Skip to comments.10 Modern Technologies We Lived Without in Primitive, Pre-Millennial America
Posted on 05/08/2014 8:12:05 AM PDT by SeekAndFind
While the 1970s are known for some terrifying fashions and the human indignity of the Disco Era, the decade (with some assists from the previous generation) also gave us some amazing technological advancements that many of us take for granted today. Here are ten that changed the world:
Before the 1970s, our only option for heating up leftover pizza was the conventional oven and we didnt have the luxury of 4-minute microwave popcorn (gross as it is). Though the Radarange was first sold in the United States in 1947, it wasnt until the ovens became affordable for the average family that microwaves became common in American homes (even if they didn’t live up to their promises of delicious layer cakes and scrumptious roasts in 30 minutes). In addition to the high prices, many Americans were afraid of radiation associated with microwave ovens. I remember my dad refusing to purchase what he called a radar burger at a concession stand in the early ’70s. In 1971, only 1% of households in the U.S. owned a microwave. By 1986, roughly 25% of households in the U.S. owned a microwave oven, with the number soaring to 90% of American households by 1997.
The first American handheld hair dryer was patented in 1911, but they were heavy, weighing several pounds, and were often dangerous to use. Improvements in plastics and better electric motors in the 1960s led to more widespread use, and regulations by the Consumer Product Safety Commission made the dryers safer. Before handheld hair dryers were common in American homes, we sat under bonnet-style or rigid-helmet dryers usually with our hair slathered with Dippity Do and wrapped around curlers.
Not only did pre-millennials live without cell phones, we lived without basic necessities like push-button phones. Ohio Bell (before the giant AT&T merger) used to charge more for touchtone phones than they did for the rotaries. If your friends had phone numbers with a lot of 8s or 9s you hoped you reached them on the first try so you wouldnt have to go through that Herculean dialing effort again (no voice mail back then, either). We also didnt have cordless phones and most families had one shared phone, usually located in the kitchen. If you were lucky, you had a super-long phone cord that would reach into another room (or the back porch) so you could have a modicum of privacy. After a few months of abuse, the stretched-out cord lay in a heap on the floor beneath the phone. Some families had party lines which means they shared a phone line with a neighbor. Of course, this meant that there was always a possibility that the neighbors would pick up when you were in the middle of an important call or worse, that they were listening in the whole time. Nevertheless, it saved money and discouraged teenagers from loitering on the phone all day.
Believe it or not, there was a time when human beings had to stand up and walk across an entire room to change the channel or adjust the volume on a TV set. Of course, there were only three channels for us to choose from back then (unless we used that funny round antenna that would add two additional stations on UHF the ones that offered Godzilla and other B-movies on Saturday afternoons). There were very primitive TV remote controls as far back as the 1950s, but they were usually limited to turning the TV on and off and they were not common — most TVs still had knobs for changing channels and adjusting volume. It wasn’t until the 1980s, when the advent of cable TV made them a necessity, that remote controls were included with every TV set and we were finally able to say goodbye to changing channels by turning the clunky knobs.
A legitimate case could be made that children were less obese back then because of those frequent walks back and forth from the TV.
In 1977, 48,000 computers were sold to Americans. That jumped to 125 million in 2001 and skyrocketed to 500 million personal computers in use in the United States in 2002. Prior to the common use of personal computers in the home, we labored away on typewriters, correcting errors with Wite-Out or by using mysterious erasable typing paper that relied on some sort of dark magic. Those of us who werent lucky enough to have an IBM Selectric electric typewriter banged out our high school papers on keys that required fingers of steel (and frequent breaks) and we fought with the inky Cloth Ribbons of Misery. The piles of crumpled-up papers under our desks testified to the hours of frustration that went into creating a presentable paper.
Home video games did not achieve widespread popularity until the release of a home version of Pong sold by Sears during the Christmas of 1975. Those of us who were lucky enough to receive one for Christmas that year hooked the primitive consoles up to our TV sets (often black and white TVs) and wasted entire days mesmerized by the back and forth ping pong action. We imagined that we were famous tennis stars chasing balls across the court while lying on the floor munching on bowls of Quisp and Capn Crunch. The success of Pong sparked hundreds of clones and eventually launched the modern video game industry.
Not only did we not have digital music, we didnt even have CDs. In order to listen to the music we wanted to hear we had two choices: we could drive (or get our parents to take us) to a record store to buy a record or a cassette (or an 8-track!), or we could sit in front of our transistor radios hoping to hear our favorite songs. Radio stations would often take requests, so we would spend hours trying to call our favorite stations hoping to get our songs some air time. The pre-millennial version of illegally downloading music was using a cassette recorder to tape songs from the radio. It was a tricky proposition, to be sure, never knowing when the song we wanted was going to come on, but we persevered and sometimes ended up with pretty good compilations of our favorite songs (until that blasted tape got all twisted up in the cassette casing and then required surgical intervention with pencils, screwdrivers, and, sometimes, Scotch Tape).
Prior to 1977 when the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned it in residential and commercial properties, most paint contained lead. Though lead can cause nervous system damage, stunted growth, kidney damage, and delayed development in children, we ate the toxic paint chips because they tasted sweet and some kids couldnt resist gnawing on window sills and picking up stray chips that peeled off of the porch railing.
In the mid-1960s calculators were large, heavy desktop machines that used hundreds of transistors on several circuit boards and required an AC power supply. By 1970, a calculator could be made using just a few microprocessor chips, opening the way for portable models powered with rechargeable batteries. The first portable calculator appeared in Japan in 1970 with integrated circuits that made the price and the size drop. They were soon marketed around the world. By the end of the 1970s the prices of calculators had reduced to a point where they were affordable to most Americans and we all began to use them regularly in our homes and schools.
In the 1970s and early 1980s we could have never imagined the concept of the DVD, let alone something as complex (and convenient) as streaming video. We went to movie theaters or waited for the movie of the week on ABC, NBC, or CBS if we wanted to see something other than a sitcom or a game show. The modern VCR did not begin to gain mass market traction until 1975 when the systems were standardized and movies became available to consumers. Of course, the format war between VHS and Betamax threatened to derail the whole thing, but VHS ultimately prevailed (the die hard Betamax fans eventually fell in line) and remained the top dog in the world of home entertainment until the technology was toppled by the success of DVDs. In addition to giving us the ability to watch movies we had rented or purchased, we suddenly had the ability to record television shows so we were no longer at the mercy of the programmers — and for the first time we could fast forward through the commercials, freeing us from having to sit through the unwelcomed messages in our homes.
What other technological advancements do you appreciate?
air conditioning, indoor plumbing, washing machine and dryer, ball point pen, power tools, sneakers
GPS see the website for my book
My video game skills have not advanced beyong Pong and Space Invaders.
digital cameras (man I hated having to pay to have film developed)
Not my dad. He had me!
Ever since I was a young boy,
I’ve played the silver ball.
From Soho down to Brighton
I must have played them all.
But I ain’t seen nothing like him
In any amusement hall...
That deaf dumb and blind kid
Sure plays a mean pin ball !
He stands like a statue,
Becomes part of the machine.
Feeling all the bumpers
Always playing clean.
He plays by intuition,
The digit counters fall.
That deaf dumb and blind kid
Sure plays a mean pin ball !
He’s a pin ball wizard
There has got to be a twist.
A pin ball wizard,
S’got such a supple wrist.
‘How do you think he does it? I don’t know!
What makes him so good?’
He ain’t got no distractions
Can’t hear those buzzers and bells,
Don’t see lights a flashin’
Plays by sense of smell.
Always has a replay,
‘n’ never tilts at all...
That deaf dumb and blind kid
Sure plays a mean pin ball.
I thought I was
The Bally table king.
But I just handed
My pin ball crown to him.
Even on my favorite table
He can beat my best.
His disciples lead him in
And he just does the rest.
He’s got crazy flipper fingers
Never seen him fall...
That deaf dumb and blind kind
Sure plays a mean pin ball.!!!!!
i also remember recording favorite songs from the radio... the hard part was to end the recording before the deejay or a commercial came on...
Ha, not only did I have to get up to change channel... I had to grab the tinfoil that was wrapped around the rabbit ears and stand in an awkward pose for entire episodes of MASH.
RE: the hard part was to end the recording before the deejay or a commercial came on...
The annoying part is ALWAYS this — The DJ talks over the song as it is about to end.
Me too! Adjusted the rabbit ears, as well. My Dad thought I was mouthing off once, when I asked “who changes the channel, after my bedtime?”.
yeah--they did it on purpose...
Thanks! I am old enough that this is quite relevant to me.
I think it was 1975 when my grandfather purchased an early Texas Instruments calculator. Just the most basic of functions (add, subtract, multiply, divide). I think he paid around $300 for it.
My dad was in the Air Force stationed at a radar facility along the Gulf Coast. He told me how seagulls used to come swooping in off the gulf, fly too close to the towers, and immediately drop to the ground. An hour later they’d still be sizzling on the inside. I pointed out that he had missed his chance to invent the microwave oven.
I recently disposed of a non-remote television set I had purchased in 1991. And it was my primary set well into this century. It was obsolete even when purchased, but having grown up with such sets I thought paying extra for the remote was a waste. Thought about trying to get it fixed, but when Pennsylvania banned old TV’s from landfills I was afraid I might get stuck with it forever.
I got a TI-99 computer one year for Christmas. After spending 6 1/2 hours writing hundreds of lines of Basic code to accomplish something I could have done with a pencil in 60 seconds, I decided “it will never catch on!” and pushed it to the back of the closet. Total lack of foresight on my part.
Ahh, Pong! My brother and I spent hours on the display model at Sears. My dad thought it was stupid and refused to buy one.
Worked Christmas of ‘85 in an electronics store. The first really big Christmas for VCR’s. Sold over 300 units myself between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. They ran about $350. On a really good sale you could pick one up for $299.
Low-end individual cassettes went for about five bucks apiece.
When my cell carrier tries to upgrade me I tell them thank you, but I am perfectly happy living in the 80’s.
Though I refuse to believe that women EVER went without hair dryers.
RE: Rotary phones.
They were ‘real’ fun when radio stations did that “be the 7th caller and win” contests.
We got an Amana Radarange in 1976. Three buttons, two twist knobs, no turn tray. Top of the line.
Of all those, the modern “smart phone” as exemplified by the original iPhone and all it’s imitators, has been the most disruptive. That can be good or that can be bad.
Dropping land line phone typically more than offsets the cost of the cell plan unless you’re heavily into texting and downloading videos and such, which usually is due to teens on the plan. There’s a decent camera and video recording system in the phone, a calculator, basic and even full versions of business software, internet connectivity, GPS, it’s become a fairly indispensable device if all or even most of the capabilities present in the device are used.
I can foresee a day in the not too distant future, when “computer” and “camera” cease to mean anything to the average person beyond their cell phone.
Besides all of the above, there was actually a time when cars didn’t all have air conditioning, power windows and locks, and/or remote entry key fobs with alarms.
In the distant past, “alloy” wheels on cars were often not even an option and certainly not common and many cars had 14” wheels with 15” reserved for large cars and full size pickups. 17” wheels were a relic from the 30s.
Remember overhead projectors and filmstrip projectors?
How about chalk and chalkboards, and those special chalk holders the teachers could use to draw lines on the board to teach penmanship (back when that subject was taught).
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