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The History of Wearables

Did you hear? We just announced our new wearable for kids: the Mover Kit! The response has been amazing with hundreds of pre-orders in the first hour and lots of great coverage from sites such as Wired, Fast Co and the BBC.

The Mover is super special and really stands out against wearables that are available for kids at the moment. It’s not a GPS or a tracker or a smartwatch, it’s doesn’t count steps and it’s doesn’t store personal data in the cloud – it’s a hands-on piece of tech designed for active play! We’ve been thinking about the other creative, ground-breaking wearables throughout history, and here are our favourites:

Abacus ring from Qing Dynasty China


Qing Dynasty abacus smart ring

The first known example of wearable technology comes from China: this intricate abacus ring from the 17th century. Measuring 1.2 centimetres long and 0.7 centimetres wide, the abacus is actually too small to move with your stubby fingertips– you’d have to use a pin to to do any finger mounted calculations.

A great, early example of hand-on learning!


Electric girls ballet, 1884 in New York


Electric girls, 1880s

Think high-tech stage costumes are a recent trend? Think again! Back in the 1880s a troupe of ballet dancers pioneered the use of electric lights on their foreheads and attached to their clothing.

This was followed by the formation of the Electric Girl Lighting Company, a commercial enterprise offering girls to light homes in place of more traditional, fixed lighting. We don’t recommend using the Mover Kit and your child for this!


Zena Dare, early headphones


Acoustic headset, 1900s

While the Walkman (see below) can definitely lay claim to being one of the most iconic pieces of tech of the 20th century, earlier headphone designs (like this one) can’t. Modelled by British stage actress Zena Dare, you certainly wouldn’t be too keen to use this headset on your daily commute.


Walkman ad


Walkman, 1970s onwards

When the Walkman was launched on July 1st 1979 for $150 it was truly a turning point in human history — the habit of listening to music wherever and whenever you wanted was born.

With it’s robust design and it’s simple mechanisms that you could see in action, the Walkman was a great product for children in a way that today’s mp3s and streaming devices aren’t.


Pulsar calculator watch


Pulsar Watch, 1970s

We could write a separate post just on the history of wristwatches (they are all wearable tech after all), but our favourite is the Pulsar, the very first LED digital watch.

It’s well worth checking out oldpulsars.com, a site dedicated to Pulsar watched from the 1970s — listen to the old radio ads and find out about the Pulsar’s appearance on the wrist of James Bond.


FRANCE – JUNE 02: Illustration: Tamagotchis in France on June 02, 1997. (Photo by Xavier ROSSI/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)


Tamagotchi, 1996

As an example of technology for kids, the Tamagotchi isn’t perfect. Launched in 1996 and selling more than 40 million units worldwide, the Tamagotchi was the original virtual pet. While they were definitely fun for a while, they were also quite technologically limited and didn’t necessarily lead to open, creative play or spark kids’ imaginations.

If you’re reminiscing after your old Tamagotchi, check out our Pocket Pet project for the BBC micro:bit.


HC dress


Hussein Chalayan, 2000s

Despite the undeniably close relationship between technology and fashion in the 2010s, wearable tech incorporated garments are yet to truly capture the public’s imagination. But there have still been some truly iconic moments when high fashion has led the way, with a number of them coming from British/Turkish Cypriot designer, Hussein Chalayan.

One of his most jaw-dropping designs came in 2007 when he created a ‘video dress’ called Airbourne with 15,600 LED lights (slightly more than the Mover Kit) embedded behind the fabric. The LED would glow and change colour representing the arrival of spring before glowing like the sun to signify the natural progression into summer, autumn and winter.

Check out this stunning video: