chinese people used sheets of paper or broken pottery, while Westerners used whatever was at hand—corn cobs, newspapers, leaves, or old letters. Ancient Romans on the other hand used sponges dipped in vinegar, tied to sticks. It wasn’t until 1857, when Joseph C. Gayetty invented the first packaged toilet paper in the United States, that the world was forever changed for the better. In 1871, Seth Wheeler of Albany became the official “inventor” of toilet paper on a roll.

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