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How to read the Popular Science archives

Check out all our anniversary coverage here.

The first edition of Popular Science hit newsstands in May 1872, with founding editor Edward Livingston Youmans acknowledging the publication was “experimental” and hoping he, his staff, and the public would “give it a fair trial.” That experiment is still running 150 years later, and we’ve kept our records tidy. Anyone with an internet connection can flip through decades of issues and see exactly what we’ve observed across generations.

Thanks to a 2010 partnership with Google, 137 years of PopSci magazines are available on Google Books. That’s everything from the very first issue to March 2009, all scanned in to appear on your screen exactly as they did on paper. Eat your heart out, Gutenberg. For newer issues, you’ll have to subscribe, or keep an eye on our website for the pieces we choose to republish there.

How to use PopSci’s Google Books archive

The easiest way to enter our archive is through this link that will take you directly to PopSci’s main page. You can also go to Google Books and search “Popular Science”, but that’s a little more indirect and finicky. The link we provided is the best way in, we promise. We also recommend using a computer—Google Books doesn’t display well on a mobile browser.

By default, you’ll see information about the very first issue, but you can click any decade under the Browse all issues heading to see everything PopSci published during those years. They’re displayed chronologically, so you’ll find later issues farther to the right—scroll through the carousel to get there.

When you find an issue that interests you, click the thumbnail preview of its cover or the month and year under it, and it will replace the first issue at the top of the page. Google will bring you back to the top of the page as well, and you can click the thumbnail or Preview this magazine to open it up in your browser.

Click on any issue published in 1917 or later and Google should also display a table of contents preview below the decade carousel (you’ll have to scroll down to see it). You can click this to go right to the table of contents for that magazine.

Google also displays a word cloud for every issue below the carousel, which shows what terms appear frequently within (the larger the word, the more often it’s used). You can click any of these words to run a search for it in the issue you selected.

Tips for searching the PopSci archive

Maybe you’re content to browse issue by issue, but if you’re looking for something specific you’ll need to know how to search. Google Books displays a search bar under the selected issue summary on the main PopSci page (don’t use the one at the top of the screen), or on the sidebar that appears on the left side of your screen when you start reading an issue.

If you want to search all PopSci issues, make sure you fill in the Search all issues checkbox under your search terms. Leave it empty to only search within the selected issue or the one you’re currently viewing. Type your search terms, then click Search inside if you’re on the main page or Go if you’re using the sidebar.

When you search within a single issue, Google will preview a snippet of the page the term appears on, with the word highlighted. If it appears more than once, you can use the yellow bar at the top of the page to sort by relevance or page order (pages), or hit Clear search to go back to the full magazine.

Searching for something within all issues will create a Google search results-style page with selected text that includes whatever you’re looking for. If there are many, you can narrow the timeframe by clicking the Any Time dropdown menu and selecting a Custom range or the 21st, 20th, or 19th century.

When you’re ready, you can click the cover thumbnail, Full view, or the title of the magazine to open it up. Google will take you to a page that includes your search term, with the word highlighted, and the yellow toolbar at the top will say how many times it appears in that issue. You can hit Previous or Next to jump to others, or View all to get more detailed previews of each instance.

You can customize how an magazine looks in the archive

Once you’ve opened a magazine in Google Books’ viewer, you have a few options for layout, all displayed in the toolbar that runs across the top of the page.

Use the magnifying glass icons to zoom in (left) and out (right), and the full-screen icon (four arrows pointing toward each corner of your screen) to get rid of the Google Books sidebar on the left-hand side (or bring it back).

You can also tell Google to display one page, two pages next to each other as they would’ve appeared in the hard copy, or a grid featuring thumbnail previews of every page in the issue. These buttons look like, respectively: a single page, two pages, and a grid.

How to navigate an archived magazine once you open it

With the layout set up the way you want it, navigation is easy. You’ll always see the page number you’re currently viewing on the right side of the Google Books toolbar, and you can use the arrow buttons next to it to view the next or previous page. You can’t jump to a specific page, but a preview of the magazine’s table of contents (if available) will appear if you click the page number.

From the table of contents, you can click on any page number and Google will take you right there. This also works if you see a page number within the magazine as you read (click “continued from page 84,” for example and you’ll bounce back to page 84). Only page numbers work, though—clicking “continued” won’t do anything.

The single-page, magazine-style, and grid layouts also have their own navigational tricks. For the single-page display, you can scroll up or down, use your keyboard’s up-down arrow keys, or double-click on a page to jump to the next one (but you can’t click to go back). If you’re looking at two pages at once, you can’t scroll or use the arrow keys on your keyboard, but you can double-click on the right-hand page to turn it forward, or the left-hand one to flip back. Click any page in the grid layout and it’ll blow up that page as if you had selected the single-page view—switching between the grid and reading view is a good way to move around quickly if you’re looking for something specific.

If you want to go back to the main PopSci page (the carousel) to look at another issue, the best way to do so is to click About this magazine in the sidebar on the left side of your screen. As a reminder, click the full-screen icon (four arrows) to bring it back if it’s not there.

Other PopSci archive tools

We’ve covered pretty much everything already, but there are a couple tools on the Google Books toolbar that don’t quite fit in the other categories.

If you click Add to my library, Google will stash the magazine you’re reading in your Google Books library. Just as straightforward is Write a review, which allows you to publicly say what you thought about the issue.

Finally, there’s a link icon. Click that to get a URL that you can copy, paste, and share to bring someone to whatever page you were looking at, or embed the page on the web. Feel free to experiment.

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