Ron Popiel products

by Daniel Bayer


“It slices! It dices!” To this day prolific inventor and Ig Nobel Prize winner Ron Popiel insists he never uttered those immortal words, but the Veg-O-Matic became the cornerstone on which Popiel built his Ronco “As seen on TV”-based empire. In my ’70s childhood his commercials were ubiquitous and inescapable; sometimes it seemed as if TV programming was just one long Ronco (or Crazy Eddie, if you lived in the Tri-State area) commercial, interrupted by occasional reruns of “Hogan’s Heroes” or “Batman.”

Ornamental Ice

“Kids of all ages love ornamental ice because it’s fun and easy to do!” I would say so, since it involves nothing more taxing than pouring water into a mold and letting the freezer do all the work while you watch “Land of the Lost” on TV. Popeil was quick to grasp the “look good without working at it” essence of consumer culture.

The Pocket Fisherman

Setting aside the bizarre Freudian subtext of “a fishing rod that fits in your pocket,” this classic piece of American ingenuity seems directed at… well, who knows? In all my 39 years I’ve never met anyone who owned one, let alone caught a fish with it. Someone has to buy these things, right? Perhaps they were handed out to the downtrodden as part of the government’s War on Poverty, to help members of the underclass achieve self-sufficiency – you know, give a man a fish and he eats for a day, give a man a Pocket Fisherman and he eats for a lifetime.

Rhinestone and Stud Setter

Not be confused with the similar Bedazzler, which, surprisingly, was not a Ronco product (millions of dollars in scientific research grants have been spent trying to determine which came first; the jury is still out). Beloved by budget-conscious Elvis impersonators everywhere, at least judging from number of jackets in the commercial that mirror the “Mexican Sundial” and “American Eagle” designs found on the King’s “too many cheeseburgers”-era jumpsuits. You can also use it to make a nifty Sly Stone-style stud-covered cowboy hat, as granny’s doing.

Record Vacuum

Boy, I wish I could find one of these to get the pops and crackles out of my 25-year-old copy of AC/DC’s Back in Black. Invented back in the days when LPs were $7.99 ($4.99 on cutout), the commercial features a disco dandy entertaining his lady, secure in the knowledge that their intimate moments won’t be interrupted by the need to get up and prevent his Earth, Wind and Fire album from skipping.

Electric Food Dehydrator

“Make your own beef jerky!” says the commercial, as well as yogurt and banana chips. When you head into the wilderness in search of your own ‘Rocky Mountain High,'” what better way to declare your independence from the Man and his uptight suburban lifestyle than to make your own trail snacks? By the 1990s, the utopian dream of escaping the trappings of civilization had gone sour: This would be the perfect gift for that camouflage-wearing, gun collecting, black helicopter-fearing survivalist on your Christmas list.

Button-eer 2

Nowadays it would be called the “Button-eer 2.0” or something, and what was so deficient about the original Button-eer that it required an improved model? This handy gadget replaces grandma’s old-fashioned needle and thread with space-age plastic pins that hold the buttons in place, but it couldn’t have been very popular; in all my years of yard-sale plundering and thrift-store hunting I’ve never found any article of clothing that used this cutting-edge technology.

Bottle and Jar Cutter

Jumping aboard the Me Decade recycling bandwagon, this device allows you to turn your used Pabst Blue Ribbon bottles into drinking glasses, candle holders and potpourri containers. Better not skimp on the emory cloth, though, if you want to make your glasses “drinking smooth” and avoid having your lower lip looking like Rocky Balboa’s after a bout with Apollo Creed.

Mister Microphone

The subject of the much-parodied commercial in which a man with the worst ’70s ‘do ever uses his wireless microphone to promise (threaten?) an unseen but assuredly “good looking” woman that he’ll “be back to pick [her] up later.” Other uses for the product, according to the commercial, are pre-karaoke entertaining at parties (“Hey, I’m on the radio!” exclaims one awestruck guest) and boogying down the street accompanied only by the sound of your own voice (and the necessary radio, of course).

Hair in a can

Formula GLH-9 (or Great-Looking Hair Formula #9 for you technical types) promised the convenient yet frightening prospect of curing baldness with an aerosol spray. The fatal flaw of this premise, which would have offered hope to Patrick Stewart, Michael Chiklis and all those other hairless freaks, was that those lustrous coifs came off in your hand at a touch. Until “radiation-chic” becomes in vogue, we’ll have to stick with the traditional cures: Propecia, Rogaine and a Porsche.