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Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

Boomers Feared the Automation Reaper

The recent buzz about the coming round of automation is instilling fear and dread in the hearts of some, while fulfilling the promised dreams of a future world for others. The interesting thing to Mister Boomer is, like Yogi Bera said back in the day, “It’s deja vu all over again.”

This has all happened before. During the Industrial Revolution, thousands of jobs were rendered unnecessary in the wake of technological advances in modern machinery. At first, small jobs were automated — the types of jobs that could save a small business owner, farmer or homemaker hours of work — and were generally well received. In other words, these devices were viewed as labor savers rather than labor subtracters.

When steam-powered machinery entered the industrial world, things changed on a larger scale. One of the industries where jobs were particularly impacted by the automation of the late 1800s was the textile industry. Suddenly a single machine could replace hundreds that were needed to man looms to create fabric. The response from workers was predictably negative. Workers revolted, protested, sabotaged machines, and even burned down plants. Yet in the end, the jobs were lost as new methods replaced old. As time went on, new technology created more jobs than it eliminated, and the country prospered.

The end of World War II brought a new wave of innovation to the forefront in American business, and with it a national optimism for a new future that gave rise to the Baby Boom. However, a rising unease gripped the country by the mid-50s as automation found its way into offices and factories. The prevailing fear was that machines would be replacing people, and jobs would be lost. Ironically, in the decade after the War, the unemployment rate had steadily declined.

The auto industry, as it had done in the 1920s, brought a great deal of automation to their processes. Between 1951 and ’53, the Ford Motor Company constructed new automated stamping plants for engine parts in Buffalo, New York and Cleveland, Ohio, that the company hoped would relieve the stress of the strikes, outages and union negotiations experienced in the 1940s. Ultimately, it was discovered that people were still a necessary part of that equation at those plants — the loading and unloading of machines, and therefore the production pace of the machinery, needed to be managed by humans after all. It would be a couple of decades before robotic loading and packing could fully enter the process. While experiencing fits and starts with their automated processes, the auto industry had greater success in automating the dirtiest jobs, such as spot welding and spray painting.


Desk Set (1957) with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Isn’t it amazing that they got the automated function correct, but the computer now fits on a desk?

Fear of mass unemployment was growing as the 1950s became the ’60s and the country entered 10 months of recession. Lawmakers in Washington heard the buzz and wondered aloud what, if anything, they should do about it. President Kennedy addressed the public’s concerns in a speech he gave on May 25, 1961. The president proposed “… a new Manpower and Training Development program to train or retrain several hundred thousand workers particularly in those areas where we have seen chronic unemployment as a result of technological factors and new occupational skills over a four-year period, in order to replace those skills made obsolete by automation and industrial change with the new skills which the new processes demand.” Most people will not remember this part of Kennedy’s speech, because it is the same one in which he laid down the challenge to American science and business for “… landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth …” within the decade.

By 1964, concerns of automation causing unemployment had not been assuaged. This led President Lyndon Johnson to sign a law creating a National Commission on Technology, Automation, and Economic Progress. The Commission released its report in February of 1966.
In addressing the situation on behalf of the American worker, the Commission recommended several steps be taken. Among them:
• a program of public service employment to provide work for “hard-core unemployed” in useful community enterprises
• a guaranteed minimum income for every family
• removing obstacles to education, including universal high school education and up to 14 years of schooling guaranteed
• a national, computerized job-matching service to provide information to workers on where jobs were available
• relocation assistance for families

Boomers hit the job market in the swirl of this automation tempest, only to become the engineers of the automated future we are now facing. Some prognosticators are now forecasting that automation will affect nearly half of all workers in the next decade. Many jobs once held by boomers have long since been replaced by automation, with more sure to come. How many boomers were pinsetters in bowling alleys? switchboard operators? typesetters? keypunch operators? The list continues to grow.

Automation did not adversely affect Mister Boomer’s working life. He, like many boomers, became adaptable as computers entered various fields. In fact, he credits his embrace of the personal computer for his later-life work success. Now that he is anticipating retirement, Mister B looks back with nostalgia, but is very glad he doesn’t have to face a job market rife with the prospect of diminishing career opportunities.

How about you, boomers? Did automation play a role in your working life?

posted by Mister B in Technology and have Comment (1)

Boomers Collected Classic Monster Models

The 1950s and ’60s saw the heyday of model building in the U.S., and Mister Boomer was, like so many boomer boys, in the middle of it. Having got the model-building bug from his brother, Mister B built model kits for airplanes, ships and cars of all types. Yet the models he most treasured long after they were fully assembled and painted were his monster models collection.

Model kits have been around for generations, but before the war they were primarily composed of balsa wood, cloth, paper and metal. After the war, plastics fueled the model craze because they could be easily molded into any shape and were inexpensive to make. Consequently, several companies vied for boomer boys’ attention, each specializing in their own genre. The Aurora Plastics Company entered the market with plastic figurines in 1950. The company was interested in gaining a higher percentage of the burgeoning model market against stiff competition from the likes of industry giants Revell and others, and in 1956 they found a way; that year, Universal Pictures released its classic monster movies for television broadcasts. The company acquired the rights to make models of the classic monsters that had been scaring people on the silver screen for twenty years. Boomers were already feasting on a movie monster and sci-fi craze throughout the 1950s, so Aurora had an audience ready to buy what they were offering.

In 1961, the first Aurora monster model — the Frankenstein Monster — rolled off the production line and into the boomer zeitgeist. The model was an immediate success and sold as fast as Aurora could make them. In fact, the models sold so quickly that the company had to keep production going 24 hours a day. At its peak, Aurora was making 8,000 Frankenstein Monster kits a day, each sold for 98¢.

The prospect of a Frankenstein Monster kit for just under a dollar opened up the market for boomer boys, including Mister Boomer. After the commercial success of the Frankenstein Monster, Aurora developed an additional 12 kits known as the Aurora Monster 13:
1962: Dracula and The Wolf Man
1963: The Mummy, The Creature (from the Black Lagoon), and The Phantom of the Opera
1964: The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Dr. Jekyll as Mr. Hyde, King Kong, and Godzilla

The Salem Witch and The Bride of Frankenstein were also sold in 1964, followed in 1966 by The Forgotten Prisoner of Castel-Maré, to complete the monster set. Technically, the Forgotten Prisoner wasn’t a movie monster, but it represented a collaboration between Aurora and Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine.

Mister Boomer collected ten of the classic movie monster kits, including Frankenstein, Dracula, Mummy, The Creature, Wolf Man, The Phantom of the Opera, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Dr. Jekyll as Mr. Hyde, King Kong, and Godzilla. Plus, he added Superman and the Chamber of Horrors Guillotine, both released in 1964. The affordable price meant he could buy them himself from his savings, but most often he asked for specific ones for Christmas. After all, he would need to buy glue and little bottles of Testor’s enamel paint to finish the projects.

Mister B spent hours assembling the pieces and painting them. He set up an entire wall shelf in his bedroom to house his collection, removing Superman from his base and suspending him in flight by a string. The guillotine was especially impressive since it actually chopped off the head of the condemned man. And painting the blood and guts of the prisoner mounted behind bars on the Phantom of the Opera base was satisfyingly creepy.

In the 1980s, Mister B paid a visit to his old homestead, only to discover, like so many boomer boys before him, that his mother had sold every model — monsters, cars, airplanes and ships — at a yard sale. Is it any wonder that many boomers are buying the kits again in their golden years? So far, Mister B has resisted.

Did you build these classic monster models, boomers?

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

Boomers Lose a Giant Voice of Their Cartoon Youth

Word came this week of the passing of June Foray, a true giant in the world of cartoon voices. She was 99 years old, but forever young in the hearts and minds of boomers everywhere. Boomers may not have recognized her face — or her name — but surely knew her many voices.

Born in 1917, Ms. Foray began doing voice work by age 12 for local radio dramas in Springfield, Massachusetts. From the 1920s through the ’50s she voiced characters on a multitude of radio shows, including The Jimmy Durante Show and Smile Time with Steve Allen. She recorded several children’s albums with Capitol Records, where she met Stan Freeburg, and went on to record several comedy albums with Freeburg before appearing on The Stan Freeburg Show on radio (1957-58).

Her “foray” into animation began when she was called by Walt Disney Studios to voice a cat character, and was hired to voice Lucifer the cat in Cinderella (1950). That’s when boomers started getting acquainted with her many voices. She continued to work for Disney in uncredited roles until 1952, when she voiced Hazel the witch for a Donald Duck Trick or Treat short. Witch Hazel then became a regular character on Looney Tunes, starting with a Bugs Bunny episode in 1956. She was the voice of Granny — the owner of Tweety bird — on Sylvester and Tweety cartoons from 1955 to 2013.

Her credits sound like a Who’s Who of top boomer cartoons, films and TV shows, including vocal performances in Tom and Jerry cartoons (1965), The Road Runner as various characters (1966), George of the Jungle (1967), The Pink Panther Show (1969) and hundreds more that boomers would recognize. In 1966 her voice was uncredited in the How the Grinch Stole Christmas! TV special. She even appeared in person on popular TV shows of the boomer era, including 12 O’Clock High (1965), It’s About Time (1966), and Green Acres (1967), and lent her voice to many more, including Bewitched (1966), Lost in Space (1967) and hundreds of other shows and animations up to 2014.

Yet for Mister Boomer, her work on the many iterations of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show (1959-70) were what made him a big fan. Among those famous voices were Rocky (Rocket J. Squirrel), Rocky’s nemesis Natasha Fatale, and Nell in Dudley Do-Right. She also appeared as numerous characters in Fractured Fairy Tales, another reason all the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon shows are at the top of the list for Mister B. Witty dialogue and puns galore, delivered by classic cartoon voice artists like June Foray, Daws Butler, Hans Conried and a host of others, had Mister Boomer’s family tuning in to laugh every week. The show was second only to The Road Runner for Mister B’s father. His mother preferred June Foray’s Granny.

June Foray is credited with the idea for the Annie Awards to honor the year’s best animations. The first Annies were given out at a dinner in1972. She was the the strongest proponent of creating a category for animation at the Academy Awards, and after twenty years of lobbying, saw the first Oscars for animation awarded in 2001 (Shrek won that year). Mister Boomer expects a memorable send-off by the Academy for Ms. Foray next year.

It’s hard to imagine cartoons of the boomer era without some of the giants of the medium, and June Foray was among the very best. What memories do you have of June Foray characters, boomers?

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

Boomers Endured Heat Waves

As Martha & the Vandellas so succinctly put it in 1963, we’re having a heat wave. It’s been unbelievably hot in a good portion of the country this week. In Mister Boomer’s neighborhood, like many others, there has been yet another heat wave.

In earlier posts, Mister Boomer has mentioned how we boomers used to keep cool before air conditioning. There was another hot-weather family tradition of sorts in the Mister Boomer household that occurred around this time of the summer, that probably will resonate with many boomers. That is, once the temperature started rising for a few days in a row, Mister B’s mother would declare, “It’s too hot to cook.” And that was that. She had the first and last word on the subject, so the stove was off-limits. She couldn’t stand the heat, so she was staying out of the kitchen.

That was the cue for Mister Boomer and his brother to bring up the grill from the basement — where it was kept in its original cardboard box — for a rare midweek cookout. The grill was a round pan that sat on a tripod of metal legs that slid into metal sleeves welded to the bottom. Once assembled in the yard, the boys would make a pyramid of charcoal briquettes and Mister B would douse them with lighter fluid. Brother Boomer, being the elder, was the one to yield the matches. In this case, he flicked wooden kitchen matches into the briquettes. After a satisfying woosh and burst of flames, the boys’ job was complete and they could turn over the cooking duties to their father.

These “too hot to cook” cookouts meant that dinner was going to consist of whatever was on hand in the refrigerator, and that usually meant hamburgers and hot dogs. Most boomer households bought ground beef on a regular basis, and kept a package of hot dogs for the kids, too. Mister Boomer’s sister preferred her hot dogs like she ate her bologna — plain and charred, no bun, bread or condiments. Mister Boomer and his brother generally opted for hamburgers. In their yard, a hamburger on a grill was not gussied up with additional ingredients; there was rarely even a slice of cheese melted on top. Rather, the burger was lifted from the grill to a waiting bun — which was usually pulled straight from the package and not toasted on the grill — after which, mustard or ketchup was added by the recipient. Brother boomer liked mustard, but Mister B was a ketchup man. Occasionally he would retrieve the jar of pickle relish from the refrigerator door and add a teaspoon of the stuff to his burger.

There were no vegetables invited to the party, not even lettuce and tomato for the burgers; it would be a decade before Mister B’s family got that fancy. Instead, a handful of potato chips rounded out the dinner on their paper plates. After all, if it was too hot to cook, Mister B’s mom sure as hell wasn’t going to be washing dishes, either.

In the spirit of Mister B’s mom and her “it’s too hot to cook” declarations, Mister B presents this smattering of classic Mister Boomer posts about how we beat the heat:

Keeping Our Collective Cool
In an age when not many boomer households had air conditioning, people had their ways of keeping cool.

Boomers’ Cars Breezed Along … Without Air Conditioning
Mister B recalls the era of car air conditioning known as “460”; that was, four windows down at 60 miles per hour.

Boomers Grabbed a Cold One
Long before boomers were old enough to use “grab a cold one” to mean a beer, they drank a series of cold beverages that helped shape their attack on the heat.

How did you keep cool, boomers? Did your boomer youth training help you keep cool during this recent round of heat waves?

posted by Mister B in Food & Beverage,Suburbia and have Comment (1)

Boomers Loved Their Chicken Parm

The idea of an “American cuisine” is as old as the country itself. However, it can be argued that our earliest cuisine was really dishes that immigrants ate in their own countries. Our American journey in flavor and taste needed a few generations to gather steam — and that was during the Boomer Generation.

Around the end of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, immigrants began opening restaurants for the cross-cultural working class population. They worked dishes they brought with them from the old country, and adapted local ingredients where the items they were used to weren’t available. But very quickly, a concept was injected into the dishes, a desire that in the vastness of the nation and the land of plenty, portions could be larger, and meat, now abundantly available, could take a bigger role on the plate. Regionally, dishes grew, and celebrated local produce, seafood and meat.

By the time two dogs shared a plate of spaghetti in The Lady and the Tramp (1955), boomer-generation America had selected Italian as their favorite “exotic” cuisine. What most boomer parents did not know was that the dishes they thought of as Italian were actually variations. True Italian cuisine stressed vegetables and smaller portions of seafood and meat. However, most Italian immigrants arrived from the southern half of Italy, and the island of Sicily. They brought their love of sausage, pasta and tomatoes with them. This new Italian-American version centered on sauce, cheese and generous portions of beef, chicken, veal or pork. Pepperoni pizza, spaghetti and meatballs and Chicken (or Veal) Parmigiana — all favorites of the era, if not to this day — were American inventions, inspired by Old World recipes, but given a New World twist.

Italian-American Chicken Parmigiana required mounds of melted cheese — usually mozzarella then topped with parmesan — resting on a sea of tomato-based red sauce, which covered a breaded and fried chicken cutlet. One newspaper food critic account from the 1950s recalled being served chicken “…the size of the plate!” No one knows who served the first Chicken Parmigiana, or where or when. But it is agreed upon that the origins of the dish came from a Southern Italy eggplant dish called Melanzana alla Parmigiana. The “Parmigiana” did not refer to parmesan cheese, but rather, meant the dish was prepared in the style of Parma, a region in northern Italy; “Parmigiana” meant the eggplant was twice-cooked. First breaded and fried, the eggplant rings were then lightly topped with tomato sauce and a sprinkle of meltable cheese, then baked.

The Italian-American version substituted chicken or veal for the eggplants, and pumped up the amount of everything else. Eggplants weren’t widely available, though Asian and Arabic cuisines utilized the vegetable in a variety of ways. Americans weren’t going for these types of dishes at the time the same way they latched onto Italian-American. You will recall that the primary dishes for Chinese take-out during the boomer years were chop suey and chow mein (see Boomers Ate Chinese Take-Out). What was available was meat, and lots of it. Boomer parents just won a major war, had good paying jobs, and felt rich when they ate big. They instilled that national appetite into their boomer children.

Throughout his childhood, Mister Boomer was served spaghetti and meatballs weekly, and by the time he was teenager, plenty of pizza. He ate Chicken Parm on occasion, but actually preferred Eggplant Parmigiana. He judges a good Italian lunch take-out to this day by the quality of their Eggplant Parm hero. Mama mia, now that’s American!

Did you enjoy Chicken Parmigiana, boomers?

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

Boomers Took V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N in the Summertime

It’s summertime, and the living is easy … at least for kids home for the summer break. It’s commonly repeated that summer vacation from school was tied into the agrarian economy — that the break was needed so kids could work the family farm. However, that myth is simply not true. Up until the Civil War, there were several school calendars followed across the country. The majority did link directly to the agrarian schedule, and that meant kids would have more time off in the spring (for planting) and fall (for harvesting.) There was a winter term, and a summer term. There were no summer vacations.

The same was true for their parents; summer vacation was not part of the American culture. In fact, work was considered preferable to time off, and the mantra that hard work leads to the reward of financial success remains part of our national psyche to this day.

Naturally, the wealthy always could take time off any time they wanted. Even then, religious leaders vilified leisure time, proclaiming “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” Nonetheless, by the mid 19th century, doctors began to speak out on the benefits of time off to relieve fatigue. It was around this time that the railroads crisscrossed the country, facilitating travel and sparking a new hotel industry. The first summer vacations from school were created at the request of this elite class to bring their children away with them. People began to head to the seashore “for the fresh air” or natural springs “to take in the waters,” and therefore, improve their health. Religious communities established resorts as a way of controlling people’s free time, lest they be tempted into drunkenness, idleness, and God forbid, real fun.

By the 1930s, time off from work, even for middle class families, was commonplace — at least in Europe. Britain passed its first paid vacation requirement (one week) in 1939, around the same time France guaranteed a worker two weeks of paid leave and the world labor market was advocating the 40 hour work week. The U.S. went its own way.

After World War II, the economy was booming. In order to compete for the best worker candidates, some American companies offered paid vacation as an incentive, though it almost never exceeded a week. It wouldn’t be until the 1970s that the vast majority of U.S. employers offered at least a week of vacation time to all full-time employees.

The U.S. does not guarantee paid vacations, the only rich nation in the world to not require it by law. As a result, a quarter of American employers do not provide paid time off for full-time workers. By contrast, the European Union requires 20 days paid, while France, Brazil and Finland offer 30 days. Today, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that an average employee with ten or more years on the job gets 10 days off per year, including holidays.

Mister Boomer recalls that in the 1950s, since a good number of his uncles worked at union jobs in factories, they received two weeks off. Mister B’s father, however, received one week. The extended family got together for a two-week camping trip every year. For Mister Boomer’s father, however, it meant dropping his family at the campground over the weekend and heading back home to work for a week. The following week he would join the family for his week of vacation.

By the time the Interstate Highway System was well underway in the early sixties, Mister Boomer’s father had earned two weeks off. He was anxious to, as the commercials urged, “See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet” (even if it was a Ford). It was then that Mister B’s family took vacations by car and drove down Route 66, went to the White House in Washington, DC, saw the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, counted bears in Yellowstone National Park and gazed at the Grand Canyon over the course of the decade. None of that would have been possible without two things that occurred during the Boomer Generation: the spread of paid vacation time, and summer vacation from school. Of course, like the railroads had done a century before, the Interstate Highways allowed people of even modest means to travel.

Did you spend part of your summer vacations traveling with your family, boomers?

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