Take a trip around the cul-de-sac of memory lane and wind up right back where you started. These thoroughly outdated objects are still in mass production either because they're useful to some people, or just make them happy. What more reason do you need?
National Audio Company in Springfield, Mo., is the last U.S. manufacturer of these wondrous rectangles—and thanks to new interest from millennials in the "warm analog sound," the company is making more tapes than it ever has. Even in the dark days of the late 1990s, when CDs ruled, cassettes still held appeal in the spoken-word community. That and a market for blank tapes kept National Audio going. The company bought out other manufacturers and their equipment over the years, using “orphan” machines for parts.
The days of printing newspapers with hot type are long gone, but moveable type is flourishing in fine-arts printing. M&H Type, a letterpress type foundry in San Francisco dating back to 1915, makes cast lead type. And Virgin Wood Type in Rochester, N.Y., manufactures wood type on a vintage pantograph router purchased from the century-old American Wood Type company in 2010.
Numerous U.S. manufacturers still produce wall beds—updated versions of Laverne and Shirley’s living room sleeping arrangement. But Louisville, Ky. manufacturer Create-A-Bed went one better, improving on the murphy bed (named after inventor Thomas Murphy) mechanism. Create-A-Bed founder Dale Burchett replaced the pinch-inducing springs with a piston lift system with fewer moving parts and hinged, locking legs. It’s a blow to comedic devices, though: Fewer Marx Brothers moments where the bed suddenly springs into the wall with the people in it. For DIYers, Ikea Hacker shows how to turn a regular twin bed into a flip-up bed.
You might have to travel far--say, 15 years back in time--to find a pay phone in your neighborhood. But they're still made by Protel in Lakeland, Fla., which also manufactures car wash equipment and air compressor machines, cornering that niche market of 1980s gas stations. An April 2016 L.A. Times article reported that the state of California still had 27,000 pay phones in operation. It also quoted a telecommunications expert cautioning that if cell phone towers were wiped out in a disaster, pay phones would be the fallback. So keep those quarters handy ...
Once ubiquitous on the desks of executive secretaries and cigar-chomping P.I.'s, the Rolodex is probably lesser known now as a physical thing than a word that means “a collection of business contacts." But apparently there is still a critical mass of people yearning to manually alphabetize their client lists, because Staples and Office Depot continue to stock the business card rotators. Newell Brands bought Rolodex in 1997.
Home movie-making really took off in the 1950s, when Kodak introduced a lightweight film camera that could be easily loaded with cartridges--thus eliminating the need to thread film at exactly the wrong moment, like Junior's big cake-smearing scene at his first birthday party. Kodak still manufactures the film at its Eastman Business Park in Rochester, N.Y., and has plans to introduce a new Super 8 camera.
This colorfully packaged candy was famous on dime store shelves in the early 1900s for its sticky sweetness and magical consistency. Much to the delight of dentists and denture companies, it cracked when you broke it in half, but was chewy like taffy once you popped it in your mouth. The Turkish family that popularized and manufactured the "Smack it! Crack it!" candy sold the recipe to Tootsie Roll in 1972, but it eventually disappeared from the scene until it was revived by a confection company called Bonomo. Today, Turkish Taffy is made in York, Penn.
Prisons, as it happens, are among the best customers for brand-new outdated items. Typewriter manufacturer Swintec, for instance, supplies correctional institutions, as well as police departments and government agencies. The New Jersey company even makes a clear typewriter to discourage inmates from hiding contraband inside the guts of the machine. Swintec took off right when everyone else was getting out of the typewriter industry in the mid 1980s. Sometimes, hanging around too long is the mother of invention.
A 2013 article called Form-Mate the last carbon paper manufacturer in Canada; there were still two holdouts in the United States. As bigger manufacturers folded in the 1980s, the small-but-steady company absorbed their business. Form-Mate was still supplying prisons, for instance--some require inmates to hand-write letters and submit a carbon copy to the warden before mailing. And there are occasions in small business, government, etc., where a handwritten form does the job better than the electronic version.
The washboard is the ultimate multi-tasker. Once you get your laundry done, you can use it to play in a jug band. According to the U.S. National Parks Service, wooden washboards were common in the 1840s, but material advancements brought washboards with zinc-coated base metal and baked enamel surfaces by the 1880s and 1890s. Known for both getting clothes sparkling clean and reddening many a set of knuckles, washboards fell out of favor, of course, with the introduction of washing machines. But enough people have found them useful—from the Amish to musicians to the extra-frugal and nostalgic—that demand never died out. Now the Columbus Washboard Company in Logan, Ohio—whose production peaked at 1.3 million in 1947—is the sole manufacturer. Visitors can tour the factory, where some of the equipment dates back to the early 1900s.
This slideshow originally appeared on IndustryWeek. IndustryWeek is a companion site of Foundry, and part of Penton's Manufacturing & Supply Chain group.