In the sixties, technology was exciting. The space race began, when in 1961 Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. The obsession with rocket imagery and silver foil reached its peak in 1969 when Neil Armstrong took that famous small step onto the surface of the moon. TV companies beamed live into households across the world and a few lucky people saw it in colour.
A more sinister development was the Berlin Wall, which was built in 1961. The Cold War provided the movie industry with an excuse for a popular run of spy films. Millions read books by Len Deighton, Ian Fleming and John Le Carré The James Bond films provided a show case of new technology and an insight into the glamorous world of espionage.
The hothouse of the Second World War and the Cold War produced numerous technological spin-offs. By the time the sixties started, we already had transistor radios and computers. In 1962, Telstar beamed television pictures by satellite across the Atlantic. It seemed that technology would conquer all.
Our selection of gadgets from the sixties has been taken from some of the most advanced products of the era. Selection has been made on technological sophistication and elegance of design.
Pocket transistor radio
In the sixties every teenager had to have a transistor radio. They were just like mobile phones are today - cheap, colourful and highly desirable. You could have music and news on the move. They were the passport to the modern world and showed that you were part of the "with it" generation. People in Third World countries would save hard to get one. Quality was often low, but you could not be part of the Swinging Sixties without one.
Styling often drew influence from American automobiles. From the later sixties though, a more modernist design ethic reappeared. The radio above is a Pye - "Empire Made" (so made in Hong Kong then!). Here there is hint of the space age on the front of the radio.
Why was it hip?
- Pop music on the move
- Compact and light
- Every teenager had to have one
- Space age styling
Phillips E3300 cassette tape recorder
This was the world's first cassette tape recorder. It came complete with a microphone so that you could record your own voice. The E3300 was a high quality and expensive product. I can testify to the quality since I still use one today. Go for an early model with a round record button. It should not set you back too much, if you can find one. It was more portable than a record player, although the Walkman was a long way off!
Why is it cool?
- The first cassette tape recorder
- Cutting edge technology
- Neat, minimalist styling
- High quality product
Samsonite Classic attaché case
In the sixties, the Samsonite Classic attach case was the coolest business accessory. It was definitely an attaché case and not a brief case. This case was carried by secret agents, including Michael Caine in "Funeral in Berlin" (1966). James Bond himself had one in "You Only live Twice". No self respecting 60s executive could be without one.
The design is simple, stylish, and modern. New materials abounded - hard wearing plastic exterior and lightweight magnesium frame. There are also some substantial locks - not the one key fits all as on most other brief cases of the era. If you had to fly on business, you just had to have one of these. Nothing else would cut the mustard in First Class!
Samsonite luggage was produced by Shwayder Bros, a company little known outside the US at the end of the 1950s. They had always had a reputation for quality and innovation. In the 1940s their Streamlite case was aimed at the growing number of airline passengers. As the jet age dawned they launched the Silhouette case taking advantage of the properties of glass fibre and magnesium to produce a design that looked modern and stylish, but was also light and strong. The Classic attach was a result of careful market research and captured the mood of the sixties executive. It was the first product launched under the leadership of King Shwayder, who took over as president when his father Jesse relinquished the role in 1961.
This pen had a special capillary filling mechanism with no moving parts. You simply unscrewed the barrel and placed the filler upside down in an ink bottle and the ink soaked up. In practice they performed poorly and often clogged up. Go for a later model with a cartridge filler if you want a more usable pen.
Philishave battery shaver
Even the humble shaver could look cool in the sixties. This battery shaver dates from 1967. It is an early example of the Philishave range. The two rotating heads have more than a passing resemblance to the air intakes of jet engines. Just the thing to pack in the hand luggage!
Pentax 35mm SLR
The coolest camera of the sixties was the Pentax. Pentax launched the ground breaking Spotmatic with through-the lens metering in 1964. These cameras were the first choice of professionals and amateurs alike. It was lightweight (for the time) and easy to use. They take cracking pictures, if you haven't gone digital yet. For the ultimate in sixties cool, go for a black Spotmatic.
The Polaroid Swinger provided instant pictures. You did not have to send them off to be developed. This camera was launched in 1966 in the UK. It must have been a hit at Christmas. The name was very much in keeping with the spirit of the decade. Photographs were only black and white, but then so was television. It also had a slot for flash cubes - remember those?
The number one binoculars in the sixties were made by Carl Zeiss in Western Germany. After the War, the Zeiss factory remained in the East, but many of the key workers moved to the West and established a new factory. The East German factory carried on as a rival, under the name Carl Zeiss, Jena. They stuck with old technology, whilst binoculars made in the West got better. By the sixties, the Western firm was the leading name in binoculars and the choice of the rich and famous.
Zeiss Binoculars from this era still command a premium in price, so we have chosen a British offering for this feature. These Solaross Binoculars (right) have quality optics, almost as good as Zeiss, a leather case and are lightweight and easy to use.
They didn't have quartz watches in the sixties, although they did have electronic watches. The Bulova Accutron, which used a miniature tuning fork to regulate the movement, was one of the first. Some of the first models were made without the face so that salesmen could demonstrate the movement to customers. The idea was so cool that it caught on and Accutrons were sold without the face. These watches were known as "Space view". This model is an Accutron Apollo from 1970, made to coincide with the Apollo Space Programme.
The trimphone was the nearest you could get to a mobile phone in the sixties. A long cable with a stretchable curly cord meant that you could carry it around at parties. It was the first phone without a bell ringer - an electronic warble, which was imitated by birds, provided the ring tone. The trimphone had an illuminated dial and a new type of handset. It was stylish and modern. Just the thing for a swinging sixties pad. You could choose from two-tone blue (shown), grey/green or grey/white. You couldn't buy one, but had to rent one from the GPO for a few extra shillings a quarter.
Although the design by Martyn Rowlands dates from 1964, the GPO took a long while to get it right. Field trials started in 1965, but you couldn't have one otherwise until the end of the sixties.