I have three grandchildren (all wonderful, naturally) and the oldest is five years old today. I put wonderful in parentheses because most grandparents think their grandchildren are wonderful while the rest of the world just thinks they are a few more of the world's billions of children. Mine are luckier than most of them, having survived their first few months and more. But I got to thinking about what the world will be like when today's Birthday Boy is my age. Obviously I have no idea (nor do you), but I can at least look back on what the world was like when I was his age. That would be 1947.
We had no TV, although TV existed. When we got one the following year it broadcast from about 4 pm to 10:30 pm and then had a test pattern. 1947 also marked the first TV broadcast of Congress. But at 5 I was listening to the radio (when allowed), as was most everyone else. That year Chuck Yeager flew the Bell X1 faster than sound in level flight. There was commercial air travel but almost nobody we knew used it. The following year when we went from the heart of the midwest to California it was by train. There my father had his first heart attack. He was dead less than ten years later. that means that when I was five he already had advanced coronary artery disease although we didn't know it. We had a car, a Hudson, with running boards. Stick shift. Detroit was making cars again, after making none during the war years when it made tanks and trucks and the like for the military. One part of the suggested bailout for Detroit this week -- which the Republicans and White House objected to -- would have required The Big Three to use some of their unused production capacity to build light rail, buses and trains. In 1947 the Swedish car manufacturer, Saab, made its first cars. This week the Swedish government announced a bailout plan of their own to save them.
I'm hoping to get nice digital pics of his birthday party sent over the internet (we don't live near him, alas). When I was 5 Kodak Brownies were what you used (they go back to 1900!). Now you can even use your telephone to take pictures?! (think about how weird that is). But in 1947 there was also a brand new technology. Edwin Land demonstrated his first Polaroid Land Camera to colleagues at the Optical Society of America. This year Polaroid officially shut down sales of its final version. Computers? My grandson has one (his dad got him one of the one-kid-one-computer deals where another one was sent to the developing world) and he seems pretty comfortable with it. But when I was five no one knew about computers, although at least one did exist, ENIAC, developed during the war but shut down in 1946 for a "memory upgrade." It went back up when I was five and operated continuously for the next 8 years. Not that I or anyone was aware of it. 1947 was the same year the first practical transistor was demonstrated and Raytheon made its first commercial microwave oven. Both remained hidden to most of the country for decades. Now they are so commonplace as to be invisible. Oh, and Max Planck died that year.
This year we elected our first African American President. In 1947 the first African American journalist (Percival Prattis) was allowed in the US House and Senate Press galleries and in April 1947 Jackie Robinson signed a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers and became the first African American major league ball player. The South and someof the North was segreated. Whether you think this is a lot of progress over 61 years or a little depends on your sense of history. I think to many of us the Obama election seems like a giant step. How will my Little Guy see it 61 years from now? What new barriers will be broken?
The Cold War was getting underway, a constant feature of my youth and most of my adult life. That year contempt citations were issued against the Hollywood 10 after they refused to cooperate with the House Un-American [Activities] Committee's (HUAC) witch hunt of communists in the movies. By the next day the Ten were on a black list which grew to include many others. Secretary of State George Marshall outlined The Marshall Plan to save Europe from disaster (and supposed revolution). Now Europe is in better shape than the US. And while the Cold War ended, not all of its institutions ended with it. When I was 5 years old Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947 into law, creating the Central Intelligence Agency, Department of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the National Security Council.
It's not just Cold War institutions that are still with us, either. In 1947 Hindus and Muslims fought in the Punjab, Pakistan and India gained independence from British rule and split from each other, Nehru transferred 4 million Hindus and Muslims between the two new countries and then India and Pakistan started a war. Last month, terrorists from Pakistan shot up Mumbai. Not content with their colonial rule ruining the Indian sub-continent, that year the British started withdrawing their troops from Palestine. Later in the year the UN General Assembly voted to partition the British Mandate and create Israel. All of this worked out just peachy. Will there still be fighting in both places when my grandson reaches my age? I hope not. But 61 years is a long time and its still going on.
Something for me to think about today. But first, Happy Birthday my little sweetheart. May you eventually see peace and happiness in this world.
(hat tip, Wikipedia)
That was a great read. Thanks!
All boys for grandchildren, if I'm paying attention or even remember right. Interesting.
Mrs. R must love that but you revere-be need a granddaughter to melt your heart into a trillion pieces.
66 years old aye?, you're not old, a whooping nine years older than me.
Sorry you lost your dad at such a young age too. At least you had a dad.
Your sweetheart (and his mom) thank you so much for this wonderful post.
Also in 1947, postwar Europe saw the rise of "microcars" that typically carried two adults and got 75 - 90 miles per gallon. The Ford Model T by contrast, got about 25, or a little less than today's average.
In 1947, if you had a telephone installed, it was likely a Western Electric type 302. If you had kept that telephone until today, you would notice that the sound quality is better than today's cellphones. For that matter, the sound quality of its immediate predecessors, types 102 and 202, from about 1925 through the early 1940s, was better than today's cellphones. This I know becuase I have examples of these, with the original transmitters & receivers.
In 1947 the average household electric power consumption was about 1/4 of what it is today. The major advances in appliances had already occurred: most households had a refrigerator, a radio, and a fan, and a decent plurality had electric clothes washers. A good vacuum cleaner cost a couple weeks' wages but would last 30 years or longer. The word "air conditioning" hadn't become a common compound noun, so you would frequently see usages such as "....the air was conditioned and cooled..." and window-mounted air conditioners were a luxury.
As a result of the latter point, places such as southern Florida and the Arizona desert were sparsely populated. The night sky, absent the glare of city lights, was black as ink and festooned with stars. Wartime experience watching the skies gave way to poswar waves of UFO sightings, many of which turned out to be nifty new experimental aircraft or meteors.
In the years after the atomic scientists and (though not revealed at the time) math-whiz codebreakers made their contributions to the victory over fascism, visions of atomic power plants and rockets to the moon were the stuff of popular imagination. Science was progress and progress was good, therefore science was good. Religious extremism in its incarnation of the time, was thought to be an isolated backwater phenomenon that would evaporate over time as a result of improved education.
The New Deal had created a middle class that would soon be said to encompass the majority of America. It was said that communism would never take root here because we had transcended the class struggle.
Imagine that: a middle class majority.
Anyone else here remember the middle class? It was good while it lasted, wasn't it?
In 1947, the US had 50% of the worlds wealth and had an economy that was based on making or growing things. Today we make derivatives and print money, serve fries or deal with bed pans, our manufacturing has moved to China and their products entertain us or clothe us, stuff many buy with credit card debt, and the federal government has 70 trillion in unfunded obligations with a Federal Debt of almost 11 trillion, and we are on pace to have our first 1 trillion dollar annual deficit.
In 1947 Truman had got Big Business to provide wage increases to bring wages in line with the cost of living since 1941 which was up 33%. Unions would not strike during war time and wage increases were frozen or limited by law, so there was a significant gap in 1946 after the war that led to 2 million union workers striking. Today we have few unions and the automakers who use union labour and make stuff can not compete with non-union automakers who have no legacy payments, and our congress does not see fit to give them a piece of the action w/o asking the unions to take a 20% pay cut.
Since 1947, we have had 1 President assasinated, 1 Presidential candidate assassinated, 2 Presidents subjected to an attempted assasinations, 1 President resigning after being impeachment, and another impeached for having sex he said was not sex.
Since 1947 we have had stagflation, and S&L crisis, dot.com bubble bursting, sub-prime crisis, and have handed out 3.2 trillion in loans or purchases to global finance corporations who earn most of their profits in other countries to avoid taxes in the US and take their losses in the US. In the 1990's under Clinton, in order to reduce COLA's and ss adjustments, CPI deliberately understated inflation so those on a fixed income experienced declining real income forcing many elderly to chose between heart medication or heating oil/food today.
Today, the disparity in income and wealth between the top 1% and the middle groups has reached levels not seen since the last Depression.
Since 1947 we have seen oil go from 3 dollars a barrel to 60 dollars a barrel in June 2007, then up to 150 dollars a barrel over the next 10 months, and back to 45 dollars a barrel in the next 4 months. All due to speculation by the finance companies being bailed out today and not due to any shortages of oil.
Since 1947 we have had the Cold War, Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War, Kosovo War, Iraq and Afghanistan wars and GWOT.
We have also had military engagments/interventions or invasions of the following countries- Lebanon, Thailand, Cuba, Laos, Dominican republic, Cambodia, Zaire, El Salvador, Grenada, Chad, Libya, Iran, Panama, Somalia, Haiti. This does not include our covert intelligence operations which have resulted in regime change in Iran, Chile and other countries, changes that were not for the better of the country (Pinochet and the Shah)
We became the largest prison population in the world, over 2 million people, most of them people of color due to they are the targetted populations in a bogus War on Drugs, which is 25% of the worlds global prison population, exceeding even that in China. Oh, and the war on drugs has been lost.
We have had a War on Poverty, War on Cancer, War on Drugs, War on Terror, No Child Left Behind, etc with little to show for it except large bills.
Since 1947 we have had race riots, and asssasinations of MLK and Malcum X. The only Catholic President we have ever had did not serve out his full term, and the first black President refuses to release his birth certificate giving a segment of our society an excuse to question his legitimacy.
We went from a society where 1 member of a middle class household could support a family with up to 6 kids and send them to college without having to go into debt and having health care and pensions upon retirement, to a society where both members of a middle class household must work to raise 2 kids and be without pensions and from time to time be without health insurance, and of yeah, many being heavily in debt after the kids graduate (or the kids are in debt). Last year life expectancy in the US decreased, and in the poorer states in the south they had been declining since 1983. Almost 20% of American adults are uninsured, and the US ranking has declined to 42nd from 11th in only 20 years.
I do not know what the future holds, but if your grand kids see more of the same regression by the time they get to be your age, if they get to be your age, they might wonder if 1947 was not paradise.
For those kids who are reaching adulthood today and have a sense of history, they might wonder WTF our generation was up to, especially as they watch in horror at the Global New Deal is issued for the International banksters at 3.2 trillion and counting, details as per the link below
You cast a dark pall, pft. I agree that it does cast a discouraging shadow. And I think that there is a reason.
Since at least the middle of the 20th C., governments, businesses and citizens have become more and more accustomed to spending money they have not yet earned and more likely to express astonishment when informed that the bill has come due.
Spending money one has not yet earned is no way to prepare for the future; it is a way to hobble and endanger ourselves and our children in the future.