Sounds that no longer exist

Feel old by listening to these 11 obsolete sounds. (Via Andrew Moseman)


  1. Pedant alert:    By virtue of the fact that I can listen to them by clicking the link, I’m pretty sure these sounds still exist…

  2. Christ,  I remember all of these! The sounds are planted firmly in my memory.  Wonderful post!

     These videos should definitively be preserved in a museum for future reference.

  3. Never mind the SOUND of a flashbulb.  Am I the only person who remembers the dry, ozoney, metallic smell of one firing?  I used to love that smell as a child.  Ditto for the odd scent of a typwriter ribbon being taken out of the sealed package–that vague solventy smell like a weaker version of a permanent marker. 

    1. Am I the only person who remembers the dry, ozoney, metallic smell of one firing?

      I remember that too! I wasn’t as fond of it as you were. I thought it smelled bad, and consequently disliked having my picture taken.

      This building at 700 East Joppa Rd. in Towson, MD, was locally known as “the flash cube building” when I was a kid.

  4. Thanks Maggie, now I feel old but not without a sense of superiority to the youth of today and all their high bit rate sounds that for all the effort just sound fake. It’ll be fun to tell people when I’m really old that things used to make real sounds and not just warmed over faux sounds belted out by crappy little speakers. (I still miss gas-station tubes. As a kid I would jump on them till some grizzled old mechanic would yell something like “cut it out kid, that’s not a toy.” Wonder what sounds that guy has etched in his brain that ‘don’t exist’ anymore.)

  5. Here’s another sound your kids will probably never have heard:

    Only we used to do it barefoot and outside in the snow. And if we wanted a rock to shape, we had to go out and hunt for one with a stick! =)

    1. Morkl, that was the question I came in to ask! My husband and I just picked up a percolator (pretty much this one at a flea market a few weeks ago. It looks lovely on the counter and my husband likes the coffee’s flavor.
      (let the coffee flame war begin!)

  6. I don’t understand “7. Gas Station Driveway Bell”

    I wonder if the author of the list realizes that Oregon and New Jersey are mandatory full-service pumping states.

  7. Here’s a better one for the cash register, the Sweda… I always remember the clicking and thumping as it those worked.

  8. Cool compilation! But, I’m only 25 and I am familiar with all of them (and not just from old movies, though I do watch a lot of them) :) I think one generation behind mine is the tipping point, where most people will not be familiar with many (or any) of these sounds.

    We used rotary telephones regularly at my parents’ house well into my teens (and they’re still there and usable), and my dad and grandparents still have all that old equipment (typewriters, old tvs, film projectors etc.) – so it’s not like the younger generation can’t experience these things.

    The only thing that’d be difficult to experience these days is flash bulbs – but they still exist (in probably rather substantial numbers) as old dead stock, and if your parents or grandparents had cameras back in the day they probably still have some flash bulbs in the basement. I’m not sure where I came across them, but I remember clearly as a teenager having them and figuring out how to set them off without a camera that took them :)

    I love analog, mechanical sounds (it’s one of my favorite things about going to downtown city areas), and I kind of worry about what the future has in store for us. Already everything is noiseless enough that a lot of things (cell phone cameras etc.) emit fake analog sounds and it just isn’t satisfying.

    1. OMG Yes.  While that’s 100% nerd and not in the realm of the everyday person two decades ago, it is still firmly ingrained in my mind.

      Ah the late night co-op Doom and Descent battles with my best friend.  Oh 28.8 how you use to taunt me.

      1. You had a 28.8 you young whippersnapper?! Why I remember the day my daddy brought home a 2400 baud modem and Prodigy was lightning fast!

  9. Most of the noise of that Instamatic camera comes from the mechanical shutter and winder, not the flashcube, which makes at most a little “pop” .  I like to shoot with a Speed Graphic and flashbulbs, and people are always surprised that the bulbs just go “ping” and not “FA-WOOOOSH!!” like they do in all the movies.

  10. With a lot of people under 20 today I wonder if they even know what camera film is?  Or the fact you had to manually move to the next picture.

  11. @Micah: Ah, but what you’re listening to are recordings of the original sounds.

    Incidentally, I’m only 33 and I remember all that stuff. If they want to amaze me, bring back the Bill Evans Trio, stylish automobiles and non-ironic men’s hats.

  12. Born in 1983 and I am familiar with all the sounds except the gas station bell and the TV signoff.  My mother had a Qasar TV from as early as I can remember until I was like 14 and it had separate “UHF” and “VHF” knobs.  The channel selector was probably better than on really old-school TV but I hazily remember the sharp blast of static you’d get turning the knob.  (Of course, we almost always left it on channel 3 because we had cable.)

    Hopefully that helps people feel less old.  Maybe another one: when I graduated highschool less than 20% had cellphones.  About six years later I was teaching highschool and more than 80% had cellphones.  You guys aren’t getting old, history is just accelerating around you.

  13. Interestingly, when my Google Music stream is interrupted it sounds very much like a skipping record: since it isn’t my experience with other streamed services I half wonder if it’s intentional.

  14. Actually one sound that no one can listen to (since at least some twenty years) is the sound of quiet nature without any technology-created background noise. 

    There’s always a computer, a plane, a power-line hum, something.   

  15. There’s a sound I wish I was too young to remember: the Casio synth-tastic arrangement of our poor, abused National Anthem played by the Reagan-era KABC 7.  Dig that wowzer noise immediately after the rocket’s red glare.


  16. I’m glad they listed “record changer” rather than vinyl records or the needle on a record. It always bugs me when people talk about kids not knowing records. They do: DJing and record mixing is alive and well and never went away. Just a pet peeve. Like the people who kept telling that “Paul McCartney-was-in-a-band-before-Wings?” joke well after people forgot what the hell Wings was. Most youngins would rightfully ask, “Paul McCartney was in a band after the Beatles?”

  17. I’ve heard nearly all of them.  I own a typewriter, for starters.

    What about sounds that came out of nowhere, were everywhere, and then vanished just as quickly?  I’m thinking of the whine of a tape rewinding, or the “clunk” a tape deck makes when it gets to the end.  How long before those are gone?

    Also, I’d nominate camera shutters for “endangered sounds”.

    1. I don’t think camera shutters are in any danger.  Digital SLRs still have those, and while smart phone camera technology is objectively impressive, there are very good reasons professional photographers still use a $10,000 SLR.  The ability to swap out lenses is huge (though I have no idea how well that SLR iPhone thing actually works).

      1. The cheaper SLRs seem to be holding on reasonably well, too – cellphone cameras are likely replacements for compact cameras, but not (yet) SLRs.

        And honestly: One of the thing I (and others) seem to love about them is that sound. :D
        (Obviously, the chunkier Nikon sound is preferable to the sharper Canon sound.[/fanboy])

          1. That, too. :)
            (On the other hand, you might not always want to attract attention, either – there’s a reason some pro photographers prefer rangefinders and the like.)

  18. I have a rotary telephone on my desk here; it’s a black 1959 GE desktop phone and it’s hooked into a modern PBX that’s 30 feet away in the main computer room.   Works fine, and you can crack brazil nuts with the handset if you get hungry.

    I also drank coffee from a tin percolator both yesterday and saturday, and my mom has a Royal brand manual typewriter that sees occasional use.

    And honestly there’s no shortage of gas station bells around here, either.

    I suspect whoever compiled this list is a city slicker!

    Thank you for the list, though, Maggie; I am going to buy one of those Milton’s bells for my shop.

  19. In addition to the common availability of everything else here, some TV stations still turn off at night – NHK does it every single night on one of their channels. 

  20. Mechanical adding machine. Electric ten-key adding machine. Mechanical Push-button selector on car radio. Mechanical pinball machine. Mechanical slot machine. Mechanical cigarette machine. Mechanical soda machine dispensing cans. Coke bottle machine you open the door of to withdraw a bottle. Mechanical change dispensing lever on vending machine. Mechanical pay phone money mechanism. Ash tray being emptied on an American commercial airline. Silverware hitting the tray of a four-course in-flight meal on an American commercial airline. Mechanical turnstyle. New York subway mechanical token turnstyle. The humming sound the lights made in the Port Authority station under the World Trade center at 3am. I could go on and on.

  21. Great link.

    I’ve got a 40s-era bakelite G-Man phone from one of my old jobs. We wired it up as a speakerphone (with XLR output). That thing works great during power outages and you could fell a troll with one swing of that brick. The ring and the sound of the dial as you dial 9 always put me in a good mood. Provided I don’t have to listen tot he thing all day long.

    I was kind of hoping the “Obsolete Sounds for the Aging” page would include the sound of a newsroom filled with the cacophony of typewriters and teletypes. Or the sound of a busy street in London or NYC in the Edwardian Era when horses and cars still shared the roads.

    There’s an interesting aside in one of the later books of The Forsyte Saga. Soames silently remarks that the sounds and smells of the streets have changed so dramatically in only a decade. Horse shit was on the wane, but clouds of rank exhaust were overwhelmingly abundant.

    I’m often reminded of that passage when I think of the many dramatic changes in our lives since the adoption of cellphones and computers by a large percentage of the US population.

    I also wonder what sort of effect the disappearance of horses has had on humans. Rich or poor, people were intimately connected to horses in their daily lives. Horsepower. I wonder if horses will make a come-back as transportation when we’ve depleted oil supplies. You could walk down to your local ZipHorse stable and rent Bucephalus for your day’s errands. I think I’d rather welcome that change.

  22. I’ll be turning 34 soon and I can remember hearing all of these sounds at some point in my childhood. I first read through the list without playing the videos, and mentally replaying all of these sounds gave me a heavy dose of nostalgia.

    It would have also been interesting to have the sounds presented without description as a challenge for people to identify them. Maybe some kind of multiple-choice “get off my lawn” quiz.

    On a side note, does anyone else remember their early childhood (prior to age 4 or so)? My overwhelming visual impression from my early childhood is of oversaturated, vivid colors, especially yellow. I’m wondering whether this is a common phenomenon (due to immature vision or something) or just a side effect of having been a young child in the late 70s.

  23. I’d be minded to add the many and varied sounds of the VHS: top-loading mechanisms, slot-loading mechanisms, transport sounds, seeking, rewinding and the grand finale clunk at the end of a rewind. And that reminds me of the slightly different sounds of the cassette tape, particularly the pronounced change in tone as a rewinding tape nears the end of its journey (HERE IT COMES), though cassette tapes have survived a little better than VHS.

  24. My mother used to write on a manual typewriter when I was a child, so it´s not like it´s something completely new to me. Still, doesn´t it look bloody ridiculous in the video?

  25. There’s still a rotary phone in service at our church, in a rarely-used location.  Both of my kids have used it though it’s funny seeing someone who has never practiced using the dial, they’re very clumsy at it.

    I have a movie projector that I picked up to transfer old 8mm stuff to video, and the kids have seen it run.

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