The Rolodex – Design Icon

The Rolodex is a desktop card file system. In the 1940s, Arnold Neustadter’s Company Zephyr American produced the Autodesk, a standard address case the size of an envelope which opened at whichever letter the user chose. In today’s world of smartphones, the original desktop rotary card file did it’s bit manually.

The Rolodex

There are few office equipment products more iconic than the Rolodex (the name comes from a combination of the words rolling and index). In the past, companies organised their contacts in Rolodexes. Rolodex is constructed as a cylindrical rotary card file on a tubular metal frame that contains A-Z index cards to store business contacts.

Information management developed out of paper-based activities. Although technology has made it possible to record and retrieve information faster digitally, some electronic systems still invoke the spinning wheel’s familiar visual and tactile characteristics in their design. The Rolodex has lasted. It is still used in the twenty-first-century workplace and retains a reputation as a “survivor” of technology. It is estimated that at least ten million units have been sold every year since its manufacture in 1958. The Rolodex is also one of the cultural symbols of the mid-twentieth century.

I have kept a record of most people I have met since the 1940s. Their names are stored in an electronically operated Rolodex that contains upward of one hundred thousand entries. Each card records my first contact and all subsequent meetings, and I can quickly review the nature of my past associations before seeing someone again.”

David Rockeller

The Rolodex was invented in 1950 during the process of correcting the Autodesk’s design flaws. The original model had triangular supports for the wheel which held the file cards. The firm itself was renamed Rolodex in 1974. Some models were able to hold up to 6000 cards. Its technology shifted to the computer in the early 1990s.

All that Arnold Neustadter wanted to do when he conceived the Rolodex rotary file was to expand his quirky “odex” line as in Swivodex, a non-spillable inkwell, or Clipodex a device that clipped onto a secretary’s knee and supposedly aided in the taking of dictation.

Neustadter was a one-time journalism major at New York University and a former employee in his father’s box factory. He started Zephyr American Corp in 1938. The Company shuffled along on the sales of its various “odexes” for more than a decade, but success for the Company did not occur until Neustadter created the Rolodex.

Rolodex’s name became synonymous with a type of product. There were many different models; Economy, Utility, Classic, Decorator, Designer and V-File Models in either steel or polystyrene, able to hold a maximum of between 125 and 6000 cards. There were models with walnut accents, poppy reds and see through covers.

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