Before Apple decided to release a new phone every year, Phil Kives was filling the world with a glorious, delirious, kaleidoscopic array of totally useless crap. Basically, he was a gadget man.
Kives, who died on Tuesday and was 87, started out as a fur trapper in Winnipeg, sold cookery door-to-door, and then founded K-Tel in the 60s—the makers of "As Seen on TV" gadgets that first beckoned from the soft glow of tube TVs, and then made their way onto the internet.
We see echoes of Kive's approach to commerce today. Just like his "Bionic Glue" (just regular glue), or the amazing "Brush-o-Matic" (just a regular lint brush), we tend to fetishize the old-made-new. Now we have cups that aren't just cups, they're amazing future cups that can tell us what we just poured in them. It's an idea that hasn't lost its appeal with age, and we continually celebrate it in the form of gadget blogs.
So, in memory of the ur-gadget salesman, here's another one.
Electro-Might Cordless Toothbrush
This might look like an electric death trap, but K-Tel assures us that it's 100 percent safe from shock, and the handle is "scientifically designed."
It's tough to say when this product was released (K-Tel's archive lists the generic date of 1999), but the price ($7.99), and the batteries used (Burgess, which you might remember from Back to the Future) indicate that it came from the 1960s. This is actually sort of impressive, since the first electric toothbrush made its way to the US in 1959.
We call this being an early adopter now.
Go Go Comb
Okay, this one might actually be an electric death trap.
Let's run this one down quickly: it's a comb made of "miracle no-stick Dupont Teflon," which at the time contained a chemical called C8 that The Intercept revealed as being extremely terrible for humans in a series of investigative reports last year. So, you take this hunk of essentially toxic material, heat it the fuck up, and run it through your hair.
Nice curls, though.
The Tape Selector
Ah, the perennial frustration of physical media when you are a deeply unorganized person such as myself—perfectly captured in an over-the-top infomercial "before" shot.
We've more or less solved this problem today with digital formats and interfaces that make flipping through albums as easy as flicking at a screen, but when your music collection is pressed onto hunks of plastic and tape, choosing what to listen to can seriously be a bit of a chore.
K-Tel saw this need and trotted out the "record selector" for, well, records, and the "tape selector" for cassettes. I actually kind of want this.
Luxury, style, sax solos.
This appears to be a straight-up rip off of the Sony Walkman but with some Aussie flare and double the size. God bless you, K-Tel.