With all of the seemingly endless options for amusement we have today, it’s easy to forget that this hasn’t been the case for very long. Before the Internet gave us immediate access to whatever we feel like watching, listening to, or reading at the moment, those who came before us could get up to some pretty weird things in pursuit of a good time.
1. X-Ray Shoe Fittings
In the 1920s, X-Rays were a strange and wonderful invention with a futuristic name. Scientists could hardly conceive of the potential; they could also hardly conceive of the potential dangers. This explains why, during that decade, X-Ray shoe fitting machines became all the rage in shoe stores across America—though they contained radioactive material, with no protection in place to keep this radiation from leaking into the atmosphere.
They were called “Shoe Fitting Flouroscopes,” and kids and adults alike loved them. By the early 1950s, there were over 10,000 of these extremely hazardous radioactive devices in department stores throughout the land. They were banned in the 1970s once the dangers became known, and while a few scattered cases of foot cancer in older patients have been linked to the machines, exactly how many may have been sickened will probably never be known.
2. Auto Polo
In 1912, a Kansas Ford dealer held what he hoped would be the first of many sporting matches with an eye toward generating business. It was held between the two inaugural teams, the Grey Ghosts and the Red Devils, of America’s newest sport: Auto Polo. It was played pretty much exactly as one might expect, like traditional polo but with cars instead of horses.
As cars were initially marketed as a replacement for horses, this makes a strange sort of sense. In this first match, held in a Kansas alfalfa field, two teams of three men competed: two men to drive the car and one to swing a giant mallet at a basketball-sized rubber ball. Despite (or perhaps because of) the likelihood of crashes, injuries and deaths, the sport skyrocketed in popularity for the next several decades, with the last matches taking place in the mid-1950s.
3. Octopus Wrestling
In the 1950s and ’60s, skin diving was a popular pastime. It was quite competitive, with divers vying to see who could dive the deepest or stay submerged the longest, but soon enough a new element was added to the competition: how large an octopus could be wrangled to the surface.
While incredibly illegal today, octopus wrestling became a popular spectator sport in the Pacific Northwest. Competitors had to find and extract an octopus from its lair and wrestle it to the surface of the water; they were judged on the weight of the animal, with extra points awarded for forgoing any breathing equipment. In 1963, over 5,000 spectators showed up to Puget Sound in Washington State for the World Octopus Wrestling Championships. Organizers guaranteed action by placing a few octopi in strategic locations along the beach, as they had to ensure an exciting match; the event was being televised.