We attempt to explain the 1979 Sears holiday catalog to a Millennial

Who knew that a trash compactor could blow the mind of a young adult?

Want to blow the minds of Millennials or Gen-Z? Show them a trash compactor. No, really. Their jaws will drop.

At least, that was our experience. We sat down with one of our twenty-something coworkers and a copy of the 1979 Sears Wish Book catalog. We expected to have to explain pop culture phenomena like disco balls and Mork. Surprisingly, Millennials seem well versed in "Nanu Nanu" and boogie fever. It was the humble trash compactor that demanded an in-depth explanation. 

Of course, the entire concept of a "Sears catalog" was foreign to this young professional. First, we had to handle the 672-page elephant in the room.

Millennial: "Wow! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a catalog that’s more than 50 pages. Fifty is even pushing it."

MeTV: Yep, it's as thick as a phone book… wait, I don't know if you'll even get that reference. This sucker is nearly 700 pages, with everything from power tools to toys to socks. It's essentially the entire store in paper form.

Millennial: "When did this come out?"

MeTV: Well, there were two a year, the Spring/Summer catalog and the Holiday Wish Book. I don't recall the exact time of arrival, but I do remember the overwhelming excitement I would have when the latest Wish Book turned up in the mailbox — not too long after school started in the fall. I would rush to the kitchen table, flip to the toy pages, and start circling what I wanted.

We then proceeded to peruse the catalog page by page, stopping to explain whenever an item baffled our younger colleague. Some of the conversations surprised and delighted us. Let's dive in.

[Note: The Millennial's comments appear in quotes. Our comments are in bold.]

1. Page 14: Shaun Cassidy clothing

Does the name Shaun Cassidy sound familiar?

"No. Is that a TV show reference or a movie reference?"

Somewhat TV, but it's more of a pop music reference. Does David Cassidy sound familiar?

"Kinda."

He was the heartthrob on The Partridge Family. Shaun was his younger half-brother. Do you know "Da Doo Ron Ron"?

[Laughs] "No!" 

[Sings "Da Doo Ron Ron"] A huge 1963 hit by a girl-group called The Crystals? Phil Spector? Wall of sound? Nothing? Anyway, Shaun Cassidy covered it and it was a No. 1 hit in 1977.

"Makes me think of Justin Bieber."

Totally. He was the Bieber of the late 1970s. You could even get a pair of jeans with his autographed stitched on the butt.

"That’s what I’ve always wanted — my teen idol’s autograph on my butt. I'm trying to think of whose signature I’d want on my butt if I were still 16. I’d probably get Joe Jonas."

2. Page 19: The Houston Oilers

"The Houston WHAT? The OILERS?"

This is still an NFL franchise. Do you know who the Oilers became?

"Are they still in Houston? Are they in California?"

They are in Tennessee…

They still wear that baby blue… the Titans.

"Oh! I should have known that."

3. Page 90: Corduroy

Corduroy was everywhere back then. Have you ever worn corduroy?

"I don’t believe so. If I have, not since I was six or something. Just on formal occasions."

Speaking of formal, you could buy an entire corduroy suit.

"I know what corduroy is, but that has more to do with Corduroy the bear. When I read the book as a kid, I was like, 'Mom, what is corduroy?' Hmm… is corduroy warm?"

You bet it is.

"It just seems like a lot of material."

4. Page 153: Phoebe Cates

Do you recognize this model?

"No."

Do you know who Phoebe Cates is?

"No."

Have you seen Fast Times at Ridgemont High?

"No, I’ve never even heard of it."

[Explains the origins of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, from the Cameron Crowe writings to the screen.] Do you know who Sean Penn is?

"I know who Sean Penn is."

He played the stoner character. Phoebe Cates famously comes out of a swimming pool in slow motion wearing a bikini.

"If that came out today, would that be PG-13 or R?"

Oh, this was an R for sure. PG-13 did not exist until Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom a couple of years later.

5. Page 169: Pocket Watches

"Even I can’t picture someone from the 1970s pulling out a pocket watch. Unless they’re like, 80."

To be fair, it does label them "Nostalgic."

6. Page 185: Musk

Musk was the unofficial odor of the Seventies. Do you know the smell of musk?

"Is it different than cologne?"

Well, it's an ingredient in cologne. It's from the glands of muskrats or something… [Googles] On, right, it is a secretion from the musk deer.

"I kind of like musk, so I don’t know what that says about me."

7. Page 189: Hair Dryers

Do you know what number 13 is?

"It looks like a breathing machine."

That is a hairdryer. It's like a shower cap attached to a hose.

"That seems like something someone rigged up at home!"

8. Page 321: Tobacco Pipes

"I have never, ever, never, never met anyone who smokes an actual pipe."

My dad smoked a pipe. There was a chain of stores in malls called The Tinder Box. I have intense sense-memories of going there with him, opening glass jars of tobacco and huffing the sweet loose tobacco.

9. Page 365: Popcorn Poppers

Have you ever had a popcorn popper?

"The only popcorn I’ve ever made is in a bag in the microwave."

These are air poppers.

"I was watching Scary Movie recently and she was making popcorn in that flat aluminum tin thing on the stove, which I had never seen before."

That’s Jiffy Pop.

10. Page 390: Lava Lamps

Ah, at last, the lava lamp.

"I'm pretty sure I had a miniature lava lamp when I was younger."

What do you think this lamp would cost, in today's dollars?

"Anywhere between $20 and $50."

Adjusting for inflation, it's $109. 

"HAHAHAHA. Personally, I don’t know that I would ever pay more than $20 for a lava lamp! How big is this lamp?!"

About the size of a two-liter soda bottle? Smaller?

11. Page 403: Decorative Barometers

Have you used a barometer?

"I went to Camp Tecumseh. They bought us how to use one."

Do you know what it measures?

"The weather? I don’t know outside of that."

Pressure.

"Oh, that makes sense. I knew that, in the back of my head."

Half this catalog is just things your phone does now.

12. Page 404: Alarm Clocks

Do you have an alarm clock?

"Nope. I probably should get one if my phone dies."

13. Page 405: Televisions

What do you think those two big knobs do?

"One of those big dials changes the channel… the other dial does… something important… for televisioning?"

They both change the channel.

"HAHA! What? Why are there two? Are there different lists of channels?"

Basically! Have you heard of UHF and VHF?

"No."

Very High Frequency, that included channels 1–13, your big networks like ABC, CBS and NBC. The higher numbers were on Ultra High Frequency, which was typically for smaller local stations.

"Would PBS be considered national or high numbers?"

That's a good question. I think it would depend on the market?

14. Page 416: 8-Tracks

Do you know what an 8-Track is?

"Cassettes with eight tracks on them? Just a guess?"

Well, yes but no. Technically, it was an album split into four "programs," split into two stereo channels. All four are playing at once, on a loop, and you toggle back and forth between the programs, like TV channels. So, say you pop in the Abbey Road 8-Track. "Come Together," "Here Comes the Sun," "I Want You" and "Sun King" all go at the same time. You have a switch to jump between programs. If you want to hear, say, song two on Program 2, it gets really hard to find it. Not to mention, the song order is completely different from the vinyl album and CD. It's complicated.

"Well, now you can just listen to whatever, whenever."

15. Page 440: Trash Compactors

"WAIT… WHAT?! What’s a trash compactor? I would guess it compacts your trash. Correct me if I’m wrong."

Ha, yep! It would economize your trash usage. I don’t know if it’s because of the economy of the time? The fuel crisis and plastic shortages? I'm speculating here.

"This is the first time I’ve ever heard that a trash compactor was an actual appliance."

It was useful because you didn’t have to take out the trash as much. Everything else in the kitchen had been turned into a machine, so they thought, well, why not the trash can?

16. Page 462: Benji

Do you know the dog Benji?

"He was that popular? How come I’ve never heard of him?"

He had his own movies. A bunch of them. Like The Fast and Furious, but with a little cute dog instead of cars.

"And then he disappeared, off the radar. I guess he was dwarfed by the popular dogs of my era, like Air Bud."

I'm sure nobody is going to be happy to read that.

17. Page 487: Latch Hook Wall Hangings

"Is that one of those carpet things where you stick the stick in the thing?"

Exactly. Yarn artwork was a big home decor trend. Latch hook and macramé. 

"I think I made one long ago; it was a panda’s face."

18. Page 531: Ventriloquist Dummies

"Wow, that is a lot of ventriloquist dummies."

It was a big fad for kids.

"I don’t think I recognize any of them."

Not even the ones in the middle?

"Jeff Dunham. Those are the only ventriloquist dummies I know."

19. Page 636: Electric Football

Take a look at this Electric Football and guess how it works.

"Is it like chess where you move the pieces around?"

No, you plug it in and the field is made out of, like, tin and the whole thing vibrates violently, shaking the little men to bump into each other. Honestly, it was pretty cruddy.

20. Page 652: Pong Video Game Console

Pong! My neighbor had this Pong console.

"You’re buying the thing for just the one game?"

Yes. No cartridges. It just had a switch, so you could toggle between the different "games," like hockey, which was just Pong with obstacles in the middle.

"How much did it cost?"

Less than that lava lamp.

"Are you serious? That’s insane."

21. Page 656: Atari 400 Home Computer

"That’s a computer?"

You hook it up to a television, yes. I had a Timex one similar to it.

"What do you do on that computer? Do you just do math? Can you type? Write a book?"

See the cassette player? It used cassette tapes as a storage device.

"Crazy. Okay, so computer games. That makes more sense."

22. Page 659: Speak & Spell

You’ve seen E.T. right?

"No."

Alright, we’re done here. I can’t even handle that.

"It’s on my to-do! I’m sorry! My parents are mad at me, too."

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TCKirkham 2 days ago
I don't know whether to laugh or cry...this made me laugh so hard I have tears rolling down my face...ROTFL!!!
JDnHuntsvilleAL 8 days ago
[What do you think this lamp would cost, in today's dollars?

"Anywhere between $20 and $50."

Adjusting for inflation, it's $109. ]

Go check Amazon. They are STILL $20-$50.
Pacificsun 10 days ago
What would they do facing a rotary phone? The chasm of experience is frightening. I now feel like I should be part of a museum.
idkwut2use Pacificsun 10 days ago
I have a very old-fashioned rotary phone on the wall that's never worked but is cool-looking. It's got a little table for a notepad that opens for storage, and the speaker, and the earpiece on a string...love it. :3
You must LOVE "Petticoat Junction."
xD It's actually not a huge favorite really, but I do like it!
thedude1500 11 days ago
What, nothing about the model on page 602 of the 1975 catalog
TCKirkham thedude1500 2 days ago
OOOO...Carbon Dating yourself, dude! The only catalog page that had a record released about it - Zoot Fenster's "The Man on Page 602" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yd2gD_6YFos
daDoctah 12 days ago
Next time, see how long it takes them to believe in "Dialing for Dollars". "They expected people to watch old movies in the afternoon *when* *they* *were* *shown*?" "You had to be listed in the phone book to get picked and called?" "They let the phone ring *ten* *times* before giving up?"
TCKirkham daDoctah 2 days ago
We never had "Dialing for Dollars" on an afternoon movie when I was growing up - in the Spokane WA market, it was part of KXLY-TV's "The Noon Show", a half hour news and interview show - my mom never missed it when I was a kid....:-)
Nancy 12 days ago
Here is the entire 1979 Sears Wishbook:

https://christmas.musetechnical.com/ShowCatalog/1979-Sears-Christmas-Book
DuanneWalton 12 days ago
I thought sure you were talking about the trash compacter from the Kenner Death Star playset.
Geronimo 12 days ago
This was not a quiz🤔😒
That's why it's in Stories.
That's how they getcha.
Runeshaper 13 days ago
That was a very interesting interview. I can understand almost all of the responses as I didn't have most of these items, but I don't grasp that the person did NOT see E.T. LOL I remember those alarm clocks & I still think that pocket watches are classy. I even had 1 of those dummies. However, I don't want anyone's name stitched on my caboose LOL
Maybe they played the E.T. video game and are still damaged.
As far as messages on butts go, a girlfriend of mine used to
wear Christmas jeans with mistletoe on the the caboose!
I teach at a university, and I have sometimes seen young women with the word "pink" on their backsides. I don't know what this means, and I don't know why they don't feel foolish.
I believe the "Pink" thing is like a sub-brand of Victoria's Secret...it's stupid and I'd never wear those. x-p
Ok. Those are cool jeans. I dig the holiday style :)
Runeshaper idkwut2use 7 days ago
I'm pretty sure you're correct there.
With a cold holiday message, too!
RobCertSDSCascap 13 days ago
The jeans sizes in #1. Slim, Pretty, Plus etc.
Somewhere in squint print, the girls clothing pages would often include
"Also Chubby Sizes".
A few years earlier, "Super Dennis" introduced Sears Toughskins jeans!

Barry22 13 days ago
#19, the electric football game! Had one of those, it was "cruddy", but fun. #18, that's Lester from Willie Tyler and Lester fame. #1, David Cassidy's daughter Katie is featured on the CW show, 'Arrow', and she just recently directed an episode.
idkwut2use 14 days ago
That was fun!
But wow, I'm 32, and...if that was a genuine conversation...I can only marvel that that person is actually alive. How in the world can one be unfamiliar with trash compactors? The main garbage in our house has ALWAYS been one. What do other people have? Just wastebaskets? And how can anyone not know "Da Doo Ron Ron?" Or not have even heard of "Fast Times?!" Or not have seen "E.T.?!?!?!?!" Or any of those dummies? HOW is it possible not to have seen or at least heard of BENJI?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?
I've had a couple pairs of corduroy pants forever...there's more of the material in my mom's closet, which I've always loved to raid on occasion. It's not my favorite fabric due to the thickness, but it's nice enough.
I have a perfume called "Fresh White Musk Fantasy" or something. All I can think when I hear the word is "Muskrat Love."
There's a pocket watch on a chain under a cloche atop my dad's wardrobe. Somewhere we might still have our old corncob pipe, but I'm not sure it was ever used; chewing tabacco is my dad's thing.
We've had a couple popcorn poppers--a glass jar one that broke, and a carnival-style one that's still cute but hasn't worked in a long time. There's a lava lamp in the basement that I've always loved. I'm sure we have a barometer amongst all our temperature/weather-guaging devices. I miss my alarm clock radio. We have some 8-track tapes in our crate of records.
The Atari 400 keyboard reminds me of a fast food counter/cashier one. I always loved that style for some reason, with the flat keys, and any toy with them I'd use (along with my dad's print-out calculator and the actual registers) to play cashier (which turned out to be my hated first job because people ruin everything.) I used our typewriter a TON back in the day too.
I looooved shopping the huge JC Penney and Sears catalogs!
And did anybody else have VideoSmarts? I cherish my videos to this day and think of or quote them frequently whenever anything reminds me of them. Which happens A LOT. I didn't actually hook up the computer to play along, just watched the tapes. We had soooo many cool toys and games, and I'm always driving myself nuts with nostalgia reminiscing about everything I didn't manage to hang onto over the years, or at least get in a photo/video. ;;
Pacificsun idkwut2use 10 days ago
My hunch is that interview was done for effect. They probably were talking to a 15 year old.
idkwut2use Pacificsun 10 days ago
That'd make a tad more sense.
Although it'd still baffle me how even by that age one could avoid being in some manner exposed to much of it.
Many kids today would not be exposed to some of these things listed...most of these things listed. Especially if their parents have never discussed or talked to them about it.

Also, some things are cultural and regional. So everyone was not into certain fads and trends; and therefore they would not be passed down or discussed.
Yeah, obviously not everybody would be familiar with everything...even so I find it difficult to imagine not at some point seeing/hearing about most of it from the various people around you, in media, still being in use or at least on display, etc...
TCKirkham Pacificsun 2 days ago
I dunno...some of the "React" videos on YouTube have millennials on them reacting to stuff from the 1970s and 1980s, usually music, and they're HILARiOUS - these poor folks have some amazing opinions and once in a while you'll get someone that knows the era's music and it's always a treat!
genZmetv 14 days ago
I literally made an account just to comment on this article. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, but I'm kinda sick of seeing people going "hurr durr millenials bad", and I thought MeTV was above that.
I'm young and I know what pretty much all of these things are, including "Da Doo Ron Ron", The Crystals (good girl group from the 60s), Phil Spector (music producer currently in jail for murder), and the "Wall of sound"(name for Spector's technique). I also watch MeTV all the time.
Just because someone is young doesn't mean they're totally ignorant, it just means they've had less time to experience these things.
The trash compactor in the kitchen did surprise me, though.
harlow1313 genZmetv 13 days ago
I think Metv used it for effect.

But I know what you mean. The generational tribalism I often see is tiresome. Us and them. I try not to fall for it, but sometimes fail...
genZmetv harlow1313 13 days ago
"generational tribalism", I've never heard that phrase, but that's a pretty good way of describing it.
Moody genZmetv 12 days ago
Every generation does this I think. I can remember the comments my parents & grandparents would make about my generation (boomer). Some of it's fair but mostly not. I will say that I've known some millennials who are clueless but I know a lot of the boomer generation just as clueless. I have also known some millennials who are really on the ball & have a good work ethic. They are just great kids. It depends on the parenting & you can tell which ones were raised to live responsibly. I think sometimes we need to give them a break.
Pacificsun genZmetv 10 days ago
The article (including interview) was just to emphasize the concept of a "Sears Catalog." Gotta admit it's not something frequently sitting around. MeTV stories seek to amuse and investigate curious trivia about our society. (No harm). One thing about all of this, (and we're glad you joined the site!) is that if we're missing a sense of humor about things - then we are missing one of the necessary joys in life! (That's just a free tip!).
Pacificsun Moody 10 days ago
Generational differences come from the fact that each generation of parents have an equally different experience, the result of their own parents. Going back ad infinitum. While little of it is cumulative, just can't stop evolution from rolling forward!!
IsisLaShawnHardy Moody 9 days ago
Exactly. Same for the Generation Z kids that are coming up after the Millennials. Some of them are really on the ball, while some are clueless.
RobCertSDSCascap 14 days ago
Might be easier to explain to them what killed Sears.
And the killer is...Jeff Bezos!
genZmetv cperrynaples 14 days ago
down with bezos! killing off businesses, small and larger.
Is he the Kmart guy?
KIDDING!!
Pacificsun cperrynaples 10 days ago
Actually financial miscalculation. With vision, they could've beat Bezos to the goal line. But it would've required massive retooling. Unfortunately they were already so invested in a "brick & mortar" footprint, they couldn't pivot. In financial credit circles, it was once predicted that if ever Sears Roebuck ever folded, the consumer economy would crash! Well it kinda did (in between that prediction and now) during the 2008 recession. But fortunately there are always visionaries taking advantage of opportunities! (A word to the wise. And equally to the fearful!!). LOL!
AlietaBynum 14 days ago
I latch hooked a tiger rug...I miss my youth terribly
dntlss 14 days ago
That is so funny,we hired this new kid at work and a few months ago when Peter Fonda passed away i asked him if he knew who he was and he said "no" so then i told myself "well no biggie BUT OF COURSE he would know who his sister is", nope ,just a blank stare,lol, you can go to a town of 10 in the middle of the Amazons and they would know who Jane is.
RobCertSDSCascap 14 days ago
#2- The Baltimore COLTS???
Yeah, and who is that prissy guy on the Patriots helmet?
Yesh! My Baltimore Colts from back in the day. Robert Irsay first sabotaged then moved the team to India-no-place. So glad to be a Baltimore Ravens fan since 1996!
As a Browns fan, you will always have strong rivals in Cleveland!
Really enjoyed watching the Ravens bring New England back to earth.
MrsPhilHarris 14 days ago
I remember trawling through earlier Wish Books. All the toys and the candy near the front. It was one of the highlights of childhood.
Same here. The J.C. Penney's Wish Book always had the last 40-50 pages
full of toys.
I had a kitchen set. It was orange and white. Loved it so much.
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