We define our historical eras, naturally, by things that we associate with them. We started making tools in the Bronze Age, the plague was in the Dark Ages, we strapped dogs and monkeys to rockets in the Space Age, and for a brief time in the '90s people wore shirts that changed color when they sweat.
But not everything is so cut and dried; sometimes things that you only thought existed in the black and white world were still around until just a few years ago. For instance ...
6The (Original) VW Bug Was Still Being Produced Until 2003
First of all, we're not talking about the redesigned VW Beetle that Volkswagen introduced in 1998. We're talking about the original rear-engine Beetle, the car that symbolized the 1960s in the way the Model T symbolized the early 1900s. The "love bug" was contractually obligated to be featured in every film, TV show, book, play, dramatic reading, poetry slam and conversation held from 1967 to 1972.
The peace and love is so thick, it's sticky.
You don't see the classic Beetle around much nowadays, with the exception of those ancient collector cars carefully maintained by people who literally have rebuilt them with a mixture of gum, tinfoil and marijuana residue.
But Actually ...
Or, they could have just bought one from the factory as recently as 2003. That's the last year that Volkswagen produced the classic Beetle -- and yes, we mean the trunk-under-the-hood, 1960s-style Herbie version that we all know and love.
The 2003 Volkswagen Beetle. Really.
See? It has a CD player and everything!
From the 1930s to 1978, Volkswagen spit out car after car from its factory before deciding, decades before America made it popular, to move the Beetle factories to Mexico. But production didn't stop -- from 1978 until 2003, the Mexican plants continued flooding the market with the bubble-shaped cars that sold for around $6,000. On July 30, 2003, the last ever Beetle to be made rolled off the factory line.
Finally phased out because the windshield decorations made them unsafe to drive.
Who the hell was buying these things? Well, while the U.S. pressed forward with that pricey "New Beetle" in the late '90s, Volkswagen found that the rest of the world preferred things old school. Primarily used as taxis in Mexico, regulations requiring four-door cabs finally did them in. Without that, it's possible that production would have continued. Not bad for a car dreamed up by Hitler.
5Ships Were Still Using Morse Code Until 1999
Back when the fastest way to get a message to somebody was tying it to a trained bird, the invention of the telegraph had to have seemed like a goddamned miracle. Sure, it couldn't transmit your voice, but you could instantly send a signal by hitting a little lever, so it was almost as good, as long as the person at the other end knew what your lever presses meant. That's where Morse code came in, a language of "dots" and "dashes" (short and long presses on the lever) established in the 1840s that would tell the recipient you had something to say, and that it wasn't just a dog chewing on the machine.
It was also a lifesaver for ships, as they quickly adopted a wireless system that let them send out the now-famous "SOS" emergency message, beckoning help by tapping out those three letters over and over again on their telegraph. Primitive, yes. But a hell of a lot better than, say, blowing into a conch shell in hopes Aquaman would rescue you.
As if that drunk would get off his ass long enough to help anything without fins.
Of course, radio came along a short time after that, and then phones, then satellite communications, etc. Nobody has heard that series of "SOS" beeps since, what, the Titanic era?
But Actually ...
That's almost right -- if you're referring to the movie. Morse code was still the standard ship distress call until they phased it out in 1999.
"Told you so."
In an era when cellphones were slowly taking over and email had replaced the postal service, ships were still yelling at each other over a long monotone string of dots and dashes. Until, finally, the International Convention for Ships Under Distress, who possibly have the most specific purpose for a convention ever, finally decided to stop using Morse code and upgrade to satellites and high-frequency radio.
Some stations continued to monitor Morse transmissions for a few months after the change-over. Finally, people started saying goodbye in Morse by trying to see how poetic they could get with their last messages on the old system. Among the last was the French Coast Guard's "Calling all. This is our last cry before our eternal silence" and Landsend Radios' last message, "But now the time has come, ours is not to reason why, the satellites are calling, our Morse transmissions die."
"P.S. I just wanted you to love me, dad."
Today, Morse has been replaced by the GMDSS, or Global Maritime Distress and Safety System, which, by the way, leaves Antarctica and the North Pole totally uncovered, so have fun if your ship sinks around those areas. But still, after 170 years of service, it was probably about time for Morse to go.