7 Evolution of School Supplies from the 60s to the 80s: Flashback to Fun Retro Gear

School supplies have come a long way over the years.

From the simplicity of the 1960s to the innovative designs of the 1980s, the tools students used reflect the changing times and educational needs.

Ever wonder how those changes shaped the learning experience? Dive into the fascinating evolution of school supplies and discover how each decade brought something new to the classroom.

1) Big Chief Tablets

If you went to school in the ’60s, ’70s, or even early ’80s, you probably remember Big Chief tablets.

These bright red notebooks were a staple for young kids learning to write.

Each one had a picture of a Native American chief in full headdress on the cover.

The paper inside was newsprint, and the lines were extra wide, making it easier for kids to practice their handwriting.

Back in the day, you might have bought one of these tablets for just 10¢, though prices went up over the years.

Originally made by the Western Tablet Company, production later moved between several companies, including Mead and Springfield Paper.

Big Chief tablets were so popular that they even introduced a “Son of Big Chief” version in the 1970s.

This updated tablet had a plastic cover and featured erasable ink, keeping up with the times.

Though you won’t find them in stores now, Big Chief tablets hold a special place in the memories of many people.

They were part of the daily routine for generations of students, helping them master the basics of writing.

2) Crayola Crayons

Crayola Crayons have been a favorite for kids and teachers since they were first introduced in 1903.

You probably remember opening a fresh box at the start of every school year.

The smell of new crayons is something you never forget.

By the early 1960s, Crayola was a staple in classrooms all over the country.

The 64-count box of Crayola Crayons, introduced in 1958, quickly became a hit.

It came with a built-in sharpener, which was super handy for keeping those crayons in tip-top shape.

Some iconic colors like celestial blue and burnt sienna have been around since the early days.

You’d get lost in creating colorful masterpieces with these vibrant colors.

In the ’70s and ’80s, Crayola continued to innovate.

They added more colors and even launched themed boxes.

It wasn’t just about drawing anymore; it was about expressing creativity in new ways.

The packaging also changed over the years, with different designs that appealed to each new generation of students.

Whether you were at school or home, a box of Crayola Crayons was always within reach, ready to bring your imagination to life.

3) Trapper Keeper

If you went to school in the ’70s or ’80s, you probably had a Trapper Keeper.

This wasn’t just any binder; it was the binder.

Trapper Keepers were known for their bright colors and fun designs.

They weren’t just cool to look at.

They were also super practical.

Each Trapper Keeper had folders called “Trappers” that helped you keep all your papers organized.

You could Velcro them shut to keep everything safe and sound.

Opening a Trapper Keeper was an experience.

You’d hear that distinct Velcro rip, and it felt like opening a treasure chest.

Trapper Keepers were like a status symbol.

If you had one, you were set for school.

They made organizing schoolwork almost fun.

4) Pocket Protectors

Pocket protectors were a cool invention in the mid-20th century.

They were created in 1943 by an engineer named Hurley Smith.

He used cheap plastic materials to solve a simple problem—keeping pens from leaking and ruining your shirt pocket.

By the 1980s, pocket protectors had made their way into pop culture.

They were available in many colors and often seen as a fashion accessory.

Think big belts, leg warmers, and stonewashed jeans.

You might even find them on postage stamps or in art, like Andy Wargol’s “Ten Protectors” painting.

They were everywhere and super useful, especially for students and professionals who used lots of pens.

While not as common today, pocket protectors were a big part of the school supply scene in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

They served a practical purpose but also became a symbol of the nerdy but cool trend.

5) Slide Rules

In the 60s and 70s, slide rules were a must-have for any math or science class.

These tools helped you multiply, divide, and even work out complex equations before calculators became popular.

Slide rules might seem like simple devices, but they were quite advanced for their time.

You would slide a central strip between two fixed outer strips to perform calculations.

They were commonly used by students and professionals alike.

Engineers, architects, and scientists all relied on them.

Knowing how to use a slide rule was a valuable skill.

Slide rules came in various sizes and styles.

Some were small enough to fit in your pocket, while others were larger and had more features.

Many had detailed instruction manuals to help you get started.

Even though slide rules aren’t widely used today, they still have a nostalgic charm.

Some enthusiasts collect them, and museums often feature them as part of their historical exhibits.

6) Metal Lunch Boxes (Star Wars)

During the late ’70s and early ’80s, Star Wars was huge.

Kids loved to show off their metal lunch boxes featuring their favorite characters.

These lunch boxes were more than just containers—they were statements.

Having a Star Wars lunch box meant you were part of the craze.

One popular Star Wars lunch box came out in 1977.

It was light blue with a white handle.

Kids loved applying the character and logo stickers that came with it.

The matching thermos was blue with a white cap.

Thermos Co. made these lunch boxes, bringing iconic art by Don Henry to life.

Collectors today treasure these items.

Finding one in good condition with the thermos can be quite rare and pricey.

The Star Wars lunch box wasn’t just a piece of metal; it was a piece of the movie magic that kids brought to school every day.

You might remember seeing these in the lunchroom, feeling a bit jealous if you didn’t have one yourself.

The Star Wars metal lunch box definitely left a mark on school supplies history.

7) Scratch-n-Sniff Stickers

In the 80s, scratch-n-sniff stickers became a huge deal in schools.

You would scratch the stickers to release their scent, which was always a fun surprise.

These stickers came in many smells like apple, banana, whipped cream, blueberry, and even odd ones like leather and Band-Aid.

Each scent brought back memories of different experiences.

Kids loved trading them to get different scents.

They were often used as rewards for good behavior or completing assignments.

Getting a collection of these stickers on your notebook was a status symbol in school.

Companies like TREND brought back these nostalgic treasures, releasing new sets in recent years.

It’s amazing how something so simple could bring so much joy.

They weren’t just for kids either.

Adults, too, enjoyed the scents, reminding them of their childhood.

Scratching and sniffing these stickers felt like a trip down memory lane.

In school supplies, scratch-n-sniff stickers added a unique twist.

They weren’t just stickers; they were tiny packets of memories, making schoolwork a bit more enjoyable.

Cultural Influences on School Supplies

In the 60s through the 80s, school supplies were greatly impacted by significant cultural events and trends.

Two main influences were the Space Race and various pop culture trends.

Impact of the Space Race

During the 1960s, the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union captured everyone’s imagination.

This excitement trickled down to school supplies.

You might have seen astronaut-themed lunchboxes, pencil cases, and notepads.

These items often featured images like rockets, planets, and astronauts.

Teachers even began using more space-themed educational materials.

Classrooms displayed space charts and posters, fueling the curiosity of young minds.

The fascination with space also led to science kits becoming popular.

These kits encouraged experiments and hands-on learning, sparking interest in science and technology among students.

Pop Culture Trends

From the 70s through the 80s, pop culture had a big influence on what kids brought to school.

Iconic TV shows, movies, and music bands made their way to your notebooks, folders, and backpacks.

For example, Star Wars characters were everywhere.

You might have collected Star Wars stickers, erasers, and even highlighters featuring characters like Yoda and Darth Vader.

Music also played a role.

Popular bands and musicians like The Beatles and Michael Jackson inspired themed school supplies.

You could carry a Michael Jackson pencil case or a Beatles notebook.

Fashion trends influenced the designs too.

Bold, bright colors were in style in the 80s, and so were neon-colored folders and backpacks.

These vibrant designs made your school supplies stand out.

Pop culture made school supplies not just functional, but fun and reflective of your personal interests.

This blend of education and entertainment made learning more enjoyable.

Technological Advancements

In the 60s to the 80s, school supplies saw some amazing technological breakthroughs.

These tools made learning easier and brought more efficiency to schoolwork.

Early Calculators

Back in the 60s, slide rules were commonly used for calculations.

They were tricky but useful.

Things changed in the 70s with the introduction of early calculators.

These calculators were much simpler than today’s models.

They could handle basic arithmetic like addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

Brands like Texas Instruments released the first pocket-sized calculators.

They were a game-changer for students.

By the late 70s, scientific calculators entered the scene.

These could perform more complex functions such as logarithms and trigonometric calculations.

They were very helpful for high school math and science classes.

Typewriters and Word Processors

During the early 60s and 70s, typewriters were often used for writing assignments and reports.

They were mechanical or electric and were quite loud.

Errors were tough to correct, usually requiring white-out or correction tape.

Then came word processors in the late 70s and early 80s.

They made a big difference.

Unlike typewriters, word processors allowed you to edit your text easily before printing.

They could store a document electronically and offered features like spell-check.

Word processors reduced the effort needed to produce neat, error-free documents.

This was especially helpful for long essays and research papers.

Many schools started adopting these in their computer labs, making them more accessible to students.

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