Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


YESTERDAY IN PART 1, we discussed the obsolescence of arsenic wallpaper and the Chaparral 2J Sucker Car, both appearing in the book Extinct: A Compendium of Obsolete Objects. Today in Part 2, they’re joined in extinction by flying boats, ashtrays, and slide rules. 

Flying Boats. David Edgerton writes, “In the late 1930s and into the 1940s, the largest long-range aircraft were flying boats, which took off and landed on water.”

The reason was practicality: An expanse of water was already there for these aircrafts’ extended takeoffs and returns. This was far less costly than maintaining a tarmac runway. 

Pan American Airways Boeing NC314 BC18603, the “Yankee Clipper,” c. 1939. This and following images from Extinct. 

 Edgerton describes why these aircraft became obsolete. It was partly the aerodynamic and structural concessions of making a craft buoyant. Even more so, “Investment in the infrastructure of concrete runways, propelled by the military, swung the balance in favour of land-based planes. But for the war, this might have not happened, or happened so readily.”

Ashtrays. Catherine Slessor observes, “While rudimentary versions of ashtrays existed before the modern era, the idea of a consciously designed objet de délice started to gain ground only in the early twentieth century, as more women took up smoking…. In 1967 Salvador Dali devised a limited-edition ashtray in Limoges porcelain for Air India as a squiggle of a serpent and some contorted swans wrapped around a shell.”

Ashtray for Air India, designed by Salvador Dali, decorated by Jules Teissonniere, porcelain, manufactured in Limoges, France, 1967.

Slessor continues, “Less flamboyantly, the Danish polymath Arne Jacobsen designed a classic Mid-century Modernist version in the form of a laconic stainless-steel hemisphere that tipped up to disgorge and conceal the butts in the body of the ashtray, thus keeping everything Nordically neat.” Indeed, back before I quit the habit in 1984, I had one of these. It might still be around here somewhere.

Image from MOMA.

I do know the whereabouts of my oversize Jaguar XK-140 ashtray, the origin of which I looked up: Its hand-written inscription on the bottom reads “Gabriel Pasadena 376,” which identifies it as from Winfield Pottery, 1929–1962. The Gabriels worked for Winfield, and after 1946 when they sold some of rights to American Ceramic Co., they marked the pottery “Gabriel.”

My Jaguar ashtray, 14 x 10 1/4 in.

If it strikes your Jaguar enthusiasms, drop me a line and maybe we can make a deal. I’ve seen a similar Triumph one online for $139 + $14 shipping.

Slide Rule. “For more than a century,” Adrian Forty writes, “until their sudden extinction in the mid-1970s, slide rules—or slipsticks, as they were sometimes known in the USA—were the principle means of calculating most mathematical problems, apart from addition and subtraction.” 

Working with a slide rule, 1947.

Forty observes of their early history, “Slide rules seem to have been less common in continental Europe—probably because the English were accustomed earlier to decimal fractions, a prerequisite of the slide rule—until the introduction of the metric system, after the French Revolution.” 

My Thacher slide rule, patented 1881.

“The extinction of the slide rule,” Forty says, “was regretted by some, who maintained that the instrument gave a comprehension of numbers and calculation that was lost with the invisible workings of an electronic calculator. Curiously, much the same objection had been given three and a half centuries earlier by the slide rule’s originator, William Oughtred, to explain his reluctance to publicize his invention. The slide rule, he wrote, belonged to the ‘superficiall scumme and froth of Instrumentall tricks and practices,’ that would only undermine sound theoretical knowledge of mathematics.” 

Gee, I wonder what Oughtred would think of Artificial Intelligence? ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2022


  1. Bob Storck
    May 4, 2022

    I have a modest box Labeled “Ashtrays” which contains memorable silver, pewter and ceramic ashtrays, lighters and cigarette boxes … mostly racing trophies and a few artistic items from Monaco’s Cafe de Paris, Manhattan’s Le Chanteclair and London’s Bluebird. I’ve never smoked, so all are pristine. The trophy items are freely given to any smoking friends, whom are thankfully on the wane. The restaurant memories are NFS.
    I still have a collection of Post and Keuffel and Esser slide rules in belt loop leather cases, and my flight bag always has a backup E6B. The Log-Log-Decilog did all the calculations that built the Saturn and plotted flights that took us to the moon as full function digital calculators didn’t arrive until the late 60s.

  2. jguenther5
    May 5, 2022

    I still have (most of) a 10″ slide rule my father bought me about 1948. I don’t know what happened to my sister’s. I also have a 6″ K&E. I don’t recall using it for the Saturn S-!VB in any way. I gave away my best 12″ to a foreign student just in time.

    • Bob Storck
      May 5, 2022

      If anyone has access to Buzz Aldrin, the remaining survivor from the Apollo 11, they should bring up the subject. Aldrin was a higher math whiz, and was brought up with slide rules. When in the Gemini program he got the new HP-35 approved for missions, and was able to calculate orbital rendezvous changes from the capsule. Of course, all the planning had been done years before with slip stick equipped engineers, and refined by room fulls of “computers” … which was the name for hundreds of math savvy women with Monroe 8N-213 electro mechanical calculators.

  3. Mike B
    May 5, 2022

    In high school and college, I had a standard yellow Pickett slide rule. Turned out my wife had an identical one. Those and several others are in various storage boxes, including a circular slide rule my wife carried around everywhere.

    The HP35 arrived in my last year in college. The serious engineers immediately found a way to buy one ($400 in the early 1970s, iirc). The rest of us drooled. I eventually got a Commodore that had nearly every function imaginable, and the ability to save a “program” of problem steps that used values you pre-saved in its memories. TI still makes those. But nobody needs them any more; everything the HP or the Commodore could do is in your phone now, with perhaps a few truly esoteric things that require buying a separate app for.

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