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Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

Of Course Boomers Had Driveways!

At the turn of the nineteenth century, the Industrial Revolution was underway and the country was shifting from an agrarian economy to one based on manufacturing. Populations shifted from farms to cities and as immigrants came in, these cities grew. Housing was quickly built to accommodate the influx of workers that would signal the nation’s progress up until the Great Depression. Since the automobile was a new invention, it was purchased by upper class citizens who could afford it, so working class people in working class houses had no need for driveways. In fact, only about a third of city dwellers owned their own homes at that time. Many boomers — especially early boomers — will recall living in this type of urban housing.

Henry Ford tried to change all that by producing a car he felt everyone could afford. To make sure his workers could afford it themselves, he instituted a $5 a day wage that was unheard of at the time. Of course, that wage was not granted equally among his employees, but that is a matter for another time. The spread of the Model T into the 1920s initiated the first working class houses built in cities, with personal driveways attached.

The wealthy always had driveways, though not in the sense that boomers might recall. For centuries, the driveway up to the manor was an important path, intended to impress and reveal the occupants’ status, education and wealth. The end of the driveway was usually a circle from which visitors and owners could be dropped off at the front door. The carriage and horse were then stowed in the stables away from the main house.

Driveways in rural communities were most often dirt or gravel, and were more for moving farm equipment than the family car — which was most often a pickup truck, as soon as they became available in the 1920s. Barns and sheds housed the equipment necessary for the main job, so any auto or truck was going to reside outside on or near the driveway.

The rise of the driveway slowly continued as new housing was built before World War II; a new status symbol for a generation that grew up riding streetcars and city buses, a driveway indicated a certain level of modernity and upward mobility in a rising middle class. It was in this era where the driveway was treated as part of the house’s landscape; instead of a concrete slab, it was composed of two strips separated at a wide enough distance for a car’s wheels to tread, with a grass median between the concrete.

It was after the War that the driveway really came into its own. Returning soldiers got married and started families, which signaled the dawn of the Boomer Generation. Housing was an immediate concern, but cities were crowded, with little or no land for these new families. New suburbs were the answer, where land was readily available and inexpensive, or at least affordable with GI veteran assistance programs. Since a worker’s commute was now a serious concern, the fathers of boomers making the move to the suburbs had to own a car. Virtually all of the houses built in the late 1940s and into the ’50s featured a place for the family car, as a “standard feature.” Some driveways led to a garage behind the house, but most stopped at the back end of the house. In just two generations, the evolution of the driveway had come from a centuries-old symbol of “to the manor born” to one of middle class, utilitarian car-parking slab.

A typical car parked in a Midwest driveway, circa 1950s

At this point, the vast majority of families owned one car. For boomers growing up in these houses, the driveway was empty all day since their fathers took the car to work, so it became a boomer play space. Girls might draw hopscotch games in chalk on the family driveway, while boys were rolling homemade go-karts up and down. Many boomers (including Mister Boomer) recall flipping hula hoops up and down the driveway, or roller skating — with metal skates — back and forth.

Driveways became personal and an integral part of the house, as was the family car parked on it. In the early days in Mister Boomer’s neighborhood, less than a third of homes had garages, where a driveway extended to the garage positioned in the yard behind the house. As the 1960s pushed on, several of his neighbors had single-car garages built, all the more to leave the driveway empty. That space was soon needed as boomers grew and got cars of their own. For Mister Boomer in his mid-boomer era, it was practically a rite of passage to acquire a car shortly after getting a drivers’ license. Driveways would have to serve for parking at least two cars; at one point in Mister Boomers’ house, there were three cars for household members, two of which resided in the driveway. With no garage, it was a constant shuffle to move vehicles so that one or the other could exit.

While we often consider certain television programs, toys, fashions or music as defining symbols of the Boomer Generation, Mister Boomer humbly submits that the driveway was an important part of the culture that molded our generation.

What memories do you have of your families’ driveways, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Cars,Pop Culture History,Suburbia and have No Comments

Mister Boomer’s Morning Jukebox Update

Mister Boomer has mentioned in past posts that he is afflicted with a condition he has labeled Morning Jukebox Syndrome. The symptoms are simply that upon waking several days a week, a song is “playing” in his head. These songs most often were in progress, like when you walked into the drug store to get an ice cream sundae and someone had already filled the jukebox with quarters for a long-term set. Sometimes he’d come in at the beginning of a song.

What is fascinating to Mister B is not that an aging boomer would conjure up songs from a half-century ago, but that a good number of them are songs that he hasn’t heard in decades; nor does he own copies of most of them.

Be that as it may, here is another dozen ditties that recently popped into Mister B’s morning brain. Almost all of these were released as singles, which is how Mister B probably remembers them. Most if not all are available where you download or stream music, unless you want to blow the dust off your 45s and give them a spin! Mister B thinks they would make a pretty good playlist on their own — morning, noon or night.

The Beat Goes On — Sony & Cher (1967)
What better song to wake up to? The legendary Wrecking Crew — that super group of studio musicians that appear on dozens of hits in the 1960s — recorded the music with Sonny and Cher. Carol Kaye is credited with coming up with the classic bass line that many music critics say is the reason this song became a hit. Sonny and Cher felt strong enough about the song that “And the beat goes on” was carved into Sonny’s tombstone.

You Can Make It If You Try — Sly & the Family Stone (1969)
If you’re into morning affirmations, Sly & the Family Stone is a good choice. This musical equivalent of the “I think I can” train hit number two on the charts, selling more than one million copies. It appeared on the SFS classic album, Stand! along with the iconic hits Everyday People and the title song.

Good Morning Starshine — Oliver (1969)
Cue the stretch, tossing back the covers, getting out of bed and pulling back the curtains to let the sun shine in. One morning Mister B heard the Oliver version of this song echo through his cranium, though the song first appeared in the Broadway musical, Hair, in 1967.

Mercy, Mercy, Mercy! — The Buckinghams (1967)
Another Morning Jukebox cover, this song was a hit for the Buckinghams. A Cannonball Adderley tune, it has gone on to become a classic favorite for jazz musicians and remains one of the most covered tunes of the jazz-blues era.

The Rain, The Park & Other Things — The Cowsills (1967)
Boomers probably recall this song more from the lyrics than the title when they heard, I love the flower girl. It reached number two on the charts for the Cowsills, a family band that was actually playing gigs — minus mom — before the Partridge Family existed. First it was three of the brothers (Bill, Bob and Barry), then later, two more brothers (John and Paul), sister (Susan) and their mother (Barbara) joined in. This song, and the album of the same name, marked the point when their mother joined the band and toured with them.

Your Song — Elton John (1970)
Appearing on Elton John’s second album, this ballad was the B-side of of the single, Take Me to the Pilot. DJs preferred playing Your Song, which propelled it to become a hit. Elton was opening for Three Dog Night when he and Bernie Taupin composed the song. They gave it to Three Dog Night for their album, It Ain’t Easy (March 1970), where it got little attention. Elton’s 45 RPM B-side appeared in October of that same year.

Daydream — Lovin’ Spoonful (1966)
If you hear What a day for a daydream… first thing in the morning, does that say this may not be the most productive of days?

First I Look at the Purse — The Contours (1965)
Written by Smokey Robinson and Bobby Rogers (of the Miracles), the song was released on 45 RPM first by Motown artists, The Contours. Smokey later did a fantastic version of his own that Mister B also recalls with deep affection. Boomers may remember the cover version by the J. Geils Band in 1970, too.

Bad to Me — Billy J. Kramer with the Dakotas (1964)
Though credited as written by Lennon-McCartney, John Lennon said it was Paul who wrote the song. They gave it to Billy J. Kramer to record, a friend who shared the same manager, Billy Epstein. It became only the second of three songs written though not recorded by Beatles members, that reached the Top 40. (The first was World Without Love recorded by Peter & Gordon (1964) and the third, Goodbye, recorded by Mary Hopkin (1970).

Friday on My Mind — The Easybeats (1966)
This single was this Australian band’s only hit in the U.S., but it has become a classic. It’s been covered many times, notably by David Bowie (1973) and Peter Frampton (1981). Let’s face it, no matter what day of the week we wake up in, Friday is on our minds.

You Got What It Takes — The Dave Clark Five (1967)
This version was a cover of the song Marv Johnson wrote and recorded in 1959. It sounds outright caveman-ish these days, with lyrics including:
You don’t live in a beautiful place
Oh, you don’t dress in the best of taste
And nature didn’t give you such a beautiful face
But baby, you got what it takes
Combined with lyrics from My Funny Valentine (1937) and Joe Tex’s Skinny Legs and All (1967), these songs contain the worst back-handed compliments ever put to music. Can you imagine what social media comments would do to these songs if they were released today? Why it popped into Mister B’s head remains a mystery, but it is a catchy melody.

Silence Is Golden — The Tremeloes (1967)
The song was co-written by Bob Gaudio of The Four Seasons, along with Bob Crewe. It made its recording debut as the B-side to Rag Doll (1964), but it was the Tremeloes version Mister Boomer heard one morning. Maybe that is because the band’s Here Comes My Baby (1967) remains one of Mister B’s favorites from a year brimming with classic hits.

It ain’t over ’til it’s over, boomers; the beat goes on! What songs have been running through your cerebral cortex these days?

Further reading: Music Flashbacks: A Sign of an Aging Boomer?

posted by Mister B in Music,Pop Culture History and have Comment (1)

Holy Schnikies, Batman is Gone!

Our boomer flags were lowered to half staff this week with the passing of Adam West. He was born William West Anderson on September 19, 1928, in Walla Walla, Washington, but for boomers, he was and always will be, Batman.

Anderson’s mother moved him to Seattle after divorcing his father when he was 14, but he went back to Walla Walla after high school to attend Whitman College. After graduating with a degree in literature, he worked a variety of jobs, including as a radio DJ, before doing post-graduate studies at Stanford University.

When he was drafted into the Army, he worked as an announcer for American Forces Network television and was part of a team tasked to create TV studios for the military, first in California, then in New Jersey.

After leaving the army in 1954, an old friend from Walla Walla, Carl Hebenstreit, suggested he move to Hawaii. There, Hebenstreit was hosting a local children’s TV series called The Kini Popo Show with a chimpanzee as his co-host. Anderson got his first acting job when he signed on as a sidekick, and later replaced Hebenstreit as the host. He had never studied acting.

The same year he worked in Hawaii, he appeared in a series of roles on The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse. His first movie role arrived in 1957’s Voodoo Island, though his role was uncredited. After moving to Los Angeles in 1959 he changed his name to Adam West and quickly landed a contract with Warner Bros. There, he appeared in his first credited film, The Young Philadelphians (1959,) along with Paul Newman, Barbara Rush, Brian Keith and Robert Vaughn. A series of Western roles followed, and a slew of television appearances that reads like a Who’s Who of popular boomer TV shows, including 77 Sunset Strip, Bonanza, The Rifleman, Perry Mason, Laramie, Gunsmoke, Bewitched, Maverick, The Outer Limits, Petticoat Junction and The Virginian, to name a few.

As a spokesperson for Nestle’s Quik in 1965, he had more than 70 roles to his credit. Casting agents saw him in a commercial and he became Bruce Wayne/Batman on the Batman television series (1966-68). His campy, deadpan delivery as Batman was the perfect nonsense to appear in a cultural landscape that was increasingly chaotic. The Generation Gap was widening between early boomers and their parents’ generation as the Vietnam War escalated to produce the beginning of the protest movement.

Mister Boomer was a teenager when the series began. He enjoyed the pun-filled dialogue, big star appearances and the tongue-in-cheek nod to comic books with OOF! BLAM! and POW! spinning onto the screen during the inevitable fight sequences. It would be a decade later before Mister Boomer saw the show in color, at which time he saw that the brightness of the colorful sets were clearly designed with comic books in mind. His whole family enjoyed watching Batman, but it was his sister who would walk around the house singing, Da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da…Batman!

There may not be a boomer anywhere who didn’t enjoy some portion of what was clearly a ridiculous portrayal of the Dark Knight. Right from the start the show brought in big stars as villains; Burgess Meredith was the Penguin, Cesar Romero was the Joker, Frank Gorshin was the Riddler, Vincent Price was Egghead, and Julie Newmar, Lee Meriwether and Eartha Kitt played Catwoman. By the second season stars asked to be on the show. The list of stars looking to act alongside Adam West is long and impressive. (See Da Da Da Da Da Da Da Da … Guest Star!)

After the show ended in 1968, West was typecast and could not find work. It was two years before he was able to land a role on TV’s The Big Valley. After that he picked up where he left off before becoming Batman, making more than 80 appearances on TV shows and in movies. Boomers recognized his later cartoon voiceover work in SpongeBob SquarePants, The Simpsons and The Family Guy.

Adam West had an accomplished career in movies and television without his role as Batman, but would boomers everywhere remember his name and mourn his passing as they are now if he didn’t don those ill-fitting tights?

What roles do you remember Adam West in, boomers? Were you a fan of the Batman series?

posted by Mister B in Film & Movies,Pop Culture History,TV and have Comments (2)

Boomers Were Milked for All They Were Worth

Boomers drank milk, every day. At breakfast, it was milk with cereal. During the school day there was a milk break and more milk with lunch. And a glass of milk accompanied every dinner. That’s just the way it was. Milk was the parents’ beverage of choice for kids throughout the 1950s and ’60s. Consumption started dropping in the 1970s, and has continued ever since. But what if our beverage of choice wasn’t exactly a choice? How did milk become so important to the parents of the Boomer Generation?

Our ancestors drank milk on occasion, but nowhere near the extent that boomers did. There were no government programs requiring milk in schools or ad campaigns reminding people of the nutritional value of milk. All that began to change during the Great Depression.

The government began boosting milk with a WPA ad campaign through Roosevelt’s New Deal with images of the benefits of drinking the white stuff. However, the main goal of this program was not to make healthier children, but to increase demand in order to boost a flailing dairy industry and keep people — including the WPA artists — working.

Federal Art Project, S. (1940) Milk — For Health, Good Teeth, Vitality, Endurance, Strong Bones. Ohio, 1940.

In 1940, the first government program was instituted, providing federal assistance to supply milk to school children in the Chicago area. This was an effort to boost nutrition and health, especially among poorer families. Children whose parents could not afford the penny for a half pint were given the milk free in a partnership of government and private organizations that footed the bill.

In 1946, the National School Lunch Act was signed into law by President Harry Truman. Having just fought a World War that relied on healthy young men to serve as soldiers, Congress was motivated to support a program for nutrition in schools as an important component to the health and well-being of the nation. It being Congress, the Act also encouraged consumption of nutritious domestic agricultural and dairy products that just happened to benefit their voting constituents. Included in the program was the mandate that each lunch contain between one half to two pints of whole milk.

Enter the Baby Boom
So the milk stage had been set before the first Baby Boomers arrived, but a technological advancement helped take milk to the boomer finish line: square milk cartons. Up until that point, milk was delivered in glass bottles or large metal canisters. Now, convenient quart or half-gallon cartons could be purchased and brought home, while schools could offer milk in half- and full pint containers. They no longer had to deal with bulk glass bottles that needed washing and storing.

This is the era Mister Boomer remembers. His school sold milk in half-pint glass bottles that had a cardboard stopper in the top. If a boomer was careful, he or she could lift the tab on the top and pull the stopper straight out. More often than not, the cardboard tab tore, so it took a little fussing to get the bottle open and still have time to drink it in the allotted break time. Mister Boomer was thrilled when the milk began to arrive in cool three-sided triangle-shaped cartons. A straw was attached to each carton that was used to puncture a designated hole.

The price of the half-pint was two cents in Mister Boomer’s earliest memories, jumping to five cents in a couple of years. His father, like all the other boomer fathers, gave Mister B and his siblings “milk money.” Despite the mandate and endorsement from parents, Mister Boomer was not a milk lover. He tolerated it in cereal, but when it came to drinking it straight, Mister B had two stipulations: first, it had to be ice cold; and second, if at all possible, it had to be chocolate milk. Fortunately, his parents agreed to let him have chocolate milk at school. Mister Boomer recalls the cases being delivered into the classroom. There were only three chocolate milk drinkers in his class of 30 kids. For years, Bosco and Nestle’s Quik saved him from the taste of plain white milk at home.

The beat went on in 1966 when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Child Nutrition Act that authorized a Special Milk Program. This Act incorporated the text from the National School Lunch Act of 1946 that provided free or low cost milk to children, regardless of whether their school participated in the federal child nutrition meal service programs. The government reimbursed schools for distributing milk. The result was that milk consumption increased by ten times since the dawn of the Baby Boomers.

After the Boomer Generation, milk wasn’t pushed on families as much as the previous three decades and consumption dropped. That’s when the dairy industry began its now-famous milk campaigns of the 1980s and ’90s. First was the Milk. It does a body good. campaign that, like Wonder bread in the decades before, stressed the bone-building calcium and protein aspects of building a strong body. That was followed by the got milk? campaign in 1993, that tried to put milk in the indispensable category for every home. The milk mustache off-shoot of that campaign — featuring loads of celebrities with milk mustaches — attempted to add a cool factor to drinking milk. Currently, the campaign is attempting to say milk is integrated into a healthy lifestyle with a Milk Life tagline. The dairy industry has spent over a billion dollars on advertising milk since the 1980s. And milk consumption continues to fall.

Some say the nutritional value of milk was overrated as far back as the 1950s. Today we know a lot more about the fat content and nutritional value — or lack thereof — in a glass of milk. Vitamins once thought critical for growing bodies can be acquired through any number of good food choices. If only Mister Boomer knew he could eat fresh vegetables instead, he could have avoided a lot of sour-faced gulping to finish a glass.

Did milk do your body good, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Food & Beverage,Pop Culture History and have Comment (1)

Boomers: Different Through Shared Experiences

Three items crossed the news desk at Mister Boomer headquarters this week that have direct connections to our boomer community. One is old news, one is recent, and one just happened this week. The juxtaposition of the three illustrate the expanse of the boomer generation and differences from early-to-late boomer tendencies.

Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum
This news is already seven years old. Somehow Mister Boomer may have heard that the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum was closing in 2010, but it didn’t immediately register on the scale of momentous boomer happenings; this is probably due to the fact that the TV and movie cowboy and his wife were never a big presence in Mister Boomer’s mid-era household.

Riding the wave of the popularity of Westerns in the 1930s and ’40s, Leonard Slye (later called Roy Rogers [1911-1998]) appeared in a multitude of western movies on his slow and steady rise, from being part of several bands on recordings and radio, then appearing with bands in movies and moving up to starring roles. Along the way he became a lead performer in a band called the Sons of the Pioneers. The band appeared with him in numerous movies, on records and in TV shows. By 1941, Roy Rogers had appeared in 39 films. The band, with Rogers, had several hits, most notably Tumbling Tumbleweed (1934), Cool Water (1941) and Ghost Riders in the Sky (1948). The songs became classics in the Country-Western genre and indeed, the Sons of the Pioneers released new recordings of them every decade through the 1960s.

Rogers’ first wife, Aline, died in 1946. He met Dale Evans (1912-2001) when the two of them were working the same rodeo in 1947. That year they were married. In 1951, The Roy Rogers Show debuted on TV. His wife, Dale, starred alongside him. Each episode, which centered around a rancher (Rogers) and restaurant owner (Evans), espoused their Christian values of fear of God and love of country. The scripts included ample space for musical numbers, and ended with the duo’s signature song, Happy Trails. The original show ran for six seasons. In 1962, The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show appeared as a western comedy and variety show for one season.

Throughout the 1950s and into the ’60s, a vast blitz of Roy Rogers merchandising hit the marketplace, including toys, lunch boxes and more. This merchandise held as much interest for early-era boomers as Gene Autry and Davy Crockett items.

After trying to revive their TV career failed in a changing landscape that perceived them as old-fashioned and “square,” the couple retired and moved to the Apple Valley area just north of Los Angeles, California. In 1967, they established the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum in nearby Victorville. In 2003, the couple’s children moved the museum to Branson, Missouri. After lagging ticket sales, the museum shut in 2009, with its contents auctioned off in 2010. Among the items sold at auction was Rogers’ trusty horse, Trigger. The horse appeared with him in numerous movie and TV appearances, and became as much a star for early boomers as Rin Tin Tin and Lassie. When Trigger died, Rogers had him stuffed and placed in his museum. Trigger corralled $266,500 at auction. Contents of the museum brought in a total of $2.9 million.

Stanley Weston (1933-2017)
While later-era boomers didn’t know much about Roy Rogers, they knew even less about Stanley Weston. However, most boomer boys born after 1960 knew about Weston’s invention, G.I. Joe. Often called the “Barbie for boys,” Weston knew there was no way his toy would sell if he billed it as a doll for boys. He coined the term, “outfitted action figure,” to describe his poseable figure dressed in military garb. To increase the macho qualities, he gave the figure a scar on his left cheek. He quickly sold the toy to Hasbro for a flat fee of $100,000 in 1964. The original figure was 12-inches tall and could be purchased dressed in the uniform of the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps.

Weston cleverly saw the opportunity that accessories and different uniforms — like Barbie had shown the year before — could add to the continued sales of his creation. Far from a sure thing in the same year that U.S. soldiers began active fighting in Vietnam, the toy became one of the most successful of all time. The original G.I. Joe had no stated mission, no back story and no named enemies. In contrast, the G.I. Joe sold today is unrecognizable to boomers who had the original toy. The action figures sold today are more muscular — though smaller at nine-and-a-half inches, have a wide variety of weaponry and vehicles available, and are billed as terrorist-fighting men of action. The main adversary of all the ethnic varieties of G.I. Joe is Cobra, a terrorist organization whose goal, like James Bond villains, is to rule the world.

Stanley Weston went on to form a merchandise licensing company, Leisure Concepts. His company represented Farah Fawcett (Charlie’s Angels), Nintendo, the World Wrestling Federation and several TV shows, including Alf and Welcome Back, Kotter. He was inducted into the Licensing Industry Hall of Fame in 1989. Weston was also part of the team that created the popular ThunderCats TV cartoons.

Gregg Allman (1947-2017)
News arrived this week of the death of fellow boomer Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band. The singer, guitarist and keyboardist had his mind set on medical school when his brother, Duane, convinced him to join his band on tour in 1969. Allman agreed to a two-year stint, but continued for the next forty years. The band helped define Southern Rock with their own blend of blues, rock and country.

In October of 1971, his older brother, Duane, died in a motorcycle accident. Four months later, in February 1972, the band returned to touring. By then the band had several hits, including Melissa and Whipping Post, both written by Gregg Allman.

Gregg Allman, already a household name among the majority of boomers before 1970, watched his celebrity kick up a notch when he married Cher in June of 1975. The marriage lasted three years. In total, Allman was married six times, producing four children from different mothers.

In 1995 the Allmann Brothers Band was inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and granted a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys in 2012.

His addition to heroin and abuse of alcohol and cocaine sent him to rehab 11 times until he became sober in 1995. By then his drug abuse contributed to liver cancer, diagnosed in 2008. He had an unsuccessful liver transplant in 2010. Despite growing health issues, he continued to tour with the latest incarnation of the Allman Brothers Band. His last live performance was in July of 2016.

Mister Boomer’s involvement with the work of the three men had been fleeting. He would have been too young to remember reruns of the first Roy Rogers Show, and his family was more of a Hollywood Palace watching family than the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show. Mister B also did not have a G.I. Joe. He was already aged in double-digits when the action figure appeared, though he recalls a neighborhood kid having one. As far as the Allman Brothers Band and Gregg Allman, Mister Boomer heard them on the radio but didn’t like the band enough to merit adding their records to his collection. He did like several of their bluesy tunes, but to this day he owns no Allman Brothers vinyl, and only one Gregg Allman song appears in his electronic music collection: Whipping Post.

How about you, boomers? Did you have a Roy Rogers lunch box, a Trigger toy horse, or a G.I. Joe? Did you go to an Allman Brothers concert or own their hits on vinyl?

posted by Mister B in Film & Movies,Pop Culture History,Toys,TV and have Comment (1)

Polio, the Scourge of Baby Boomers, Now Eradicated in U.S.

On April 12, 1955, Dr. Jonas Salk announced in a press conference at his research facility at the University of Michigan, that tests of his vaccination for poliomyelitis had been successful. At the time, polio was reported to be as feared by the general public as the atomic bomb. The road to the release of the first polio vaccine looms large in the history of the Baby Boom.

Polio is a contagious viral disease that mainly affects children under the age of five. It usually affects the lower extremities, consequently inducing paralysis of the legs. For these reasons it is associated with infantile paralysis. Like most diseases, there are different strains. When the disease embedded itself in the breathing system, it caused death in five to 10 percent of people (mostly children) who contracted that form. The Iron Lung was primarily developed to assist the breathing of people with this form of polio.

The first significant outbreak of infantile polio struck the U.S. in 1894; it was not known to be a virus until 1908. After an epidemic hit New York City in 1916, research for a cure was accelerated. By 1933, 5,000 cases of infantile paralysis were reported in the U.S. In 1946, the number had jumped to 25,000, and by 1952, it more than doubled to 59,000. This precipitous rise became a significant concern for parents of the burgeoning Baby Boom. In some areas that had outbreaks, panic caused people to desert public pools and large gatherings.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was diagnosed with the disease at the age of 39 in 1921, a rare occurrence of an adult onset of the disease. As President of the U.S. in 1938, his personal experience with polio caused him to create the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. This organization, focused on polio research, later became the March of Dimes. During World War II, FDR was wheelchair-bound due to the disease, though he had made an agreement with the press not to release photos of him in his chair lest he be perceived as a wartime president in a weakened condition.

Several scientists around the world were working on developing a vaccination for polio as far back as World War I. Work on developing a flu vaccine by a host of researchers, including Dr. Jonas Salk while he was a med student, became the basis for the research of a polio vaccine. There are two main approaches to developing vaccines: one takes a lesser strain of the live disease and introduces it into a patient to develop an antibody resistance to the disease before a stronger strain can strike. The other method is to inject an inoperative, “killed” version of the disease cells to the patient so the body recognizes the intruder and desensitizes the patient to the disease. Dr. Salk took this second approach. Taking the other approach around the same time was Dr. Albert Sabin, a Polish researcher.

Early boomers, including Mister Boomer, recall the March of Dimes campaigns throughout the 1950s and ’60s in practically every retail establishment. Cardboard cards were displayed by every cash register, with each card having slots to hold dimes. When a customer received change, he or she could slip a dime or two into the card for polio research. Each year the March of Dimes conducted a fundraising drive in the schools, too. Boomers were encouraged by their teachers to contribute their saved dimes, and collect dimes from family and friends, to give to the March of Dimes and their quest to develop a vaccine. Classrooms would compete with one another for having the most money collected. The March of Dimes was the primary foundation that funded Dr. Salk’s experiments.

Dr. Salk wanted to test his theory and the efficacy of his working vaccine, so he petitioned the government to allow a nationwide study. In 1954 he was granted permission and 1.8 million Americans, mostly children, were enlisted to participate. It would be the largest medical research test ever conducted. Half were to be given the vaccine, while the other half received a placebo. Baby boomer parents, fearing a continued rise in polio rates, signed up their children with a simple form: “I give my consent to have my child participate in this experiment.” No one knew what to expect, or what would be the final outcome.

The study was immediately controversial. Polio had been affecting upper and middle class children disproportionately over poorer children. It was assumed that people in the lower-middle and lower classes were more subjected to a wider variety of germs, and therefore more apt to be able to fight off the disease before it took hold. The upper classes therefore had less effective immune systems. The public outcry worried that this inequality meant that only the upper classes would receive the actual vaccine dose while those less fortunate would be receiving the placebo. Dr. Salk’s group claimed the dosage was determined at random.

Despite Dr. Salk’s 1955 pronouncement that his injectable vaccine had proved to be 80 to 90 percent effective, the U.S. government did not immediately authorize its use. Instead, one by Dr. Albert Sabin, using the live vaccine and distributed though an oral ingestion — drops in a sugar cube — are what many boomers will recall receiving as kids. Parents and children alike lined up outside health centers and public schools to receive their vaccine dose. A small number of children acquired the disease from taking the vaccine, and questions arose about whether Dr. Sabin’s vaccine actually killed the virus; this caused Dr. Salk’s injectable “killed virus” vaccine to replace the oral application, though both remained available.

Due to the diligence of Dr. Salk, Dr. Sabin and a host of others, by 1961 the number of reported polio cases in the U.S. had dropped by 96 percent. The Center for Disease Control reported virtual eradication of the disease in 1979, though the last reported case occurred in 1991.

Polio continues to ravage other parts of the world, mainly in developing countries. Efforts are underway by the United Nations to get the latest generation of polio vaccines to the areas that need it the most. When this scourge of the Baby Boom is finally snuffed out, boomers will have had a direct hand in the process as both test subjects and funding contributors to one of the greatest medical victories of our generation.

What do you remember about receiving the polio vaccine, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History and have Comments Off on Polio, the Scourge of Baby Boomers, Now Eradicated in U.S.