When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Category archive: 1950s

Laws Scrapped

1959: Repealed in 1959: the Barbed Wire Act 1893 (a law “to prevent the use of Barbed Wire for Fences in Roads, Streets, Lanes, and other Thoroughfares”) and the Lunacy (Vacating of Seats) Act 1886 (legislation “for vacating seat of member of House of Commons received, &c. as a lunatic into an asylum, &c.”).

Source: The Statutes Revised (1950), vol. XI, pp. 147–8 and vol. XII, pp. 428–9

Eduardus Ursus

1958: “Ecce Eduardus Ursus” (“Here is Edward Bear”) coming down the stairs “tump-tump-tump” (“bump, bump, bump”) behind “Christophorum Robinum” (“Christopher Robin”).

The Latin translator of A.A. Milne’s children’s classic was a Hungarian-born scholar who lived on a farm in southern Brazil. Winnie ille Pu was an unexpected publishing success, spending many weeks on the fiction best-seller list of The New York Times in MCMLXI.

Source: The New York Times, 18 November 1984

No Escape

Lyndon Johnson, photographed in 1964 after assuming the presidency

1957: Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson pleaded and cajoled to get the civil rights bill through the U.S. Senate. The tall Texas senator was very intense, very physical: up-close, fast-talking, his heavy arm draped around a shoulder, his “big meaty hands” grasping his quarry, “his long forefinger through the hole in the senator’s lapel”, buttonholing him “to prevent him from moving away”.

Source: Robert A. Cato, The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate (2003), pp. 587–90, 959–60

Peak Crude Oil

1956: Geologist M. King Hubbert’s prediction that American crude oil production would peak in the next 10 to 15 years was met with scepticism, but in 1970, on cue, output reached a record high of 9.6 million barrels per day, and then went into decline.

Source: David Strahan, The Last Oil Shock: A Survival Guide to the Imminent Extinction of Petroleum Man (2007), chap. 2

Striped Stream

1955: Leonard Marraffino of New York State applied to patent a device capable of “dispensing two or more paste-like materials of different character, for example, different color, in the form of a striped stream”. A striping dispenser, he called it. That led, a few years later, to the appearance of striped toothpaste.

Source: www.freepatentsonline.com/
2789731.pdf

Nuclear Option

1954: Did the Eisenhower administration really offer to drop atomic bombs on the Vietminh troops besieging the French at Dien Bien Phu? Nine years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, did the Americans contemplate once again using their nuclear arsenal in combat? Howard Simpson thought so. “The relevant documents remain classified,” he wrote in Dien Bien Phu: The Epic Battle America Forgot, “but enough has seeped out through personal comments and written memoirs to suggest that such a proposal was seriously considered.” Fortunately for the men on the ground, the idea was abandoned; any attack would have wiped out attackers and defenders indiscriminately.

Source: Martin Windrow, The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam (2004), pp. 568–9

Unlucky For Arnold

1951: Numerology loomed large in the life and musical compositions of Arnold Schoenberg. He was convinced that certain numbers and combinations of numbers were either benign or malign. “It is not superstition, it is belief,” he explained.

The number 13, in particular, filled Schoenberg with apprehension. He was born on 13 September 1874. In 1950 he reached the age of 76 (numerologically significant because 7 + 6 = 13). Since he was born on the 13th of the month, he feared he would die on the 13th of the month.

As it happened, he was spot on. He died on Friday, 13 July 1951, at a quarter to midnight – another 15 minutes and he would have been out of immediate danger.

Source: Willi Reich, Schoenberg: A Critical Biography (1971), p. 235

Sniffy To Snoopy

1950: Charles Schulz’s cartoon strip Peanuts started with four characters: Charlie Brown, his friends Shermy and Patty, and the dog Sniffy, whose name was changed, just before the strip first appeared, to Snoopy.

Source: Charles M. Schulz, Peanuts Jubilee: My Life and Art with Charlie Brown and Others (1975), pp. 18–19

Women In Space

Edward Teller, advocate of female astronauts

1957: In Edward Teller’s opinion, “All astronauts should be women because they weigh less and have more sense.” The United States ignored the nuclear physicist’s trenchant views and it was the Soviet Union that first sent a woman into space. Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova orbited Earth for three days in June 1963; the first American female astronaut didn’t blast off until 1983.

Source: Bettyann Holtzmann Kevles, Almost Heaven: The Story of Women in Space (2003), p. 7

“Like A Lumberjack”

1955: Albert Einstein was a better physicist than violinist. One acquaintance remarked, rather harshly, that he played “like a lumberjack”. There’s a story, probably apocryphal, that, while rehearsing in a quartet, he repeatedly came in at the wrong time. The exasperated pianist, Artur Schnabel, eventually rounded on him: “For heaven’s sake, Albert, can’t you count?”

Source: Albert Einstein, The New Quotable Einstein, ed. Alice Calaprice (2005), p. 321

In Short

1954: The American poet and humorist Strickland Gillilan died in 1954. He was the author of “Lines on the Antiquity of Microbes”, which has a strong claim to be the shortest poem in the English language:
Adam
Had ’em.

Source: Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, ed. Emily Morison Beck (1980), p. 727

Annoying Or Coercive Or Downright Sadistic

Soldiers of the King’s African Rifles transport goods by horseback, while keeping a watch for Mau Mau fighters

1953: Kenyan police and white settlers treated Mau Mau suspects in ways that ranged from annoying to coercive to downright sadistic.

Annoying: detainees on Mageta Island in Lake Victoria were subjected to endless replays of “God Save the Queen”.

Coercive: a European police officer admitted he got results during interrogations by “putting an up-turned bucket on a man’s head and then beating it with a metal instrument for up to half an hour when the man usually burst into tears and gave the information if he had any”.

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Hypnotic Acts

1952: Britain’s Hypnotism Act (“An Act to regulate the demonstration of hypnotic phenomena for purposes of public entertainment”) prohibited the hypnotising of people under the age of 21.

Source: ‘Current Law’ Statutes Annotated 1952, ed. John Burke (1952), chap. 46

Health And Safety

1951: Inspectors at the Fernald uranium processing plant near Cincinnati, where ore was converted into metal for the American nuclear weapons programme, would routinely test the metallic strength of radioactive “green salt” by dabbing some on their tongues to see whether it tasted right.

Source: The Cincinnati Enquirer, 11 May 1998

Eccentric Englishman

1950: Lord Berners, who died in April, was a classical composer and the author of several novels, though he’s probably best remembered for his eccentricities: the clavichord in his Rolls-Royce; fake pearl necklaces round his dogs’ necks; blue mayonnaise; the warning, “Trespassers will be prosecuted, dogs shot, cats whipped,” in his garden; pigeons dyed magenta, copper green and ultramarine, “tumbling about like a cloud of confetti in the sky”; the notice at the entrance to his folly at Faringdon, “Members of the Public committing suicide from this tower do so at their own risk”.

Source: Mark Amory, Lord Berners: The Last Eccentric (1998), pp. 79, 120, 137–8, 150

Fast Forward With Fossils

1958: Mao Zedong assured the Chinese people that the Great Leap Forward would usher in the communist millennium. Mao promised that, with a wave of his Marxist wand, China would be transformed into a modernised, prosperous utopia.

Commune leaders and provincial bureaucrats grossly exaggerated output figures and made wildly unrealistic projections to show that the millennium had indeed arrived. Even the Association of Chinese Palaeontologists got swept up in the excitement, giddily pledging to more than halve its 20-year programme so as to overtake “capitalist” research into fossils.

Source: Stanley Karnow, Mao and China: Inside China’s Cultural Revolution (1984), p. 97

Ammonite fossils, photographed by Richard Wheeler

Queen Charms Soviet Leader

1956: Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev visited Britain, where he was charmed by Elizabeth II – “the sort of young woman you’d be likely to meet walking along Gorky Street on a balmy summer afternoon.”

Source: Nikita Khrushchev, Khrushchev Remembers, ed. Strobe Talbott (1971), p. 406

Moscow’s Gorky Street, since renamed Tverskaya Street, photographed in 1957 by Manfred and Barbara Aulbach

California Smash

Actor James Dean in a publicity still for the film Rebel Without a Cause

1955: James Dean was killed on 30 September when his new Porsche sports car collided head-on with another car on a California highway. The impact broke the young actor’s neck and crushed his chest; the driver of the other car suffered only minor cuts and bruises. (The other driver’s name, incidentally, was Donald Turnupseed.)

Source: Donald Spoto, Rebel: The Life and Legend of James Dean (1996), pp. 248–9

Crocodile Smile

1952: After failing his exams in Paris for the second year in a row, Saloth Sâr’s scholarship was stopped and he returned to Cambodia.

“There was never the least hint of what he would become,” said Mey Mann, who knew Sâr in France. Others felt the same.

“He never said very much,” Mann remembered. “He just had that smile of his. He liked to joke, he had a slightly mischievous way about him.”

Back in Cambodia, the mediocre student with the reticent manner and engaging smile devoted himself to the revolutionary struggle. By the late 1960s he had become the undisputed leader of Cambodia’s communists, and in 1970 he adopted a new name: Pol Pot.

Source: Philip Short, Pol Pot: The History of a Nightmare (2004), pp. 31, 44

“The Little Fellows”

1951: James Joyce’s wife, Nora, outlived him by 10 years. She was protective of his literary reputation, though at times she overdid it. When an interviewer questioned her about the French writer André Gide, she remarked: “Sure, if you’ve been married to the greatest writer in the world, you don’t remember all the little fellows.”

Source: Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (1983), p. 743

Seuss Zoo Quest

1950: American children’s writer Theodor Geisel, alias Dr. Seuss, coined the name “nerd” for a tousle-haired, grumpy-looking creature in If I Ran the Zoo:
I’ll sail to Ka-Troo
And
Bring
Back
an IT-KUTCH
a PREEP
and a PROO
a NERKLE
a NERD
and a SEERSUCKER, too!

Source: Dr. Seuss, If I Ran the Zoo (2000), pp. 48–9