When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Category archive: 1970s

Killer Robot

1979: “A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” Isaac Asimov’s laws of robotics notwithstanding, this year saw the first known killing of a human by a robot. On 25 January, workers at a Ford Motor Company plant in Flat Rock, Michigan, noticed that a robot appeared to be giving incorrect information about the number of parts stored on shelves. When Robert Williams climbed on to a shelf to investigate, he was fatally struck on the head by the robot’s arm.

Source: The New York Times, 11 August 1983

Losing Their Grip

1977: A setback for West German misogynists: husbands lost the legal right to prevent their wives taking paid employment.

Source: John MacInnes, The End of Masculinity: The Confusion of Sexual Genesis and Sexual Difference in Modern Society (1998), p. 51

Jarman Wows Judges

1975: The third Alternative Miss World contest in London was won by Miss Crêpe Suzette, alias the film-maker Derek Jarman, who wowed the judges with a silver diamanté dress, swimming flippers and a headdress made from a green rubber frog.

Source: Newsweek, 28 April 1975

Foreign Bodies

1974: Over a five-year period, St. Vincent’s Hospital and Medical Center of New York treated 28 patients with foreign bodies lodged in the rectum or with perforations of the colon resulting from “self-administered instrumentation”. Plastic battery-powered vibrators were the instrument of choice; other items used included bottles, bananas, a broom handle and an onion.

Source: Annals of Surgery, November 1976

High Altitude

Rüppell’s griffon, photographed by Rodney Campbell

1973: On 29 November, a commercial aircraft collided with a vulture over Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast, at an altitude of more than 11,000 metres. The impact damaged one of the plane’s engines and made a nasty mess of the vulture, a Rüppell’s griffon, but bolstered its reputation as the world’s highest-flying bird.

Source: The Wilson Bulletin, December 1974

Efficacious

Greater galangal, photographed at a Bangkok market by Susan Slater

1972: “The rhizome [of greater galangal] dyes wool yellow,” remarked G.A.C. Herklots in Vegetables in South-East Asia, “and it is efficacious for all ailments of elephants.”

Source: G.A.C. Herklots, Vegetables in South-East Asia (1972), pp. 485–6

Birth Of Email

1971: It was the year of the first email address and the first network email message. Computer programmer Ray Tomlinson created the first address, tomlinson@bbn-tenexa, which he then used to send the first message: “QWERTYUIOP” or “TESTING 1 2 3 4” or something similar, Tomlinson vaguely recalled – “the content was insignificant and forgettable”.

Source: http://openmap.bbn.com/
~tomlinso/
ray/firstemailframe.html

Lethal Cocktails

1970: “Drink more, eat less,” advised the Russian writer Venedikt Yerofeev. Moscow Stations, his account of a drunken rail trip across the Soviet Union, included recipes for his favourite and most lethal cocktails. Spirit of Geneva: a mixture of Zhiguli beer, spirit varnish, White Lilac toilet water and sock deodorizer. The Tear of a Komsomol Girl: lemonade and mouthwash with smaller quantities of Forest Water eau de Cologne, lavender water, verbena and nail varnish, stirred for 20 minutes with a sprig of honeysuckle. And, “last and best”, Dog’s Giblets: Zhiguli beer and anti-dandruff solution combined with Sadko the Wealthy Guest shampoo, brake fluid, insecticide and superglue.

Source: Venedikt Yerofeev, Moscow Stations (1997), pp. 46–51

Change Of Diet

1979: Idi Amin’s increasingly rickety rule of Uganda came to an end. In exile in Saudi Arabia, the deposed dictator put his bloodthirsty, allegedly cannibalistic, ways behind him and became a fruitarian. His appetite for oranges earned him the nickname “Dr. Jaffa”.

Source: Adam Leith Gollner, The Fruit Hunters: A Story of Nature, Adventure, Commerce and Obsession (2009), p. 98

“Damn Me Good”

1978: The October issue of National Geographic magazine carried an article by Francine “Penny” Patterson about Koko, a female gorilla whom Patterson had taught to use sign language. Koko knew the signs for hundreds of words (“smile”, “lollipop”, “belly button”) and was clever enough to combine them in phrases (“damn me good”, “fine animal gorilla”). She had invented some choice insults (“rotten stink”) and was not averse to the occasional lie. When she plumped herself down on a kitchen sink and dislodged it, she blamed Patterson’s assistant Kate Mann: “Kate there bad.”

Continue reading

Whining And Dining

Official portrait of Prince Norodom Sihanouk in 1955, by Sovandara

1976: While his compatriots had to put up with empty bellies, the former Cambodian monarch Norodom Sihanouk complained that he was running short of the rum needed to create bananes flambées.

Source: Norodom Sihanouk, Prisonnier des Khmers Rouges (1986), p. 155

Final Curtain For Kabuki Actor

1975: On 16 January, the kabuki actor Bandō Mitsugorō VIII died from tetrodotoxin poisoning. The actor, designated a “living national treasure” by the Japanese government, ate four servings of puffer fish livers in the apparent belief that his body would tolerate the highly toxic organs. He was wrong. Hours after the meal in a Kyoto restaurant he died of convulsions and paralysis.

Source: The Japan Times, 17 January 1975

Print by the 19th-century Japanese artist Andō Hiroshige, depicting a puffer fish in front of a yellowtail

“Spherical Bastards”

1974: The Swiss astronomer Fritz Zwicky, who had posited the existence of neutron stars and dark matter, died at the age of 75. Not the easiest of people to get on with, Zwicky allegedly described his fellow astronomers as “spherical bastards”. Why “spherical”? Because, he said, they were bastards whichever way you looked at them.

Source: Richard Preston, First Light: The Search for the Edge of the Universe (1998), p. 149

Colour Prejudice

1973: In extreme cases, Cushing’s syndrome, caused by hyperactive adrenal glands, can be treated by removal of the glands. Surgery is seldom performed, however, since removal of the glands may in turn cause Nelson’s syndrome, a disorder characterised by darkening of the skin.

When Rita Hoefling, a white woman from Cape Town, began to suffer from Nelson’s syndrome, she became the hapless victim of South Africa’s apartheid system. She was shunned by the white community and even by her own family. After her father died, her mother refused to allow her to attend the funeral: “I do not want to be embarrassed by your black body at Daddy’s grave.”

Source: Armand Marie Leroi, Mutants: On the Form, Varieties and Errors of the Human Body (2003), pp. 263–5

Animal Wisdom

The Duke of Windsor, photographed in 1970

1972: On the evening of 27 May, the Duke of Windsor’s doctor was surprised to see that the duke’s favourite pug, which had seldom left its master’s bed during the previous few weeks, had moved on to the bedroom floor. Early next morning, the duke died.

Source: Michael Bloch, The Secret File of the Duke of Windsor (1989), pp. 425–6

Carrot And Stick

1970: The East German state used a carrot-and-stick approach to nurture athletic excellence among its children. Budding champions were forced to adhere to rigid training regimes and to meet strict sporting and academic targets. Those who succeeded might be rewarded, for example, with the right to have a teddy bear.

Source: Mihir Bose, The Spirit of the Game: How Sport Made the Modern World (2011), p. 243

Smallpox Stamped Out

1979: After an intense global effort a special commission was able to certify, on 9 December, that smallpox had been eradicated from the world. The last person known to have been infected with naturally occurring smallpox, in October 1977, was Ali Maow Maalin, at the port of Merca, in Somalia. The disease was estimated to have killed 300 million people during the 20th century. The last fatality, in September 1978, was Janet Parker, who was exposed to the virus at the University of Birmingham Medical School.

Source: Ian and Jenifer Glynn, The Life and Death of Smallpox (2004), pp. 225–8

Population Boom

1978: One for the record books: the first human birth on the Antarctic mainland. Emilio Palma was born on 7 January at Esperanza Base in Argentine Antarctica.

Source: http://webecoist.momtastic.com/
2011/02/15/born-freezing-meet-antarcticas-first-citizen/

Not-So-Sharp Shooter

1976: Paul Cerutti of Monaco was disqualified from the Olympic trap shooting competition after testing positive for amphetamines. Not that they had done him much good – he had finished 43rd out of 44.

Source: Stan Greenberg, Whitaker’s Olympic Almanack (2003), p. 124

Bacon Bookmark

1974: Cyril Connolly’s obituary in The Times concentrated, of course, on his achievements as a book critic and author, but noted also his habit of “marking his place in a book at the breakfast table with a strip of bacon”.

Source: The Times, 27 November 1974

Sleight Of Hands

Portrait of Pablo Picasso, by Juan Gris

1973: Pablo Picasso never learned to swim. According to his widow, Jacqueline Roque, he mimicked strokes with his arms, while keeping his feet planted on the bottom.

Source: John Richardson, A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years 1917–1932 (2007), p. 160

Blown Sky High

1972: John McErlean lived with his family just north of Belfast. He was 17 years old, an apprentice mechanic and a Catholic. His family never talked politics, but a few days after Bloody Sunday, he and two friends joined the Irish Republican Army. Ten weeks later, the IRA instructed them to move some gelignite stored in a garage. The gelignite exploded, killing all three.

John’s father, Jack, recalled, “I didn’t know anybody was killed until I was told there was flesh over the road and on the roofs.” Jack wasn’t even aware his son had joined the IRA, and only began to worry when he didn’t come home that evening for his meal. “It was a cold April day, there were pieces of flesh and bone all over the place, and the steam was rising off it all.”

Source: David McKittrick, Seamus Kelters, Brian Feeney and Chris Thornton, Lost Lives: The Stories of the Men, Women and Children Who Died as a Result of the Northern Ireland Troubles (1999), pp. 172–4