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More Things That Are Slowly Vanishing (Or Gone)

Back in January I published a list of things that had once been common and are now fading into the mists of history. It got a lot of attention, so here comes another one. A few of these came from readers and posted in the comments.

  1. Typewriters. Ok, these may already be well and truly vanished, but there are times when I miss them. I kept my IBM Selectric until we left Arizona in 2003. Mostly I used it to type up adhesive labels and addresses on business envelopes. All of that stuff comes out of my laser printer now.
  2. Wing-tip dress shoes for men. I admit, I never had these myself, but I was still seeing them here and there until ten or fifteen years ago.
  3. Pantyhose. Apart from older women who may have been wearing compression stockings, I almost never see sheer hosiery anymore. Weirdly, the last place I saw it regularly was at dog shows, where male handlers wore business suits and female handlers wore skirts and pantyhose. This was true well into the teens, but we haven’t been to a dog show in some years now.
  4. Car keys. Our 2014 Durango was our first car with fobs instead of keys. All the rental cars I’ve driven since then were the same thing: Key fobs without keys. It took some getting used to, but now when I try to drive Carol’s 2001 4Runner, I almost always try punching the (nonexistant) button on the dashboard rather than twisting the (real) car key.
  5. Women wearing hats in (Catholic) church. Back when I was a kid this was a very serious business. I saw teen girls wearing a sheet of Kleenex atop their heads during mass when they forgot their hats. Girls at our Catholic grade school had beanies to wear during mass before school started.
  6. Paper routes. I delivered papers for a little while when I was 13 or so. It was a weird little paper that was ad-supported, but I was asked to ring doorbells and see if people would pay for it. Almost no one did, and it was enough of an embarrassment that I stopped after just a couple of months. (Thanks to Rick Kaumeier for this one.)
  7. Penny (or nickel) toddler rides in supermarkets. Usually by the front windows, usually a horse, though I’ve seen ones where the ride is a stubby little airplane or even a cowbow-style covered wagon. (Again, from Rick Kaumeier.)
  8. Card parties. (Yet again, from Rick Kaumeier.) My father had these now and then with his gang from work. They all smoked so much that the air was mostly unbreatheable on the first floor of our house. My mom slept upstairs with my sister and there were a lot of open windows for a couple of days.
  9. Ash trays. These used to be almost everywhere, because when I was a kid almost everyone smoked. There were even ash trays in my college classrooms, and a few students smoked. (Tthankfully, only a few.) (Thanks to Jim Tubman for this one, which should have been obvious to me.)
  10. Cigars. The last time I saw anyone smoking a cigar it was a couple of people in my writers group in Colorado Springs, circa 2014. Tobacco kills. (It killed my father.) I think maybe we’re finally catching on.
  11. Mercury blood-pressure cuffs. And, for that matter, needle -gauge blood pressure cuffs. It’s all electronic now.
  12. White-wall car tires. I had totally forgotten about these, which were in decline even in the 1950s. (Thanks to reader TRX for the reminder.) It makes me wonder what people who restore classic cars do for white-walls.
  13. Newspaper vending machines. (Thanks to Rich Rostrom.) Not only the machines, but the papers themselves are getting scarce. Now I only see them at the customer service counter in supermarkets.
  14. Neighborhood mailboxes. (Again, thanks to Rich Rostrom.) We had one at the corner of our street, near Edison grade school. Now you only see them in high-traffic areas like in front of supermarkets.
  15. Balsa-wood model airplanes. (Thanks to Spencer Arnold.) We used to get balsa gliders for a quarter at Bud’s Hardware Store in the Sixties, and you could get a balsa plane with a prop and a rubber-band “engine” for 50c. My father built a lot of balsa planes when he was kid, and built a few when I was in grade school. These may still exist, but see the next item:
  16. Hobby shops. There was always one within reasonable biking distance when I was a kid. There was still one in Colorado Springs circa 2012, but that was the last time I saw one. They varied in emphasis; some sold stamp albums and sometimes stamps, others did not. Most sold model airplanes, and the .049 engines that I couldn’t afford. Craft stores absorbed some of that business. The bigger Ace Hardware stores still have small brass & aluminum sheet and tubing. Beyond that, most of the business has moved online.
  17. Reel-type power mowers. These were just like hand-pushed lawnmowers, but they had engines. My grandfather Harry Duntemann had one. Once the rotaries came in around the early 60s, the reel models quickly slipped away. My uncle gave me a rattle-trappy old one about 1966 and my friends and I made a bizarre go kart out of it.
  18. AM radio. (Thanks to Tom Byers.) As a teen in Chicago I listened to AM a lot, especially WLS and WCFL, the rock stations in their time. As rock got harder, I listened more to WIND, which played a gentler kind of music that I preferred. Of course, once I had an FM radio (college) I dropped AM and never looked back.
  19. DJ chatter. DJs were celebrities when I was a kid. They’re now an endangered species, especially those who did a sort of fast standup comedy between songs and commercials. Radio is heavily automated these days, and most announcements are prerecorded. Weather and traffic reports are mostly gone as well.
  20. Cable TV. (Thanks to Bill Beggs.) We still have cable, but internet-only. People are moving their TV viewing to streaming sites in droves. Carol and I don’t watch a lot of TV, with a smidge off the air, and rest from streaming sites.

There are a couple of things that I thought had vanished that are coming back. Whether this is a good thing or not is an open question:

  1. Bell-bottom pants. Yes, they’re coming back. I’m of seventeen minds about this.
  2. Big glasses. And I mean big, mid-late ‘80s big. I had those, and used to joke that my cheeks had 20-20 vision.
  3. Vinyl records. (Thanks to Don Doerres & Rich Rostrom.) The reasons I dumped vinyl were pragmatic: CDs did not wear out and you didn’t have to turn them over. Now Wal-Mart and Target have racks of vinyl. Wow.

There may be more, but 20 is a good round number. Maybe we’ll come up with enough to do a third installment.


  1. Bill Beggs says:

    A few more vanishing items to consider:

    – Hard shell briefcases – I can’t remember the last time I saw someone carrying one, even at airports.

    – Calculators (stand alone) – with Wolfram Alpha or your smart phone, calculators are rarely needed.

    – Slot Car Racing sets (either 1/32 or 1/24 scale) – one of my favorite hobbies from childhood.

    – Live Late night AM/FM Talk Radio – Long John Nebel, Larry King, Jim Bohannon, and many other notables are gone. The only show I’m still familiar with, and listen to, is Coast-to-Coast AM.

    – Stovetop Coffee Percolators – They are still sold, but personally, I don’t know anyone who uses one.

  2. Well, last night before bed I began another entry on LiveWriter, and #7 on the new list is pocket calculators. I still have two: One my ancient red-LED TI Programmer, the other a much later TI-30 SLR. I keep the TI Programmer for nostalgia’s sake, but I use the other calculator pretty regularly, because it does a lot of things my 4-banger desktop calculator doesn’t.

    Slot cars were still a thing when I left Chicago in 1979, and there was a storefront slot car track/store not even a mile away, on Devon in Park Ridge. The only one I know of now is Dad’s Slot Cars in Des Plaines, which is still in business, although only open on weekends. No sense being open when all the kids are in school, I guess, though I wonder if they have summer hours. Good catch, though; I hadn’t thought of that one.

    Hard-shell briefcases could only hold so much. Leather or faux leather briefcases can be stuffed pretty fat when necessary. I don’t think I’ve used a hard-shell briefcase since my Coriolis days.

    Percolators, wow. My folks made coffee in a beat-to-hell aluminum percolator that was probably older than me. Percolator coffee is strong, stronger than I like, so we use a K-machine or buy large coffees from McD’s and keep them in the fridge.

    My guess is that I can come up with another list of 20 without a whole lot of trouble.

    1. Tom Roderick says:

      My parents had a glass percolator most of their life. I had an electric metal one until in exploded on my one morning in the late 1970’s or maybe 1980. I would put in the water in it in the evening before going to bed and then FIRST thing in the morning would plug it in on the counter in my tiny kitchen so that when I finished with the bathroom routine I would have hot water ready. One morning when I went in to pour a cup of water for either instant coffee or tea I picked it up and tilted it and the Bakelite bottom blew up. I was not hurt, but wide awake after that. Latter inspection showed that water had collected in the bottom under the heating element and had become supper heated. when I tipped the thing to pour it hit the much hotter heating element and flashed to steam. I have not used a percolator since.

  3. Rich Dailey says:

    Geerling Engineering Channel on YouTube has some good info on the so-called demise of AM broadcasting. Ford was going to drop it from cars, but changed their mind. Tesla I think will make it an expensive option.
    Geerling on YouTube –

    1. With the rise of services like Sirius, is anybody still listening to broadcast AM or FM on car radios? I put together a list of Amazon-purchased tracks or CD rips on a thumb drive, and just run it on random.

      And the car is still a good place to listen to music. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a pocket radio in use. Those are also on my list of things that are slowly vanishing.

      1. JAD says:

        Yes most definitely. My 1990s Oldsmobile has an AM/FM radio cassette deck. I dont have any cassettes anymore so I listen to the radio. My wife’s 2000s Chevy has an AM/FM radio CD player, she doesn’t have any CDs but she always has the radio blaring.

      2. Bob Halloran says:

        with the rise of EVs and the accompanying EMI they choose to ignore, AM radio is likely to become even more of a niche market. In my area at least it’s a handful of stations doing talk radio of various stripes and religious programming.

        Add in Clear Channel’s accumulation/consolidation of music stations and as you say you might as well go to satellite broadcast or your own tracks on a thumbdrive (“digital mixtape”?)

  4. Alex says:

    Here in the UK, almost any pub that has a garden will have at least some ashtrays in them. I also still see the toddler rides in supermarkets from time to time. There are definitely not many of them, but they are most certainly not dead yet.

  5. Jason Kaczor says:

    Bell bottoms have returned at least once; they just “rebranded”… to “boot cut”.

    Myriad of pocket/scientific calculator models and brands – high schools in North America have pretty much standardized on only one model: TI 84 Plus Graphing Calculator.

    The TI 84+ is part of standardized textbooks and curriculum.

    As for AM radio – there are still long stretches of roads here in Canada that don’t even get AM signals, let alone FM. I have never subscribed to satellite radio because I object to it on principle from the “apples falling from the sky” metaphor. Instead, I load my phone up with audiobooks, podcasts and music for long drives/road trips.

    Things I have seen go or are going in my personal lifetime (50):
    – Rotary phones
    – “Party-lines” for rural telephones
    – Home telephone lines – our family has not had one since… 2008
    – Radios in general – AM/FM “boomboxes” or counter-top radios, everything is mostly just media speakers.
    – Physical media… 8-Tracks (those were on the way out when I was a kid), Cassettes, Floppy’s, Iomega Zip-drives, Sony MiniDisc, DVDs, Blu-Rays (Vinyl records are an exception – they are having an outrageous resurgence – especially in pricing… it’s ludicrous)
    – DVD/Blu-ray drives in laptop and desktop computers – USB key/thumb drives have been the norm for many years.
    – Standalone GPS units – almost everything is phone-based now (except for hiking/camping gear)
    – Walkie-talkies – even kids don’t seem to use these anymore.
    – Analog/digital “dumb” (or even “technical” like my 12-year-old Casio Pro-Trek) watches for people outside of “fashion” choices at the very high-end.

  6. Spencer Arnold says:

    Thanks for the shout-out, Jeff.

    One thing I notice that are on the way out are “clubs” that meet in the real world. My 2 brothers are war-gamers (WWII and other genres) and meet up with others frequently. One brother was “El Presidente” of his local club for a while (and had a cap made up with that printed on). But they seem to not be attracting younger people to keep going. Not gone but definitely waning.

  7. Rich Rostrom says:

    Spencer Arnold: In I believe the 1930s, Ogden Nash wrote of the prevalence of clubs: “As civilization onward reels/It’s clubs that grease the speeding wheels.”
    as late as the 1960s, some anthropologists regarded the fraternal club as the characteristic institution of Western society, comparable to caste in India and clan or family in China. E.g. Clan, caste, and club (1963) by Francis L. K. Hsu, sometime President of the American Anthropological Association.

    That was then. Nowadays, even the Masonic Order is withering to nothing; the old Masonic “temples” are being sold off for condo conversions. Dozens, if not hundreds of lesser groups are gone completely.

    As for hobby clubs, like wargaming, that has to do with the prevalence of the underlying activity. Tabletop wargaming has to compete with computer gaming.

    1. I think fraternal organizations like the Masons had their last stand in small towns and rural areas. The Odd Fellows, Elks, the Grange, and other second-tier clubs shuffled off the edge of the world even earlier. The Knights of Columns (a Catholic spin on fraternal organizations) still exists, as do the Shriners, who admittedly are part of the Masons.

      Part of the reason for clubs’ decline might be the fact that the Boy Scouts are in eclipse, and a lot of boys who enjoyed Scouts as kids grew up and joined the Elks or whatever to fill that gap in their lives. My father did well in Scouts in grade school and belonged to the American Legion when I was growing up. Just a theory, but it’s as good a theory as I can come up with.

  8. Rich Rostrom says:

    “10. Cigars.”

    Much diminished, but not gone. Fancy cigar parlors were a thing for a while, recently, I believe, and I still see cigars on sale in the tobacco section of the supermarket. (A single wall section behind the service desk.) The section is about half cigarettes and half cigars.

    Now what has really disappeared is pipes. I can’t remember the last time I saw anyone smoking a pipe.

    1. Well, I do remember the last time I saw someone smoking a pipe, and it was…me. In 1971, a friend of mine scored a nickel bag at work, and bought a cheap wooden pipe to smoke it in. Neither of us knew how to smoke, and the stuff wouldn’t stay lit in the bowl, so at best I consider it a cautionary experience and low comedy.

      But I’ll add pipes to the unfinished entry on LiveWriter. Thanks for remembering.

  9. Rich Rostrom says:

    More stuff that is going or gone:

    Thoroughbred horse racing – in severe decline; many famous tracks have closed down.

    Harness racing – all but gone, AFAICT.

    1. Weren’t the Bears in discussion to buy/rent Arlington Park racetrack? I never had the least interest in horse racing, so I wasn’t even aware that the phenomenon was going away.

      1. Rich Rostrom says:

        Arlington Park closed in 2021. The Bears bought the property this year, and demolition of the old grandstand started in June.

        I have very little interest in horse racing, but I do watch the Kentucky Derby. 2022 was fun – the winner was an 80-to-1 long shot that replaced a scratched entry on race morning.

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