The National Institute of Standards and Technology doesn't just produce technical specifications for everything from wifi to voting machines - they also have a digital archive devoted to the study of early technology. But they need your help to identify some of the objects they've collected.

In a rare move, NIST has asked the public to help identify what several early machines were used for - mostly in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. In many cases, they know what the machines do, but aren't sure how they are used or who would have used them. In other cases, it's really a mystery what the devices are at all (such as the cylinder with a knob on top). If you have some expertise, or just love to look at pictures of old technology, you should definitely check out NIST's page devoted to these mystery items. And be sure to browse NIST's digital archives, especially if you need some steampunk inspirations. (Spotted on PopSci)