Meet the World's Oldest Kindle: A Ferris Wheel for Books

Illustration for article titled Meet the World's Oldest Kindle: A Ferris Wheel for Books

It might be hard to imagine, but there was once a time where thousands upon thousands of books and arguably the sum totally of human knowledge was not readily available at your fingertips. And while it's no Kindle, Agostino Ramelli's 16th century bookwheel was a valiant attempt to make that happen.


Initially designed in 1588, the bookwheel was inspired by siege machinery, and aimed to deliver one of a dozen or so dusty tomes directly to the reader on a literary ferris wheel controlled by a series of cogs and gears and powered by good old-fashioned gravity. But because of his rather sophisticated approach, Ramelli never saw his wheel come to life, and the literary-minded stuck to hauling books off shelves manually.

Ultimately, in 1986 architect Daniel Libeskind did build the device—after reverse engineering plans from Ramelli's initial pie-in-the-sky renderings—and displayed the beast at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Unsurprisingly, the bookwheel was never put to any wide, practical use, and now we carry around pocket computers that can do the same thing far better anyway. But the cogs and gears were a nice start. [Core 77]


Michael Walsh

Our smartest President, Thomas Jefferson, invented a revolving bookstand that let him review one book, then spin over to a reference volume in case he had any questions, a bit like keeping another window open in the background of your browser.