1950s American Students Wore Dog Tags to School

People who grew up in the 1950s agree that the world is a very different place now. Back then, children walked to school with their friends, no worry about having a parent chaperone them. A trip to the corner store for candy or comic books was also a casual affair. But, because of the threat of nuclear war, young students wore dog tags issued by their school.

Referred to as “metal identification tags” these civil defense dog tags were issued to students in school districts across the United States, including New York City, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Seattle, and Philadelphia. Check out this sobering video where students in Las Vegas are asked to speak to the press about the issuing of dog tags to students and why they’re important. At the end, a young boy speaks about how they will help soldiers identify his body. Chilling.

New York City’s public school system was the first to issue the “identification tags” in February 1952, spending $159,000 to provide them to 2.5 million students. They were instructed to wear them at all times as if they were soldiers in a daily battle against the Soviet Union. Educators also considered other ways to identify the children, including tattoos, identification cards, and fingerprinting all the children. At the time, fingerprinting was considered a terrible infringement of privacy, and worries about destroyed ID cards and illegible tattoos from burnt skin meant the metal tags were the best choice.

For adults reminiscing on their childhood, these tags are a bizarre artifact of typical daily life in the 1950s. While many of these children didn’t understand the full ramifications of regular “duck and cover” drills and wearing these dog tags, it’s a chilling reminder of how much fear and paranoia was a regular part of 1950s American life.

Even adults and students in other parts of the country had opportunities to get their own metal identification tags. You could mail order them or even see your grocer to secure your pair.

Orlando Sentinel

A Roomba-Like Cleaner was Patented in 1957

Home robots are still an amazing concept, especially for people who grew up watching episodes of “The Jetsons” on television. Roombas were first introduced in 2002, and over 15 million units have been sold worldwide as of this writing. While many people are delighted by their autonomous robot vacuum, most people don’t know that a robot vacuum was first envisioned in the 1950s.

Donald G. Moore patented a robot floor cleaner in 1957. It was controlled by a central console that only required the press of a button to activate the cleaner. The robot would appear and had the functionality to both vacuum and mop your kitchen floor. Unfortunately, a working version of the robot was never built or released to the public.

Watch the robot in action in this promotional film for the RCA Whirlpool “Miracle Kitchen” in 1959 (the robot floor cleaner appears at 11:50):

Source: The Retrofuturist.

Rasputin is the Reason for “Work of Fiction” Disclaimers in Movie Credits

If you have the patience to sit all the way through the end of a movie’s credit (maybe waiting for a little post-credit Easter egg scene), you’ve probably noticed the disclaimer at the end: This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is purely coincidental. Where did that come from and why do they need to put it on the end of obviously fictitious films like Finding Dory or Star Wars? The answer lies, surprisingly with the famous Russian mystic Grigori Rasputin.

Slate has the full story: “It all started when an exiled Russian prince sued MGM in 1933 over the studio’s Rasputin biopic, claiming that the American production did not accurately depict Rasputin’s murder. And the prince ought to have known, having murdered him.”

The Slate article goes on to detail the MGM production in question Rasputin and the Empress and how the exiled Russian Prince Felix Youssoupoff sued them for defamation. Eventually, MGM had to pay up to his wife and take the film out of circulation to purge the offending scene. The landmark case made the film industry overly cautious and now some form of the “fiction” disclaimer appears at the end of most films.

It’s truly a fascinating story. Get all the details at Slate and check out Prince Felix Youssoupoff’s memoir Lost Splendor: The Amazing Memoirs of the Man Who Killed Rasputin.

Dr. Seuss Wrote an Adult Book with Illustrations of Naked Women

Dr. Seuss is one of the most beloved children author’s of all time, creating classic characters and stories like The Cat in the Hat, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and The Lorax. But before he created those characters, Theodore Geisel, was an illustrator for magazines and advertisements. Once he started his career as a children’s author with his first book And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, Dr. Seuss wrote another book intended for adult readers.

The Seven Lady Godivas: The True Facts Concerning History’s Barest Family was one of the few books he wrote for adults, telling the tale of seven Godiva sisters, inspired by the real-life Lady Godiva who rode naked through the streets to protest oppressive taxation. His story tells the story of the naked sisters traveling throughout the land on a quest for “horse truths.” Throughout the story, the sisters appear completely naked and are illustrated as such, though the pictures lack any anatomical details.

The book was published by Random House in 1938 and was later cited as Dr. Seuss’s biggest publishing failure. The original print run of 10,000 copies was estimated to sell only around 2,500 copies. Many reasons are given for the failure. Seuss says it was because he couldn’t draw naked women correctly. At the time the failure was attributed to a hefty $2 price tag during the Depression and the nudity driving away readers. The remaining copies were sold for 25 cents in a chain of cigar stores.

Luckily, the failure of this book can be credited for helping Dr. Seuss focus his energies on the magical children’s books that made up the rest of his career. Due to fan demand, the book was reprinted in 1987. The book is currently out of print, though used copies can be purchased online, and a PDF version is currently avaialble.

Disney’s Goofy Was a Chainsmoker Who Couldn’t Kick the Habit

Goofy is a beloved Disney character created back in 1932. Over the years, children and adults have fallen in love with this dopey goofball as he stumbled his way through all types of chaos and problems. He was the star of many animated shorts, including the Everyman years in the 1950s. That series reimagined Goofy as a family man named George Geef who dealt with everyday issues like raising children, dieting, and even quitting smoking.

However, this short called “No Smoking,” doesn’t feature the moral lesson you’d expect in Disney animations targeted at children. While Goofy does try to quit smoking, there is no real condemnation of smoking as a habit or discussion of any health concerns besides a brief issue with breathing. While his addiction is played for laughs and there are a few frames of dingy furniture and overflowing ashtrays, I was shocked to see that the cartoon presented a general shrug about whether or not Goofy actually quit. In fact, they referred to his attempt as a “strange desire.”

In the end, after running around the city looking for something–anything–to relieve his craving, he finally gets a cigar and the short ends with upbeat music as if now everything is great again. This is so unexpected from Disney, who announced last year that they would ban smoking in all their PG-13 and under films. But times have changed, and maybe some things are meant to stay in the vault.

Watch this short plus others in the DVD collection Walt Disney Treasures: The Complete Goofy.

Vibrators were Sold in the Sears & Roebuck Catalogue

While today many people feel like vibrators are as commonplace as they ever been, they actually used to be sold as a medical treatment device. Today you’ll sometimes see them online or in the Brookstone catalog marketed as neck and back massagers instead of their true intended purpose of providing sexual pleasure. But vibrators were first invented as a treatment for “hysteria.”

In the 19th century, what would now be easily be identified as sexual frustrations, was labeled as the condition of hysteria. Women would see their doctor regularly, who would manually stimulate them to orgasm to relieve the issue. This treatment became so popular that doctors suffered from hand pain and cramping. To solve this issue, they began developing a mechanical device to treat hysteria. Thus the vibrator was born (you can learn more about this process in the hilarious fictional movie Hysteria or the novel The Road to Wellville by T.C. Boyle.)

As expected, vibrators became an immediate hit, and soon home versions were created so women could “treat” their hysteria on their own. During the early 20th century you could find them advertised in women’s magazines like Needlecraft and Women’s Home Companion, as well as the Sears & Roebuck Catalogue. Once they started appearing in pornographic movies, vibrators disappeared from magazines and became difficult to purchase. With the rise of feminism in the 1970s, vibrators made a comeback and are very easy to buy today. Still, it’s funny to look back on those old catalog advertisements and know what they were really selling.

Learn more about the history of hysteria and vibrators at Psychology Today and in the book The Technology of Orgasm by Rachel P. Maines.

We left astronaut poop on the moon

We came. We saw. We littered. On each of mankind’s six historic moon landings, dozens of objects were left behind– indelible imprints that outlasted Neil Armstrong’s famous first footprint (which was likely obliterated during the lander’s return liftoff). Read more at the official website for An Incomplete List of Things
We Left Behind on the Moon

18 American Presidents Didn’t Have a Vice President For All or Part of Their Terms

We’re used to seeing a president and a vice president, but more than a dozen times throughout American history, there hasn’t been a sitting VP.

The first American president to spend part of his time in office without a #2 was James Madison who was savvy enough to win two terms in office. One thing he wasn’t good at? Choosing his vice presidents apparently. Both men he chose for his first and second terms died part of the way through them, so he simply finished his terms without a veep!

The situation arose again for a longer period of time in 1841 when John Tyler left his spot as the vice president to become the president (his president, William Henry Harrison, died after just a month in office). Tyler served the entirety of his term without a vp. A similar situation occurred with Millard Fillmore who became president after his #1 died as well.

Luckily Richard Nixon had the good sense to appoint a second vice president after his first (Spiro Agnew) resigned when caught taking bribes. Well, good sense, plus the 25th Amendment (ratified in 1967) which required a Vice President at all times. When Nixon himself resigned in disgrace, his second vice president, Gerald Ford, became president. And thus ended the tradition of leaving the vice presidential slot empty: America has never been without a vice president since.

Members of the Electoral College Have Voted Their Own Way 158 Times

In the United States, presidents are not elected directly– instead, each state’s votes are tallied and the winner receives electoral college members who then cast votes for president. It’s a complex system that’s leftover from the Constitutional Convention of 1787 when American democracy was still, shall we say, getting her sea legs (it was the same convention that decided African Americans were worth three-fifths of a person).

In theory, the system works so that the average citizen votes by proxy: they vote for a candidate, and based on how many people vote for that candidate, the candidate is awarded the state’s electoral college votes, to be apportioned among its campaign supporters. Those supporters, who have been hand-picked by the campaign and are generally considered to be loyal to the candidate, are the ones who actually ratify the election by voting for the candidate.

But sometimes things don’t work out as planned. It turns out, 158 electoral college members have voted in a way other than the people of their state. Sometimes the reason for becoming what’s called a “faithless elector” is somewhat understandable: 63 of these 158 were cast differently due to Horace Greeley’s untimely death which occurred after he lost the election of 1872 but before the electoral college had a chance to vote).

Other times, the electors decide to go their own way for ideological reasons. This was the case in the election of 1872 when all 23 electors from the state of Virginia– which was pledged for the Democratic candidate Martin van Buren– refused to vote for van Buren’s vice presidential candidate, Richard Mentor Johnson, because the mother of his children was black. He wasn’t officially married to her because it was illegal, but he treated her as his common law wife.

The USSR Landed Multiple Probes on Venus in the 1960s

When we think of the space race, we generally think of initial race to put a human in space and the moon landing which followed (the former glory went to the USSR, and the latter glory to the USA). But what’s often forgotten is that the USSR actually beat America in landing probes on the moon, Venus, and even Mars.

The first man-made object to land on the moon was Luna 2 (after an unsuccessful Luna 1 attempted landing which missed its target by more than 3,000 miles), a Soviet probe. It made headlines on September 13th, 1959 when it reached its target and successfully transmitted data back to earth.

A few years later, in 1966 the USSR once again beat the USA in becoming the first country to successfully land a probe on Venus. The Venera 3 crash-landed on the second planet from the Sun on March 1st, 1966, though it was unable to send back any data to earth after landing (several unsuccessful attempts at a landing later, the Venera 7 eventually succeeded).

And the first Mars landing? That happened in late 1971, with the USSR’s Mars 2 lander, which crash landed on the martian planet’s surface. The subsequent Mars 3 lander succeeded in landing on the surface intact, and was able to transmit back a single blurry image (pictured above) and then unceremoniously shut down after approximately 15 seconds of operation.