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Clark County exhibit explores obsolete technology — past, present and future



Steve Marcus

Curator Malcolm Vuksich stands near a 1954 Martin Turbinator salon hair dryer, part of the “Obsolete Objects” exhibit at the Clark County Museum in Henderson, Tuesday, July 27, 2021.

The horn of a 1906 Edison standard phonograph is pointed toward the glass of a display case in a side gallery of the Clark County Museum. 

Surrounded by multicolored cylinder records, the phonograph is just one part of the museum’s “Obsolete Objects” exhibit, which opens Friday and runs until Feb. 14, 2022.

Attendees will stroll through classic items relating to agriculture, forestry and woodworking, shop tools, business and technology, recreation and leisure, household materials, and completing their tour with more recognizable items like the phonograph.

Exhibit curator Malcolm Vuksich hopes visitors identify with the presented items through their own memories as well as reflect on the objects in their lives that they view as essential. The 200 items in the exhibit were mostly donated to the museum, 1830 Boulder Highway in Henderson.

“We want them to see things that they’re familiar with, and then maybe wonder why we use something different now, and think about how the things they have today, in 20, 30 years, are going to be as obsolete as these things are right now,” Vuksich said. “What we have now is not the pinnacle. We’re going to move beyond that.”

We toured the exhibit, which costs $2 for adults and $1 for children. Here are some highlights:

The Sad Iron

Sitting among a variety of rusted-brown, and one vibrant blue, irons, the triangular shaped Sad Iron is one item in the “Obsolete Objects” exhibit that has a modern counterpart. While some gadgets in the exhibit were replaced by different, more advanced editions, others, like the Sad Iron, just received a technological upgrade.

The Sad Iron was an invention from Thomas Loring, who patented his design in 1860. The name is derived from an obsolete definition — 400 years ago, “said” meant heavy or compact, and 200 years after that, “said” became “sad.” 

Lawn chair

Similar to the Sad Iron, the deep-stamped, once high-gloss lawn chair on display isn’t totally obsolete. But instead of using stamp steel to make these chairs, businesses will opt for plastic resin because it is a newer, lighter and more portable material, Vuksich said.

The original designs for stamp steel chairs date to the mid-1930s, and dozens of companies manufactured them throughout the 1950s. Today, companies still produce retro-esque lawn chairs — in fact more than were being produced in the 1930s to the 1950s.


Along the right-hand wall of the gallery is a collection of rust-laden, worn-down saws. A notice next to the saws explains that iron in the exhibit may show signs of rust and corrosion. Wood in the exhibit may also have cracks, and plastic could appear deteriorated. Decay and decomposition are part of a natural breakdown process, the poster says, and an object’s physical condition helps the museum identify the history of the area. 

The saws are an example of items in the exhibit that are not in use anymore. They have instead been replaced by an electrical, more efficient counterpart. Shifting from an agrarian society to one that requires constant technological change has its advantages and disadvantages, Vuksich said.

“Sometimes saving time improves the yield or improves the ability to increase production, which means more benefit to society, even though we’re using fossil fuels,” he said.

Dictation technology

Voice recording technology of the 1930s, pre-electricity to early electricity, comprised the dictaphone, into which an operator would speak. The sound was recorded onto wax cylinders, placed into a transcribing machine that a typist would listen to and write out. 

This dictation technology is leaps and bounds from the simplicity of today’s available recording technology, though the machines were extracted from close to home. Two machines on display were likely used at the Clark County School District for secretarial or office use, Vuksich said, based on a tag that was found inside a nearby folder.

“Will your airpods or earbuds be in as good condition 90 years from now?” the poster on the dictation technology display case reads.

The Turbinator

The Turbinator — a 1954 object that Vuksich said he thought would be popular among visitors to the gallery — is a reflective silver hair dryer that had variable heating and cooling settings. The cast iron base allows it to swivel, and along with a reading light and adjustable pedestal height, the Turbinator became an early 1960s salon favorite.

“That Turbinator is out there!” reads a description card on the display case. “It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop … ever, until you are dried.” 

The telephone booth

Sitting to the left of the exhibit’s exit is a wooden telephone booth, housing a Western Electric model 202 series telephone, in use from 1930 to 1938, and Western Electric model 233 series 3-coin slot rotary payphone, circa 1950. The phone booth also has a yellowing June 1959 telephone directory for Las Vegas, also encompassing entries from Boulder City, Henderson and Moapa Valley. 

“The directory used to be three inches thick, and in 1959, it was one inch thick,” Vuksich said. “We can show the size of the community change just by the size of the support material that went with the objects too.”

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