100 Best Gadgets Ever: The Engineering Age

Take a trip back in time with Stuff to the dawn of the gadget age – when technology was mechanical and went clunk

In the early days, gadgeteers didn't have touchscreens and octa-core processors to play with.

In the very early days, they didn't even have electricity. But despite that, these gadgets from a time when technology went "clunk" have weathered the ages, and are still in widespread use even today. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. And if it is broke, fix it with a wrench.

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Victorinox Swiss Army Knife (1891)

Little wonder the Swiss take an evasive attitude to war when their army’s best-known weapon is a combination corkscrew and paper knife. Face it, you’re going to look a bit silly turning up to a Cruise missile fight brandishing a nail file. Still, no Scout worth his woggle has ever been caught without a Swiss Army Knife to hand.

Victorinox's classic double-hinge design remains essentially unaltered since its introduction 123 years ago, and while more and more tools have been added to this trusty pocket shed – the largest version has 87 tools and weighs nearly a kilo and a half – no one has even used the hoof pick for anything other than vandalising a school desk.

Leica I (1925)

The first mass-produced 35mm camera paved the way for generations of hobby photographers to invite the neighbours round for nibbles and see slides of them amusingly holding a finger on top of the Eiffel Tower.  The original Leica I (A) had a custom fitted lens with a distinctive ‘hockey stick’ lock, but interchangeable lenses were introduced on the Leica I (C) in 1930.

More after the break...

Minox Riga (1938)

For all Q’s endless supply of gadgetry, nothing says ‘I’m a spy’ like packing a Minox Riga in the inside pocket of your tux. Using miniaturised 8x11mm film, the tiny camera was ideal for snapping secret papers in an evil lair. And not just in fiction: at the outbreak of war, British intelligence services bought all the available stock they could get their hands on.

Piaggio Vespa (1946)

With the war over, the Italians were free to get back to drinking coffee and ogling women but the country’s crushed economy meant few people could afford a car to get to the local piazza. Piaggio, which had been building fighter planes, went beyond the call of duty to produce this timeless two-wheeled design classic, which became a 1960s icon across Europe.

Land Rover (1948)

Land Rover’s a luxury car maker now, but it all started with two brothers drawing this boxy shape on a Welsh beach. It became the ultimate go-anywhere car, used and abused by farmers and armies for over 60 years. Along with the first Jeep, it also heralded a global love affair with 4x4s, pick-ups and SUVs and the 20 million buying them each year are buying a little piece of Land Rover.
Chas Hallett, Autocar

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