Some modern technology is a lot older than you think

1. ipod

Believed to have been invented in...

In 2001, if you are a die hard Mac fan. Or 1997, if you are aware cheaper MP3 players existed before Steve Jobs figured out people would pay twice as much to hear their pirated songs on the bus if the MP3 player looked like the bastard son of Eve from Wall-E and a pocket calculator.

Actually Invented in...

In 1979, Kane Kramer and his friend, James Campbell, came up with the idea of a portable music player the size of a cigarette box. The music player baptized as the IXI System stored music digitally in a chip and had a display screen and buttons to navigate it.

They even built five prototypes they showed potential investors. Wow! That sounds amazing! So they sold it, became gazillionaires and everybody listened to ABBA songs they downloaded with their Ataris, right? Well, no, obviously not.
The IXI had one big problem: It only had enough memory for three and a half minutes of music, which does screw you up if you had your heart set on carrying "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" anywhere you went. And how were you supposed to get your music files back in the decades before Napster?

Since almost nobody had computers in those days, Kramer suggested putting terminals in music stores, connected via telephone with a central music server so users could buy and download their music at the store. Keep in mind we're talking about 1979 phone modems, which means Kramer's idea also involved people bringing their own tent and enough food for camping for two months while they downloaded "Funky Town."

2. The Fax Machine Was Invented Before the Civil War

Actually Invented In ...
1843. This means that faxes, which use phone lines to transmit data, actually predate telephones (the first phone was patented in 1876). Imagine how loud you'd have screamed "Bullshit!" if during the movie Lincoln one of the characters had gotten up to send a fax.

But it's true -- the Civil War was still a full two decades away and the Oregon Trail was experiencing the height of its dysentery-ridden rush hour when the fax machine was built by Scottish inventor Alexander Bain. He had just patented the first electric clock, and apart from being a pioneer of electricity, Bain enjoyed dabbling in communication technology: He contributed to telegraph lines on the railway between Edinburgh and Glasgow and invented an electric timing system for railway engines while he was at it.

The electrical telegraph was an extremely new technology, but Bain was a natural. He figured that if telegraph transmission was good enough for transmitting the sound of Morse code, it should be good enough for pictures.

And before anyone could explain to him that sounds and pictures were two completely different things, he had already converted parts of his electrical clocks into an image scanner and rigged it to the telegraph system. Did it work? Did it ever! What's more, it looked like this:

Forgotten Futures

Various inventors tinkered with the design, and by 1899, newspaper offices were actually using them. Sure, it'd take 20 to 30 minutes to send a single photograph, but that's a hell of a lot faster than having a dude deliver that shit by horse.

 3. The Digital Calculator Was Invented in 1640

At first, the world's favorite device for cheating at simple math seems like a bad fit for a list like this. After all, everyone knows that calculators have existed for quite some time now -- Kraftwerk wrote love songs for them way back in 1981, so calculators must've been around for at least a couple of decades before that. Hell, let's play it safe and say they were invented in ... 1960?
1860? No?
Well, shit.

Actually Invented In ...

Yep, back in the middle of the 17th century, just after the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock and the rest of the world was dealing with various plagues and the baroque movement, one man ignored the struggles of everyday life in order to make math his bitch.

By the age of 16, French wunderkind Blaise Pascal had already figured out how air pressure and vacuums work and contributed to a formative treatise on projective geometry (which, of course, is second nature to our readership, so we won't delve into that any further). One day, he decided to give his father (a tax accountant who provided Pascal's education) a present, but didn't want to go the traditional route of half-assedly building a birdhouse at arts and crafts. Seeing Pops wrestle yet another hardcore accountin' match with scores and scores of figures, Pascal finally got his gift idea: He would break all known boundaries of technology and build his dad a mathematics machine.
After some initial hit-and-miss research, Pascal indeed managed to build the world's first mechanical calculator, which became known as Pascaline.

Pascaline crunched numbers pretty ingeniously: The required figures were set on the lid's dials, which twisted and turned the machinery inside in precisely the right way so that the correct results popped up in the little windows on the lid. Technically, the machine could only do sums, but it was totally possible to subtract (by doing the process in reverse), multiply (with repeated addition), and divide (with repeated subtraction). It was calibrated specifically for calculations involving money, and its settings could even be adjusted between French and English currencies.
Pascal built about 50 Pascaline calculators, attempting to sell them commercially. They never really took off, what with him being around 200 years too early. A bunch of these "extremely damage-prone" devices still survive today, lounging around in museums and scoffing at your TV that is bound to break down within three years of purchase.

Today, mechanical calculators are all but extinct, and even their digital successors are fighting a losing battle, considering that their power is dwarfed by the average phone. Still, it's a humbling thought that the basic functions of all of those machines could be performed with a clunky brass box put together by a kid from the 17th century.

4. Contact Lenses Existed in the 19th Century

Eyes are fickle and vulnerable things, so of course science has spent a lot of time poking them. However, in this particular case, their efforts bore wonderful fruit: Ever since contact lenses gained FDA approval in 1971, their science-magic has been offering us an alternative to nerdy eyeglasses. Unlike the optically challenged poor sods just a few decades ago, we can freely and easily disguise our bad eyesight with contacts instead of douche-y hipster frames. If that's not progress, we don't know what is.

Actually Invented In ...
1888, the year that Jack the Ripper roamed the crumbling heights of Victorian stuffiness and Germany went through three whole kaisers (presumably because they couldn't decide whose mustache was the manliest).

Apart from the troubled era he lived in, there are two things you need to know about German inventor Adolf Fick: He came from a family of geniuses, each with a heavy penchant for pioneering research, and his field of choice was ophthalmology, so he literally spent his days poking eyeballs with things. With that background, it was really just a matter of time before he wound up looking for new, non-spectacled ways to improve eyesight.

Fick's prototype lenses are to modern contacts what the Model-T Ford is to a Ferrari: bulky, clumsy, and insulting to the eye. They were essentially eyeglass lenses, made of heavy blown glass that covered the entire eye, and they could only be worn for a few hours before the screaming pain outweighed the benefits of being able to see.

Fick tested his invention on rabbits, then molds cast from the eyes of cadavers, and finally on himself. (We're assuming he washed them in between uses.) After a two-hour test run failed to explode his eyeballs, six volunteers became the first contact lens wearers.
While Fick's lenses absolutely did work, their cumbersome nature and the extreme discomfort this wrought made them impractical. He discontinued his research in 1902, and nobody picked it up until the 1930s. At that point, the technology was sufficiently advanced for further development. By 1937, there were already around 4,000 contact lens users in America alone. The only reason the rest of us had to wait so long to get a pair was that until recently, the lenses were expensive as hell. 

5. Automatic Door

Believed to have been invented in...

1954, by Dee Horton and Lew Hewitt.
These two Texans designed the first automatic door after noticing how strong winds would fuck with people's door opening abilities. The pair got to work on their product and, before long, people across the world were walking up to automatic doors, hesitating, thinking "fuck, it broke?," continuing, halting abruptly, shielding their face with their hands and then flinching, humiliated as the door opened with perfect comedic timing.

Horton and Hewitt went on to found Horton Automatics, one of the biggest sellers of automatic doors today, with a massive range of clients including McDonald's and Tim Horton's Donuts (Nepotism?).

Actually invented in...

Around 50 BC, by Hero of Alexandria.
Fucktasticly named Hero was a Greek engineer, mathematician, inventor, teacher and overachiever who is believed to have lived somewhere around the second century. He is credited with numerous inventions, but his most celebrated was the aeolipile, which is not a type of airborne haemorrhoid, but an early steam engine.

The invention was used to spice up religious ceremonies with some special effects. The invention consisted of an alter, to be placed in front of some large, heavy temple doors, and all manners of pullies, buckets, fire and water. It was kind of like Mouse Trap, but instead of catching mice it made the masses think the breath of God had opened the doors.
As a companion piece, Hero designed a similar device that would be used to create the sound of a trumpet when the temple doors opened, because everyone knows God has an invisible trumpet follow him everywhere he goes.


Believed to have been invented in...

1800, by Italian Alessandro Volta.
Nine years earlier fellow Italian Luigi Galvani attached two pieces of metal to a dead frog's leg and noticed that when he did, the leg twitched, thus discovering that animals generate electricity and, at the same time, establishing the historical animosity between experimental scientists and frogs.

Galvani, though, thought that living things and living things alone were the source of all electricity, a touchingly idealistic notion that would have made for some horrific power generators. Alessandro Volta, on the other hand, substituted frogs with cardboard soaked in salt water, producing what was thought to be the world's first battery.

Actually invented in...

Around 200 BC.

 In 1938, German archaeologist Wilhelm Konig (who died a few years later in a face melting Ark of the Covenant related accident) discovered a number of clay jars that would come to be known as the Baghdad Batteries. The jars have an asphalt stopper and, sticking through it, an iron rod surrounded by a copper cylinder. Tests revealed the presence of an acidic substance similar to vinegar and when replicas were made and filled with such a substance they produced between 0.8 and 2 volts.
The discovery of a working battery from 200 BC raised a whole lot more questions than it answered. Were there a lot of devices that required batteries back then? Did everyone just respond to the inventor with, "Nice going dipshit, a battery is exactly what we need to feed our families."
Some scientists propose that they were used to relieve pain while other scientists point out that electric stimulation would be ineffective when compared to painkillers available at the time such as heroin opiate and cannabis; who wants an electric shock when you could be chasing the dragon?

The most plausible explanation is that they were used to electrically graft silver onto gold, a method that is still practiced in Iraq today. Another is that they were placed into statues of gods to simulate the religious experience of "HOLY CRAP GOD JUST FREAKING SHOCKED ME! WHAT A DICK!"

Not only these many more are oldest.