Seventy Years of Engineering

Sept. 23, 1999
Every time we begin work on an anniversary issue, our staff is inclined to go down to the basement and dig out dusty bound volumes of our first issues

Our 70th Anniversary
Every time we begin work on an anniversary issue, our staff is inclined to go down to the basement and dig out dusty bound volumes of our first issues to see what the magazine was like in the early days. Whenever we do this, what immediately leaps out is how old-fashioned the early issues look.

Technical magazines of the 1930s were heavily influenced by the look and writing style of textbooks. That meant that in technical articles, most illustrations were numbered “figures” with terse captions serving merely as labels. Explanations were buried somewhere in the text, and readers had to be diligent to dig them out. Appealing and meaningful graphic presentation was totally ignored, and readers were expected to plow through an article from beginning to end with eyes constantly darting back and forth from text to numbered figures.

Having to do that while attempting to digest complex material was tedious and mentally taxing, to say the least, even when an article was vitally important and highly educational. If you didn’t have a long attention span, you didn’t read technical magazines in the 1930s.

Surprisingly, this type of turgid format was still much in vogue into the 1970s. But gradually, our magazine began to present articles in ways that made technical material easier to understand and interesting to read. And in doing so, we became a pioneer in the trade press. As we entered the 1980s, a revolution in technical magazine graphics and layout was well underway at Machine Design, and today we have become the indisputable leader in weaving together graphic presentation and text so that even the most complex technical articles are easy for engineers to understand and pleasurable to read.

A further analysis of our early issues also shows what hasn’t changed in 70 years, and that is the basic framework of design engineering. Then, as now, the focus of the magazine was on how to do a competent and effective job as a design engineer. This means knowing how to find and specify components supplied by vendors, understanding what the market accepts in terms of standard industrial practice, and — perhaps most important of all — knowing what to do when it is time to put pencil to paper (or mouse to pad) and actually begin designing a component or product. It may sound boastful to say, but we still are the only major design-engineering magazine addressing all three of these vitally important factors in the design process.

To mark our anniversary, on the ensuing pages you will find a time line of landmark events important from either a technical, political, or social aspect. We found it interesting to put this material together, and we think you’ll find it interesting to read as well.

You’ll also find brief profiles of major corporations that, through the years, have made strategic decisions necessary to keep them in the thick of lucrative markets. They stand in contrast to the legions of firms that were once major players in American industry but have since withered and died.

Finally, you’ll find just a hint of how new technologies may be changing our lives as we enter what many call the new millennium. We kept our forecasting to a minimum, however. As we’ve pointed out in the editorial column on page 12, forecasts on the future course of technology almost invariably turn out to be wrong — Ronald Khol, Editor

© 2010 Penton Media, Inc.

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