Meet the Old, Best Wearable: The Panasonic Toot-A-Loop

It was a radio, a bracelet, and a transformer.
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Cooper Hewitt Museum

Hardware makers are hoping your computer, which jumped into your pocket as your phone, will soon leap from your pants onto your wrist or become your shirt. It's the wearables revolution, we read

But this is not the first time that gadget makers have traveled down the mobility path. Making electronics smaller and smaller was a big part of the second-half of the twentieth century. And what you see above is a great example of the result of those efforts.

This is the Toot-A-Loop (say it yourself: Toot-A-Loop!), from Panasonic. The Toot-A-Loop could transform from a loop that fit (kinda) around one's wrist into a shofar-like horn contraption. It was a radio. "Simply by twisting the swivel joint at its thinnest point," the Cooper Hewitt Museum explains, "the radio opens out into a snake-like 'S' shape with a bold, circular station selection dial at the top and the speaker grill at the bottom."  

(Toot-A-Loop! It's almost as fun to say as Rooty Tooty Fresh 'N Fruity.)

In advertisements, Panasonic emphasized how crazy such a radio was. It was no gray box. No, it was "as much fun to look at as listen to." And, to my taste, at least, they succeed. These things are actually kind of beautiful: smooth, interesting curves, a glorious typeface. I just want to touch it. 

The bold colors Panasonic chose were part of a larger marketing effort to make these electronics fashionable first, and useful second. The marketing tagline for the "Crazy Color Portables" was "They even play music." 

 

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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