When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Category archive: 1950s

Clever Housewife

1964: The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to British scientist Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin for her “determinations by X-ray techniques of the structures of important biochemical substances”, notably penicillin and vitamin B12. The Daily Mail’s headline: “Nobel prize for British wife”.

Source: Daily Mail, 30 October 1964

Teething Troubles

1962: America’s first space mission to another planet came to a very premature end. The Mariner 1 spacecraft was supposed to fly past Venus, but the rocket carrying the spacecraft began to behave erratically soon after lift-off from Cape Canaveral, forcing NASA to blow it up five minutes into the flight. A post-mortem attributed the failure to a missing symbol in the guidance program. Dubbed “the most expensive hyphen in history”, the omission of the symbol (actually an overline rather than a hyphen) allowed incorrect guidance signals to throw the rocket wildly off course.

Source: Paul E. Ceruzzi, Beyond the Limits: Flight Enters the Computer Age (1989), pp. 202–3

Lift-off of the rocket carrying the ill-fated Mariner 1 spacecraft

Effing Remarks

1959: Kenneth Tynan’s effing remark on a late-night satire show on BBC television in 1965 had many viewers foaming at the mouth (moral campaigner Mary Whitehouse suggested Tynan should have his bottom smacked).

In contrast, similar language during a teatime magazine programme on Ulster Television six years earlier attracted little response. Perhaps the viewers of Roundabout were paying more attention to their tea than to the telly. Live on air, the man who painted the railings alongside the River Lagan in Belfast was asked whether he got bored doing the same job all year round. His reply: “Of course it’s fucking boring.”

Source: Joe Moran, Armchair Nation: An Intimate History of Britain in Front of the TV (2013), pp. 6–8

Humane Chains

1958: Western Australia’s deputy commissioner of police defended the use of ankle chains on Aboriginal prisoners at Hall’s Creek. In fact, according to Hugh McLernon, chaining had a humane purpose: it left the prisoners’ hands free to brush off insects.

Source: The Herald, 20 March 1958

Drastic Diet

Maria Callas, as she appeared in a CBS television talk show in 1958

1957: Magazines and newspapers marvelled when Maria Callas managed to shed 28 kilograms in 11 months; they carried before-and-after photographs of her transformation from a frumpy 92 kilos to a slender 64.

Callas lost weight by strict adherence to a diet of one meal a day, small servings of fresh fruit and raw meat, no pasta, no bread and no alcohol. But when the opera singer later became infested with a tapeworm (probably consumed with the raw meat), gossip columnists gleefully suggested that she had deliberately swallowed it as part of a diet regimen.

Source: Anne Edwards, Callas: Her Life, Her Loves, Her Music (2001), pp. 115, 116, 160, 161

Shabby End To Career

Nina Hamnett, portrayed by Roger Fry in 1917

1956: In the 1920s, Nina Hamnett was a promising artist, but by the 1930s and ’40s she had become a shabby figure who spent too little time in the studio and far too much time in the pubs and clubs of London’s Fitzrovia and Soho. “She was dirty, smelt of stale bar-rooms, and very pathetic.” At the York Minster pub, she made her favourite seat indelibly hers by urinating on it; sometimes she would be sick into her handbag before staggering home at night. On 13 December 1956 she fell from the window of her upstairs flat in Paddington and was impaled on the railings below. She died a few days later.

Source: Denise Hooker, Nina Hamnett: Queen of Bohemia (1986), pp. 184, 242, 250, 258

Blake Versus Parks

Rosa Parks, with Martin Luther King in the background, photographed in about 1955

1955: Driver Jim Blake must have thought he was simply enforcing regulations when he ordered four black passengers on his bus in Montgomery, Alabama, to give up their seats for a white man. Instead, Blake’s action on the afternoon of 1 December provoked the Montgomery bus boycott, a milestone in the American civil rights movement.

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Speed Readers

1954: Jack and Bobby Kennedy attended a speed reading course in Baltimore, but Jack’s later claim to be able to read 1,200 words a minute – three or four times the average – was probably exaggerated.

Source: James P. Pfiffner, The Character Factor: How We Judge America’s Presidents (2004), p. 28

Sensitive Stomach

1952: A severe case of amoebic dysentery earlier in his career meant that Sir Evelyn Baring, the new governor of Kenya, suffered from indifferent health. He was prone to bouts of exhaustion and debilitating intestinal pain and his stomach was “so sensitive that he would pick out the small slivers of orange peel from his marmalade before spreading it on his morning toast”.

Source: Caroline Elkins, Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya (2005), pp. 34, 381

Bump In The Road

1951: The National Safety Council reckoned that towards the end of the year the total number of deaths from traffic accidents in the United States since the advent of the automobile would reach 1 million. In December, the millionth death was reached and passed, like a bump in the road.

Source: The New York Times, 24 December 1951

Slugs And Shaws

George Bernard Shaw, photographed in 1925

1950: The playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw died on 2 November. Three weeks later, in accordance with the terms of his will, his ashes were mingled with those of his wife, who had died in 1943, and scattered in the garden of their village home.

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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