Science & Technology

October 6, 1957 – Chrysler’s “Forward Look”

1957 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer. Photo: Motortrend

1957 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer

On October 6, 1957, Chrysler Corporation was busy rolling out its 1958 model year and promoting its successful “Forward Look” designs.  The “high-finned, flying-wedge” Look had helped Chrysler up its auto market share from 15% to nearly 21% and President Lester “Tex” Colbert would not be in a hurry to make significant changes.  Innovations were being made to the Look for 1958, however, and included a wrap-around-and-up “control tower” windshield, a rear-view mirror on the left front fender that could be remotely controlled from the dashboard, and a defroster to keep condensation off the rear window.

The advertising campaign for the Forward Look stressed six keys selling points:

  1. The rightness of style – the dart shape of motion: cuts steering corrections in cross-winds by as much as 20%!
  2. Wonderful Torsion-Aire Ride: suspension so right it prevents starting squat, braking dip, lean on curves.
  3. Pushbutton Torqueflite: control buttons for full control of automatic transmission with two extra buttons for muddy or snowy conditions, downhill engine braking, or flexibility in traffic or up steep hills
  4. Constant-Control Power Steering: works the right way – full-time, not part-time, takes the work out of steering, with a wonderful new “feel” of the road
  5. Total-Contact Braking: your toe does less, the brakes do more, quicker straight-line stops with up to 25% less pedal pressure, longer lining life
  6. Control Tower Windshields: see 50% better, windshield sweeps back into the roofline to let you see up as well as out, with safety glass, of course, and the “all outdoors” feeling comes true again in the roominess inside

The purple prose of this great advertising age continued: “But the rightness goes further!  In every great engineering achievement, in every fine detail of styling, in the total design and total value of these cars.  It’s simply a matter of giving you more for what you pay.  But don’t just look at a great ’58 of the ‘Forward Look’ – drive around and discover the rightness for yourself!”

Image Credit: Motortrend

October 5, 1957 – Surgeons Successfully Separate Conjoined Twins

 

Dr. C. Everett Koop teaching in a hospital in Japan, 1961. Photo: National Library of Medicine, The C. Everett Koop Papers

Dr. C. Everett Koop teaching in a hospital in Japan, 1961.

On October 5, 1957, a team of surgeons and assisting medical staff successfully separated 9-day-old conjoined twins girls Pamela and Patricia Schatz.  The dramatic operation – only the fourth such procedure in the United States after which both twins survived – was accomplished at Philadelphia’s Children’s Hospital and lasted two hours and thirty-five minutes.  The fourteen-member team of medical experts included a urologist, a plastic surgeon, a neurosurgeon, two anesthetists, two doctors who gave blood transfusions to the twins, four nurses, two medical photographers (filming the surgery as a teaching and training resource), and lead surgeon (and future United States Surgeon General) Dr. C. Everett Koop, surgeon-in-chief at Children’s Hospital.

Pamela and Patricia were born joined together near the base of their spines.  Their surgery held a greater chance of success because they did not share any vital organs.   During the operation, the heart of the smaller twin, Patricia, stopped suddenly and Dr. Koop quickly made an incision in her chest and manually massaged her heart, while she received a transfusion of blood.  About six minutes later, Patricia’s heart started again and it became clear to attending physicians that she had been born with a congenital heart lesion.  She did not appear to suffer ill effects from her heart stoppage.  Dr. Koop explained to reporters that both Pamela and Patricia might need additional plastic surgery at their separation site.  When asked for the twins’ prognosis, Koop replied, “Fine, for the larger baby.  That of the smaller one depends completely on its heart, whose lesions would seem amenable to surgery later.”

The operation was reported by Philadelphia’s daily newspaper, the Inquirer, in an article which included background information about the history of other such conjoined twin surgeries in America.  The unnamed writer of the article explained, “Attempts surgically to separate Siamese [conjoined] twins have been confined largely to the last decade, when better anesthetics, more potent drugs, and new techniques combined to make such operations feasible.  Few of the attempts, however, have met with complete success.  Most of the twins involved – and there have been dozens of cases here and abroad in recent years – have died under surgery or lived only a few days afterward.  That was largely due to the fact that the twins shared one or more vital organs that could not be surgically divided.”

The professional expertise of Dr. Koop and his team at Philadelphia Children’s Hospital made it possible for Pamela and Patricia to survive and grow as separate individuals.  The followup surgery Koop mentioned for Patricia’s heart lesion became necessary before she was 10 years old.  Sadly, tragically, she died five days after undergoing the open-heart procedure.  Her autopsy could give no explanation for her death.

Image Credit: National Library of Medicine, The C. Everett Koop Papers

October 4, 1957 – Soviets Launch Sputnik 1

Sputnik 1

 

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union upped the ante in the Space Race with the successful launch of Sputnik 1, the first Earth-orbiting artificial satellite.  Blasted through the atmosphere from the Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard a two-stage R-7 rocket, Sputnik 1 was a 23-inch diameter, 184 pound, aluminum-magnesium-titanium sheathed sphere with two whip-like antennae.  Powered by silver-zinc batteries, it entered a low, elliptical orbit emitting a radio signal which could be received on Earth by both Soviet scientists and the curious (and highly-alarmed) American public.  Sputnik traveled 18,000 miles per hour, completing an Earth-orbit every 96 minutes.  Radio transmissions continued for 22 days, until transmitter batteries were exhausted.  The history-making satellite spent 3 months in orbit, traveling a total of 37 million miles, before burning up in atmospheric reentry on January 4, 1958.

While not able to conduct as many experiments as the Soviets had initially hoped, Sputnik was able to gather information during its three-month run concerning the density of the Earth’s upper atmosphere, radio-signal distribution in the ionosphere, and meteoroid detection by penetration of the satellite’s outer hull.

The successful launch of an artificial satellite was one of the primary goals of the International Geophysical Year (IGY), inaugurated on July 1, 1957.  The Soviets had first proposed developing such a satellite on May 27, 1954, and President Dwight Eisenhower announced on July 29, 1955 that the United States would send their own version of the technological achievement into space during the IGY.  But Sputnik took America and its government by surprise.  Americans now had to take Soviet scientific abilities much more seriously.  A sense of vulnerability to attack led to panic reactions by the public, as they listened in to Sputnik’s ominous “beep-beep” when it passed directly overhead.  The US government responded with renewed commitment to scientific and technological research, and military and educational program revamping and investment.  ICBMs, missile defense systems, and satellites were all placed on a developmental fast-track.  After several failed attempts, the United States’ first successful launch of its own artificial satellite, Explorer 1, occurred on January 31, 1958.

Numerous references to Sputnik in movies, television shows, and pop songs have made the term part of the American cultural landscape.  Replicas and models of the satellite can be found at the United Nations, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, and the Science Museum in London.

Image Credit: NASA

October 1, 1957 – “In God We Trust” First Appears on Paper Currency

Series 1957 A $1 Silver Certificate

 

On October 1, 1957, new one-dollar silver certificates were issued inscribed with “In God We Trust”, the first United States paper currency to bear the motto declaring the nation’s faith in a providential God.  Coins of several denominations had borne the motto since Civil War times, when Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase received numerous requests from citizens for such a recognition of the Deity.  He requested James Pollack, Director of the Mint at Philadelphia, to “cause such a device to be prepared without unnecessary delay with a motto expressing in the fewest and tersest words possible this national recognition”, because “No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense.  The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins.”  Pollock proposed “Our Country; Our God”, or “God, Our Trust”; Chase modified them to “Our God and Our Country” and “In God We Trust” before recommending them to Congress, which passed legislation adopting the mottoes on April 22, 1864.  Later that year, “In God We Trust” made its first appearance on the two-cent coin.

Over the years, the motto appeared on the gold double-eagle coin, the gold eagle coin, the gold half-eagle coin, the silver dollar coin, the half-dollar coin, the quarter-dollar coin, the three-cent coin, the five-cent coin, the one-cent coin, and the ten-cent coin.  The motto was removed from some coins around the turn of the century, prompting public demand that it be restored.  Congress passed an act on May 18, 1908 requiring the motto to be restored to all coins which had originally borne the device.  “In God We Trust” has appeared consistently on all of America’s coins since that time.

It was not until the 1950’s that a joint resolution by the 84th Congress, approved by President Dwight Eisenhower on July 30, 1956, adopted “In God We Trust” as the national motto of the United States.  Then, in 1957, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing began converting its paper money production from the wet intaglio to the dry intaglio printing process.  Dry intaglio printing used high-speed rotary presses which could turn out new bills much faster than the old flat-bed presses used in wet intaglio printing.  During the conversion, as it gradually created the costly new printing plates, the Bureau began including the newly-adopted national motto on all paper currency.  The first bills to be printed using the new process were one-dollar silver certificates.  Federal Reserve notes in one-dollar, five-dollar, ten-dollar, and twenty-dollar denominations began to bear the motto in 1964.  Fifty and one-hundred dollar bills were first printed with “In God We Trust” in 1966.

September 29, 1957 – The Kyshtym Disaster

Map of the Mayak and Kyshtym area, USSR

On September 29, 1957, an explosion in a steel storage tank containing liquid nuclear waste led to the release of a massive 2 MCi of radioactive material in the eastern Ural Mountains of the Soviet Union.  Spent nuclear waste generates heat, and when tank cooling systems failed, containment of the material failed and a non-nuclear explosion occurred on the order of 70-100 tons of TNT.  The Kyshtym Disaster, as it came to be called, was the third worst nuclear disaster in history, dwarfed only by the Chernobyl reactor explosions and fire in 1986 and the Fukushima Daiichi multiple reactor meltdowns in 2011.

The incident occurred at Mayak, a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant sequestered in the closed city of Ozyorsk, near the town of Kyshtym.  Within ten hours of the release, the radioactive cloud traveled 300-350 kilometers in a northeast direction.  Fallout contaminated an area of approximately 800 square kilometers later called the East-Ural Radioactive Trace (EURT).  Secrecy surrounding Mayak and its operations led to the suppression of information about the danger to the local population; it was a full week before people began to be evacuated, without explanation.  According to an article in Critical Mass Journal by Richard Pollock, people “grew hysterical with fear with the incidence of unknown ‘mysterious’ diseases breaking out.  Victims were seen with skin ‘sloughing off’ their faces, hands, and other exposed parts of their bodies.”

Knowledge about the event could only be gathered indirectly.  An estimated 200 people died from cancer as a direct result of the explosion and release; massive amounts of contaminated soil apparently were excavated and stockpiled; and an off-limits “nature reserve” was created in the EURT to isolate the affected region.  Studies of the effects of radioactivity on plants, animals, and ecosystems later conducted and published by faculty members of the Institute of Molecular Biology in Moscow eventually confirmed the rumors of a major radioactive release.

At the time, the Soviets were hurrying to catch up with American nuclear weapons researchers.  In their desire to produce sufficient quantities of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium, they proceeded without full understanding of the safety measures necessary to protect citizens and the environment.  Their lack of concern led to open dumping of highly radioactive waste into rivers and lakes.  The level of radioactivity in the town of Ozyorsk is currently claimed to be within safe limits, but the “East-Ural Nature Reserve”, as the EURT was deceptively renamed in 1968, is still heavily contaminated.

Image Credit: Jan Rieke/NASA World Wind Screenshot

September 19, 1957 – Bathyscaphe Treiste Reaches Record Depth

Bathyscaphe Trieste

 

On September 19, 1957, a curious creature containing iron pellets, gasoline, oxygen, and two humanoids visited the aquatic denizens of the deep, two miles below the gentle waves and warm breezes of the Mediterranean Sea.  The mysterious mechanical interloper was the bathyscaphe Trieste, a deep-submergence vehicle originally conceived, designed, and constructed by Swiss physicist and inventor August Piccard, on a successful voyage to set a new diving depth record.  Piccard coined the term “bathyscaphe” from two Greek words: “bathos”, meaning “deep”; and “scaphos”, meaning “ship”.  The bathyscaphe consisted of a float chamber filled with gasoline for buoyancy (gasoline is less dense than water, and naturally wants to rise to the water’s surface) and a pressure chamber for two crew members.  Piccard’s first bathyscaphe, the FNRS-2 had been constructed in 1947.  Using what he learned from his early explorations, Piccard then designed the Trieste, which was built in 1952 in the town of Trieste, Italy, with the support of many local individuals, companies and institutions.

Between 1953 and October of 1957, the Trieste completed 48 dives in the Mediterranean.  Its success attracted the interest of the United States Office of Naval Research, which purchased the Trieste and assigned it to the Naval Electronics Laboratory in San Diego, California.

Trieste Diagram by Ralph Sutherland

The Trieste’s float chambers were more than 50 feet long and contained 22,500 gallons of gasoline.  Water ballast tanks were added at each end of the float section.  The crew’s pressure chamber was slightly over 7 feet long and contained completely independent life-support systems, including a rebreather system with oxygen tanks and a carbon dioxide scrubber.  The bathyscaphe was battery-powered and operated by the French Navy during its Mediterranean adventures.  Nine tons of magnetic iron pellets in ballast silos, and an electromagnetic control system, allowed the Trieste to descend and ascend.  Crew members observed the underwater scenery by one cone-shaped window of acrylic glass with illumination by quartz arc-light bulbs outside the ship.  Everything on the Trieste had to be designed to withstand the over 1000 atmospheres of pressure found at the extreme depths Piccard wanted to explore.

Image Credit: Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

September 12, 1957 – [Subliminal] Messages

Popcorn and Coca-Cola. [1957 Time Capsule].

On September 12, 1957 [1957 Time Capsule], market researcher James Vicary revealed at a press conference in New York City that 45,699 movie-going guinea pigs [1957 Time Capsule] had been recently exposed to what sounded suspiciously to alarmed Americans like thought control.  The Wall Street Journal reported the following on Vicary’s presentation about his new subliminal [1957 Time Capsule] projection technology:

“This story may sound as though a flying saucer [1957 Time Capsule] is lurking behind the scenes, but you can rest assured that all characters in this drama are real.  The tale begins some months ago when several closed-mouthed men walked into a New Jersey motion picture house [1957 Time Capsule] and fitted a strange mechanism to the film projector.  Over the next six weeks, as 45,699 unsuspecting movie goers watched Hollywood’s newest epics [1957 Time Capsule],  a strange thing reportedly occurred.  Out of the blue, it is claimed, patrons started deserting their seats and crowding in the lobby.  Sales of Coca-Cola [1957 Time Capsule] reportedly rose 18.1% and popcorn purchases zoomed 57.7% over the theater’s usual sales.  These claims – and the explanation of this purported phenomenon – were made at a press conference yesterday afternoon [1957 Time Capsule] by executives of a new firm called Subliminal Projection Co., Inc.  The movie patrons had been subjected to ‘invisible advertising’ that by-passed their conscious [1957 Time Capsule] and assertedly struck deep into their sub-conscious.  The trick was accomplished by flashing commercials past the viewers’ eyes so rapidly [1957 Time Capsule] that viewers were unaware they had seen them.  The ads, which were flashed every five seconds or so, simply urged the audience to eat popcorn [1957 Time Capsule] and drink Coca-Cola, and they were projected during the theater’s regular movie program.”

Vicary claimed that subliminal advertising [1957 Time Capsule] would revolutionize the advertising industry – which was moving rapidly to take advantage [1957 Time Capsule] of the growing popularity of television – by promoting products directly to the drives, needs [1957 Time Capsule] and desires of the unconscious mind.  The cool, rational processes of conscious recognition and evaluation [1957 Time Capsule] would be disabled.  The public was worried: were they about to become [1957 Time Capsule] the victims of brainwashing?

Image Credit: Faux Food Diner