My 7 year old daughter was playing with a toy Fisher Price dial telephone.


She asked “How does this work?”


I had to explain how we had to “dial” a phone.


Remember slide rules? (I still use a slide rule: they’re great when you want to have a custom lookup table:  especially a circular slide rule. While in a foreign country, I just set the slide rule to the currency exchange rate, and it’s a straight lookup to compare prices in local currency to US Dollars.)



Certain fancy toys could  “talk”, you actually pulled a string which had a ring at the end?


Spent flashbulbs for cameras? You’d take a picture and the disposable bulb would be all melted.


Remember the days when a customer at a cash register paid by credit card and the clerk did a manual lookup of the credit card number in a weekly published pamphlet listing bad credit card numbers?


What does “Carriage Return” mean? I blogged about that and “typewriters” here.


Gas stations used to wash the windshields and even give out plates and mugs to customers.


S&H Green Stamps? Collect a bookful and redeem for prizes.


What about the days of having a TV Antenna ? Or of having to actually stand up and walk across the room to change the channel on a TV ? (another blog on color TVs and their relationship with the IBM PC here.)


Computers actually had blinking lights to indicate the contents of registers. Watch an old movie with a computer in it and you might see blinking lights and spinning tape drives.


Keeping score while bowling ? Our local bowling ally is all “computerized”.


An actual person answered a ringing phone: no such thing as answering machines.


Any other examples come to mind?




Comments (20)
  1. Tom says:

    I remember when phone numbers in my neighborhood used to be 4 digits… and Yes it was a rotary phone as well!!!

  2. Mother: Stop complaining! You sound like broken record!

    Daughter: What’s a broken record?

  3. – telegrams.

    – 5 & dime stores.

    – pay phones?

    – 25 cent cup of plain coffee.

    – listening to the games on a transistor radio.

    – TVs with tubes inside (took a while to warm up, didn’t they?)

    – milk bottles

    – IBM Selectric typewriters

    – pet rocks

    – the twist

    – drinking TAB

  4. Alex, you can still get Tab — the local Top Foods carries it. 🙂

    – 25-cent can of Coke

    – Knowing your exchange name, not just number

  5. Richard says:

    Don’t forget the card catalogs. Those were indexed on both author and title.

  6. [snip]

    Computers actually had blinking lights to indicate the contents of registers. Watch an old movie with a computer in it and you might see blinking lights and spinning tape drives.


    My personal favorite is WarGames 😉 Good film too. Good special effects too, considering the year it was made.

  7. Joe Celko has a collection of slide rules that he proudly shows off to visitors. Yes, he has several round ones.

    My dad grew up with the guy that invented the automatic pin setters now used by bowling allies. Imagine the old days when people sat back there and set them up for you.

    When I was a kid, a neighbor younger than me asked her mother, "Did they have clocks when you were a little girl?"

    What about the days before microwave ovens?

    Remember carhops?

  8. Tore Bleken says:

    Manually operated PABX? I remember calling long distance on a SAturday morning. I asked for a specific number, and was told that there nobody present at that number, which belonged to a relatively big company. I said "That’s strange, Joe was supposed to be there and wait for my call" and the lady said "Joe? No, he is out swimming in the ocean, I can see it from where I sit". You don’t get that kind of service anymore.

  9. Steven Bernhardson says:

    Two come to mind:

    In my town, two of the used "record" shops are called The Vinyl Exchange and The Vinyl Diner, but, of course, they deal in CDs

    In a hotel hallway, a man asked his wife if she had the room key and she said yes, holding out a white, credit-card sized "key"

  10. Malachi in Saskatoon says:

    Hey, the Vinyl Diner deals in used records, not just CDs.

  11. alex wieder says:

    Back in 1991 I had to call Gateway and couldn’t get technical support because "they were out to lunch".

    "All of them?"


    Around that time, Ted Waitt, the owner, would give online tech support to end-users through BIX (Byte magazine’s Information eXchange).

  12. Louis says:

    …when a dollar worth of penny candy was sure to get you a stomach ache…

    …when you could actually fix your own car…

  13. billc1 says:

    When I was in high school and worked as a cashier in a food store, we had to memorize the equivalent of fractions in cents for a dollar.

    If a can of something was 7 for a dollar, then someone bought less then 6 you had to know the price for 1-2-3-4-5 ect. In your head, no calculators.

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