A few years ago I found a site called http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/ that in their words, " talks about the potential of past and often forgotten knowledge and technologies when it comes to designing a sustainable society." Recently I visited the site and was rewarded with an article on Stangenkunsten. What are Stangenkunsten you might be justified in asking?
As the article states, "From the 1500s onwards, engineers developed mechanical power transmission and distribution technologies, called "Stangenkunsten", that became ever more sophisticated. Networks of pivoted, wooden field rods conveyed power from water wheels in the valleys to mining machinery up the mountains over distances of up to 4 km, operating pumps and bellows, hoisting ores, and transporting miners up and down shafts. Later systems replaced wooden rods by steel cables. Many Stangenkunsten remained in use well into the twentieth century, long after the introduction of steam engines and electricity. "
Illustration: 'Stangenkunst, showing driving wheel, feldkunst, and kunstkreuz'. Source: 'Acta historico-chronologico-mechanica circa Metallurgiam', Hennig Calvör, 1763 Very interesting right?! It shows us that people in the past were just (or more) inventive as people today. It seems that as a people get more technologically advanced the average person becomes less knowledgeable about simple physics and less inventive on how to make use of it.
This can be seen currently in China and Africa where people (many times rural farmers and the like) are making impressive vehicles, radio transmitters and even robots using things other people discarded.
Please check out Low-tech Magazine if you get a chance!