When I was a child I loved to bury myself in the centrefold cutaway illustrations of the monthly scientific magazines my father subscribed to for me. Cars, tractors, ships, trains, engines — I loved every tiny detail. I loved pretending I was one of the tiny men in the pictures. As an adult, I appreciate these drawings not only as educational objects but as beautiful pieces of art, unfortunately sometimes created by forgotten or unknown artists. I dare you to disagree with me after checking out these 20 drawings from the history of this amazing genre.
Not a pleasant subject, but this is one of the oldest known cutaway drawings. It’s a cross-section of an ’embarkation’ canoe, in which a crowd of unfortunate souls are packed into the bottom of a boat being propelled by rowers. Of unknown provenance, circa 1400.
Image: Rischgitz/Getty Images
Bessemer Saloon Steamer
This cross-section, from 1974, highlights the self-trimming design of inventor and engineer Sir Henry Bessemer, which keeps the ship level even in rough seas.
Image: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
May 7th 1898: America’s new armoured torpedo-boat, Holland. It was deployed during the Spanish-American War.
Image: Illustrated London News/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Gee Bee Teardrop-Shaped Racing Aircraft
One of the most unusual aeroplanes ever flown, the Gee Bee Model R Super Sportster made by Granville Brothers Aircraft of Springfield, Massachusetts in 1932.
The crazy maze that is the Piccadilly Circus tube station, by Macpherson. Circa 1930.
The world’s favourite assault rifle since 1949. And this illustration shows one of the reasons why: simplicity.
British Metro Train
This wonderful illustration of a British tube train was featured in Eagle, a seminal British children’s comic in April 1950.
Projecy Mercury Explained
As usual, NASA says it best: “Project Mercury proved that humans could live and work in space, paving the way for all future human exploration. This cutaway drawing of the Mercury capsule was used by the Space Task Group at the first NASA inspection, on Oct. 24, 1959.”
A Titan missile underground complex, including an intercontinental ballistic missile (no. 61124) in its silo, circa 1963.
Image: Titan Missile Museum
Northrop M2-F2 Lifting Body
NASA’s heavyweight lifting body was built by the Northrop Corporation based on studies at the Ames and Langley research centres in 1966. Four pilots were lucky (?) enough to fly the M2-F2 on its 16 glide flights.
Soviet Heavy Lifter
The Mil V-12 was the largest helicopter ever made, intended to carry major missile components. Or buses. Only two prototypes were constructed but one flew successfully on July 10, 1968.
Image: x-ray delta one
Well it is nice that the artist did not cut into the astronaut.
Image: Projekt Apollo – Das Abanteuer der Mondlandung by Werner Büdeler. Bertelsmann Sachbuchverlag, 1969.
Lancia Stratos Zero by Bertone
The futuristic bodywork of this protoype supercar was designed by Marcello Gandini, head designer of the the legendary Italian studio. Look deep inside this Lamborghini progenitor and find the spare wheel!
Image: G. Betti/Quattroruote, Marzo 1971
The Historic Handshake in Space
Cutaway view of the docked Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft in Earth orbit. This scene depicts the moment the two international crews met in space for the first time. April, 1975
Image: Davis Meltzer/NASA
This Space Shuttle cutaway shows six astronauts working with ESA Spacelab in Earth orbit.
A Hawk Inside
The Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) used by the United States Air Force and Navy, first deployed in 1998. Now you know why UAVs have those big bumps up front.
The Nuclear-Powered Aircraft Carrier
There are 10 Nimitz-class supercarriers in service with the United States Navy. This one is the Harry S. Truman (CVN-75), commissioned on 25 July 1998.
Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren
In 2005 the Mercedes-Benz created the SLR McLaren, a modern version of the legendary SLR racing machines. Its 5.5-liter supercharged and intercooled V-8 engine produces 617 horsepower and drags you to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds.
Lockheed Martin Lightning II
F-35: The trillion-dollar fighter designed to dominate the skies may currently be in a fiscal dogfight, but it’s still badass.
Image: John Batchelor
Canon 5D MKII
You know it, you love it, but you’ve never seen it naked.