Saturday, October 11, 2008

1950s: Bits and Pieces

Every once in a while I come across a magical piece of fifties Brooklyn iconography that zooms me back in time. Here are just a few:

When they first put one of these into my little hand, it was like the Gods presenting the gift of fire to prehistoric man. My father used to sharpen my pencils with a pen knife. This miraculous device put a perfect point on my Ticonderoga brand pencil every time. And I liked the smell of the wood shavings too.

In 1952, Sunbeam put out its first electric MixMaster. Who needed it...we had this baby. I would beg my mother to let me hand-whip the cream we put on our Jello, and then lick the beater blades. (This became more dangerous when electric mixers came out).

Today, sneakers have built-in springs, lights, neon laces and cost ridiculous amounts of money. We wore U.S. Keds (in black and white only thank you) that cost about ten bucks. It caused a mild sensation on the block when they came out in red and white.

PEZ was invented by an Austrian in 1927 as mint-flavored candies to help people stop smoking. (Who else would tell you this stuff.) The little candies didn’t become popular until 1952 when they came out in fruit flavors, with “character heads” on the dispensers. The candy looked (and tasted like) little bars of soap, but never mind…a phenomenon was born.

People today collect old lunch boxes like this one. They were around in the fifties, but no kid in my class would be caught dead carrying one. You brought your lunch to school in a brown paper bag. Carrying a Hopalong Cassidy lunch box would guarantee you a serious beating in the schoolyard.

For a boy growing up in the fifties, the dream toy was a set of Lionel Trains. They were made of heavy metal (not plastic) and came with a number of neat accessories like station platforms, buildings, and grass cloth to help produce a realistic layout. They were usually taken down from the attic around Christmas and set up around the tree, with accompanying curses from my father.

The companion item to Lionel trains was a set of the metal (probably poisonous lead) cowboy and Indian figures, along with horses of course, that we arrayed in elaborate little scenes around the trains. Nothing like a bloody ambush before your mother called you into dinner.

Before big appliance developments like the "pop-up toaster", we had these little beauties. You placed sliced bread into the little doors on either side and they were exposed to a heating element that "toasted" the bread. There were two basic settings, untoasted and burned to a crisp.

These are simple images that mean little in and of themselves, but when viewed by a child of fifties Brooklyn, transform the viewer into a dimension-bending time traveller. Thanks to the Internet, they are still with us for all to see.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

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