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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Techno Granny Show: Technologies that Teens Wouldn’t Know About, the Fifties

Blog 7-20-09, TG Show: Technologies that Teens Wouldn’t Know About, the Fifties

If you were born since 1989 your experience with science and technology is unique with respect to the speed and frequency of inventions and innovations. But it wasn't always that way. Things moved a little slower for most of the baby boomers especially those who were youngsters in the fifties.

The adolescents and teens of that area thought colored kitchen appliances and transistor radios, were a big deal. Aside from watching Star Trek which was science fiction we never anticipated the PC, cellphones, DVDs, flash drives or MP 3 players. It is often said that the science fiction of today is the science of tomorrow. We thought it was cool when 78 rpm (rotations per minute) records became 33s. We were astonished when records that they could be heard in stereo and 3 D movies were a rare treat that some mothers would not let us attend because they thought it would make us go blind at an early age.

Also just because something was an invention of the day did not mean that it readily trickled down to the average population. Initially it was probably too expensive for the workaday individual. It oten took time for prices to drop enough on an invention before the average person could afford it.

Here's a list of some of the major inventions and innovations of the Fifties that did not go main stream in the very beginning.

Between 1950 and 1954:

Zenith introduced "lazy bones" tuning. This was the first time that the channel changer was not called “Junior”. It could change all television stations from the comfort of your easy chair. It was a hand held device that plugged in to the TV.

Telephone Answering Machine was created by Bell Laboratories and Western Electric, very prominent companies who are not so prominent any more. As a matter of fact those were the only two brands of phones you could buy at one time. The first answering machines were as large as a man’s shoe box and office versions were sometimes larger.

The Eckert and Mauchly Computer Co. of Philadelphia (which was soon purchased by Remington Rand) sold the first commercial computer, the UNIVAC 1, to the U.S. Census Bureau. UNIVAC stands for Universal Automatic Computer.

Perhaps the most famous computer of the era was the ENIAC, a computer developed for the U.S. military during World War II. Other computers developed in the 1940s were mostly used by academia. But the UNIVAC I was the first computer to be widely used for commercial purposes - 46 machines were built, for about $1 million each.

Super glue was invented and it was touted as holding anything even a car weighing over two tons. Speaking of cars the American automobile manufacturer Chrysler Corporation introduces power steering., which they called Hydraguide. Until then you had to have some muscle to steer a car.

Mr. Potato Head was patented.

The original Mr. Potato Head toy consists entirely of pieces! We used a real potato for the body! The Mr. Potato Head toy is the first toy ever advertised on network TV.

Sony, a brand new Japanese company, introduced the first pocket-sized transistor radio Masaru Ibuka of Sony made profound improvements in techniques for manufacturing transistors, a new technology, and Sony was able to sell his radio more cheaply than any competitor.

This created a revolution! Now music was portable and just in time to play the soon to be introduced Rock and Roll.

The first 3-D movie was shown: Arch Oboler's Bwana Devil, starring Robert Stack. Movie studio executives worried that the new medium, television, would steal away their audiences. What was required was a hook to bring people back into the movie theatre. As the strippers sang in "Gypsy," you gotta have a gimmick.

Even though 3-D movies had been around as far back as 1922 and had lost favor, it was decided to try again. Arch Oboler's "Bwana Devil" started the 3-D craze of the Fifties. It premiered on Nov. 26, 1952 and starred Robert Stack, Barbara Britton and Nigel Bruce.

An African adventure film (A Lion in Your Lap, A Lady in Your Arms!) about man-eating lions which would jump off the screen at you, it made for pretty exciting watching when the process worked right. People were issued glasses which facilitated the 3-D effect.

Dr. Jonas Salk announced discovery of the vaccine for poliomyelitis
White Rose Redi-tea was s the world's first instant iced tea
Dow Chemical created Saran Wrap and women all over the world praised it while husbands cursed it for getting tangled.
TV color broadcasting began in 1953, but remember not everyone had color TV’s, a black and white then was often considered a luxurty.
1955 Zenith engineer Eugene Polley invented the "Flashmatic," which represented the industry's first wireless TV remote, now it no longer had to be plugged into the television and you could lose it in the couch.
The first home microwave ovens were manufactured by Tappan. They cost $1300 which really slowed sales!


Secretary Bette Nesmith Graham got tired of retyping and invented "Mistake Out" later renamed, Liquid Paper

Fortran (computer language) was invented
Velcro was patented by George de Mestral of Switzerland.
Eveready produces "AA" size alkaline batteries
The Hula Hoop was invented by Richard Knerr and Arthur "Spud" Melin. HULA HOOP
Richard Knerr and Arthur "Spud" Melin, founders of the Wham-O Company, were the architects of the biggest fad of all time - the hula hoop!

In 1957, they heard from an Australian tourist that in his home country, children twirled bamboo hoops around their waists in gym class. That’s how they got the idea for the hoola hoop.

They found a winner in such an item could be and began to manufacture one made of plastic, Marlex specifically, a lightweight but durable plastic then recently invented by Phillips Petroleum. With the price of oil today would they have taken off so rapidly?

The name "hula hoop" came from the Hawaiian dance its users seemed to imitate. Wham-O sold 25 million hula hoops in two months. Almost 100 million international orders followed. They were manufacturing 20,000 hoops a day at the peak of popularity.

Not all nations thought this was such a great idea. Japan banned the hoops thinking they might promote improprieties. The Soviet Union said the hula hoop was an example of the "emptiness of American culture." They always were a bunch of fuddy duddies until they started exporting exclusive brands of vodka.
Maybe this is not politically or historically correct but then most teenagers have no idea what the “cold war” was about anyway.

Joseph-Armand Bombardier of Valcourt, Quebec, Canada patented the Ski-Doo, originally christened the Ski-Dog, but renamed because of a typographical error that Bombardier decided not to change. You know it today as a snowmobile.

Above statistics, compliments of:
Additional asides by Techno Granny herself.

Techno Granny, Joanne Quinn-Smith and self named “Nanno Granny,” JoAnn Forrester discuss this and loads of other “technologies of the fifties” on the July 20th episode of the Techno Granny Show which can be heard at:

© Joanne Quinn-Smith, host and producer, Techno Granny Show™ This blog may be produced with this by-line intact. Archived Techno Granny Shows™ are available at: and also at: Blog at:

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