Friday, October 28, 2011

Sputnik comes to Laguna Beach for Halloween

Got your Halloween costume ready? The two old ads in today's post both come from the Oct 29, 1957 edition of Laguna Beach's South Coast News. Both ads also reference Sputnik -- a subject I'll get back to in a moment.
The newspaper's editor clearly liked the large photo in the Zenith ad (above) as much as I do, and ran it again, a few pages later, in a features section, with the following caption:
"SPACEMAN VISITS! It's not Superman. And it's not an over-grown 'trick or treat' operator practicing for Thursday night's Halloween festivities. It's popular Laguna businessman Roy Arntson modeling a Zenith Space Commander helmet about town Friday."
Space travel was a popular topic for fiction in the 1950s, but it was still theoretical. In 1957, crazy-looking helmet designs like this seemed as reasonable as any other design. But that would soon change.
Just weeks before these ads appeared, on Oct. 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first man-made satellite -- called Sputnik 1 -- into Earth's orbit. Unlike today's complex satellites, Sputnik did only two things while in orbit: 1) It beeped at a radio frequency that could be heard on short-wave radio, and 2) It sent metaphorical shock waves through the free world.

The free peoples of Earth were shocked at what seemed proof of Soviet technological superiority. And of course, the commies took the opportunity to gloat. Indeed, Sputnik served as the opening salvo in a "space race" between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.

Unhappily, that race (and the technology it generated) paralleled a more critical arms race that threatened to destroy the world. If the Soviets could send satellites around the world, couldn't they also send atomic bombs into our backyards? Talk about an extra-scary Halloween surprise.

More happily, the space race also led the U.S. to create ARPA, which gave us the Internet, and NASA, which gave us all kinds of great stuff, including Velcro, an understanding of the structure and history of the universe, Tang, modern telecommunications, freeze-dried ice cream, solar power cells, pens that write upside-down, and astronauts walking on the moon. 

Strangely enough, Sputnik also led to a bunch of new words, including "beatnik" (coined by writer Herb Caen in 1958), "refusenik," "peacenik," "computernik," and "neatnik."

For the record, Sputnik's beeping stopped when its battery died; Just three days before these ads were printed.


Anonymous said...

Sputnik's legacy included 'new math' and science money for US public schools as the space race began. Also many buildings associated with modernism in OC, such as the Wardlow School, built in 1963 in Huntington Beach. Wardlow and others were the indirect result of Sputnik as many families came to OC to work on Gemini, Apollo and other aerospace industries.

- An HB kid in exile on the east coast

Chris Jepsen said...

Just Wardlow? How about most of Southeast and North Huntington Beach? Most of those areas were built out in the 1960s and the new residents leaned heavily toward aerospace industry employees. In fact, the same phenomenon happened in MANY Orange County cities around that time. I certainly don't wish for the Cold War to return, but part of me wishes we still had a county full of rocket scientists. Clearly, we do not.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Chris, you are right. Much of the OC was developed at that time due to the cold war and space race.

As you said before, living in the world of the future and early steampunk like Disney and Knotts and Googie architecture was unique to OC kids at the time.

My dad worked for NASA at the Douglas HB plant and Seal Beach. We bought a house before it was built in the HB "Glen Mar" development which we could only afford, like many Dad's of the period, as my Dad was a war vet. Many of our neighbors also worked in associated 'high tech' industry including Aqua-Lung.

As you pointed out, these young families required many new schools to be built in HB in the 1960s. Wardlow, built in 1963, was very modern, a 'pod' design with separate buildings around a core building. And the individual buildings were the same rotating out from a central room, sort of like a solar system, with very modern design touches. Edison High was completed in 1969 as Wardlow and other recently transplanted elementary students became high school students.

I also recall teachers being taught by UCLA professors 'new math.' Most teachers were unable to understand let alone teach 'new math' set theory (now array) and these mysterious things called venn diagrams! "What the hell did that have to do with math?!"

Chris, I also knew the Wardlow family. At this time knowing someone who was born in California was unusual. I was under the impression that that this HB farm family gave the land to HB ONLY for a park and school. How can HB now sell the land for more disgusting and overpriced condos?

- An HB kid in exile on the east coast