Ed Pfeifer: The ’80s, legwarmers and quality engineering | TribLIVE.com
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Ed Pfeifer: The ’80s, legwarmers and quality engineering

Back in the 1980s, leg warmers were all the rage. I can’t imagine anyone actually thought they looked good so I surmise their popularity was simply a function of a public clambering for warm legs. The unfortunate truth, though, is that leg warmers were gimmicky. Like everything gimmicky, they went the way of the rotary phone and now occupy a mere paragraph in the pop-culture history book.

Believe it or not, I never wore leg warmers back then. My family home in the 80s, though, was quite drafty so while leg warmers weren’t my thing, having warm legs was. That’s why I was so happy the day my dad brought home a Pelonis brand ceramic disc heater from our hardware store. It was brown in color and decidedly unsexy, but, dad marveled at it like it was the “leg lamp” in the movie “A Christmas Story,” and so did I.

It was a tiny thing of about 8-inches-cubed and weighed almost nothing. It made no noise, belched no fumes and despite the dragon-breath heat of the original Pelonis, it was remarkably cool to the touch which added to its mysticism. It was cheap too at only $89.99. All of those things combined may make any sensible consumer wonder, openly, if the Pelonis was a fad not unlike the much maligned leg warmer.

Fast forward to the present day and there is a tiny electric heating device positioned at my feet as I type these words. It is black-on-black with softened edges and a relaxed posture. It’s nicely appointed with a temperature dial depicting a range of heat from spring-day-warm, to pizza-oven-hot, and is equipped with a high/low switch to control the fan.

What is interesting and somewhat surprising about the hot box I use nowadays is that, just like the ole’ Pelonis heater which adorned my family’s coffee table during the Reagan administration, it uses ceramic disc technology. Even more astonishing though is that, in this the age of here-today-gone-tomorrow brand names, my current heater is a Pelonis.

As you might imagine, the new model with its’ fancy dials and state-of-the-art aerodynamics does not have the same price as its’ simple, brown forbearer. But, the good news is that despite inflation, which would have turned the $89.99 original cost into about $200 present day, a brand new Pelonis ceramic disc heater has plummeted in cost to a mere $25.

As it turns out, after more than 30 years of technological advances, market pressures and a complete upheaval of the retail channel, Pelonis brand heaters live on. They still really work, are still uncomplicated and still deliver true economic value.

It’s great, I think, how quality engineering and solid technology have staying power. Also great, in my opinion, is the fact that while consumers world-wide are still loving ceramic disc heaters, leg warmers have rightly remained buried in the 1980’s.

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