Halogen bulb ban and the top 50 obsolete items of the UK home

Over the years, the household items we rely on day to day to make our houses a “home” have become obsolete. This is due to changing lifestyles and technology.

Professor Deborah Sugg Ryan

From September 1, 2018 the halogen bulb moves closer to joining this list as the next phase of EU regulation sees the banning of non-directional halogen lamps – otherwise known as the standard ‘pear or candle shaped bulbs’. For UK households, this marks a further step towards a greener lifestyle, significantly reducing energy consumption – and brings another common home item of today a step closer to extinction.

In partnership with Deborah Sugg Ryan, Professor of Design History and Theory at the University of Portsmouth, Signify (formerly Philips Lighting) takes a walk down memory lane to curate the top 50 home items which have become obsolete over the last 60 years – in the same way the halogen bulb soon will.

Showing family holiday pictures on a slide projector, awaiting the opening of the service hatch at dinner time and listening to your Walkman are now activities of the past – snapshots in time which have since been replaced as a result of technology and societal changes.

The Top 50 Obsolete Items of the UK Home

ENTRANCE HALL

  1. Incandescent bulb
  2. Rotary dial telephone
  3. Answering machine
  4. Telephone table
  5. Yellow Pages
  6. Donkey stone

LIVING ROOM

  1. Vinyl record player
  2. Radiogram
  3. Cassette tape/player
  4. VCR
  5. Cathode ray tube T.V.
  6. Slide projector + slides
  7. Photograph album
  8. Cartridge games consoles
  9. Carpet sweeper
  10. Electric bar fire

DINING ROOM /KITCHEN

  1. Service hatch
  2. Hostess trolley
  3. Kitchen cabinet
  4. Household Wants Indicator
  5. Solid fuel cooking range
  6. Meat safe
  7. Copper
  8. Washing dolly
  9. Washboard
  10. Mangle
  11. Twin tub
  12. Flat iron
  13. Laundry blue
  14. Washing up soap
  15. Rotary egg whisk
  16. Hourglass egg timer
  17. Pull-tab can
  18. Mouli food mill
  19. Balancing scales
  20. Gas powered iron

BEDROOM

  1. Compactum wardrobe
  2. Electric Teasmaid
  3. Ghetto blaster

OFFICE / ON THE MOVE

  1. Camcorder
  2. Gameboy
  3. Walkman
  4. Fax machine
  5. Flash cube
  6. Typewriter
  7. Floppy disk
  8. Dial-up modem
  9. Pager
  10. Personal digital assistant
  11. Daisy wheel printer

Entrance Hall

Rotary Dial Telephone

The rotary dial telephone is a curiosity to modern teenagers who have grown up with push button phones and mobile phones with touch screens. Vigilant parents commonly installed a lock on the dial to prevent teenagers from making long, expensive calls. When British Telecommunications was privatised in 1984, a new range of phones became available for rental and outright sale and the rotary dial gradually became obsolete. Despite the obsolescence of the rotary dial and the two-piece handset, the phrases ‘dial a number’ and ‘hang up’ (meaning to replace the receiver on the base) persist today.

Telephone Table aka Gossip Bench

Typically, households only had one phone and it was kept on a shelf or table in the hall. This led to the development of the telephone table, which was most popular between the 1920s and ‘60s. The telephone table typically consisted of a single piece of furniture comprising a seat, next to which was a shelf to store the telephone, and storage underneath for telephone directories and the Yellow Pages. Many households kept a money box on the shelf to pay for phone calls, or even an egg timer to remind users to keep calls short. Its decline started with the cordless handset.

Living room

Video Cassette Recorder aka VCR

Available from 1963, the VCR reached mass-market success in 1975, with most people renting rather than buying what was a very expensive piece of equipment. The VCR tape brought with it some drawbacks, included a limited length resulting in recordings being abruptly curtailed, it becoming worn out and copy protect technology. By the late 1980s, more than half of homes had a VCR. DVD players gained popularity in the 1980s and 1990s but video recording persisted, despite DVD recording becoming available, until digital video recorders became more widely available and affordable.

Photograph Album

Few of us now print photographs with high quality mobile cameras and social media now acting as a portal for our favourite snaps.

“Mine cannot be the only family with an eldest child, born in the late 1990s, having his early years recorded in a photo album and a youngest, born in the new millennium, recorded in a photo app on a computer,” said Professor Sugg Ryan.

35mm Slides and Projector

Available from 1936 for still cameras, 35 mm slides were popular with amateur photographers because of the cost of printing photos and the deterioration of colour prints, which tended to discolour and fade. Setting up a slide show was a ritual; slides had to be loaded correctly into the slide tray, upside down and backwards. Worse still, the projector’s bulb needed to be replaced frequently, and slide projectors were prone to jamming, overheating and even combusting. The 35mm slide started to fall out of favour in the 1970s when printing costs decreased and print quality improved, and was eventually made obsolete by digital photography in the 1990s, to the relief of those who dreaded the invitation from their neighbours: “would you like to come around and see my holiday slides?”

Dining room

Serving Hatch

In the 1920s, serving hatches built into the wall between the kitchen and dining room became popular, continuing to be installed or retrofitted into the 1970s. Some were simple constructions: literally a hole in the wall framed with wood with double opening doors. Others could be purchased as readymade hatches made of metal with a pull-out shelf. The serving hatch was a solution to the decline in domestic servants and the emergence of the idea of the ‘professional’ housewife who presided over a compact kitchen full of labour-saving devices. As open plan kitchens became popular and dining rooms fell out of favour, the serving hatch became obsolete. It now conjures up a quaint vision of retro femininity.

Carpet Sweeper

One of the most popular non-electrical labour-saving devices was the mechanical Ewbank carpet sweeper, which first went on sale in Britain in 1889. The carpet sweeper consists of a small box, the base of which has rollers and brushes connected by a belt or gears. Carpet sweepers were particularly useful for the dining room, as the 1935 Housewife’s Book said: ‘these handy little labour-savers should be used for a few minutes after every meal or wherever crumbs or litter make an appearance’. They remained popular into the 1970s, being produced in enamelled metal in bright colours.

“Although the vacuum cleaner has made them obsolete perhaps they should be due for a revival as a zero-energy appliance,” suggested Professor Sugg Ryan.

Kitchen

Laundry Copper and Mangle

Until the 1960s, laundry was of the most arduous domestic tasks for most women who typically did it on a Monday, taking the whole day. Laundry was done in a copper, usually situated in the kitchen, either a large, built-in tub with space underneath to light a fire, or free-standing and powered by gas or electricity to heat the water. Whites were scrubbed against a washboard and then boiled in the copper, stirred and agitated by hand with a stick called a dolly. The steaming clothes were then hauled out of the copper with a long pole or tongs, which could be a dangerous process. Next came rinsing and wringing by hand or with a mangle, which was very hard work. The copper was superseded by the twin tub in the 1960s, with automatic washing machines, arguably the most liberating of domestic appliances, becoming dominant in the 1970s.

‘Easiwork’ Dresser or Kitchen Cabinet

By the mid-1920s most furniture retailers sold at least one style of kitchen cabinet, which was available in a wide range of sizes, prices and specifications. They took the form of a single free-standing cupboard with multiple doors and drawers. They usually incorporated a flour sifter, flour bin, metal-lined bread drawer, rolling pin, shopping or ‘household wants’ indicator, bin for sugar and storage jars. There was a sliding or fold-down worktop for food preparation and also a meat safe; larger ones even included built-in ironing boards. Fitted kitchens took much longer to catch on in Britain and were not commonly found in more modest homes until the early 1960s. This kitchen in a cupboard is perhaps due a revival in contemporary compact urban kitchens.

Household Wants Indicator

The ‘household wants’ or shopping indicator was a list of household goods such as food and cleaning products printed on a tin or wooden plaque. Beside each item was a small, coloured tab that was flipped over as the household ran short of a commodity to enable a shopping list to be easily compiled either by the housewife or perhaps her cook. A present-day equivalent would be a shopping list app on a mobile phone, with one such app even imitating the original Household Wants indicator but with an updated list of items for 2018.

Bedroom

Electric Teasmaid

A gas powered ‘automatic tea-making apparatus’ was patented by Samuel Rowbottom in 1891. Intended to be used at the bedside to brew an early morning cuppa, it included an analogue alarm clock, which triggered the mechanism to boil the water, using the steam to force the water down a tube into a teapot. Electric powered versions became available in the 1930s, with some even including a lamp. In the 1970s the teasmade reached iconic status; it was estimated that 2 million households had one. In 2010, it was resurrected with ‘white retro’ and ‘cream vintage’ versions, as well as a modernistic one with an illuminated LCD clock with an analogue face.

Ghettoblaster aka Boombox

The ghettoblaster or boombox was a fixture of many teenage bedrooms in the 1970s and ‘80s but it was also portable. It consisted of an AM/FM radio receiver and one or two audio cassette tape player/recorders, with sound delivered through a built-in amplifier and two or more loudspeakers. It was often carried on one shoulder rather than by the handle, for practical reasons but also as a status symbol. The decline of audio cassettes and the rise of audio CDs led to the decline of the boombox, along with MP3 players and smart phones. The rise of the Walkman replaced the boombox in the streets. In teenage bedrooms, the boombox has been replaced by Bluetooth enabled docks and speakers.

Home office

Personal Digital Assistant aka PDA

The personal digital assistant was the forerunner of the smart phone. The first was the Psion organizer, introduced in 1984, which became a highly aspirational object. It was a small, handheld device personal computer originally intended for business use but which also found a place in the home, providing computing facilities to take notes, make a to-do list, a calculator, an address book and an appointment calendar. PDAs were eventually made obsolete in the early 2010s by smartphones. The term ‘personal digital assistant’ has now been recycled by the technology industry and is used to refer to voice recognition software with artificial intelligence that can respond to questions.

Out and about

Flashcube

Before the advent of the flashcube, photographers used flashbulbs for artificial lighting. Bulbs could only be used once and were too hot to handle immediately after they were used. Flashcubes were developed by Kodak for their popular series of Instamatic cameras in the 1960s. The flashcube was small, portable and convenient. It brought flash photography to the masses, and amateur photography into the home and other interior locations. The flashcube was superseded by the magicube or x-cube, which used a mechanical charge, which was, in turn, made obsolete by the electronic flash gun and built-in flashes when they became more affordable. LED flashes are now built into camera phones.

Portable audio cassette player (Walkman)

The original Walkman portable audio cassette player was introduced in the UK in 1980 and changed the way that people listened to music. For teenagers, it replaced the large boombox. The lightweight and compact Walkman could be use whilst walking, travelling or jogging. By the late 1990s the cassette tape version was superseded by new digital technologies of CD, DAT, MinicDisc and MP3s. Apple introduced the iPod in 2001 but from 2017 has no longer been producing dedicated MP3 players. Like the PDA, the portable music player has been superseded by the smartphone. However, the ‘Walkman effect’ lives on with the smart phone, which has also been blamed for detachment, isolation, rude behaviour and narcissism.

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