Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Revisiting the past

In my early teens I developed a passion for Popular Mechanics and Popular Science magazines. Never mind that I had no aptitude for mechanics or, as it turned out when I later took high school chemistry, for science. These magazines just seemed exotic to me. They seemed to offer a peek into the future, while at the same time revealing an exciting present. I especially loved those issues devoted to new cars. The release of new models of automobiles has not interested me much since I stopped reading the magazines in the early 1960s.

A few months ago I reclaimed a portion of my youth by purchasing three issues of Popular Mechanics from the era when I still read the magazine. (I have no idea what happened to all those issues I had stacked in my room back home.) Last night I poured over the September 1957 issue, the one that announced the new Edsel on the cover.

"There's no market for cars that look alike," says the article inside. No one ever accused the Edsel of looking like other cars. The article points out that the Edsel was vertical in the front, where most cars were horizontal, and horizontal in the back, where most cars then had vertical lines. Of course we know the Edsel failed miserably. And today, or so it appears to me, most cars look pretty much alike.

Another fascinating article, "What's Happening to the Weather," interviews a panel of experts about the recent warming trend in the world's climate, including a noticeable melting of polar ice. Sound familiar? The meteorologists blamed the changing climate on sunspots.

The magazine has two articles about sports cars designed to look like jet planes. Another article describes inventive games played by people on horseback, including a polo match played with brooms instead of mallets and a ribbon race in which two horsemen attempt to complete a course with a strip of crepe paper between them without dropping or tearing the paper. "Pupils Study Math With Calculators" says one headline. The photograph shows children with machines on their desks the size of small typewriters. Another article is about "The Organ That Plays Stalactites" and yet another announces, "You Can Make a Plant Do Tricks."

I can remember devoting as much time to the ads in these magazines as the articles. This particular issue has ads for a 75X telescope for $3.98, a hot-air-balloon kit for a dollar, a "lifetime" radio for $2, 6-foot government surplus balloons for just 59 cents each, a vest-pocket sized adding machine for $2.95 and 12 "disgustingly potent" stink bombs for a dollar. What boy wouldn't love to get his hands on any of these things? But they were just too expensive for me. I was lucky just to get the magazine, which cost 35 cents an issue back then.

No comments:

Post a Comment