“…organized crime in America takes in over forty billion dollars a year…a profitable sum, especially when one considers that the Mafia spends very little for office supplies.”—Woody Allen
“I have kept a record of most people I have met since the 1940s. Their names are stored in an electronically operated Rolodex that contains upward of one hundred thousand entries. Each card records my first contact and all subsequent meetings, and I can quickly review the nature of my past associations before seeing someone again.”—David Rockefeller
There are few office supply “objects” more iconic than the Rolodex (the name comes from a combination of the words rolling and index). Before the digital age of smartphones and computers, everyone used Rolodexes to “network” and to maintain their business contacts. The Rolodex is designed as a cylindrical rotating card file on a tubular metal frame that holds A-Z index cards to store business contacts. Information management has grown out of simple paper-based operations. While technology has made it possible to digitally record and retrieve information with greater speed, some electronic systems still evoke the familiar visual and tactile qualities of the rotating wheel in their design. The Rolodex has endured. It is still used in the twenty-first century workplace, and maintains a reputation as a “survivor” of technology. Interestingly, it is believed that approximately ten million units have been sold every year since the device was first manufactured in 1958. The Rolodex also remains one of the cultural icons of the mid-twentieth century. It would be great to see one on view in the redesigned Cooper-Hewitt when it reopens.
The Rolodex was first marketed by Arnold Neustadter (1910-1996), the founder of Zephyr American Corporation (later renamed Rolodex Incorporated), an eccentric businessman, inventor and designer who marketed a wide range of “dexes” such as the Autodex, Swivodex and of course the Rolodex. Neustader was a highly organized and efficient man often described as an “office worker type” who invented and manufactured office products that were designed to make networking effortless by easy storage of contacts. Incidentally, Neustader was very much interested in the arts and amassed collections of antique paperweights and modern art, including works by Chagall, Picasso and Henry Moore.
To see some of Cooper-Hewitt's Rolodexes in action, visit “Collections In Motion: Rolodexes” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9OJA5qFbIM