Obsolete products: 25 things most people under 25 have never seen in real life (and probably can’t name)

25 obsolete products and outdated technology most people under 25 have never seen in real life

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Once part of everyday life, now only people of a certain age — a certain vintage, shall we say — will remember having used all of these obsolete products.

Everyone under age 25 grew up in the digital age, and have never known anything other than a world where information is at everyone’s fingertips, 24/7.

That means when they were learning to walk, we were connecting to AOL with our 14.4k modems… and by the time those kids graduated from high school, they all carried around enough computing power in their phones to power the systems on an Apollo-era rocket.

The web now gives all of us access to almost any kind of information or entertainment in the world, instantly. That may be why Millennials and Gen Z-ers sometimes act like know-it-alls (and by many modern measures, they really are know-a-lots) — but there are still plenty of things they don’t know.

In fact, we found 25 obsolete products and outdated technology that most people under 25 have never seen in real life — and that they probably couldn’t even name.

They may know some of these items from TV and movies, but unless they have a grandmother who lives out in the middle of nowhere, they’re unlikely to have seen more than a couple of these obsolete products with their own eyes.

Confused young adults at ClickAmericana com

More than half of these goodies and gizmos were rendered obsolete by the digital era, but a few others fell out of favor for different reasons. Like what? Well, as with many generations before us, trends expire, tastes change, things break, and new products are created. 

So while your favorite 20-year-old may totes get all the ins and outs of being an Instagram influencer, be up-to-the-minute on the latest food trends, or know how to program a robot, it’s a pretty sure thing that he or she won’t know all of this outdated technology.

Of course, there are many things these images won’t convey — like the feel of spinning the dial on a rotary phone, how it took a gentle touch to place the needle on your record, or the misery of a cassette tape unspooling. Those things? We get to keep ’em all to ourselves.

25 obsolete products most people under 25 have never seen in real life

1. Cassette tapes

Slide one of these pocket-portable, low-quality babies in your car’s tape player, and you could have all of your favorite tunes as you drove — no internet connection required.

25 things people under 25 havent seen IRL - Cassette tapes

Now hear this! Top 10 audio cassette tape tips from the '70s

2. Rotary dial phone

These big clunky dials spit out little clicks that the phone company’s machines used to route your call correctly. There was no display showing the numbers you’d already dialed, plus sometimes a spin was incomplete, so there were a lot of wrong numbers.

25 things people under 25 havent seen IRL - Rotary dial phone

3. Flash cubes for a camera

These were early on-board flash devices. It was a big deal to finally get to take photos indoors or in lower light! Usually, only pros had the flash equipment.

Each cube got you four flashes — one for each of the slides — then it was trash. (The black parts shown below are the bottom fittings to attach to your camera.)

25 things people under 25 havent seen IRL - Retro flash cubes

4. Floppy and disk drive – Vintage Apple ][

I actually had this type of computer, and can remember exactly how it felt to slide that disk into the drive, and the noise and vibration it would make every time (often) it had to read or write to the disk. 

The early floppies were 5.25″ square, and held about 160KB of data. That would get you roughly 80,000 words — which, nowadays, would mean about 1-1/2 copies of the picture below. 

25 things people under 25 havent seen IRL - Floppy and disk drive - Vintage apple 2 plus

Apple introduces the Macintosh personal computer (1984)

5. Coke soda can with pull tab

When you opened a can of soda or beer, you ended up with a little tongue-shaped (and often sharp) piece of metal in your hand. 

Eventually, someone got the idea for a way to keep the whole thing on the can, and suddenly, there were a lot fewer pull tabs discarded everywhere.

25 things people under 25 havent seen IRL - Coke soda can with pull tab

'I'd like to buy the world a Coke' TV commercial (1971)

6. Vintage film negative

This is what a strip of developed color film looked like, and from which a photo processor could make prints of your pictures. Assuming this was from a 35mm camera, each rectangle frame you see was about an inch high.)

Undeveloped light-sensitive film was a darker brown — but if you ever actually saw what color it was (beyond the little strip you used to spool your camera), you’d never be able to use it.

25 things people under 25 havent seen IRL - Vintage film negative

The famous, fabulous Fotomat drive-in photo stores (1977)

7. Vinyl albums at the record store

Flat pressed discs were invented during the late Victorian age, so it’s fair to say that LPs had a pretty good run. (They are even making a little bit of a comeback, for those who prefer their tunes to be spun, not streamed.)

You can still buy vinyl discs, but the experience of spending an hour looking through stacks of thousands of records, both new and old isn’t the same when there are so few (and small) record shops today.

25 things people under 25 havent seen IRL - Vinyl albums at the record store

8. Telephone answering machine

Forever memorialized in the intro to The Rockford Files TV show, the original version of voicemail could be both helpful and annoying — depending on the call, the caller, and the message.

25 things people under 25 havent seen IRL - Telephone answering machine

1987's hottest TVs, VCRs, stereos, cellular phones & more

9. Vintage manual typewriter

25 things people under 25 havent seen IRL - Vintage manual typewriter

10. Old music box

This outdated technology got its start in the 1800s, but was still commonly seen for more than another century. When it comes to self-powered, no-battery-required portable musical devices, this one is a winner — even if it’s an antique model.

25 things people under 25 havent seen IRL - Old music box

Antique babies: Cabinet card portraits of baby boys & girls

11. Two dollar bills

This one’s a little bit different than the other things there because $2 bills are still in circulation. Still, they’re pretty rare, and when they are seen, it’s usually inside of a child’s birthday card.

FYI: Shown are red seal two dollar bills (“Legal Tender Notes” from 1953) but they also come in green (“Federal Reserve Notes” from 1976 onwards).

25 things people under 25 havent seen IRL - Two dollar bills

Will the two-dollar bill make a comeback?

12. Vinyl record on a turntable

For this one, we’re not counting seeing a DJ using a turntable on a stage — that nearly counts in the “I saw it on TV” zone.

Oddly enough, vinyl is seeing a resurgence — at least for the hipper youth with some disposable income. Their turntables today are much more compact compared to the console stereo systems of the 70s, for example, but we’re just happy the experience still exists.

25 things people under 25 havent seen IRL - Vinyl record on a turntable

How to choose a turntable: Old-school tips for the best record players

13. Movie reels & a projector

This, kids, is how we watched the rare home movies before the advent of videotape! Oh, yeah, and that’s how movies used to play in the theater, too.

25 things people under 25 havent seen IRL - Movie reels projector

Kodak home movie cameras (1965-1969)

14. Retro arcade video games

25 things people under 25 havent seen IRL - Retro arcade video games

After arcade video games like Pac Man & Space Invaders hit the scene in the '80s, weekends were never the same again

15. Clothespins

Of the under-25s we talked to, only a few had seen this obsolete product up close — and those were for school craft projects.

25 things people under 25 havent seen IRL - Clothespins

How to be a perfect fifties housewife: Laundry edition

16. Reel-to-reel tape recorder

25 things people under 25 havent seen IRL - Reel-to-reel tape recorder

Getting real with vintage reel-to-reel tape recorders

17. Jello mold

You may scoff, but how complete could an article about vintage stuff be if it didn’t include molded gelatin salad delights like this? As they say, there’s always room for Jell-O.

25 things people under 25 havent seen IRL - Jello mold

Creamy peach double-decker Jello salad (1979)

18. VCR

VCR stands for Video Cassette Recorder, but more often, it’s used as a player. VCP doesn’t have the same ring to it, though. Anyhow, being able to record your favorite shows and watch them later was a completely revolutionary concept!

25 things people under 25 havent seen IRL - VCR

1987's hottest TVs, VCRs, stereos, cellular phones & more

19. Pull-out stove/range

These slide-in, slide-out stoves were hot in the ’60s, and must have been great for small kitchens.

25 things people under 25 havent seen IRL - Pull-out stove range

8 vintage sixties kitchens with Flair ranges: Pull-out electric stoves and glass oven doors that opened upwards

20. Portable radio

Battery-powered, this was how you brought your tunes with you to the beach, on a picnic, or while you worked in the yard.

25 things people under 25 havent seen IRL - Portable radio

Toot-A-Loop & Panasonic's craziest color portables (1971-1972)

21. Metal ice cube tray

The best thing about these trays wasn’t that it was made of metal, it was that handle at the top that shifted the separators just enough to break the cubes apart so you could get them out easily.

25 things people under 25 havent seen IRL - Metal ice cube tray

Magic Touch honeycomb ice cube trays (1940s-1960s)

22. Fax machine

This outdated technology was another revolutionary concept. Put in a document in your fax machine, dial up the recipient through a phone line, and in less than a minute, a black & white life-size copy of that page would pop out on their end! At the time, it was like magic.

Most of the early fax machines used a roll of thermal paper to print out the faxes received — very much like the stuff most receipts are printed on. (BTW, did you know that thermal paper can be really bad for you — especially if it touches food?) The earliest models also didn’t have anything to separate the pages, so if someone sent you a ten-page document plus a cover sheet, you could end up with a ten-foot-long contract that could double as a streamer.

25 things people under 25 havent seen IRL - Fax machine

Fax machine revolution conquering all in its path (1989)

23. Carbon paper

Carbon paper was a thin sheet of paper to which a slightly waxy layer of dark pigment or ink was embedded. The idea was that anything you wrote or typed on the top layer would copy to the page below when the force from the pen or type key applied enough pressure.

The often messy old carbon paper was replaced by carbonless paper sets, where dye- and in-free chemicals mimic the same pressure effect.

Carbon copy paper is still around, though — but it’s most often used nowadays to trace a pattern onto another material — like for crafts, artwork or carpentry.

25 things people under 25 havent seen IRL - Carbon paper

In the '50s, secretaries and bosses agreed that IBM electric typewriters rocked the business scene

24. Library card catalog

Librarians were known for being meticulous about details — and it showed in every card catalog. Alphabetized, described and cross-referenced, the card catalogs inventoried the library’s entire book collections. In the days before you could do a keyword computer search for a book title, this was how you found the reading material you needed.

25 things people under 25 havent seen IRL - Library card catalog

Remember those amazing old wooden library card catalogs - and how to use them? Look it up!

25. Touch-tone phone

Faster, easier to use, and more melodic than its dial counterpart, the touch-tone telephone marked the beginning of a new age in telecommunications.

Among other things, this now obsolete technology introduced the ability to “press 1 for sales, press 2 for support” — thereby making made it possible to dial a specific extension, navigate through voicemail, and get caught in interminable loops when trying to reach customer service.

25 things people under 25 havent seen IRL - Touch tone phone

New touch-tone dialing has missile-like speed (1965)

Bonus thing people under 25 may have never seen: A lava lamp

Vintage lava lamps: They're like wild - way out! (1960s & 1970s)

25 things most people under 25 have never seen in real life - ClickAmericana com

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Comments on this story

6 Responses

  1. I am under 25 and I’ve heard, seen, and/or used all of these except for the pull out stove. You begin this article by saying that everyone under 25 has grown up in the digital age and has information at our fingertips, but your statement in of itself is contradictory to the point of the article! This article is about items that most people under 25 have never seen and probably can’t name, yet you also say at the beginning that we have access to information at our fingertips (phones, computers, etc.). See what I mean? This is contradictory because yes, some people may not have heard of a lot of these, but because we are in the digital age, we also have the ability to look up what these things are, and how they were used. A lot of the items on this list also raise the questions of “Have these people never seen movies?” Movies from both our time and the time of people over 25 use items such as these, whether it be a few or a lot. I know people that don’t know what cassettes are, but in the light of Netflix’s (for some reason) popular series 13 Reasons Why, a lot of people should at least understand slightly what cassettes are and how they work. I’m rambling, but my point in the end is that the next time you guys decide to write an article like this, make it have items that aren’t as recent. Like the jelly mold! I didn’t expect to see something from an older time than most of everything else in this article, yet I did. Maybe stray away from technology as well! Maybe have an article that says “You know about corsets, but did you know about the different kinds? Or of bustles or crinolines?” You know? Something not everyone knows about. The kind of post this is, is a post to be made in a much farther future from now, say 2070-80. That way less people are familiar or even know of these items, let alone have firsthand experience with them.

    1. When looking back on past artifacts, it’s easy to focus on technology. But just because new technology emerges, older technology doesn’t necessarily disappear. We still listen to the radio, even though it’s a 120+-year-old technology, because it remains convenient, useful, and inexpensive. Many healthcare facilities continue to use fax machines because they’re considered more secure than email. And vinyl records have become trendy again. However, I can think back to my childhood and recall all sorts of things that you truly don’t see anymore. For instance, when I was a kid, lots of men smoked pipes, and well-dressed ladies always wore white gloves. But fashion comes and goes; white gloves might become ironically hip tomorrow. More thoroughly gone are things that are genuinely detrimental (DDT, leaded gasoline and paint, heroin and cocaine in children’s cough syrup, etc.).

  2. Now why in the world did they discontinue those ice cube trays?! I’m 35 and I’ve seen/used most of these, but that ice cube tray is blowing my mind. Plastic ice cube trays are the bane of my existence, and they were an “improvement” on this genius metal version? I need one, desperately.

    1. Actually, yes. The plastic ones are an improvement on the aluminum ones.
      You filled the tray with water. When it was frozen, you turned the tray upside down and ran hot water over it to get it to release from the tray. Next, you carefully grabbed the lift-handle and pulled. It would cause the dividers to shift, trying to move, which was intended to break the ice free from the dividers and the ice should drop out of the squares, into the tray below.
      The problem with it was – if you grabbed the handle and pulled too quickly, or roughly, the handle would bend (which means break) and you would lose the ability to get the dividers shifting/moving in future. Also, due to sticking to the aluminum dividers, the ice would break up and often was broken into slivers, instead of cubes. It was very messy. Plastic ones crack and need replacing but at least they mostly release their cubes in one piece!
      However, if you are intent upon wanting some of these, do some online searches. You should be able to find people selling them.
      I have a boxful of them shoved in the back of my basement somewhere – so I know others have them also.
      Good luck!

  3. Hm. Er, yeah, I’ve got to agree with Pierce here. I’m only recently 18, I’ve heard of most of these, and even seen/used a few. Seriously, who hasn’t used clothespins?

  4. Vinyl records are making a comeback (to an extent), and some of these things are still around (clothespins!), but a few of these items are gone for good — and probably for the better. Most notably, pull tabs and flash cubes — if you grew up in the 60s or 70s, you probably remember these as litter. Indeed, that’s why we have the attached pop top can opener today; discarded pull tabs were not only unsightly, but they were being ingested by wildlife.

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