Charles and Ray Eame’s famous chair design is still in production more than 50 years after its launch. This was pointed out nicely by Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey’s superb new documentary film ‘Eames the Architect and the Painter’. Few products have lasted as well, either falling victims of digital replacements (cameras, TVs, recorded music players, radios, telephones etc.) or replaced by more efficent models. However there are a surprising number of everyday products around us that have been with us for longer than you might think.
To make the list it has to be a product (not part of one) and in production since at least 1962. So here is my top 10, still kicking at 50, products:
Product No 10: Russell Hobs Auto Kettle K2 (1952) replaced with K5 (c2008)
As innovation goes a kettle that turns itself off when its boiled is less than gripping but it’s a winner for the tea drinker and I had one for many years. I was gutted not to be able to find a replacement on my local high street the day my father in law put it on the gas ring. The replacement K5 deals with the modern 3 pin connector required for IEC compatibility otherwise it’s the same thing. The K5 is something of a rarity today, there seems to be a need for kettles that are ‘themed’ or ‘cool walled’ which has taken over the RH website. Still it’s out there: yours for £37.99 from Shopwiki.
Product No 9: Silva Compass Ranger Type 3 (1950)
A key tool for the orienteer the mag compass is taking a bashing from GPS and mobile phone aps. No batteries required. The baseplate design by Gunnar Tillander in 1928 got the compass working like an alidade on the map. By 1930 it was in production . The basiscs of the design are unchanged since 1950 when the liquid damping and perspex plate became standard features of the ‘Ranger’ model. I’m on my second one now having lost my ’70s one in the ‘deep litter filing’ system.
Product No 8: Cessna 172 ‘Skyhawk’ (1955)
Based on the same design principles as its ancient Lycoming O-235 engine (1942) and still in production. More Cessna 172s have been built than any other aircraft (43,000 units up to 2008 ) . The current 172’R’ model will set you back $274,900 and the top spec 180bhp 172 ‘S’ version $307,500. Between December 4, 1958 and February 7, 1959 one of these was flown non stop for 64 days 22 hours 19 min 05sec by Robert Timm and John Cook : an endurance record that still stands. They refueled by chasing a tanker down long straights in the Nevada desert and only gave up when the engine began to show serious signs of missing critical overhaul intervals.
The Cessna 172 is one of a handful of 50 year-old aircraft designs still in production: others are the Boeing Chinook (1962) and the Lockheed C130 Hercules (1954) the Boeing 737 (1968) is not in but long in the tooth none the less.
Product no 7: Honda Super Cub C100 (1958)Honda began making the Super Cub C100 in August of 1958, a 49cc, 4.5 hp single cylinder 4 stroke and the rest is motorcycle history. 60 million have been made. In 1961 production began in Taiwan, the first location outside of Japan and currently it’s being produced in 16 plants in 15 countries. It is not currently available in the UK. I can’t ignore the stats, its ugly as sin but clearly it works..and how!
A 50 year production run is not unheard of in automotive (VW Beetle, Landrover ) but very few models remain in production from 1962 to date. The current Porsche 911 (1963- just out of the 50 year deadline) is in fact design number 991 and has very little of the 1963 original in it – it’s not even air cooled anymore. The type approval for motor vehicles has raised the bar for engine efficiency, crash survival etc beyond the life of most machines brought into manufacture before 1962.
Product No 6: Stanley Green thermos (1953).
I have had one for years, the chrome has pitted, the hammerite has scratched but it still works a treat.All the data you could possibly want to know is stamped into the steel base plate; including instructions on storage and use, date of manufacture (1992) part numbers of all spares and the location of manufacture: Nashville TN. Now that’s product documentation! I think you can get a cup of coffee out of it by just adding boiling water now.
Product No 5: Campagnolo derailleur gear changer (1937)Campag lead by reputation and the derailleur design is unlikely to be replaced anytime soon. Yes it has its problems but if properly looked after it turns a bike from a challenge to a joy. I can tug along a bike loaded with gear and know I’m able to shift it thanks to the derailleur.
Product No 4: Trangia camping stove. (1925)
This thing is a marvel, it will make a cup of tea anywhere and we have hammered it over the years on the highways and cycle tracks of Europe with variations on Spaghetti Bolognese (Spag Bog). Get 2 of them and you can feed a family of 4. Boils quick, uses meths and won’t blow out. Only problem I have ever had with it is contamination of the cooking pans with fuel..not nice at all.
Product No3: KitKat (1935)
Various food and drink brands including Marmite, Bovril, Bisto, Guinness to name but a few, have been around for years: they don’t seem to be prone to obsolescence, format failure, or user fatigue in the way many products are. Mind you some disappear inexplicably; Double Diamond anyone?
Product No 2: The universal Swiss pattern tribrach (1921)One for the nerds really but I can’t do my job without it and it’s the winner of the war of the tribrachs in the ‘70s. All survey instruments have to fit this. Even scanners. Hienrich Wild knew the value of both compactness and durability in instrument design, much has changed since 1921 but levelling and transferring precise measurement devices in the field whilst maintaining a common height of collimation has not. He fixed that.
Product No 1: Fender Telecaster (1949/50)
Leo Fender got it right first time: the ‘plank’ is as modern as you like and fits into any scene you fancy; blues , soul, country, swing, rock, punk… Designed almost entirely around tool handling for mass production (the body curves are all fitted to the 3/4inch router diameter). It is balanced, simple and despite the electronics being from the valve age its magnet and wire magic work amazingly well.
So there we are: 10 products half a century and more into their production life.
I have not included my trousers ( Levi SF 501, 1873) :
or my shoes (Dr Marten ‘AirWair’ 1960) as I’m trying to avoid the trap of confusing brands with products here. The Thonet Nr14 ‘Cafe’ chair (1859) Rexel stapler (1941), Parker ‘Arrow clip’ pen (1955), Bic Biro (1950), Zippo lighter (1933), Swiss Army Knife (1890),Zip fastener (1913), ‘Gem’ Paperclip (1894), the Kalshnikov AK 47 (1949, superceded in 1959 by the AKM), Fender twin reverb amp (1958) Landrover Series II (1958) the Hoover Junior (1958), T G Green ‘Cornish’ ware (1924) are all contenders too.
GMs magnificent EMD 645 2 stroke locomotive engine (1965, derived from a 1947 template) but they are too young.
In looking at the vintage of space hardware I did find out that the US Navy satellite Vanguaurd 1 is still in a healthy orbit since launch on March 17th 1958 and completed 229,000 orbits as of April 1, 2012 but sadly not functional after 1964. It is expected to continue in orbit for a further 240 years. Not bad for children of the ’50s!