In the 1950s, a tragic side effect of the drug thalidomide caused birth defects in babies when given to pregnant women. And that's why any woman who could become pregnant was subsequently banned by the FDA from participating in medical trials. The intention was good, but not knowing if a new drug will cause women to grow a third vagina (next to the other two we know they have, according to our medical research) seems like a recipe for more tragedies.
Congress repealed that law in 1993 and required women to be part of medical trials. But the attitude of exclusion persisted. As recently as 2004, women made up less than a quarter of patients in clinical trials. And of the women in those trials, many had to prove they were on contraceptives or sterile. If you're a pregnant woman, medical science is pretty sure you shouldn't smoke or kickbox ... and that's about it.
Britain Didn't Have Plugs In Its Appliances Until 1992
For a long time, buying a blender in the UK was a huge pain in the ass. That's because British appliances didn't come with plugs until 1992. Before then, you had to buy your appliance and plug separately, then wire that shit yourself. If you're thinking that's dangerous, and that people spend years in school learning how to wire things without killing themselves, you're right! Between 1980 and 1988, amateur wiring sent almost 3,000 people to the hospital, and 32 died.
Now, in the past, this was almost a necessity. Back in the '40s, there was no standard on what a wall socket should look like. Since every house might have a different socket, it made sense to sell appliances and plugs separately. But the three-slot socket introduced in 1947 caught on. By the '90s, 95 percent of British households had it as the standard. So at that point, why not sell the plug and appliance as a set? Because no company wanted to lose out on making two sales at once. If a few people got electrocuted so they could keep charging an extra 8 squiddlypence or whatever to power that new Betamax, so be it. Only in the early '90s did the government finally require manufacturers to sell their appliances with a plug, and thus stop electrocuting their customers. The government didn't explicitly state that companies also had to stop spitting in customers' faces, but it was gently implied.
Planned Obsolescence Is Holding Everything Back
When humans first invented instant canned light, we invented the shit out of it. Light bulbs made in the 1900s are far superior to the ones you bought at the dollar store last week. Some bulbs made 115 years ago are still burning to this day.
Why do the bulbs we have today suck so bad? Well, look at your phone. No, not the one in your hand, the one cluttering up your junk drawer. Remember how amazing it was when you bought it? Remember how eight months after you bought it, the battery life started sucking and it stopped playing pornography at an acceptable frame rate? The phone and the light bulb have the same problem: planned obsolescence.
In 1924, major manufacturers gathered together into what one might call "a cabal." Philips, Osram, and General Electric all met up in Switzerland to discuss their shitty turnover rate. People seemed to buy one light bulb and then never need another one. The future looked grim -- all the world's basement stairs brightly, blindingly lit forever, the poor literally drowning in disposable income, begging for a savior.
And so the noble cabal agreed to restrict light bulb lifespans to 1,000 hours.
For reference, this one has been burning for over a million hours.
But these companies weren't content to only increase turnover on light bulbs. This model of planned obsolescence spread like wildfire during the Great Depression. To stimulate the economy, companies made products that people had to buy over and over again. Now it's the industry standard in everything from computers to clothes. But it's better than the alternative: Not buying sweet new stuff all the time. What kind of bitter hell would that be?
John is an analyst and occasional writer. He tweets at @j_p_ford and blogs spare facts he finds in his research on http://www.learnmiscellaneous.com. Credit for the FDA entry goes entirely to Amy. I'll always miss you, Amy.
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