Homes

Vintage 1957 – The Wonder Boy X-100

 

Power_Mower_Deluxe

Can technology change the lives of suburban husbands and wives? You bet!

In 1957, Simplicity Manufacturing Company of Port Washington, Wisconsin rolled out its first riding tractor – the Wonder Boy X-100. This was no ordinary riding tractor, however. Packed under its metal hood and plastic dome resided an all-purpose lawn system for mowing, weeding, fertilizing, seeding, and pest spraying. It could be used as a snow plow and as a tractor for hauling other equipment. Its on-board electric-generating system provided the driver air-conditioned comfort from atop an air foam cushioned seat, along with a radio telephone and drink-chilling system. Savings in lawn maintenance time could allow its lucky owners to get in an early round on the links. Just snap on the Wonder Boy’s running lights and drive it off to the course as a golf cart.

Simplicity’s promotional photo illustrated not only the mower of the future, but something of gender roles of the future. While a man relaxes with his pipe and a drink, a stylish woman confidently pilots the marvel from a space-age cockpit.

Image Credit: AP Images

Vintage 1957 – Wow! Aftershave

 

In 1957, some men still shed their whiskers with safety razors and Barbasol. My father and grandfather had converted to electric razors that plugged into the wall with springy cords like telephones.

I never watched my father shave. He was, and continues to be, a very private man. But I have very fond memories of my grandfather singing in the bathroom, accompanied by a fiercely businesslike buzzing.

When I was a young child, I lived with my grandparents on the weekends. I the mornings, I would keep my grandmother company in the kitchen while she made breakfast. There was a small bathroom off the kitchen at their house, between the kitchen and the stairs – down to the basement or up to the garage. While my grandmother made poached eggs and toast, my grandfather would pass through the kitchen and go into the bathroom, which was flooded with sunshine early in the day. Fit and trim, he would be wearing a white ribbed tank top and pleated tan trousers held up by suspenders. He was always a dapper guy.

He was also a barbershop tenor and not shy about filling the house with song. His singing, the buzzing shaver, and the warm smells of breakfast combined into feelings of joy. My grandfather and I had a little ritual after he was done shaving that we truly relished. It had started somewhere back in my fuzzy past (fuzzy to me). When the shaving was done, he would splash aftershave on his hands and briskly pat his cheeks and neck. He would come out into the kitchen and let me smell his aftershave, and then we’d say together, “WOW!” At some time, little me had wow! about his aftershave, and it stuck.

As for brands of aftershave, my father used Old Spice (which I just learned was originally intended as a fragrance for women).

My grandfather was always – as the ads used to say – an “Aqua-Velva Man.”

I miss you, Pop.

 

 

Vintage 1957 – Vintage 2018

Two questions to ponder:

How is life in America significantly different than it was in 1957? How is it significantly the same?

First, a significant difference: our political climate in 2018 is hyper-polarized. Politicians and pundits pride themselves on their strongly-held views, whether liberal or conservative. They stress their unwillingness to compromise, seeing it as a matter of integrity and dedication to principle. Voters use litmus-test issues to guide their choice of candidates. Tendencies for media outlets to lean left or right have led to charges of “fake news” and growing distrust in reportage in general.

In 1957, President Eisenhower was serving his second term, having been elected in 1952 on a deliberately moderate ticket. He promised to “get things done” by working cooperatively with those in his party and across the aisle. Strong anti-Communist Richard Nixon was added to the ticket as Vice President in a token nod to the more conservative side of the Republican party. Eisenhower did not particularly like Nixon nor seek his input. The memory and record of former President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat, was still widely respected by the public. Americans counted on the news – think Walter Cronkite – for fair and impartial information.

Next, a significant similarity: advances in technology were both eagerly welcomed and deeply feared. Today, new Apple products and other high-tech gear are embraced quickly. Brand loyalty and identification create communities of adherents. Social media, online banking, self-driving cars, drones, video-streaming, and fitness trackers all have a following. And yet, we are wary of what might happen with our digital footprint if bad actors gain access. How safe are we? Who is listening and watching and what will they do with what they learn?

In 1957, Americans were also eager adopters of new high-tech products. Food industry innovation responded to the consumer desire for convenience foods. New packaged products included Minute Rice, canned tuna, Jif peanut butter, and Tang. New cold-processing technology made frozen dinners, fruit and vegetables, waffles, and turkeys ready to purchase year-round. Developments in the space program were counting down to putting a man in orbit. Television broadcasting expanded into almost every living room and kitchens began humming with appliances. And yet, it was the Atomic Age of nuclear weapons – and there was no putting the genie back in the bottle. More powerful bombs were being developed and tested and stockpiles were growing. The Soviet Union was a direct Cold War threat, looming over the Artic pole. The potential for incoming ICBMs had everyone practicing “duck and cover”.

Would the Americans of 1957 be surprised that we haven’t found a way to better cooperate politically? Would they also be surprised that we still haven’t better resolved our love-fear relationship with science and technology?

Image Credits: Swanson; Apple

 

July 27, 1957 – A Summer Saturday Chore

 

1955 Hotpoint Refrigerator

 

On July 27, 1957, many housewives across America may have taken advantage of a warm, summer Saturday afternoon to defrost the fridge.  Mass production of refrigerators for household use had begun shortly after the end of World War II.  By 1955, roughly 80% of American homes had replaced their iceboxes with large, humming, porcelain-covered, cooling and freezing machines.  But in 1957, “frost-free” was still in the future for most owners of this modern appliance.  When ice built up around the coolant coils there was only one thing to do.

Step one: unplug the fridge.  Step two: remove all the food from both the main compartment and the freezer.  Step three: place a large pan under the freezer coils to catch the melting icewater.  Step four: keep checking the pan and empty it before it overflows.  Step five: when the freezer coils are free of ice, clean and wipe down the inside of both compartments, replace any food items, and plug the fridge back in.  All done!

The best timing for defrosting the fridge would be just before a trip to the grocery store, when food supplies were growing low.  Packing remaining food in ice could help preserve valuable items.  After this periodic chore was over, it was time to go to the grocery store to stock up on more supplies of meat, dairy, and vegetables.

But maybe a Saturday night dinner at the drive-in and a movie (Loving You? Bernardine? Silk Stockings?) were in order first!

Image Credit: flickr

July 14, 1957 – One Hundred Years of Architecture in America at the National Gallery of Art

 

On July 14, 1957, a National Gallery of Art exhibit celebrating the centennial of the American Institute of Architects, “One Hundred Years of Architecture in America“, came to a successful close.  Organized and directed by architectural historian Frederick Gutheim, the exhibit broke ground at the Gallery in several ways: its  first modern installation; first photographic exhibition; and first temporary exhibition.  The displays included ten giant illuminated color transparencies (some as large as 14 by 24 feet, courtesy of Eastman Kodak) of contemporary buildings, over 200 masonite panels mounted with historic photographs of 65 buildings, and a collection of architectural drawings  documenting the contribution of architects to the graphic arts.

An especially popular portion of the exhibit were 91 colorful embroidered and pieced panels depicting themes from biblical quotations about architecture.  Proposed for inclusion by California designer Charles Eames, the panels were created by Sisters Magdalene Mary and Mary Corita and their art classes at Immaculate Heart College, Los Angeles.  A catalog, 1857-1957: One Hundred Years of Architecture in America, by Frederick Gutheim, was published by Reinhold Publishing of New York.

The scenic Red Rocks Amphitheater, set amidst large rock slabs, was selected by the AIA to represent the state of Colorado at the exhibit.  Built in 1941 in Morrison, Colorado and designed by Denver architect Burnham Hoyt, the venue offers concert performers and goers nearly perfect acoustics.  The centennial exhibit also honored the work of Pasadena, California brothers and architects Charles Sumner Greene and Henry Mather Greene, famous for their Arts and Crafts esthetic and bungalow designs.  The National Historic Landmark David B. Gamble House in Pasadena, designed by the Greenes and constructed in 1908-1909,  is considered one of the finest examples of residential architecture in the United States.

Images Credit: American Institute of Architects; redrocksonline.com; visitpasadena.com

Vintage 1957 – Page, Arizona

Page Business District

A Page out of history: Page, Arizona Business District, 1957.                                             Image Credit: Petey Lloyd Dietz

One of the largest – and most controversial – government projects of the 1950s and 1960s was the construction of Arizona’s Glen Canyon Dam and the ensuing creation of Lake Powell. Those in favor of sufficient supplies of water and electric power for the western states, and those in favor of preserving our nation’s natural landscape were in conflict from the very beginning of the project and continue so to this day.

Situated on Manson Mesa, overlooking the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell, Page, Arizona has grown from a temporary tract of trailers to a city of over 7500 people. The original trailer community, know initially as Government Camp, formed in 1957 to provide housing for project workers and their families. Additional land was added in 1958, after a 24 square-mile land swap with the nearby Navajo Nation. Streets were laid out as part of a plan for future housing, shops, schools and churches. From the start of construction in 1956 until completion of the dam, power station and associated infrastructure in 1966, lives were lived and memories were created by families drawn to an outpost on the wild and beautiful border of Utah and Arizona.

One of those families belonged to Mike Adams. Mike’s father was a pilot and their first home was at the airport. They arrived in 1959 or 1960, Mike recalls, and he started attending 1st grade. His family moved quite a bit, including time in trailer courts (where he watched the Beatles on Ed Sullivan), apartments, and park ranger housing. When he was in high school, the family moved into a house his father built on Date Street and First Ave. As Mike writes in his blog, his “first bike, first girlfriend, first job, first bank account, first car, first home of my own, and first wife (and only wife – we’re still married)” all happened in Page, as the town came to be called in 1975. He no longer lives there but he has found a way to reconnect with his past and his friends through his photo blog of Page history.

With his permission, here are a few of the great photos he and his friends have shared on his site:

MCS Trailer Court

The MCS Trailer Court. Image Credit: Petey Lloyd Dietz

1272-usbr-p-557-420-03586-apr-1959-the-mens-store

The Men’s Store. Image Credit: USBR

Ernie Severino

Ernie Severino inside the original Page Jewelers. Image Credit: Ernie Severino, Jr.

The best histories always include the history of individuals and the real lives they lived. Mike writes well and has great memories to share. Thank you, Mike, for sharing your history with us.

Mike Adams

Mike Adams

Image Credit (Page, AZ): City of Page, Arizona website

June 26, 1957 – Elvis Spends His First Night at Graceland

 

Graceland-1957

Elvis takes in the sights at Graceland, with a friend

On June 26, 1957, Elvis spent his first night at home at Graceland.  Fresh off the set of his third movie, “Jailhouse Rock” for MGM, Elvis arrived at the 10,250 square foot, tan limestone mansion set on 13.8 acres in Memphis, Tennessee three months after purchasing it in March for $102,500.  The classical revival-style mansion with large white entrance columns had been built in 1939 by Ruth Moore and her husband, Dr. Thomas Moore.  Ruth was the niece of Grace Toof, who was the daughter of S. C. Toof, founder of the Memphis commercial printing firm S.C. Toof & Co.  S. C. had purchased the property originally and named it Graceland Farms, after his daughter, who gave Ruth a portion of the land holdings after her father’s death.

Elvis had extensive modifications done to the mansion before he moved in, including the addition of the famous waterfall-containing Jungle Room, a swimming pool, and a racquetball court.  Over the years, Elvis expanded the mansion to almost 18,000 square feet, using a decorating philosophy that included swathes of white and red, accented with peacocks and leopard skin.  Friends generously described the interior as “tacky”, while critics used such terms as cheap, “gaudy”, “garish”, “phony”, and “turn-of-the-century bordello” style taken from New Orleans’ French Quarter.  “Tasteless white trash” was a general verdict.

Elvis had his revenge on the critics. Graceland is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been designated a National Historic Landmark.  It is the second-most visited residence in the United States each year, after the White House.  Elvis is buried at Graceland, along with his parents and grandmother, in an area he had built and named Meditation Garden.

Image Credit: david/flickr