Gadgetry v1.3

A functional and fictional device.

About Colophon Data Decades Graphics

Forms of Gadgetry, 1900-1980

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Somewhere around 1955, users of technology in America began to think more about the entirety of their tools than they thought about the parts and components of their tools.

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parts, wholes, and types of tools


A tool rigged together on the fly, made from available materials lying around. A prototype or stopgap.


An add-on, modification, accessory, or component to an existing tool, vehicle, or activity like photography or fishing. Especially a gauge that displays system status.


A lever or control mechanism used to operate a tool or system.


A fully engineered, self-contained device or multitool, typically small, compact, utilitarian, and more often than not, inexpensive. Hand-powered and mechanical.


An electronic instrument or system, a piece of media technology that remains fixed in place, like a stereo or answering machine.


A self-contained, portable, and hand-held electronic device such as a transistor radio or smartphone.

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ideas about technology


An overwrought tool that ends up complicating the very task it's designed for. Seen as ridiculous by everyone but their user, for whom it fulfills a need they never knew they had.


A fantastic or imaginary tool. An idea for an invention whose material prerequisites aren't yet available.


Various kinds of trivialities. A novelty item, gag gift, gimmick, magic trick, or toy. Embodied in the French phrase c'est du gadget for concepts that are gimmicky or just for fun.


Names the means or technique of solving a problem rather than the tool employed. Can also be a non-material idea or concept, or a material demonstration of a scientific concept.

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communities of practice

"Like all Americans, we seem too anxious to buy gadgets and conveniences that we should do without. All too many of the oppressed of the earth use such conveniences as opiates. A group of people that are always the last hired, the first fired, and are always relegated to the least desirable jobs, should be careful how they spend their money when they get it."
–Laureen White, Arkansas State Press, May 15, 1953

"…electric fans, refrigerators and washing machines, vacuum cleaners and gramophones. The new gadgets may be highly valued in themselves for the increased comfort or convenience which they bring, or for their effect in reducing household drudgery and saving time."
–Ronald Philip Dore, City Life in Japan (1958)

"Women request mechanical gadgets that they can operate with a minimum of effort. And today's car has been so tailored to the woman's tastes that the automobile has taken on a whole new group of functions that men alone would not have dared to demand for themselves with such conveniences as power steering, power brakes, seating adjustments and electric window lifts."
The Plain Dealer, Sept 10, 1954

"Because she hated to hear her favorite surgeon grumble, Registered Nurse Meloneze Robinson became an inventor. “Why,” asked Dr. Asa Yancey, each time he was to perform an amputation, “doesn’t someone devise a simple method to keep the patient’s limb immobile during the operation?” At her post at the Tuskegee Veterans Administration hospital, Nurse Robinson devised the first amputation surgery limb support, shown above. Dr. Yancey was the first to use the gadget after it was patented after two years work, $800 and tons of anxiety."
Los Angeles Tribune, Jan 15, 1960

"We made a wooden platform for the tents to keep their floors dry and hold the tents straight -- the stakes had not held in the wet ground. Down at the river we made a trap that funneled fish into a wire cage, and from a simple roof and frame and some of the mosquito netting we built a mosquito-proof gazebo where we could congregate. These were gadgets, not inventions, but they made life more comfortable, and within very few days I could see the skeleton of a settlement in Jeronimo."
–Paul Theroux, Mosquito Coast (1981)