Things That Were Demonstrated
December 15, 2017 6:26 AM   Subscribe

You know how in the old days people would demonstrate their new inventions or technologies (like Galvani "reanimating" dead frogs or Edison's electricity experiments )? For poetry research, I want to find out other things that were famously demonstrated. I think I am set with ones related to electricity, but anything else would be awesome.
posted by mermaidcafe to Grab Bag (30 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Look back at the exhibits of the World Fairs (Smell-O-Vision!) or the Ferris Wheel. Also Agricultual Fairs often exhibited the latest practical technologies.

Also, somewhat of a tangent, but circus sideshows often showed amazing human talents/abilities.
posted by saucysault at 6:43 AM on December 15, 2017

After initially refusing to demonstrate their Flyer in public without a contract to sell it, The Wright Brothers eventually went around demonstrating their flying machines to the Army and to the general public, including traveling to to Europe.
posted by bondcliff at 6:50 AM on December 15, 2017

Elisha Otis demonstrated his elevator brake at the 1854 Worlds Fair.
posted by Ragged Richard at 6:53 AM on December 15, 2017 [6 favorites]

The Mother of All Demos, Douglas Engelbart, 1968. Working prototype of a bunch of computer interaction techniques we take for granted today. In 1968.
posted by Alterscape at 6:56 AM on December 15, 2017 [10 favorites]

Henry Jacob Bigelow famously demonstrated the use of ether for painless surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1846.
posted by firechicago at 7:00 AM on December 15, 2017

Edison famously demonstrated the dangers of AC electricity.
posted by jclarkin at 7:01 AM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

Robert Gibbon Johnson stood on the steps of the Salem County (New Jersey) Courthouse to demonstrate to his fellow Americans that tomatoes were not poisonous (even though everyone in Europe and Central America had been eating them for centuries).

The crowd numbered over 2,000 people. One woman screamed and fainted as Johnson took his first bite.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:40 AM on December 15, 2017 [9 favorites]

Galileo may or may not have dropped cannonballs from the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but other people subsequently did drop cannonballs off a church.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 7:40 AM on December 15, 2017

On April 11, 1956, the AMPEX corporation chose to introduce their brand new invention, the videotape recorder, to the employees and affiliates of CBS visiting the National Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters (NARTB) Convention in Chicago.

Bill Lodge, head of television affairs, delivered a prepared speech and addressed the rumors that videotape technology was indeed in the labs and CBS was helping fund development. AMPEX engineers secretly videotaped the entire presentation.

After Lodge's remarks, AMPEX engineer Fred Pfost pulled back the curtains and played back the entire speech the crowd had just seen:
"That was Fred’s cue to press play: when the audience saw the replay on the same monitors as the original presentation, they went wild with shouting, screaming, and whistling. When the curtains were opened to show the Ampex videotape recorder, some stood on their chairs to get a glimpse of it.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:49 AM on December 15, 2017 [10 favorites]

I really think Steve Jobs was the modern day version of this. Think about his famous demonstrations of the iPhone and iPad.
posted by bondcliff at 8:18 AM on December 15, 2017

Foucault's Pendulum demonstrates the rotation of the earth. This has the advantage that you can still see it, as there are hundreds of these operating around the world.
posted by ubiquity at 8:18 AM on December 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


After inventing the baby incubator, Dr. Couney faced skepticism from other medical professionals who did not believe his methods would work. Banks were unwilling to finance production of his incubators, believing that no hospital would want the devices. Couney set out to prove them all wrong.

Dr. Couney's first exhibit of premature infants in incubators was at the 1896 Berlin Exposition. A German hospital loaned him several premature babies, all of whom the hospital had determined would die. Couney, utilizing his baby incubator technology was able to rehabilitate each of the infants' lives. While Couney's intention was to demonstrate scientific advancements in the treatment of premature babies and to create a way to finance this technology by charging admission fees to see the babies, the small hospital drew big crowds. Visitors could watch the tiny patients as they received treatments, recuperated and grew.

Hospitals around the United States began to refer parents of preemies to Dr. Couney. Couney accepted patients at no charge to the parents and the infants were placed in the incubators and monitored by trained nurses and fed by wet nurses. By some estimates, Couney was able to rehabilitate 90% of the premature infants placed in his care.

Couney's baby incubator attractions were featured at prominent expos and amusement parks. The babies were also featured at Coney Island's Luna Park, and at a number of the World's Fair expositions including New York City's World Fair, the Omaha Trans-Mississippi Exposition, the Buffalo Exposition and the Chicago World's Fair.

posted by showbiz_liz at 8:41 AM on December 15, 2017 [13 favorites]

X-ray technology was demonstrated/used a lot at carnivals, etc. before it was realized that the radiation was harmful.
posted by agatha_magatha at 9:22 AM on December 15, 2017

If you are looking at modern demos, look no farther than all the infomercials of fabulous inventions. For that matter, Home Shopping Network and QVC regularly introduce "new" inventions.
posted by agatha_magatha at 9:27 AM on December 15, 2017

The idea that diamond might be combustible is attributed to Newton (though his reasons, that it was dense, had a high index of refraction, and was "an unctuous substance coagulated", seem absurd to us now), and that was demonstrated in Florence in 1694, in front of the Grand Duke, using an enormous burning glass.

In the next century, Lavoisier also used a burning glass, focused on a diamond in a sealed glass jar, to prove that diamonds were made of pure carbon.
posted by jamjam at 4:48 PM on December 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

It had a darker outcome, but the ill-fated demonstration of a plutonium mass at Los Alamos famously earned it the name Demon Core. By just the width of a screwdriver!
posted by brism at 10:52 PM on January 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Magdeburg hemispheres
posted by eruonna at 1:42 PM on January 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

the Montgolfier Brothers
posted by bq at 6:52 PM on January 23, 2018

A couple that may not be of use to you: the icepick labotomy was toured around America.

And this isn't quite the definition of 'demonstrated' you give, but the evidence of the Big Bang remains one of the most emphatically confirmed discoveries in science. If the Big Bang happened, measuring the echoes should give a particular kind of graph, and when they measured it, it lined up exactly. No noise, no fudging, none of that messy reality getting in the way - just a pure moment of truth.
posted by Merus at 6:31 AM on January 24, 2018

Would the first ever cardiac catheterization count? Forssman did it on himself in 1929, threading a catheter up through the vein of his arm straight to his heart and then taking an x-ray of himself to prove it was possible. Wikipedia has the story (including his tricking his nurse into letting him do it); here's his x-ray. Cardiac cath has since become an important diagnostic tool.
posted by Westringia F. at 3:09 PM on January 24, 2018 [7 favorites]

Barry Marshall famously dosed himself with germs to prove that ulcers were caused by bacteria.

Edison and the electric chair?
posted by blahblahblah at 9:18 PM on January 24, 2018

The 1919 eclipse demonstrated the bending of light by matter predicted by Einstein.
posted by nat at 11:33 PM on January 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

Wikipedia has you covered for medicine
posted by BWA at 3:55 PM on January 28, 2018

In the 1880s, August Weismann demonstrated that Lamarck's theory of inheritance of acquired characteristics did not explain inheritance or variation by cutting the tails off of white mice over 5 generations and confirming that tailless mice's offspring did not have shorter tails. He was specifically interested in disproving the inheritance of acquired mutilations.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:00 AM on January 30, 2018

This is also quite an infamous one:
"This was the first time that an effective medical therapy for erectile dysfunction (ED) was described, and was a historic development in the management of ED. The way in which this information was first reported was completely unique and memorable, and provides an interesting context for the development of therapies for ED. I was present at this extraordinary lecture, and the details are worth sharing. Although this lecture was given more than 20 years ago, the details have remained fresh in my mind, for reasons which will become obvious."
How (not) to communicate new scientific information: a memoir of the famous brindley lecture
posted by Deece BJ Pancake at 8:22 AM on February 1, 2018 [11 favorites]

Solutions of optically active compounds rotate the plane of polarized light as it passes through them. Pasteur discovered that their crystals could be separated into left and right handed forms that would rotate light in opposite directions.

He demonstrated this using a microscope and special tweezers, for Biot (of the Biot-Savart law), much to the latter's delight.

My dear child, I have all my life so loved the sciences that this makes my heart throb with joy!
posted by tirutiru at 9:56 AM on February 19, 2018

how modern do you want to get? The initial success of AlphaGo was definitely a spectacular demonstration, and very unexpected.
posted by vogon_poet at 7:19 PM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Lots of medical ones (and lots of backstory to the discovery of anesthesia mentioned above), but Edward Jenner and the invention/discovery of the smalllpox vaccine is a good one. In the same vein is Louis Pasteur’s demonstration of the rabies vaccine he developed.
posted by TedW at 11:39 AM on March 2, 2018

« Older New or obscure mystery novels set outside the U.S....   |   Best way to do Universal Studios Orlando in one... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.