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Products that were Better 100 Years Ago than They are Today

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Each new generation of computers brings with it exponential advances in processing speed, storage size, and materials. Given the rapid advance of technology visible in so many aspects of our daily lives, you might be surprised to find that there are plenty of products that survive in nearly identical from as they did decades -- or even a century -- ago.

100 Years

In no aspect of life is this more clear than with razors.

The first cleanly shaven, oft-photographed president was Woodrow Wilson.

Little sticks out in portraits of the 28th president. With his narrow-rimmed glasses, modest hair style, and clean-shaven face, he could blend in seamlessly in modern America.

And that's exactly the point.

Clean-shaven men of President Wilson's time look similar to clean-shaven men of today because shaving reached a plateau of technological advancement way back in 1901. That was the year that King C. Gillette clamped a smaller version of a straight edge razors to a handle, thus inventing the first safety razor.

Since then advancements have been more hype than function -- adding moisturizing strips (despite the availability of shaving cream and aftershave) and adding a second, then third, then fourth, then fifth (!!!) blade, incorporating flexible joints into the handle (in case using the flexible wrist we were all born with wasn't enough) -- ending up with this monstrosity.

[Editor's Note: Hey! I use that monstrosity. It's much better than all previous shaving monstrosities]

I've found that the single blade disposable razor I use when I travel gives me a shave that's equally as close than the expensive Venus razor sitting in my shower at home.

If you need to prove this to yourself, check out Gillette's own history, which summarizes a century's worth of 'innovation' in about a paragraph, yet features several paragraphs worth of marketing partnerships.

The fix: Besides getting an old-timey straight blade, look into generics or one of the less expensive subscription services like Harrys.com.

Three more common items that haven't improved with age

1. Craftsman tools

In the 1930s, Craftsman tools -- used for fixing automobiles or building furnishings -- were primarily made in the United States. But by the 1980s, American companies began slowly outsourcing production of many lines to China and Taiwan.

While the new tools they get may look just as shiny as they used to, they certainly don't last as long. Mechanics say they can easily spot the difference among cheaply made Chinese parts and the tools that were handed down to them by their grandparents.

Suffice to say that when a company outsources its manufacturing to China, they're not doing it to improve the quality of the product.

The fix: There are a number of websites where you can buy and trade second-hand and vintage tools. Note: Check the return policy and make sure you can go with someone you trust and who will take the tool back if it doesn't work as advertised.

2. Furniture

A table from Ikea might cost 1/10th the price of a solid wood piece like the kind at your grandparents' house, but it will also last a 1/10th of the time. If you've ever tried to move Ikea furniture to a new home, you know all too well that it totally falls apart.

The fix: Go vintage. It's relatively easy and inexpensive to repair or spruce up a piece of old, solid wood furniture. You can use putty to fill in the breaks and cover them with paint or replace missing  or broken hardware. A good, modern alternative is to find furniture made by hand from reclaimed wood, which can be affordable but still last decades.

3. Cast iron cookware

When cast iron was scaled up for production to the masses in the 1950s, the final step of polishing down the bumpy surface to a satiny smooth finish was done away with. This is why modern cast iron pans still have a bumpier surface and are not as non-stick as their predecessors.

The fix: Sanding down and re-seasoning can easily restore vintage pans. Just oil and bake for an hour at 350 degrees.

Conclusion

When you run out of  product or the product breaks, don't be so quick to replace them. It may cost you more money in the long term if the product isn't made as well. And don't fall for marketing ploys that repackage the same old products for a higher price.

When you buy Gillette's 'new and improved' three-blade razor, the only improvement is in Gillette's profits.

Christina Garofalo is co-author of the blog Adventures in Frugal, where she writes about travel, food, finance, and more. Her writing has also appeared in Paste, First We Feast, Robb Report, and Art & Hustle. In her free time, you'll find her writing poetry and eating her way through Brooklyn, New York.

Posted on November 3, 2015.

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4 Responses to “Products that were Better 100 Years Ago than They are Today”

  1. Anne says:

    I bought the men’s replaceable-head razors from the 99 cent razor “club” for next to nothing. I don’t shave everyday, so I’m pretty sure what I have will last me at least a year. And they work just as well as the expensive Gillette women’s razors I had been using.

  2. Great idea, Anne! Especially with women’s products, which are vastly overpriced to begin with.

  3. Jane says:

    On Ikea furniture. I have moved their bookcases 2000+ miles in 2 long distance moves. (NY-GA; GA-MI) Maybe I just got lucky twice

  4. Christina Garofalo says:

    That is lucky, Jane! I suppose there are always exceptions.

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