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What is a Rolodex™?

Allison Boelcke
Allison Boelcke

A Rolodex™ is an organizational device used to store contact information. It is a rotating cylinder constructed with a center bar that holds removable cards. The product’s name is a combination of the words “rolling" and "index," and it is primarily designed to make accessing names, addresses, and phone numbers faster with its complete circular rotations.

Customized cards come with the device, along with alphabetical tabs for organization. The cards have slots at the tops to fit securely into the inner bars. A person can attach business cards to the slotted cards or write contact information directly onto them. The cards are filed by fastening the slots onto the center bars behind the correct divider.

Woman holding a disc
Woman holding a disc

The base of the organizer was designed to function similar to a paperweight. It is made of sturdy steel to make it more suitable for conveniently sitting on office desks. There are two basic types of Rolodex™: uncovered and covered. The uncovered version has a frame made from two steel legs and allows the cards to be completely visible, while the covered type has a flat base and a retractable hood to conceal the cards when not in use.

The first Rolodex™ was invented in 1954 by engineer Hildaur L. Neilsen. While working at office supply manufacturing company Zephyr American Corporation, Neilsen expanded upon The Wheeldex™, an existing circular office organizer sold by rival company Scholfield Services Incorporated during the 1940s. Neilson added three major changes: plastic side knobs to make rotation easier, two circular inner rails to secure cards, and a friction clutch to ensure the rotation was smooth and unlikely to get stuck. The Rolodex™ was marketed by Zephyr American Corporation founder Arnold Neustadter in the late 1950s and its success surpassed the Wheeldex™

As the organizer became more popular, it also developed into a type of status symbol for some entrepreneurs. The larger and more filled a person’s Rolodex™ was, the more successful he or she was considered to be. Once electronic organizers began to become more widespread starting around the 1980s, the use of the traditional Rolodex™ declined slightly but was not outdated.

When office computers became more common starting in the 1990s, the sales of Rolodex™ still remained steady and the product began to be combined with the advancing technology, rather than completely replaced. There are computer software programs that create templates that can be printed onto the cards for those who don’t want to handwrite the slotted cards. The device is often used as a backup in the event that computer systems crash and lose electronically stored information; however, there is also an electronic handheld version of the Rolodex™ as well as computer database software.

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      Woman holding a disc