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10 Amazing Old Things That Still Work! posted by quin (80 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
11. MetaFilter
posted by Wolfdog at 7:02 AM on March 26, 2012 [11 favorites]


Its a bit of an odd list. Why suddenly include a hotel?

I thought it would include things like the Mechanical Swan from 1773.
posted by vacapinta at 7:04 AM on March 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


Also, the Salisbury Cathedral clock dates from the 1300's.
posted by vacapinta at 7:06 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Still sucking after 108 years, Harry Cox owns the oldest known working vacuum.

I...what
posted by jquinby at 7:06 AM on March 26, 2012 [46 favorites]


Like vacapinta, I was expecting something along the lines of the Jaquet-Droz automata.
posted by thomas j wise at 7:08 AM on March 26, 2012


12) The fossil in the cube next to me who won't shut up about the 1960s.
posted by bondcliff at 7:08 AM on March 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


As EU rules deny householders the right to use traditional filament bulbs, the so-called 'Centennial Light' has been on almost constantly since 1901. It holds pride of place in Fire Station 6, in Livermore, northern California.

This is not even wrong. I don't understand.
posted by Scientist at 7:09 AM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also, w.r.t. the fridge: It has never needed repairs, apart from the occasional replacement part.

This is a cool article but rather weirdly written. Also, if you have a 77-year-old fridge it's likely that you would save quite a bit of money and energy by upgrading to a newer, more efficient model.
posted by Scientist at 7:12 AM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I used an IBM Selectric typewriter recently at a trade show. Humma humma. Unfortunately it backfired for the vendors, since it made the keyboards they were hawking feel mushy and cheap by comparison to the Selectric's triumphant clicks.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:13 AM on March 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


Yes, fantastic objects, but poor grasp of sentence structure:

Dangling above the fire engines, people come for hundreds and thousands of miles to see the diminutive symbol.

Really?
posted by Bummus at 7:13 AM on March 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


As EU rules deny householders the right to use traditional filament bulbs,

Well it denies the "right" of businesses to sell them, but then businesses don't have rights. Do they?

Also, if by "traditional" you mean "energy wasting", then yes, they're something like eight times more traditional than current light bulbs.
posted by Jehan at 7:15 AM on March 26, 2012 [11 favorites]


Unfortunately it backfired for the vendors, since it made the keyboards they were hawking feel mushy and cheap by comparison to the Selectric's triumphant clicks.

Model M 4 Life! Listen to the clip on that page.
posted by jquinby at 7:16 AM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


The EU denies the right to sell them, but not to use them, so it's wrong. But the next sentence says that it's constantly in use anyway, so that's irrelevant. Plus it's in California, which last I checked is not part of the EU, so it's double-irrelevant.
posted by Scientist at 7:19 AM on March 26, 2012


13) Symbolics.Com
(well, it doesn't really do much, but it is still there)
posted by lampshade at 7:26 AM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


The longest running science experiments:

The Oxford Bell (1840)

The Beverly Clock (1864)

The Pitch Drop ( 1927 --- see it live).

Laboratory of Adult Development, which wants to answer the question, What Makes Us Happy? (1939)

The Strange fate of Henrietta Lacks: the HeLa cell line (1951)

The E. coli Long-term Experimental Evolution (1988, but 50,000 generations!)

The Human Speechome Project (Wired) (2006)
posted by bonehead at 7:27 AM on March 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


In Japans Ikeda Memorial Hall sits the FACOM 128B that was built in 1958 and still works today! It has gone through some small upgrades over the years to keep it running, but still has the same core system. The FACOM occupies 700 feet of floor space and has less calculating power than a real calculator. The company's goal is to keep it running until the year 2016 when it will have reached its 60th year of operation.

The kind of calculator that might, say, be able to furnish the answer to "1958+60"?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:29 AM on March 26, 2012 [23 favorites]


This is not even wrong. I don't understand.

She's saying "I am a conservative."
posted by dirigibleman at 7:29 AM on March 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


The design of that traffic light is fantastically ace. I want to draw it, inexplicably.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 7:30 AM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I fully expect that traffic light to start hovering about and blasting bystanders with its death ray any minute now.
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 at 7:31 AM on March 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


This is a wodge of half-true, poorly considered inane drivel scraped together by the millionth monkey almost entirely without conscious thought except to note that it meets word count and deadline requirements to fill the vacant minds of the tongue-lolling time-wasting masses who require nothing more from their daily content except that the words be strung together in a somewhat novel way.

Linking to it merely encourages more of it to be made.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:31 AM on March 26, 2012 [19 favorites]


Needs more Stradivari.
posted by RakDaddy at 7:33 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Has this just been lifted wholesale from a Daily Mail article?
posted by howfar at 7:37 AM on March 26, 2012


Nonsense, seanmpuckett. It allows us to sharpen our wits and backpat ourselves the same. It serves two important functions!

(Got mine out of the way...)
posted by IAmBroom at 7:38 AM on March 26, 2012


The kind of calculator that might, say, be able to furnish the answer to "1958+60"?

Nice try! But being built is not the same thing as operating.
posted by JHarris at 7:38 AM on March 26, 2012


11. Stonehenge
posted by shakespeherian at 7:43 AM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


The kind of calculator that might, say, be able to furnish the answer to "1958+60"?

Nice try! But being built is not the same thing as operating.


Something is wrong either way. They say it will have been in operation for 60 years as of 2016 which, by my math, means it started running in 1956, two years before it was built. That's one hell of a machine.
posted by VTX at 7:47 AM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wait, back to the fridge again: It has never needed repairs, apart from the occasional replacement part.

What on earth do they define as "need repair" than? That isn't weirdly written, that is nonsense.
posted by Bovine Love at 7:51 AM on March 26, 2012


They say it will have been in operation for 60 years as of 2016 which, by my math, means it started running in 1956, two years before it was built.

I wonder how many machines that will not be built until 2014 are operating as we speak.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:54 AM on March 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


I have had my computer since 1994. It still works. I've replaced every part several times, but it's still the same computer.
posted by Splunge at 7:57 AM on March 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


11. Stonehenge

No, they had to take it off the list in the 1980s after it had been crushed by dwarves.
posted by jonp72 at 7:57 AM on March 26, 2012 [10 favorites]


While Saudi Arabia lowers protein requirements for imported wheat and eliminates a zero tolerance for the crop fungus Ergot, clearing the way for Australia to participate in tenders, the so-called 'Centennial Light' has been on almost constantly since 1901. It holds pride of place in Fire Station 6, in Livermore, northern California.

See? It works with damn near anything.
posted by Naberius at 7:58 AM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


So 1909 is the world's oldest cinema, eh? Well, our local theater isn't much younger, and it continues to show outstanding films.
posted by kinnakeet at 7:58 AM on March 26, 2012


In 2009 the EU (along with Switzerland & Australia) joined Brazil & Venezuela (2005) in phasing out incandescent bulbs. Argentina, Russia & Canada are planning to phase out this year and the USA & Malaysia in 2014.

More on Wikipedia.
posted by i_cola at 8:07 AM on March 26, 2012


i_cola, from the Wikipedia article: The sale of the most inefficient bulbs will be phased out.

Banning sale is not even close to "deny householders the right to use traditional filament bulbs". Its not like you suddenly have to go through your house taking down your light bulbs.
posted by Bovine Love at 8:12 AM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


*checks pants*
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:13 AM on March 26, 2012


VTX, um, that's true, heh.
posted by JHarris at 8:13 AM on March 26, 2012


My watch! Happy 29 o'clock!
posted by clvrmnky at 8:15 AM on March 26, 2012


I got a tour of the NY Fed's gold vault the other day and they have a super cool scale built in the 20s which can go from .0001 oz to 800 pounds. Only one guy in the US can calibrate it and he has to fly in twice a year to make sure it still in good shape.
posted by shothotbot at 8:16 AM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


There are other worthy items that belong on this list.

USS Pampanito submarine, built in 1943 and still afloat as a museum. This submarine is particularly notable because it contains a recently restored Torpedo Data Computer in fully operational condition, which as far as I know makes it the world's oldest operational (analog) computer.

The Harwell Dekatron Computer. Also known as the WITCH, it became operational in 1951. Currently under restoration, major components of the WITCH are now operational and able to compute.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:16 AM on March 26, 2012


I love that people feel the need to nitpick social media link-bait.
posted by aught at 8:22 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Trouble with Byron’s he’s an old, old soul, trapped inside the glass prison of a Baby Bulb. He hates this place lying on his back waiting to get manufactured, nothing to listen to on the speakers but Charleston music, now and then an address to the Nation, what kind of set-up’s that? Byron wants to get out of here and into it, needless to say he’s been developing all kinds of nervous ailments, Baby Bulb Diaper Rash, which is a sort of corrosion on his screw threads, Bulb Baby Colic, a tight spasm of high resistance someplace among the deep loops of tungsten wire, Bulb Baby Hyperventilation, where it actually feels like his vacuum’s been broken though there is no organic basis…
posted by chavenet at 8:22 AM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have a Sony clock radio that has been running continuously since 1964 — 48 years. The clock dial is lit by a red LED that's still glowing. From what I can find, red LEDs were first introduced around that time, so this is one of the earliest in continuous use — around 420,000 hours so far.
posted by beagle at 8:25 AM on March 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


Oh and, the USS Constitution, oldest warship afloat, launched 1797.
posted by beagle at 8:27 AM on March 26, 2012


The abacus (in one form or another) has been around since like 2700 BC. Still used every day in a lot of Asian stores.
posted by elendil71 at 8:29 AM on March 26, 2012


Metafilter: A wodge of half-true, poorly considered inane drivel scraped together by the millionth monkey almost entirely without conscious thought.
posted by Reverend John at 8:31 AM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't see my name on that list. Hmph. Overlooked again.
posted by Decani at 8:35 AM on March 26, 2012


When I bought my first house, it came with a 50 year-old oil burning furnace that was about the size of a telephone booth. It had been religiously serviced every year since 1946 and worked like a champ, if a little inefficiently.

For the first two years in that house, I could hear it firing up in the basement no matter where I was--it sounded like a rocket engine with its WHOOOOMP-WHOOSH. I thought the house was ready to lift off the first few times I heard it.

After one too many expensive winters, I gave in and replaced it with an ultra-efficient natural gas burner that cut my bills by 2/3. It also made no noise whatsoever when it started heating the radiator steam.

As much as I enjoyed saving money, I missed the rocket blast sound of my house warming up; that's what really felt like winter to me.
posted by yellowcandy at 8:40 AM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Bovine Love writes "What on earth do they define as 'need repair' than? That isn't weirdly written, that is nonsense."

It is weird and assuming the person isn't just oblivious maybe they mean "parts" like the light bulb and door gasket but not the hermetic system. The cold control (thermostat) IMO would be right on the fence between merely a part and the head of the axe.

Those are interesting little fridges. The curved top is porcelain and lifts off revealing a storage area. I've got one a couple years newer with sadly a cheaper flat stamped metal top that I need to convert to newer cooling system (compressor is defective on mine).
posted by Mitheral at 8:44 AM on March 26, 2012


After one too many expensive winters, I gave in and replaced it with an ultra-efficient natural gas burner that cut my bills by 2/3. It also made no noise whatsoever when it started heating the radiator steam.

We replaced a 1946 vintage boiler two years ago and got similar savings. This year the igniter and the water pump both failed after a whole 24 months of operation when the previous one had lasted 60+ years. I pointed this out to the repair guy and he just rolled his eyes and said that the new stuff is made out of nothing. We got the fixes done under warranty but it's still annoying.
posted by octothorpe at 8:58 AM on March 26, 2012


I fully expect that traffic light to start hovering about and blasting bystanders with its death ray any minute now.

Not to worry, Jon Pertwee would zoom into town in the Whomobile and save us.
posted by straight at 9:07 AM on March 26, 2012


This year the igniter and the water pump both failed after a whole 24 months of operation when the previous one had lasted 60+ years. I pointed this out to the repair guy and he just rolled his eyes and said that the new stuff is made out of nothing.

Yah, yah, they don't make stuff like they used to.

Well, for starters, that large energy savings comes at the cost of complexity. Complexity introduces new sources of failure. If the savings/advantages of the complexity outweigh the cost, then you have a win; it means it may not be made like it used to be, because now it is made better.

But I believe a big factor in these situations is selection: The only people who still have 60 yrs old boilers which are running are those who got the very best of the best samples/models. There are millions of boilers which were replaced because they are crap. Yours was not one of those; you had a proven reliable one. Your new one has not gone through that selection process.
posted by Bovine Love at 9:15 AM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm sure all my old, right-wing crazy relatives will be forwarding this to me real soon.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:34 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is amazing to see how things have changed in only a century from these pictures. I wonder what was the first website to go live?
posted by designvibe at 9:36 AM on March 26, 2012


73. William Shatner
posted by unSane at 9:41 AM on March 26, 2012


74. Betty White
posted by unSane at 9:41 AM on March 26, 2012


All snark aside, I actually really enjoy stuff like this. I think my personal favorite old-but-still-working machine (that I've actually used, anyway) was a bandsaw that I had the pleasure of using when I worked for a wooden shipbuilder back in '02/'03. It was a large tool, about 8' tall with a table about 3' square and maybe a 1" wide blade, and it had been built sometime back in the 1920's. Certain components (the wheels that the blade ran over) had clearly been built by someone who got their start making wagon wheels, and the electric motor bore the name of a local Massachusetts factory, no doubt long since defunct.

When I was there it was in use several times daily and functioned absolutely flawlessly, having been regularly maintained by generations of faithful machinists and woodworkers. I fully expect that were I to return it would still be there, still cutting up huge slabs of wood for ships. The people at the shipyard considered it something of a treasure, being well aware of the value of a machine tool that has performed reliably for 80+ years.

It's essentially irreplaceable -- a comparable machine would cost thousands of dollars, be made partly of plastic (which I have taken to calling "future garbage") and be constructed of parts which were carefully designed to be just strong enough to do their tasks rather than "wastefully" overengineered so as to last long past their intended lifespans. Sometimes the old saw is true: they just don't make 'em like they used to anymore.
posted by Scientist at 9:46 AM on March 26, 2012


Yah, yah, they don't make stuff like they used to.

The Clock of the Long Now, a vanity project of Jeff Bezos, to make a clock that will last 10,000 years.
posted by bonehead at 9:46 AM on March 26, 2012


Needs more Stradivari.

Organs should be in there too somewhere.

World's oldest playable organ is assumed to be situated in the Cathedral of Valère above Sion/Sitten in Wallis/Switzerland. Built around 1430, three of its original registers, Superoctave 2', Quint minor 1 ⅔' and Mixture 1' have been preserved originally

Also, because it's so neat: ASLSP---As Slow As Possible started in 2003 and will last 639 years, because the organ was 639 at the time at the time of the start of the piece.
posted by bonehead at 9:51 AM on March 26, 2012


Oh and, the USS Constitution, oldest warship afloat, launched 1797.

Alas, I think that only ~10% of her wood is original to that time. :(
posted by Melismata at 9:51 AM on March 26, 2012


Since Harry Cox (oh, the sophomoric jokes that man must have endured in his youth) has been sucking for over 100 years (according to the syntax), he must suck with the strength of two men. I'd like to meet this person.
posted by Kokopuff at 9:57 AM on March 26, 2012


A 32-bit Windows password utility I've been using for 16 years without a hiccup.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:59 AM on March 26, 2012


If my antique and functional spinning wheel could talk, she would be like, "Over fifty years agooooooo. No, surely not, no! No one was alive then!"
posted by clavicle at 10:05 AM on March 26, 2012


What about the Metropolitan Line? And they still use steam engines...
posted by gwildar at 10:18 AM on March 26, 2012


Scientist: " Also, if you have a 77-year-old fridge it's likely that you would save quite a bit of money and energy by upgrading to a newer, more efficient model."

My father has (and uses) a small refrigerator that is approximately 62 years old, having been purchased sometime in 1950, two or so years before his birth(!).

It has never needed repair or any replacement work that I know of (unless you count sanding down and repainting the exterior about 20 years ago due to rust), and has been in almost continuous service for about 60 of those years (there was a year or two where he had it in storage.) I have very sincere hopes of inheriting the damn thing someday.

It may be inefficient, but it's a wonderful fridge. And the compressor makes this little chugga-chugga-clink-plonk noise when powering down that, for me, is extremely comforting - nothing else sounds like it, and the only place I've ever heard it is home. a noise, which, come to think of it, I need to make a recording of.

It is going to be a very sad day indeed when that little fridge finally gives up the ghost.
posted by namewithoutwords at 10:38 AM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Scientist, all of my "big" woodworking tools were built in the 1940s or 1950s. I have a lathe built in the 1880s (maybe as late at 1890) which is still in operating condition, though I don't currently have it under power.

The problem these days with ancient tools is that the value of the scrap metal is just about the value of the actual tool.
posted by maxwelton at 11:03 AM on March 26, 2012


Maxwelton, that is awesome. What do you do with all this stuff? Your profile says that you're a designer/programmer, not a trade that I typically associate with ownership of large antique machine tools. Would you agree that the reliability and build quality of even expensive commercial/industrial grade machine tools has dropped sharply since the time when your tools were made? If so, when do you think this decline began and what do you think caused it? In what regard is the quality of modern tools inferior to that of older ones? I'd really like to know your opinions on these questions, if you're interested in opining.
posted by Scientist at 11:10 AM on March 26, 2012


Scientist, I think you can still get very good high-end tools, as used on production lines and such, it's just that they're really expensive and hard to justify unless you make a living using them. Most of the antique tools that survive today are just that, industrial stuff that has made its way down the chain to home enthusiasts. I don't work in a production environment, so I don't have any direct experience with modern high-end machines.

I do suspect that the engineering is less "wasteful" on modern machinery (ie, stuff isn't over-built), which probably means less durability in the long-run, but both manufacturers and the people who use their machines probably don't think in terms of "will this last 50 years" rather "will this last until it has been fully depreciated."

Me, I just like tinkering and fiddling around with old stuff. I do some woodworking but mainly, if faced with a need for a tool, I'd prefer to source out the high-end stuff used than buy cheaper new stuff. For me "new" doesn't have a ton of appeal. But if I made Big Bucks, I'd buy quality stuff new, just because it's easier than chasing CL items.
posted by maxwelton at 11:59 AM on March 26, 2012


Thanks for the perspective! I suppose that some of the over-engineering of the past was simply due to the design and manufacturing constraints of the time, rather than any intentional attempt to make tools that could be passed down through the generations. Still, it's impressive to come upon a 50- or 100-year-old tool that still works perfectly, and it gives me a profound respect for the engineers of yesteryear who were able to create such machines given the state of technology available at the time.
posted by Scientist at 12:57 PM on March 26, 2012


86-year old folding camera (well, the lens at least)
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 1:36 PM on March 26, 2012


Dangling above the fire engines, people come for hundreds and thousands of miles to see the diminutive symbol.

Well, if you're going to dangle your participles, literal dangling may as well be involved.
posted by joe lisboa at 1:50 PM on March 26, 2012


From what I've found, that refrigerator likely sold for somewhere between $75 and $200. In today's dollars, that equates to a range between $1,250 and $3,325.
posted by VTX at 2:03 PM on March 26, 2012


With talk of old tools, I can't go past hand tools made in Britain in the empire years. Shifting spanners that could take apart a tank, clamps that could hold up a bridge etc.
posted by bystander at 2:22 PM on March 26, 2012


octothorpe writes "We replaced a 1946 vintage boiler two years ago and got similar savings. This year the igniter and the water pump both failed after a whole 24 months of operation when the previous one had lasted 60+ years. I pointed this out to the repair guy and he just rolled his eyes and said that the new stuff is made out of nothing. We got the fixes done under warranty but it's still annoying."

It's not like furnace repairmen had nothing to do in the 50s. For every furnace that makes it 60+ years hundreds broke down and were replaced including many during their warranty period.

maxwelton writes "Scientist, I think you can still get very good high-end tools, as used on production lines and such, it's just that they're really expensive and hard to justify unless you make a living using them. "

This is true. My dad is in awe of my shop for featuring tools he could only dream of. His first (corded, single speed) drill cost him over a weeks wages; my latest battery operated drill/driver, impact driver and two batteries cost me less than a day. Stuff like an 8" jointer cost as much as a new car. You can still spend that much money on a jointer but nowadays you can also get a perfectly serviceable unit for even light commercial use for the price of 10 year old beater. Support for the bottom end of the price range exists like it never did 50+ years ago.
posted by Mitheral at 2:55 PM on March 26, 2012


There are a lot of human beings around that are still working nearly one hundred years after being created, so there's that.
posted by davejay at 3:24 PM on March 26, 2012


There are apparently bakeries that have sourdough that has been working since the mid-1800s.
posted by Nabubrush at 3:37 PM on March 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


..."my latest battery operated drill/driver, impact driver and two batteries cost me less than a day(s labour)."

Thanks to China.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:46 PM on March 26, 2012


One anvil in the shop is dated to sometime around 1780, the other is an 1890 vintage. My power hammer, a Little Giant 50-lb, is from 1929. According to Sid Suedmeier, who owns the original patterns and keeps track of such things, I am only the 3rd owner in that time, and he had the replacement bottom die and key I wanted in stock. My heat-treat oven is from 1934, though the thermocouple and controller are of a more recent vintage, and my casting furnace is from the 1950s.

I have found overall that old industrial tools like these are often worth the effort and a bit of cash to get working again, and as mentioned by others, they're often available at scrap-metal prices if you get lucky. Expect to have to work on them, though, and make or adapt replacement parts no longer available.
posted by Blackanvil at 6:14 PM on March 26, 2012


I love old airplanes. Love to work on 'em, to fly 'em, they make my heart sing. Antique Airfield is one of my favorite places to be around the last of August every year.
To see these birds perfectly restored and maintained is a real joy- and these are not showpieces that are trucked around the country to be viewed, they fly just as they did up to ninety years ago!
posted by drhydro at 9:32 PM on March 26, 2012


It's not like furnace repairmen had nothing to do in the 50s. For every furnace that makes it 60+ years hundreds broke down and were replaced including many during their warranty period.

I'm not sure I buy that argument but neither of us have the statistics to back up our arguments. That said, a simple low pressure electric water pump is such a simple piece of proven technology that it really shouldn't spin itself to shreds in two years.
posted by octothorpe at 5:43 AM on March 27, 2012


The hotel is complete with restaurant, spa, guest rooms, a garden, a theater, a hall, a festival foyer, and a couple of other units whose functions are only familiar to the Japanese.

wat
posted by falameufilho at 12:02 PM on March 27, 2012


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