A Rolodex file used in the 1970s

A Rolodex is a rotating card file device used to store a contact list. Its name, a portmanteau of the words "rolling" and "index", has become somewhat genericized for any personal organizer performing this function, or as a metonym for a total accumulation of business contacts. In this usage, it has generally come to describe an effect or characteristic of the small-world network[1] of a business's investors,[2] board of directors,[3] or the value of a CEO's contacts,[4] or in organizational structure.[5] Models have been exhibited in the Smithsonian Institution.[6]


The Rolodex was invented in 1956 by Danish engineer Hildaur Neilsen, the chief engineer of Arnold Neustadter's company Zephyr American, a stationery manufacturer in New York.[7] Neustadter was often credited with having invented it.[8][9] First marketed in 1958,[10] it was an improvement to an earlier design called the Wheeldex. Zephyr American also invented, manufactured and sold the Autodex, a spring-operated phone directory that automatically opened to the selected letter; Swivodex, an inkwell that did not spill; Punchodex, a paper hole puncher; and Clipodex, an office aid that attached to a stenographer's knee.[11][12] Rolodex also marketed non-rotary (linear) tub-like card-file systems using the same cards (size and notches) as the rotary files.

Neustadter retired and sold out to a larger firm in 1970.[13] The Rolodex remained popular throughout the 1980s, and individual Rolodexes containing a large amount of information were considered valuable, and lawsuits were filed by companies against employees who attempted to take their Rolodex with them when leaving the company. A 1985 episode of the detective TV series Moonlighting involved a stolen Rolodex being ransomed for $50,000- a figure reflecting the value of the data it contained. The system fell out of widespread use in the 2000s, as digital storage became the norm. However, Rolodex cards are still produced, and have a niche usership.[14]


See also


  1. ^ Brügemann, Björn; Gautier, P.; Menzio, G. (2017). "Rolodex Game in Networks" (PDF). web-facstaff.sas.upenn.edu. S2CID 212425470. Retrieved 2022-08-21.
  2. ^ Hui, Pamsy P. (2004-08-01). "The rolodex paradox: effects of ties to and via venture capitalists on startup survival and commercial success". Academy of Management Proceedings. 2004 (1): E1–E6. doi:10.5465/ambpp.2004.13857681. ISSN 0065-0668.
  3. ^ Nguyen, Bang Dang (2012-02-01). "Does the Rolodex Matter? Corporate Elite's Small World and the Effectiveness of Boards of Directors". Management Science. 58 (2): 236–252. doi:10.1287/mnsc.1110.1457. ISSN 0025-1909.
  4. ^ Engelberg, Joseph; Gao, Pengjie; Parsons, Christopher A. (2013). "The Price of a CEO's Rolodex". Review of Financial Studies. 26: 79–114. CiteSeerX doi:10.1093/rfs/hhs114. Retrieved 2022-08-21.
  5. ^ Perlman, Merrill (2020-04-16). "'Rolodex,' on rotation". Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved 2022-08-21.
  6. ^ Nissen, Mark E.; Sawy, Omar A. (2002-09-01). The Rolodex Model: Understanding Relationship Complexity as a Precursor to the Design of Organizational Forms for Chaotic Environments (Technical report). Monterey, CA: Naval Postgraduate School.
  7. ^ US patent 2731966A, Neilsen, Hildaur L., "Rotary card-filing device", issued 1956-01-24, assigned to Zephyr American Corporation .
  8. ^ "Arnold Neustadter, 85, who invented the Rolodex card..." Baltimore Sun. 1996-04-20. Retrieved 2022-08-21.
  9. ^ Hampson, Rick (1996-04-19). "Rolodex Inventor Dead at 85; Created the Business World's Wheel of Fortune". AP News. Retrieved 2022-08-21.
  10. ^ "Fascinating facts about the invention of Rolodex by Hildaur Neilsen in 1954". 2006-06-09. Archived from the original on 2010-12-17. Retrieved 2014-09-04.
  11. ^ Bellis, Mary. "History of the Rolodex - Hildaur Neilson invented the Rolodex". Archived from the original on 2008-11-07. Retrieved 2014-09-04.
  12. ^ Grossman, Anna Jane (2010-03-20). "The Life and Death of the Rolodex". Gizmodo. Retrieved 2022-08-21.
  13. ^ Lasker, David (1990-01-28). "ICONS: Rolodex: A Rotary File Comes Full Circle". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2022-08-21.
  14. ^ Grossman, Anna Jane (March 20, 2010). "The Life and Death of the Rolodex". Gizmodo.