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The Top 100 Gadgets of All Time

Whether they're strapped to our belts, sitting on our desks, or jammed in an overstuffed closet, we absolutely love our gadgets.

So it wasn't exactly easy coming up with the definitive list of the 100 best gadgets ever unleashed. In the weeks we spent debating the entries, tempers were flared, fingers were pointed, chairs were smashed over heads, and feelings were hurt. But we emerged, like Moses from the mountain, with the world's most authoritative ranking of the best gadgets of all time.

But let's lay some ground rules before we get started. What defines a "gadget" anyway?

  • It has to have electronic and/or moving parts of some kind. Scissors count, but the knife does not.
  • It has to be a self-contained apparatus that can be used on its own, not a subset of another device. The flashlight counts; the light bulb does not. The notebook counts, but the hard drive doesn't.
  • It has to be smaller than the proverbial bread box. This is the most flexible of the categories, since gadgets have gotten inexorably smaller over time. But in general we included only items that were potentially mobile: The Dustbuster counts; the vacuum cleaner doesn't.

In the end, we tried to get to the heart of what really makes a gadget a gadget.

100. NSI BEDAZZLER, 1970s
Developed by Long Island-based NSI Innovations, the BeDazzler has been turning humdrum garments into glitzy gear for years. Whoever thought a souped-up stapler would become synonymous with anything adorned with rhinestones? So far, millions have been sold, so it looks as if it's here to stay.

99. SWINGLINE 747 STAPLER, 2002
Stapling technology dates back to the 1700s, when an unknown inventor created a stapler for King Louis XV of France, but staplers came to the everyman with the Swingline magazine stapler, invented in 1938. Of these, the most iconic is Milton's fire-engine red Swingline from the movie Office Space, first manufactured in 2002 due to demand from the film.

98. PEZ DISPENSER, 1927
Pez isn't the mystery ingredient that makes this candy so tasty; it's an abbreviation for the German for Pfeffermintz (peppermint). Today, Pez comes in lots more flavors, but who cares? We just like the little poppin' head dispensers.

97. MATTEL INTELLIVISION, 1980
Intellivision had better graphics than the Atari 2600, but not nearly as many games. Its keypad interface was just too sophisticated for its time, like the three-button mouse.

96. OLYMPUS ZUIKO PEARLCORDER, 1970
What device promised as much for the budding Bob Woodward as the pocket microcassette recorder? You could grab impromptu interviews, record off-the-cuff memos, capture brilliant thoughts on the fly, and have your friends tape class lectures you were too lazy to attend yourself. Sheer brilliance! It almost didn't matter that recordings sounded as if they'd been made at the bottom of a lake.

95. CARL ZEISS VICTORY 8 X 42 T*FL BINOCULARS, 2004
Most telescopes show images upside down and backward: Fine for stargazing, but really disorienting if you're trying to track a red-breasted nuthatch on the wing. Binoculars put the image right-side up using a pair of prisms inside each lens barrel, which also makes them more compact. And you don't have to squint to use them. Historians credit Italian Ignacio Porro with inventing this prism system in 1854; by 1894, commercial binoculars were available from Zeiss. The company's $1,550 Victory binoculars are still the lustworthy top of the line for birdwatchers, hunters, and urban Peeping Toms.

94. SCHICK ELECTRIC RAZOR, 1931
Jacob Schick believed that men could live to the age of 120 by shaving the right way, every day. To further than end, Schick invented the electric razor in 1928 and released the first commercial one three years later ... before dying in 1937 at the age of 49. Today, 30 percent of men use electric shavers.

93. COLUMBIA GRAPHOPHONE DICTAPHONE, 1907
Edison invented it, but Bell made it better. While the phonograph made audio recording possible, the Dictaphone brought voice recording to desktops everywhere.

92. POPEIL POCKET FISHERMAN, 1950s
This fishing rod (which is still manufactured today) folds up to a remarkable 9 inches long, thus freeing the world from the tyranny of poles. This was the first invention of the Popeil family; Ron Popeil would later go on to found the infamous Ronco company, which sold other innovations such as the Veg-O-Matic, the Smokeless Ashtray, and the Inside-the-Shell Egg Scramber (#84).

91. POLAR WIRELESS HEART RATE MONITOR, 1977
On a cross-country skiing trip, Professor Seppo Saeynaejaekanga met a ski trainer who knew about the professor's interest in measurement of human vital signs. The trainer suggested that a heart-rate monitor would be a huge improvement over taking his pulse manually; Saeynaejaekanga invented it, and training for high-level and serious recreational athletes entered the gadget age.

90. MAELZEL METRONOME, 1816
The scourge of piano students; the eternal hope of music teachers; the last, desperate attempt of suburban white boys to get some sense of rhythm before they grew up to become insurance brokers or restaurant managers: The metronome was all this, and more.

89. RUBIK'S CUBE, 1974
Invented in 1974 by Hungarian Erno Rubik, the Rubik's Cube hit America in 1980 like the avian flu, infecting millions and temporarily treating most ADHD symptoms before petering out in 1983.

88. BLACK & DECKER DUSTBUSTER, 1979
Corded handheld vacuums have been around since the 1920s, but it was the Dustbuster that broke us free from tethers.

87. RADIO SHACK TRS-80 MODEL 100, 1983
Not the first portable computer, nor the most advanced, the Model 100 distinguished itself through simplicity, ruggedness, and portability. For $800 you could outfit yourself with this 6-pound mobile typing machine (a real featherweight compared with the 20-pound Osborne and Kaypro portables). The specs weren't impressive: 8KB of RAM, an eight-line-by-40-character display, no hard drive, a 300-baud modem, and a 2.4MHz Intel CPU. But two AA batteries gave it enough juice to run for 16 hours, and it was tough enough to ward off falls, bumps, spills, and filthy language, making it a perfect choice for newspaper reporters and cops. Radio Shack sold 6 million between 1983 and 1991.

86. TAMAGOTCHI, 1996
Could the overwhelming success of this pocket-size virtual pet -- 40 million were sold worldwide -- make this the strangest cultural phenomenon ever?

85. HOHNER HARMONICA, 1857
Riding the rails gets awful boring -- and downright lonely -- unless you have a traveling buddy to help you pass the time. Hohner has been keeping hobos entertained for nearly 150 years with its 10-hole mouth harp, or, as we know it, the harmonica. It's guaranteed to liven up any junkyard barbecue.

84. RONCO INSIDE-THE-SHELL EGG SCRAMBLER, 1978
Sick of dirtying forks just to make scrambled eggs? Tired of having to clean out your scramblin' bowl? Get the Ronco Inside-the-Shell Egg Scrambler.

83. ACCUSPLIT MEMORY STOPWATCH, 1972
Before the digital stopwatch, when you timed something, you had to do it on a wacky round device that ticked and was just as hard to read as a wall clock. But in 1972, Accusplit introduced the digital stopwatch. Gone were hands and tick marks, replaced by easy-to-read numbers. Better yet, the thing expressed time in hundredths of seconds, a boon to athletes and scientists.

82. ALLIANCE GENIE GARAGE DOOR OPENER, 1954
This first-ever radio-controlled garage door spared millions the terror of having to manually haul up and down dangerous doors that can weigh up to an astonishing 400 pounds. (Although today, 20,000 people annually still manage to be injured by run-ins with garage doors.)

81. ZIPPO WINDPROOF LIGHTER, 1932
Deep in the Great Depression, America yearned for a way to light the cigarette butts discarded by the remaining fat cats, even in the harsh wind tearing through a block-long bread line. Fortunately, George Blaisedell was there, introducing the first Zippo windproof lighter in 1932. Since that time, the Zippo lighter has grown to superstar status, the favorite of firebugs and chain-smokers alike. The preponderance of cheap, disposable butane lighters can't touch the elegance and charm (and lighter tricks) that the Zippo affords. As a testament to its popularity, more than 400 million Zippos have been sold, and countless fan clubs have sprung up to celebrate this ingenious incendiary.

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