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Can you pick a favourite product of the past 60 years?

60 products

Right now, you’re probably reading this on a computer, laptop, tablet or even a phone. Over the past 60 years, we’ve seen a lot of innovative products appear in our homes. We’ve whittled down a list of 60 top products rated by us, but what ones would you choose?

‘We want you to come up with a list of the 60 most important products of the past 60 years’. This was the challenge set to a small team of Which? product researchers when we first discussed ideas for our 14-page celebration of ‘60 products that changed our lives’ in November’s edition of Which? magazine.

Cue big gulps all round as we grappled with how to create a list of just 60, from the many thousands of products that Which? has tested since it was founded in 1957. Explore the Which? Timeline to find out more.

Picking products

Establishing our criteria was of course essential. What did we mean by ‘most important’? Did they have to be products that you would buy, such as a camera or domestic appliance? Or could they be technological developments, such as the internet or global positioning satellites?

Did they have to be invented after 1957, and should we select only the first example of that product. What about Which? Best Buys or best sellers?

We settled on the idea that these products should be important because they changed the way that we live over the past 60 years. This includes products that have made our homes simpler to run, transformed how we use our leisure time and made it easier to travel or communicate across great distances.

Top products

Our fairly youthful team had the disadvantage of not even being born when Which? was founded, so to come up with our list we’ve spent many hours combing through dusty Which? back issues to get ideas.

Luckily, many members responded to our Help Wanted requests in Which? magazine to tell us about the products that had the most impact on them, and it was a pleasure to read their stories of how buying an automatic washing machine, stair lift or tablet computer had made their lives better.

Members of our Which? Connect online panel contributed their own ideas, too, giving us a list of 10 generic products to investigate further:

1. Computer
2. Internet
3. Mobile phone
4. Smartphone
5. Automatic washing machine
6. Car (safety, reliability etc)
7. TV
8. Microwave
9. Dishwasher

Although we hope that we didn’t leave any life-transforming products out, whittling down the list to just 60 was hard. We expect that some may think ‘how could they have missed XYZ from that list?’.

So what would you put on your list of 60 most important products? And cast your vote on what you think will be the most influential product of 2017…


5 of the first 7 are grown-ups’ toys. Hardly likely to have a profound effect upon our lives. They’ll be replaced anyway in 6-12 months by even “better” toys. Perhaps this illustrates many people’s attitude to life – focused on entertainment rather than things of real value?

I agree completely. It appears that those voting were unable to understand the question. I can’t say the items in the winning list have had the slightest influence on my life. The winner has only recently appeared and any influence it has, has to be well into the future. While accepting that gadgets like washing machines, for example, have had a great influence on the lives of housewives, I think I would have to pick the Internet and associated WWW, to be the thing that has had the most pervasive and radical effect on everyone. (Just imagine how useful the Samsung phone would be without the internet, but I think the internet can manage quite well without that phone.)

Hmmm. Well, of the first seven,
1. Computer – basically underpins modern existence, so isn’t a toy.
2. Internet – in a sense, it’s part of (1) but still an essential adjunct to modern society.
3. Mobile phone – communication is at heart of what defines a society, so although some mobile ‘phones might be toys, I don’t think mobile ‘phones per se are toys .
4. Smartphone – see (3) and (1) above, and basically simply a small computer .
5. Automatic washing machine – Well, saves wear on stones.
6. Car (safety, reliability etc) – transport is again at the heart of society.
7. TV – see (3) above, as it’s a form of mass communication.

So I don’t see these as toys, but I do see a lot of duplication: computer, tablet and smart ‘phone all duplicate each other in functional terms. The microwave is quite revolutionary, and I’d have put the centrifuge in there, too.

But in effect it was the development of binary mathematics that kick-started almost all the top ten listed. The term BINARY ARITHMETIC first appeared in English in 1796, but it took the invention of ENIAC in 1946 at the University of Pennsylvania to start the realisation of the digital revolution. Coupled with the first example of the working transistor in 1947 by American Bardeen, Brattain, and Shockley it set the stage for today’s PS4 and desktop, laptop and tablet computers.

“5 of the first 7 are grown-ups’ toys. “… hardly surprising in today’s “it’s all about me” society.

Wrong list, Ian. Click on the results of the poll to find what is chosen by the “voters”. It includes Google buds, IphoneX, Nintendo Switch, Galaxy S8, a Sony TV. Essentials?

A better way to select the top ten from 60 years of Which? might be to select one item for each of the 10 x 6 year intervals involved.

I would not have thought a tumble dryer would have changed many lives in 1959 unless they were in a launderette.

It also surprising that a tumble dryer is earlier than an automatic washing machine.

On reflection, if we were looking at serious products that are potentially life changing, perhaps we should consider renewable energy. we will always need energy, and the more of us there are, the more of a problem it will become. so I’d possibly put solar panels top of my list. I can’t see them on the top 60 (haven’t got my specs with me) but what I can see is about 60% of the top 60 list that depend upon the electricity they may increasingly supply.

@victoria-pearson, Thanks Victoria. I’d forgotten all about this! At first I thought OK – they don’t use solar panels in their home – they are outside. Then, looking at the 60 products I see 3 cars listed, including the Prius. According to a quick look, Toyota clam around 85 000 Prius sold since 2000. Another site says 1.5 million homes have solar panels.