Blogging about lunch boxes yesterday got me thinking about school supplies and how they’ve changed through the years. My daughter’s school provides lengthy, specific supply lists to parents each summer. On the first day of school, her backpack contains a spine-disfiguring load of tissues, hand sanitizer, spiral notebooks, folders, loose-leaf paper, and glue sticks.
School-supply shopping was simpler in the 1970s. My teachers rarely required anything specific—as long as you had paper and pencils, you could organize your work any way you wanted. Once, in seventh grade, I tried a complicated system of color-coded folders and spiral notebooks for each class. The more common organizational tool, however, was a binder. (Strangely, this is one supply my daughter’s school bans.)
Many people have fond memories of their Trapper Keepers. You can find tributes to them across the web, and people snap up vintage ones on Ebay. The Trapper Keeper even inspired a South Park episode.
My first and favorite binder, however, was the Trapper Keeper’s forgotten older sibling: The Mead Data Center.
As far as I can tell, Mead introduced the Data Center in 1975, three years before they released the Trapper Keeper. Like that later binder, the Data Center came with a detailed measurement conversion chart. Other features, according to an Etsy listing for vintage 1975 one, were a planner, a place to record your class schedule, a telephone directory, a three-year calendar, a notepad that clipped onto the binder, and a pencil holder.
Now, when I had this model in third grade, almost all these features were useless to me. But I loved the idea of having them. These extras, and the name Data Center itself, suggested a grown-up, businesslike level of organization—a level of organization I’ve never been able to reach as an actual grown up.
This second part of this commercial shows that Data Center lasted into the 1980s.
Final Fun Facts: Mead corporate history is a complicated series of acquisitions and sales. Some trivia:
- In 1968, Mead spent $6 million to buy an information technology company; this company went on to develop the Lexis Nexis electronic research system, which Mead sold in 1994 for $1.5 billion.
- In the 1960s, Mead also acquired Westab, the company that invented the spiral notebook and produced Big Chief tablets, a back-to-school staple for mid-century kids.
- In 1992, Mead sold American Pad and Paper—Ampad—to Bain Capital. Ampad’s subsequent bankruptcy is controversial. But this transaction does allow you to connect Mitt Romney to a Trapper Keeper with only two degrees of separation.
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