Life Hacks From The Early 1900s

Here at Wimp, we love life hacks. From chefs to cat lovers, there are hacks for just about every type of person. Sometimes, though, it feels like every life hack has been discovered. After all, there are only so many ways to make your life easier. But, the Internet never fails to produce more and more lists of great life hacks that we want to use.

This list, however, is a little different. Each of these hacks comes from the early 1900s. That's right, these life hacks, or "survival tips" as they were called back then, are over 100 years old. Believe it or not, they're actually just as relevant today as they were back then. Sure, a couple of them are pretty outdated, but it's still pretty fun to look back on how people in the early 1900s dealt with problems that we still deal with today. 

These tips come from "cigarette cards" found in packs of Gallaher's cigarettes. These small cards offered survival tips like the ones featured below and were often traded amongst smokers. Images of them have been made available to us through the New York Public Library's Digital Collection. Thanks to them, we're able to take a fascinating trip through the origin of life hacks. Check out the 16 tips for yourself, you might even learn a new trick or two!

1. How To Remove A Tight Ring

“To remove a tight ring from the finger without pain or trouble, the finger should be first well-lathered with soap.

“It will then be found that, unless the joints are swollen, the ring can easily be taken off.

“If, however, the finger and joints are much swollen, a visit to the jeweller is advisable.”

2. How To Detect Escaping Gas

“There is always a danger in trying to locate an escape of gas with a light. The method shown in the picture, however, is free from risk and quite reliable.

“Paint strong soap solution on the suspected length of pipe and the gas will then cause bubbles at the escaping point, which can be dealt with at once.”

3. How To Measure With Coins

“It is sometimes useful to know that half-a-crown equals half an ounce in weight, and three pennies weigh one ounce.

“A half-penny measures one inch in diameter; half-crown an inch and a quarter, and a sixpence three-quarters of an inch in diameter.”

4. How To Pick Up Broken Glass

“To pick up broken glass quickly and cleanly, a soft damp cloth will be found to be most effective, for it takes up all the small splinters.

“The best plan is to use an old piece of rag that can be thrown away with the glass.”

5. How To Preserve Valuable Vases

“If the following precaution is taken, the danger of knocking over a valuable vase will not be so great.

“Partly fill the vase with sand, which, acting as a weight, keeps it upright and firm on its base.


“This idea is particularly useful in the case of vases which are inclined to be top-heavy, owing to their having small bases.”

6. How To Extract A Splinter

“A splinter embedded in the hand is often very painful to extract.

“A good way to accomplish this is to fill a wide-mouthed bottle with hot water nearly to the brim, and press affected part of hand tightly against mouth of bottle.

“The suction will pull down the flesh, and steam will soon draw out the splinter.”

7. How To Judge The Freshness Of A Lobster

“If, when buying a boiled lobster, you are in doubt as to its freshness, just pull back the tail, then suddenly release it; if the tail flies back with a snap, the lobster is quite fresh: but if it goes back slowly, you may be pretty sure the lobster has been boiled and kept for some days.”

8. How To Keep A Paint Brush Handle Clean

“To do away with the annoyance of a wet and sticky brush handle, which is so unpleasant to the amateur painter, get a piece of card or tin and make a hole in it through which the handle can be forced, as shown in the picture.

“This prevents the paint from running down.”

9. How To Detect Dampness In Beds

“In order to detect dampness in a strange bed and so be warned of the danger, a small hand mirror should be slipped between the sheets and left for a few minutes.

“Any mistiness or blurred appearance of the mirror’s surface when withdrawn is an indication of dampness, and the bed should not be slept in.”

10. How To Cool Wine Without Ice

“If no ice is available for cooling wine, a good method is to wrap the bottle in flannel and place it in a crock beneath the cold water tap.

“Allow the water to run over it, as shown in the picture, and in about 10 minutes the wine will be thoroughly cool and ready for the table.”

11. How To Cut New Bread Into Thin Slices

“The difficulty of cutting new bread into thin slices can readily be overcome by the following expedient.

“Plunge the bread knife into hot water and when thoroughly hot wipe quickly.


“It will be found that the heated knife will cut soft, yielding new bread into the thinnest slices.”

12. How To Make A Fire Extinguisher

“Dissolve one pound of salt and half a pound of sal-ammoniac in two quarts of water and bottle the liquor in thin glass bottles holding about a quart each.

“Should a fire break out, dash one or more of the bottles into the flames, and any serious outbreak will probably be averted.”

13. How To Clean New Boots

“New boots are sometimes very difficult to polish.

“A successful method is to rub the boots over with half a lemon, allow them to dry, after which they will easily polish, although occasionally it may be found necessary to repeat the application of the lemon juice.”

14. How To Pull Out Long Nails

“It is often rather difficult to pull out a long nail from wood into which it has been driven, for when drawn out a short distance as in A, there is no purchase from which to pull it further.

“If, however, a small clock of wood be placed under the pincers, as in B, the nail can be pulled right out without difficulty.”

15. How To Carry A Heavy Jug

“The picture gives a useful hint on carrying a heavy jug.

“The correct way to hold the jug is shown in the right-hand sketch. This prevents the weight from pulling the jug down and so spilling what it contains, as is likely to happen if carried the other way.”

16. How To Light A Match In The Wind

“The familiar difficulty of lighting a match in a wind can be to a great extent overcome if thin shavings are first cut on the match towards its striking end, as shown in the picture.

“On lighting the match, the curled strips catch fire at once; the flame is stronger, and has a better chance.”

Via: Little Things | New York Public Library Digital Collections

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