The Golden Age Of Gadget Catalogs

Among Hackaday’s readership are likely to be many gadget enthusiasts who live for the latest electronics and who have obsessively followed gadget trends for most of their lives. You possess elite AliExpress-fu, and like the hipsters, you were into everything long before it was cool. It’s safe to say the Internet has revolutionized the world of the gadget freak, but in a time before even dial-up access there was another way into this most technophilic of pastimes. As soon as there was consumer electronics there were mail-order catalog companies slaking the thirst of the gadget-crazy, and [Cabel Sasser] is here with a look at both their heyday and their swansong.

A full page advert for a "Corporate cockpit" all-in-one wordprocessor computer.
Drew, just shut up and take my money!

He has a particular focus on the catalog produced during the 1980s by DAK Industries Inc, a North Hollywood California based company that was the work of an entrepreneur named Drew Kaplan. He presented a glittering array of the latest and greatest tech of the era, and packaged it with riveting descriptions and beautifully-shot glossy photographs. [Cabel] was hooked, and we would certainly have been too. There were digital watches with outrageous functionality, portable briefcase computers, novelty telephones, Hi-Fi components at knock-down prices, and plenty of cassette tapes to play in them.

Their signature was an engaging copy-writing style that really made you want the product, and here we enter an interesting story in itself. There was another mail order gadget company in the 1970s which used exactly the same formula but running full-page adverts, similar enough to be obviously connected in some way. Had DAK stolen the idea? Not quite, for these were the product of a man called Joseph Sugarman, who also ran a “Learn my formula for sales success” course. Drew Kaplan didn’t hesitate to attribute his success to the Sugarman course, leaving us with the surprising conclusion that there’s more to the “Learn my formula” business than simply making money from marks prepared to pay for the course.

Here at Hackaday we occasionally venture into purple prose for fun, but we’re not trying to sell you any consumer electronics. We can’t help a professional admiration for the copy-writing in these catalogs though, and since they’re all available for download from Internet Archive we’re going to spend a while wallowing in tech nostalgia. It’s a place we’ve been to before.

22 thoughts on “The Golden Age Of Gadget Catalogs

    1. I used to love getting the DAK catalogs when I was a kid. That was a happy day for me. Even though I was a broke kid, I’d spends hours flipping through that month’s catalog of, let’s be kind here, slightly older electronics even for back then and dreaming of the stuff I’d buy.

  1. DAK. Never got their catalog, but recalling all the ads (esp. touting their cassettes). All their own stuff.
    Damark had better offerings, name brands. There are others I’m sure.

  2. Oh wow, DAK and Damark ring a bell, but what really blew my mind was the Home Automation Labs catalog, which went so far beyond X10. That was the first place I saw a small-form-factor x86 “shoebox” case, touted as a great place to run the whole-house speech-recognition software, with microphones from every room tied back to the central processor.

    One product I remember distinctly was a way to create “zones” in an HVAC system not intended for them. Rather than loud, difficult-to-install motorized dampers, they had little bladders that could be inserted through a small cut in the side of the duct. A central pump and solenoid manifold would quietly inflate and deflate the bladders to block or unblock individual ducts.

    I can’t find the HAL catalogs anywhere online, so I’ll be on the lookout for a paper copy as I go through some old papers.

  3. I worked for DAK for 5 years in tech (hardware) and then software support. Great company at the time. It was fun getting to play with a lot of gadgets. It was also great having access to new products line CD ROMs 386 machines, laser pointers, and bread makers that were unheard of at the time.

      1. Didn’t get a breadmaker (couldn’t afford much from them), but I still have my made in Italy Gelatissimo ice cream maker from the early ’90s. Had a built in freezer which was insane at the time.

  4. Drew _Alan_ Kaplan, should anyone care about what the A stands for in DAK.

    They had an outlet store in Torrance, CA for a bit before they basically shut down. That was a fun place to shop. One of my favorite products was a watch that had a TV remote control embedded in it, years before TV-B-Gone. They also had pretty decent audio products, speakers and turntables particularly. Nothing audiophile but it was good quality.

    The company has been somewhat revived by a new owner and can be found on the internet (

  5. I enjoyed Radio Shack ads back in the day. And I’ve seen a one page newspaper ad floating around on internet that showed many things like TV, cassette recorder, answering machine, electronic dictionary, video camera, and many more. All combined it would have been several thousand dollars back in the 80s. Today you can get everything and more to fit your palm in the form of a smartphone costing just a few hundred dollars at the cheapest. (sometimes free with multi-year cellular subscription)

  6. Totally remember these DAK catalogs! It was all 486 DX4s lol when we got them but I remember drooling thinking of how you could run a postage stamp country with one of those lol. Good times :)

  7. “Click and Pop Assassin” for records.
    It had an “Invert” button to let you hear all the noise it was removing instead of the filtered audio. But the truth is, it filtered out all the fast transients from the audio stream, including those which were part of the original music.

  8. I remember, as a young teen, entering and winning some kind of contest at DAK which touted a prize “worth over $80”; I had such high hopes, and was terribly disappointed when I received an envelope containing the floppies for some kind of database package.

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