Am I Extinct? : Krulwich Wonders... Challenging the audience, Krulwich asked if anyone could name a tool, machine or human invention from any place, time or culture that is no longer being made today. Here are some of the responses.

Am I Extinct?

The question posed in our last post: Can you name any tool, machine or human invention from any place, any time, any culture that is no longer being made today?

Of course, said I.

Of course, said you.

But now that we've collated your responses, it turns out it's not that easy. Below you will find your nominations for Tools That Died (followed, in many cases, by evidence that they haven't.)

Tools: DEAD or ALIVE?

  • 8-track Tape Players


    fjg47jr wrote: Who's still making 8-track tape players?

    Kathy Roegge (KathyRoegge) wrote: My first thought was eight track tapes, and 8mm film and equipment.

    Sean King (sbk1) wrote: I've been trying to find an 8 track player. Though I don't want to travel the countryside I'm sure they do exist somewhere. I think chariots might have been out of production until the movie Ben Hur. It strikes me that more recent items maybe more likely it will disappear. Prototypes can be recycled and the design tossed. Something used for several thousands of years like a stone ax won't disappear in a few centuries.

    Pattie Downer (MarciePattie) wrote:What about 8 track tapes and decks?

    tom ryersbach (schnoops) wrote: just go back 50 years. 8 track tapes. 8 track players. vacuum tubes. casette tapes and players. the knob which you attached to your steering wheel for one-handed steering.

    dewey martin (captain_video) wrote: I agree...I think you are looking to far into the past
    Find me a manufacturer of 8-track players or recorders, or 3/4 video tape players or recorders.
    Sure, the technology to record and playback video still exists, but has changed rapidly...anyone who has recordings on 3/4 tape cassettes must rely on players still in existence to view them...noe longer being manufactured

    Michele De Good (Michy822) wrote: EIGHT-TRACKS!!! You know, those things we used to play before cassettes. I guarantee no one is still making those anywhere on planet Earth.......

    Danny DeGuira (Outofbox) wrote: tom ryersbach (schnoops) wrote:
    just go back 50 years. 8 track tapes. 8 track players. vacuum tubes.casette tapes and players. the knob which you attached to your steering wheel for one-handed steering.
    I sold everyone of these items in the last week, including the steering wheel knob! And Duncan Yo-yos and a hand crank washing tub! I am cleaning the barn out!


    Robert Krulwich: OK, Danny, Michele, Dewey, Tom, Pattie and Shawn, all I did was google "8 track players" and a site popped up called "8-Track Heaven" and this is what I found:

    "A frequently asked question is 'when did they stop making 8-tracks?' The answer is — they didn't! OK, the major labels did finally quit producing 8-track tapes about 1988. But a number of entrepreneurial souls have kept the 8-track tradition alive in the form of small production runs of independently released carts. This is a new section here on 8-Track Heaven that will provide a listing for these tapes, including (if available), ordering information."

    So I guess they're not quite dead.

    daniel kroes (dek0609) wrote: one could argue that even though specific tools dissapear they live on as modifications of the original. In that sense just because an 8 track or betamax or vhs dissapears, the tools that comprise the player are still here. Should conglomerate tools count? and are film and radium containers even tools? If we knew of a tool how could it be extinct? Unused tools are just waiting for their time, and worn tools are waiting to be repurposed.

  • Anvils


    Crystal Lovedahl Kline wrote: Are anvils still made and used?


    Phillip C Reed wrote: Anvils? Absolutely still being made.

    Damion J. Morgan ‎wrote: @ Crystal, yep anvils are still made and used.

  • Astrolabe


    Michael Morgan (talvez) wrote: THE ASTROLABE — NO LONGER BEING MADE


    Jason Haggard (jhaggard29) wrote: @Michael Morgan
    The Astrolabe is being featured today on an episode of "How it's Made" at 4:30 CST on Science Channel.

  • Bowler Hat Tipper (automatic)


    Alex Milton (Amilton) wrote: Tool: What about the automatic (bowler) hat tipper, US Patent 556248? I think Robert was just looking in the wrong place. Catalogs are for useful products. For useless, outdated, and non-functional items, one must look to the Federal Government!;)


    Robert Krulwich: I'm sitting here trying to imagine when I would use an "automatic bowler hat tipper." If I were taken hostage, bound and gagged, but still wished to be polite to my captors, I guess it could be useful. (If I wore a bowler.)

  • Button Hook


    Laura Harsch (DaisyCat) wrote: What about the button hook? Something tells me that even in Third World countries they don't have buttons on their shoes. People collect them, but I doubt they are still manufactured.

    Deb Jerison (Deb1949) wrote: How about a glove or shoe button hook? I know they make buttoners for people with reduced mobility to use to button clothing but these do not have hooks. The old fashioned button hooks for gloves and high button shoes were actual hooks.


    Robert Krulwich: Not Dead. I put "button hook" into a search engine and got, "Button hooks are idea for single handed people or people with arthritis and other physical disabilities."

  • Chariots


    Teresa Machicao-Hopkins (Machicao) wrote: My 12 year old daughter Carly says what about chariots? Nobody makes chariots anymore.

    Sean King (sbk1) wrote: If the film Ben Hur had been made today the chariots would be CGI, instead of leading to a revived chariot industry for Roman history buffs.


    Robert Krulwich: Check out the Chariots of Fire website. There you will find a, "small, nationally recognized company based in a rural community in southern Scotland." They make chariots with rubber tires. In Ogden, Utah, according to the local Fox station there, "the days of old Roman Chariot races are back." There are teams and regular competitions. Again, Not Dead.

  • Chastity belts


    Carcharodon literatii (greatwriteshark) wrote: Chastity belts?


    Robert Krulwich: Definitely alive. On the web there are, let count least 4 places that sell them; they are all very x-rated so I don't want to use my NPR computer to see what they look like (we are monitored here), but you can.

  • Deloreans


    Jonathan Rabson (Jonathan12345678) wrote: Stainless steel cars (DeLoreans)?


    Robert Krulwich: There is a DeLorean Motor Company homepage. They offer top-to-bottom restorations. So somebody is making DeLorean parts.

  • Embalming Tools - Egyptian Brain Remover


    Ethan Meleen (eomega59) wrote: The hooks that the Ancient Egyptians used to mash up a dead person's brain so it would come out of the nose aren't made anymore.

    Mary Varden Thompson wrote: How about the Egyptian brain remover? Do they still use those?


    Robert Krulwich: @Ethan Mellen, do you have an example so we can check?

  • Grave Torpedo


    Tim Innes (Ethan12) wrote: In response to the story on "Tools that Never Die", I have a candidate for one that has. It is the "Grave Torpedo"; Grave Torpedoes were made in the late 19th century to protect the graves of the recently deceased from grave robbers. Grave robbery had become a big problem because the growing number of medical schools could not get cadavers legally. They began to pay top dollar for bodies, no questions asked. A "Grave Torpedo" was a device that was placed in the grave of your loved one upon burial; it was designed to explode if a grave robber opened the coffin lid. I cannot find anyone, anywhere, that still makes this device.


    Robert Krulwich: This is a good one. What we'd have to do is ask, are there places on Earth where grave robbery is still a big problem and then ask around to see if they have caskets that blow up on re-opening. I can't help wondering if this one is a myth. I have read about caskets with bells for not-quite-dead people to ring in case of a Sleeping Beauty Emergency. But blowing up upon opening seems a little excessive.

  • Greek Fire


    Henry Navarre (romanchockfarms) wrote: david-I happen to know a guy who makes period appropriate greek arms out of bronze- pretty cool. I thought of greek fire immiediately, though we do make other flammable fluids the recipe for that one is lost.

    Kelly Davis (kldavis4) wrote: This seems too easy... How about greek fire?

    Richard Edgar (RichardJEdgar) wrote: I believe you're thinking too modern. How about Greek Fire? Or Damascaus Steel? Or this gadget:


    Robert Krulwich: A bunch of you have mentioned "Greek Fire." I asked Kevin about this flaming stuff that ancient Greeks used to launch at each other and the problem is the formula has been lost to history. The latest thinking is that it might have been flaming tar. Technically I thought well that's Bingo! A technology lost. But Kevin says we can't prove it's been lost if we don't know what it was. How do we know people have stopped using it? So unless you have a formula for "Greek Fire," we have to put that one aside.

  • Kodachrome Film


    Mark Carter wrote: Kodachrome film is no longer being made.

    Earl Franz (earlybirdman) wrote: Does Kodachrome film qualify?

    abby adams (yadda302) wrote: NPR just ran a great piece on the last shop developing its last rolls of Kodachrome film. Kodak is no longer making the necessary developing solutions.

    Maia Szekely (MaiaSzekely) wrote: Kodachrome is a very vivid and unusual photography film; due to the way it is processed and the chemicals required to process it. The brand name of a trademarked color reversal film by Eastman Kodak. On June 22 of 2009, Kodak announced the end of Kodachrome production 'due to decline'. The last available public location to have Kodachrome processed stopped accepting the film in December of 2010.
    The remaining film and photos have become something of an artistic novelty. Few other films offered the kind of color and sharpness of Kodachrome. You can still have Kodachrome processed in black and white, as some of the chemicals remain available, but 'Kodachrome Film' is currently obsolete.


    Chris Harlan (CJH) wrote: But this brings up a question, as do all the answers I've read thus far—what is the definition of "tool?" How broad? Certainly Kodachrome—a brand—is too fine an example to be an answer; it may have had unique processes of its own, but photographic film would be the actual tool. But is it? Or is film actually a part of the tool known as a camera? We can agree that a pen is a tool, but is paper? Paper is useful, but a tool? And film is actually a collection of invented chemical processes; but are the underlying processes tools, themselves? If, someday, photographic film completely disappears, but all the subset processes are still used in industry, and charged coupling cameras still exist, has anything really been lost?

    So, what's a tool?

    Sean King (sbk1) wrote: what about film for instant Polaroid cameras? The Polaroid lawsuit against Kodak blocked Kodak from making instant cameras, but does Polaroid still make them? this goes along with the idea of recent inventions and the idea that they may be thousands in the past that we never heard of, so we can't think of them.

  • Limelight


    Misha Griffith (MishaLight) wrote: My suggestion for a tool that has died is the theatrical limelight. This was a 19th century method of lighting the stage by sooting a gal torch at a block of lime (calcium oxide). The combination of gas and calcium oxide are still in use for industrial purposes, but theatres left the technology behind long ago because it was so dangerous. I doubt any fire department in the world would allow this system to be used.
    The only places we can get some idea of the effect of these lights is in the paintings of the 19th century done by artists like Toulouse Lautrec.


    Robert Krulwich: I see what looks like limelight in films all the time. Martin Scorsese created scenes in old New York that seemed illumined that way. It is now called "calcium light" and when I used that term in a search engine I got a bunch of hits from railroad supply companies. Maybe conductors still use them?

  • Norse Ships


    Roger Cunningham (RogerLeeCunningham) wrote: I once read that the secret to building the long wooden ships that flexed with the sea has been lost. I believe it was a Norse technology.

    Robert Krulwich: If the formula for a technology has been lost, it's hard to know how proceed. Like Greek Fire and Fabulous Hair-do's from the Paleolithic, if we have lost all memory of the details, we don't know what we've lost. This is the real problem with Kevin's challenge. It restricts us to technologies we remember but no longer make...or example...see "Radium Suppositories."

  • Radium Suppositories


    Christian Long (czzl) wrote: Radium suppositories


    Robert Krulwich: Magic Mike mentions radium suppositories. That's a very good one. That goes high up on the list. We know how to make them but I think it's a very safe bet that nobody makes them any more...

    (Except maybe the KGB. Didn't they sprinkle polonium on somebody's lunch in London a few years ago? The CIA also tried to poison Fidel Castro so he'd lose his hair — and his famous beard — so if Fidel was constipated, I can imagine someone thinking..."How about...?")

  • Saturn 5 Rockets


    andrew heafitz (ah3) wrote: Another place to look for extinct technologies is the aerospace age of the 1960s. Big rockets like the Saturn 5, moon landers like the Grumman Lunar Module, supersonic passenger jets like the Concord, and fast planes like the SR71 Blackbird and the MIG 25 are all gone.

    Lydia Fassett (LF8) wrote: Saturn V rockets

    Susan Fox : Don't "they say" that the Saturn 5 rocket plans have been lost and that they can't build another one?

    Jonathan Rabson (Jonathan12345678) wrote: There must be some NASA technologies for getting into space that have been completely replaced. And although space shuttles exist, they're not making them anymore because that program was discontinued.

    Jim Scarborough (ke4roh) wrote: Lots of high technology is obsolete. The Saturn V moon rocket (and most of its predecessors. Anyone making V-2 rockets any more?) You can't get another Hindenberg, either. On the smaller scale, try to find a new 9-track tape drive (like computers used to use), a DAT drive, or a new Pentium CPU. Can you buy an 8MB USB stick? Nope - it's not worth the cost to manufacture. Find a Betamax VCR. You can find these things used, sure, but they are endangered.


    Phillip C Reed: And for the person who suggested "Saturn 5", rockets are still being made. A particular brand or model may be discontinued and no longer available, but the particular class of tool is still around.

    Robert Krulwich: Also, for what it's worth, I found, for the low, low price of $286.65, a "Saturn V Rocket Kit" from a company called Apogee ("An authentic replica of the Apollo Program"), which comes with two nylon-cloth parachutes. There is a warning, though. Assembly is "skill level 5: Extremely Challenging."

  • Shoe X-ray Machine


    Bill Voige (atp_powr) wrote: Many of us remember a machine that used to be in every Eisenhower-era shoe store that X-rayed your feet to see if a pair of new shoes fit properly. They've been banned, in the U.S. at least, for decades. Are they still made and used in other parts of the world? An additional comment: Wouldn't a safer version be useful in today's airport-security lines? I personally would prefer it to taking off your shoes for X-ray inspection.

    Charlie Klein (archcklein) wrote: Any source for the fluoroscopes that were in shoe stores in the 1940s or 50s that showed the fit of the shoes with x-rays beamed directly up through the shoes on your feet to your eyes?

    Robert Krulwich: Because there were so many x-ray machines in shoe stores in America back in the fifties, I wonder if some of them didn't get shipped off to remote places where they are still in use today. They were astonishingly dramatic, getting to see your bones through your shoes. The harder question is: who would make them new today? Evil shoe sellers? I dunno. I'm almost ready to think this one is dead.

    Not Dead?


  • Telegraph


    Pat Harris (path51) wrote: How about a telegraph or telex machine? I remember dealing with customers internationally in the 70's and the best (and sometimes only) way to communicate fairly quickly was by telex.

    Doug Barker (DaytonRower) wrote: The ELECTRIC TELEGRAPH had a huge impact world wide from the mid 1800s into the 1900s. Is there anyplace where there is still a functional system in commercial use?


    Robet Krulwich: I have to believe that science fairs alone would produce brand new telegraph machines. They're not that hard to make (says the guy who can't make anything) and they seem like a easy A from Mrs. O'Grady, the science teacher.

  • Tennis Balls (horse hair)


    Gary Brookhart wrote: Perhaps horse hair stuffed tennis balls are an invention no longer available.


    Robert Krulwich: Anping JinBoXin Garment Accessories, a Chinese company, offers to manufacture "horse hair by-products." On their website, they specifically mention tennis balls. So, Not Dead.

  • Torture Instruments


    Amos Elroy wrote: Sorry to say, the assertion no technology that has ever been invented stopped being manufactured does not hold water.

    Does anyone manufacture execution Guillotines, or Iron Maidens? I am sure there are more such things like gas chamber trucks, wood block water pipes, Fireman's felt helmets, but I can not think off anything but Gilliotines and Iron Maidens of the top of my head.

    Scott Lewins (scottlewins) wrote: I hate to go here, but you are only talking about tools and inventions intended for good, and neglecting the more sinister side of human ingenuity. I am sure there are pleanty of tools intended for use in the oppression, torture and killing of others, that thankfully have gone completely extinct.

    El Stone (El_Stone) wrote: How about an iron maiden, the torture machine?

    Jason Haggard (jhaggard29) wrote: I agree with Scott Lewis. I doubt anybody is manufacturing Iron Maidens anymore, but sure you could find someone to do a custom job for you i bet. Probably thre are plenty of torture or surgical tools that are no longer made.

    C Rice (CRice) wrote: I am hoping that there must be some old medieval comfort adjusting "devises" that have been discontinued.

    Who is the leading manufacturer of "Heretics Forks" nowadays?
    Or, fine tailored Iron Maidens?

    Galen Frazer (GalenPatrick) wrote: No one is still manufactoring "Brazen Bulls" right??? I really hope not.


    John Rolka (rolkamatic) wrote: @ Galen we hope the brazen bull ain't in use but theres probably some despot somewhere or psycho serial killer with one in his tool shed.

    Robert Krulwich: I would be very wary of the idea that horrible things are not still being made by horrible people. Horrible people, in my mind, don't go extinct either.

  • Whalebone Implements


    John Murphy wrote: Whalebone girdle

    Lydia Fassett (LF8) wrote: whalebone parasol frames
    whalebone corset stays

    Veronica Rough (muscari_miss) wrote: whalebone stays


    Robert Krulwich: Somebody (I won't say who) just told me there's an on-line store called "Fantasy Corsets" that sometimes offers whalebone fashions. Otherwise, I was told there are folks who would custom make them, though steel boning is preferred to whalebone.

  • Whiskey Keg Bung Hole Drill


    Tim Fettig (Tim_Fettig) wrote: Silly! Your site won't let me tell you it's name. What it does is make a hole in a whiskey keg, it is called a "Whiskey Keg _____ hole drill" that word is filtered for your safety it would appear...


    Robert Krulwich: Gee, how hard can it be to drill an extra hole in an old whiskey barrel? Then add whiskey? I'm going for Not Dead on this one.