10 Already Obsolete Things Included in the 5000-Year Westinghouse Time Capsule


Austin Hall, Flickr

The site of the 1939 World’s Fair is home to a time capsule that was put in the ground in 1938 and is due to be unearthed and opened in the year 6939. The “Immortal Well” that houses the capsule is located in the Westinghouse Pavilion of the fairgrounds in Queens, New York, and remains untouched to this day. More than 100 items were placed in the box, and though only 75 years have gone by, many of those objects are now obsolete, giving us an intriguing look at how quickly we outgrow our common possessions.

1. Keuffel & Esser Slide Rule

Think of it as a paper TI83. A slide rule was an analog computer that assisted aviators, bankers, and the like with complex mathematics and logarithmic problem solving. Electronic computers have since phased this tool out.

2. Artificial Leather Asbestos Shingle (furnished by Johns-Manville)

Before the 1980s, there was little known about the carcinogenic dangers of asbestos. Asbestos was a common additive used to make materials fire retardant, and it was so popular that capsule organizers included it.

3. Transite

As if the shingle wasn’t enough, Transite—which consisted of cement and asbestos—was also included. Transite is another fire-proofing material found in construction. It's still made today, minus the asbestos.

4. An Essay in Micro-Film

According to the World's Fair website, this essay was comprised of

books, speeches, excerpts from books and encyclopedias, pictures, critiques, reports, circulars, timetables and other printed or written matter; the whole producing in logical order a description of our time, our arts, sciences, techniques, sources of information and industries. The essay, divided into fifteen sub-sections, contains the equivalent of more than 100 ordinary books; a total of more than 22,000 pages, more than 10,000,000 words and 1000 pictures.

5. A Micro-Film Reader (or the instructions to make one)

While it is not agreed upon that the item ever made it into the capsule, instructions on how to make one were included.

6. Dr. West's Tooth Powder

Toothpaste’s gritty, non-hydrated cousin, tooth powder was the dentifrice of choice in the 1930s. This abrasive, chalky powder was sprinkled over the toothbrush and left the mouth feeling fresh, clean, and probably a little dry.

7. Boy’s Toy - A Mechanical, Spring Propelled Automobile

OK, we still have toy cars. That said, you would be hard-pressed to find a 6-year-old pushing around a ride like this one. Tin wind-up toys, this one rumored to be a Marx Toys “Tricky Taxi,” were a mix of intricate gears, a strong metal body, and artisanal paint jobs. Wind-up toys eventually fell victim to the battery and miniature motors.

8. Kodak Bantam Camera

35MM film cameras feel like ancient history when just about all your devices come equipped with a double-digit megapixel digital camera inside them.

9. Handset Type - Capital and Lowercase Alphabets of Goudy Village No. 2 type, 14 point

Think about the lost art of handsetting each individual letter onto the page. Again, some artisanal handset typists exist, but the art has been cast aside with the advent of the typewriter and now computer.

10. Linotype - 8 point Caslon 13 em slug set on standard Linotype in the shop of the Tuckahoe Record, Tuckahoe, N.Y.

The line reads: "This type set by Machine." Linotype machines allowed typesetters to work in full lines rather than in individual letters. Typists keyed in lines to be printed and the machine created a metal slug of the complete line. This was then set to be printed in great quantities. This revolutionized the speed and accuracy of typesetting making it possible for magazines and newspapers to handle much more volume.

All images courtesy of 1939worldsfair.com