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Growing up in Louisa – It started in the 40’s!   

 Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn

I was wondering about how many things we use today weren’t even around when I was a kid growing up and attending school in Louisa. Certainly, standards of living are shockingly different. In all fairness, those early days aren’t comparable with what most of us have today. For instance, no one back then had stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, central air, or a whole house generator. A few still had dirt floors, for goodness sake. A few didn’t have indoor plumbing, an automobile, or a telephone. I know I used to wonder about priorities when I saw a shed or log cabin with kids running amok, but with a pickup parked out front and a television antenna on the roof. I guess some of those deprivations were by choice, but maybe not. I know we missed a few meals, but when we ate, we ate well. Money was tight, as it may well still be for some. Even then, most folks have at least a few of the things I will mention in this article.

Rather than my just trying to name a bunch of changes, I decided instead to look up things that were the ‘genesis’ of things we use today. To keep the subject reasonably contained I decided to limit the timeframe to inventions of the 1940’s. I figure I can do the same kind of research for the 1950’s as a follow-up, provided readers enjoy this first effort.   

When considering inventions that were developed in the first decade or so of my life, I came across things on several websites that put me on alert that I would likely find some surprises. Complicating my discoveries was the fact that some things that had been invented, were not necessarily available in our little town during those years. Clearly, some inventions were absolutely, great products that have literally saved many lives. I had personally thought that they had been around for generations. Nope, they weren’t. For example, some items in the medical field were very important to mankind. Our first experiments with antibiotics started off with the development of penicillin in 1940. No wonder we lost so many people in the Civil War and WWI. If you got an infection they had to cut off the limb or you would die. The first heart defibrillator was invented in 1947 and electrocardiograms (EKG) in 1949. My gosh, how were people treated before? (Polio vaccine would be another ten years away.)

Some inventions that exploded on the scene (excuse the pun) could be argued as an evil, such as the atomic and hydrogen bombs. There’s a position that many people assume that suggests while the BOMB cost innocent lives, it also saved a lot of lives of allied and Japanese soldiers at the same time. It forced a peace that otherwise would have been costly for both sides.

 Speaking of costly, the first credit card was issued in 1946! I didn’t have one for many more years. Can you believe that many people paid ‘cash’ before that? Stores called it, ‘Cash and Carry.’ Granted, some of us put things ‘on account’ and paid at the end of the month. I remember a few times when we were late with those payments, but hopefully accounts were finally settled. Coal miners, on the other hand often had to shop in company stores, but that’s another tale about the ‘deep holes’ of poverty.

While jet engines were invented in 1940, they weren’t used on airplanes until the very end of WWII, and then by Germany. Our pilots over Germany were shocked at their speed when they buzzed by. After the war, that first passenger jet plane took off in 1949. Frankly, passenger air travel is so commonplace these days, but it was not so in the early 40’s. The DC3, a Douglas airplane that became known in WWII as a ‘gooney-bird’ (C-47) was a passenger plane that had two propeller engines. This work-horse was used to drop our airborne troops in Normandy on ‘D’ Day, 1944, and was instrumental during the Berlin Air Lift when Russia barricaded Berlin. I have personally taken several trips around the country in this aircraft, but believe me, we had no cute stewardesses on any of those flights. Many of those planes are still in service and are very safe because of the wide wingspan and the dependable engines.

Tupperware products were first sold in department stores in 1946. It would be a while before they were marketed through home-parties. I know that many people hosted the parties and got some nice stuff as premiums for the sales. Believe it or not, it was about that same time when tea bags hit the stores. Before that, we all had to use little tea-strainers in hopes of capturing the tea leaves when pouring the liquid into the hostess’s pretty, little cups. In those days ‘tea-time’ was common in better societies. Little girls loved playing with their tea sets. I remember when the larger department stores had tea rooms and sometimes, had runway fashion shows. It was hats and white gloves, you know darling!

During the war the restrictions, or rationing, on things like nylon stockings, which were invented in 1941, left them pretty much unavailable. Nylon was used for parachutes, so rayon was used instead for those shapely legs. I’ve heard stories of GI’s using those to win friends in the war zones of Europe. Many will remember those early styles. The first I remember came up near the knee, and were held in place by an elastic garter, but some hose also went as high as mid-thigh. These were held up by garter-belts. Both types had dark seams that ran up the back, which were hard to keep straight. They were prone to get ‘runs,’ and to slide down or gather in wrinkles. That wasn’t a pretty sight. Later (not in the 40’s) pantyhose would replace these old models.

Kids suffered through the war because the production of toys dwindled. Rubber and steel were needed to feed the machinery of war. The youngsters found many common items that worked just fine with a little imagination. Quaker Oats boxes, cardboard boxes, pieces of wood, or whatever else could be found were adapted for play. It would be in the late 40’s when new plastic toys hit the markets to replace those heavier models of steel. Plastic became the newest material to use in products in so many ways. Bakelite was used for all kinds of products such as the handles for small appliances, women’s jewelry, radios, and cheap dinnerware. Bakelite is a collector’s item these days and brings good money at auction, and EBay. Another invention gave the kids presents called ‘Silly Putty’ in 1943. The Slinky came out at the same time, but Legos didn’t make the scene until 1949. Of course, that was the heyday of plastic as more and more uses appeared, including the trim on our vehicles and siding on our homes.

parker pen parker pen  Believe it or not, sticky tape such as ‘cellophane’ and ‘duct tape’ were new in the early 40’s. Before that I guess we used glue or string? Quill pens were passé, but we did have wooden pens with metal points that required bottles of ink that were kept in inkwells. The desks in grade school all had those, but I don’t remember seeing an ink bottle in them. As I grew older I remember we used various brands and models of fountain pens. We called them ‘ink pens,’ as if they might have used something other than ink. I know I was given an expensive ‘Parker’ pen as a present, but Sheaffer pens were used also by others in school. Later models allowed us to insert a plastic cartridge, sometimes having different colored ink, such as blue or red. I remember making a mistake when I was changing a cartridge out and spilling the ink all over my hands and clothing. It wasn’t until 1948 that the ball-point pen was invented, which by-the-way was the same year that copy machines were invented. I have memories of using an old-fashioned mimeograph machine to print up multiple copies of our grade school paper. Afterward, I had purple hands and arms for a week. Good old mom scrubbed me down good with some lye soap, so I was a little less purple than I might have otherwise been. I wonder. Is that where tattoos came from? Nah, sailors, carnies, and others had those, way before the forties.    

With the war ending, many new kitchen and household appliances began to show up in the stores, or were being marketed by door-to-door salesmen. Vacuum cleaners were advertised as saving the homemaker time, but that wasn’t necessarily true. Nonetheless, it did do a better job of deep cleaning. We didn’t have to use the old ‘rug beater’ all that much once we had an electric broom. Few homes in those early days had hot water heaters, central heating (certainly not air conditioning), a patio (no decks, either), kitchen cabinets instead of shelves (sometimes with curtains), and maybe only a small electrical fuse box that would be over-taxed as more appliances were purchased. Even as a young kid, I would have to go out to the fuse box to remove and replace blown fuses. (Why did that always have to happen during a favorite radio broadcast, or TV show?)    

This was also the time when record companies switched from the old 78’s, to 33 1/3, and everyone’s single favorite 45’s. The new long-playing records (LP) were invented in 1948. Phonographs had the three settings, but the old windup Victrola’s didn’t. The new records changed to a lightweight vinyl and didn’t break nearly as easily as the old ones. I remember when we had to pick up and remove the record from a sleeve and carefully put one at a time on the record-player. They scratched and broke easily, so when I was still young, I wasn’t permitted to touch them. Hi-fidelity was soon available and that ‘far away’ crackly, scratchy sound was gone. As you know, the electronic era has done us even better and promises even better sounds and conveniences.

Even though art deco had been around for a time, the first of the mid-century chrome furniture started to show up for the middle-class. It was a big jump for some when they replaced the Hoosier cabinets, and those kitchen tables that had pull-out porcelain surfaces. We used that for hooking up our meat grinder. I mostly used the grinders for ham salad, or pimento cheese, but I suspect the adults used it for more. I remember over-tightening the grinder more than once and popping off some of the porcelain. That left a blueish/blackish scar on the edge, and I got chewed out. I wasn’t the only one. Later, I saw many more of those ugly scars when visiting other homes. I suspect that tightening metal against metal wasn’t smart. Putting a wooden slat might have saved the day, but that day’s gone, isn’t it? Wooden kitchen chairs were replaced by dinette sets. (I’ve bent and broken a few of those over the years, but I must admit the chrome and red looked good.) That chrome/red color scheme was used at Rip’s if I remember right.

Mr Peepers Mr Peepers  Near the end of the 40’s, we enjoyed many TV programs. For us men, chief among them were the baseball and football games. Some also really enjoyed watching boxing. I saw a few of those when I was a guest at someone’s house, but generally I was too young to care about the fights. Toy cars and blocks were my idea of fun. I remember when I was younger we watched the Lone Ranger, and Howdy Doody, but we also loved watching Red Skelton, Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, Jack Benny, and Mr. Peepers. (Very few remember Wally Cox, but he was funny) We suffered with only three snowy, ghostly, black/white channels. Can you imagine our kids or grandkids having access to only three channels? I guess they would have to watch their shows on the web. Wait a minute! There was no internet either. Believe it or not, color TV had already been invented (1940) but it wasn’t marketed until 1951 after it proved to meet governmental standards.

We all know that the attack on Pearl Harbor happened near end of 1941. I was not yet born, but was well on my way into this world. I just missed the main event. That attack sent America into WWII and changed everyone’s life from what it might have otherwise been. War is never good because too many young men and women lose their lives, leaving parents, wives, children, and other loved ones to mourn their loss. Shortages of supplies such as gasoline, food supplies, clothing, metal, and other things add to the burden. Yet, out of war comes many inventions including medicines, medical procedures, weapons and technological breakthroughs. For example, we can now predict weather because of radar, satellites, and the knowledge gained from dealing with the effects of war. Designs of airplanes changed from cloth covered frames with a single propeller engine to aluminum skins and larger engines. Some had turbo-props (1942) and finally even jet engines. A fun fact you may not know is that M&M’s were first made for the soldiers in WWII. We know that Jeep was an important vehicle during the war, but it is now for civilian use and a good seller.   

Our highway system became a national project when General-of-the-Army Dwight D. Eisenhower saw the importance of moving troops in time of war. When he was an officer (Lt.Col) between the world wars, he had supervised a military caravan to cross the country, but found it nearly impossible to accomplish the trip given the weather and road conditions. As a general, he saw Europe’s’ Autobahn highway that allowed hi-speed travel without problems. Today, you will see signs all around America’s super-highways that have a five-star symbol that denotes the road is part of the Eisenhower system. Better highways did so much to change our lives by allowing us to visit places we would never had seen until the network of highways made it possible. For car enthusiasts, it was in 1948 when Daytona Beach hosted the first NASCAR race. NASCAR had risen out of the moonshine running business when drivers honed their skills avoiding capture while delivering illegal booze. My wife jokes that NASCAR was Kentuckian’s way of saying ‘Nice Car.’

The first programable computer took up a whole floor at the University of Pennsylvania and was christened ENIAC, but its power is dwarfed by those smartphones we keep in our pockets today. In our little town, we still didn’t have rotary phones and many had to share party lines. Who ever heard of email or texting? Facebook wasn’t a word back then and we didn’t use many acronyms, either. My wife texted me a message ‘OMW’ not long ago and I had to wait until she got home to find out what she meant.

Color film back then was new and more expensive, so our earlier snapshots were still in black and white. It was more expensive to have color film developed, too, so we usually bought B&W to save money. It was special when we used color film. In 1947, when Polaroid demonstrated the first instant camera, the world was agog. Hollywood had already introduced color in 1939 in the ‘Wizard of Oz’, but it wouldn’t be long before nearly every movie was advertised as Technicolor.        

fashion fashion  Fashion was different then, too. In those days, men and women wore hats. I’m not talking baseball caps, but many different styles. Edith Head was famous for coming up with many fashionable designs used in the movies. Good breeding and strong women taught us men to take off our hats when speaking to a lady (Japanese Little Leaguers do that now when facing an umpire), or tip a hat as a salute of honor when passing someone on the street. I remember many times that Granny made me take off my hat in the house. (The Air Force emphasized the same thing!) It makes me shake my head when I see men failing to remove their baseball caps at while eating in restaurants.

Ladies wore dresses in those days. It was expected and was attractive. Very few ever wore pants except when doing chores on the farm. Older and younger women wore nice house-dresses with a clean apron. I saw my grandmother many times running for a clean apron when she saw company coming. Going ‘out’ required a change into something better and going to church or meetings required a hat. I understand that societies that set ‘rules’ requiring certain modes of dress can put an unnecessary burden on women, but it did serve to remind both men and women of the roles that were expected in that day. Now, we have not only rejected those roles, but have taken it a level of immodesty. People should realize that imagination is more exciting and flattering than exposure. Every day, I still see famous people competing to shock with outlandishly revealing garments. After a time, that becomes boring, ladies.   

Yes, men dressed differently, too. We wore the aforementioned hats, and dress gloves, overcoats, scarves, and sometimes even rubber covers over our shoes. ‘Wellingtons’ are a kind of slip-on rubber boot that was made famous in England, (Maybe the Duke of Wellington wore them?) but I remember wearing such boots, myself. I just called them rubber boots. I remember that we had to take them off when we got to school so we wouldn’t tramp water or mud, all over the recently oiled floors. I don’t know if the water would have made them more slippery, or not. I do know it was a tough task to take galoshes off and not take your shoes off with the same stroke. I remember that I’d give up and just jerk them both off and reach back in to fish out my shoes. It was faster that way and not nearly so frustrating. I also remember stepping in mud so deep it would be like suction when I tried to take steps. I lost my boots more often that I liked, sometimes tripping and getting muddy all over. No laughing. I’m sure you’ve done it, too.

FM radios came about in 1949 and with it came better reception of the radio waves. I still remember the whistles and cracking as we tried to modulate the AM channels. Short-wave radio was another thing I remember. I loved that because you could hear broadcasts from all over the world. Once I heard a pilot seeking permission to land or change elevation. Short-wave may have helped the creation of ‘ham’ radio operator networks. Those guys are still around and keep records of the far-flung countries they have contacted.

It wasn’t until 1941 that the carving of Mount Rushmore was finished. I grew up thinking it was an old monument. After all, the presidents carved into the stone were long-dead. Well, maybe it is old, after all, the old man writing this was born just about the same time. The ‘European War’ had already begun by this time and we’d be in the thick of it, too, before that years’ end.

Disposable diapers were brought out in 1946, but even years later my wife and I used the cloth ones for our kids. Once washed they made good rags or could be used on younger siblings and grandkids. I’m sure we shared a few with others, too. People today think that is amazing we didn’t often use disposables because it sounds like too much work. One or two washes a week isn’t much when compared to the cost of disposable diapers, and it saves the landfills. Of course, on a trip it is worth the expense.

The first Frisbee flew in 1948, but surprisingly, jukeboxes came out the same year. I assumed that my parents and their peers danced the jitterbug in front of a jukebox, but it turns out the records were the old-fashioned kind. Cable TV was invented in ‘48, too, but was used only in the hills of Pennsylvania. Hair spray is another product that came about in 1948. That was a major fad ten years later. The aerosol disposable spray can enabled hair spray industry. It was good that it was invented first, in 1941. Imagine, having hairspray, but no way to apply it.   

bikini copybikini copy Hey, guys! The bikini came out in 1946, but they weren’t worn by most girls until much later, at least in our neighborhood. I think I would have remembered. Protective parents, I suppose, and maybe some modesty, too. Regardless, it was predictable that those first models have shrunk. It was well afterward when those Hollywood beach films followed. Now, very little is left covered by string bikinis and even thongs. If you remember, back in the day we called ‘flip-flop’ sandals, “thongs.” One of my kids about died when he heard his mother say she had to get her thongs.

Here’s a shocker! The Mobil phone were invented in 1947, but not marketed until 1983! It probably weighed thirty pounds and had a two-foot antenna. By-the-way, I have noticed that they build highways near radio towers now. That should help reception. They’re getting smarter!

I’m sure there’s a ton of other things that was invented during this era. A complete list would surprise us all, but this article is long enough for one week’s effort. It shows that time has really changed and so much has happened. I think it’s useful to remember those times and as we look to the future to understand that the creativity of man is amazing. Sure, these inventions made money for most of the patent holders, but they have also helped mankind obtain an ever-improved standard of living. They things were the building blocks for our very comfortable future. Thanks,  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

        

   

Comments  

-2 #1 Bernard 2017-09-17 18:51
Great article Mike, yes lots of water has went over the dam, since the late 40' & early 50's. I became interested in the medical advances back then. I had a cousin that was the first person to survive open heart surgery for any length of time. A doctor from Sweden flew to Philly and operated on her, She lived several years asfter that, mostely confined to bed and writing articles for Look, Life and Heart Health magazines.
The last time I visited with her, we planed a trip to the great lakes, however she passed away shortly after our visit.
Yes we've come a long way baby, as the saying goes, but a lot more road to travel. Keep up the good work and thanks for the memories.
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