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Have Yourself A Very Boomer Christmas

Mister Boomer is caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season. So, this week, he suggests you check out these classic Mister Boomer posts of days of yore, and have a very Boomer Christmas:

Boomers Loved Rudolph
The post that answers the question: Just how did Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer become so much a part of every boomer’s Christmas?

The Christmas Lights Doorway Electrocution Incident
A fun Mister Boomer memory of a Christmas incident with his siblings.

Christmas Shopping the Boomer Kid Way
The whole Christmas shopping experience has changed dramatically since the boomer days of the 1950s and ’60s.

To Icicle or Not to Icicle? Boomers Answered the Question
Tinsel-draped Christmas live trees were the standard for many boomers. Mister B relates his family history regarding those silvery icicle strands.

Visions of Aluminum Trees Danced Through Boomers’ Heads
Did your family hop on the boomer-era bandwagon and adopt an aluminum Christmas tree?

posted by Mister B in Holidays,Pop Culture History and have Comments Off on Have Yourself A Very Boomer Christmas

Early Boomer Toys Became Classics — Part 2

Astute readers pointed out to Mister Boomer that in last week’s episode on classic toys of the 1950s, he ended the list with two that were released in 1960. However, Mister B would like to say this was not in error as he was planning to segue into this week’s review of some of the popular classic toys released in the 1960s.

Mister B knew there were lots of fantastic new toys introduced in the 1960s, so he included the two in the ’50s category based on their patent date rather than release date. So without further ado, check out this list of now-classic toys that got their start in the boomer years of the 1960s:

Game of Life (1960)
Originally created by Milton Bradley in 1860 as The Checkered Game of Life — a modified checkerboard — it became one of the most popular board games of the late 1800s. It was reinvented one hundred years later with the now-famous plastic spin wheel and other three-dimensional mountains and buildings imbedded into the playing board.

Mister Boomer’s sister asked for one for Christmas just as she was growing out of Candyland. She loved all types of board games, and would try to rope Mister B and Brother Boomer into the game. When she couldn’t get her brothers to play, she’d insist her father play the game with her. Mister Boomer was never all that interested in board games.

The Ken Doll (1961)
Did you know Ken’s full name was Ken Carson? He was named after Ruth Handler’s son; she had invented Barbie just two years earlier. He was conceived as a love interest for Barbie — the ultimate accessory for the doll who had everything. Ken came first with flocked hair, then with a plastic-molded crew cut in blond or brunette, and shipped with a red swimsuit, yellow towel and sandals.

Again, Mister Boomer’s sister got a Ken to go with her Barbie. However, Mister B recalls she generally preferred dressing up Barbie.

Duncan Butterfly Yo-Yo (1962)
The toy we call a yo-yo has been around in various forms for centuries. There is evidence of a yo-yo type of toy as far back as the Egyptians and Greeks. In the 1920s, a Filipino-American named Pedro Flores made the toy out of wood. Donald Duncan (the same entrepreneur who gave us Good Humor Ice Cream) bought the rights from Flores in 1929 and released his own version. In the 1950s, Duncan sponsored teen events and competitions to spur interest in his yo-yo. By the 1950s, Duncan’s version was made out of plastic, and in the following decade dozens of manufacturers became Duncan competitors.

In 1962, the company released the Butterfly Yo-Yo to try to regain dominance of the market. Looking like a butterfly-shaped spool, it had an inward-sloping center that made the toy easier to manipulate into tricks. Due to a national TV commercial blitz that year, interest in the yo-yo resurfaced to its highest level. Both Mister Boomer and Brother Boomer had several yo-yos made of wood and plastic, though he doesn’t recall owning the Duncan name brand or a butterfly style. Mister B remembers Brother Boomer performing trick with his yo-yo that lit up when it spinned.

Slip ‘n Slide (1961)
Who else but an American could conceive of a toy that consisted of nothing more than a sheet of vinyl? But when boomers set the family’s garden hose on it to wet the surface, hydroplaning action made it super-slick. Boomers could slide the length of the sheet face down or feet first.

Mister Boomer recalls somebody in the neighborhood having one, but he found all too often wrinkles in the vinyl could scrape the skin. He and Brother Boomer made their own version in their backyard using the vinyl liner of their 1950s kiddie pool, with unsatisfactory results since they didn’t repeat the experiment.

Vac-U-Form (1962)
Another in a series of scientific toys released in the Boomer Era, Vac-U-Form molded plastic sheets that were set over a heated metal plate. When the boomer child pulled the handle to pull the top of the mold over the plastic, a vacuum would form and force the heated plastic into the mold’s shape.

Brother Boomer got one, and Mister B watched the process with a fair degree of fascination.

Fisher-Price Chatter Telephone (1962)
Following the success of the Corn Popper in the 1950s,  Fisher-Price released the Chatter Telephone with a dial, handset and buttons that all made sounds when activated. The intent of the toy was to let kids mimic their parents using a telephone. It became the company’s best-selling toy throughout the 1960s and 70s. Original versions were made of wood, which was then replaced with plastic.

Easy-Bake Oven (1963)
Kenner gave us light bulb baking at its best in this super-popular home economics toy. The original version was made of blue plastic, which was changed to green the second year of production, then yellow the year after that.

Mister Boomer’s sister got one, but Mister B does not recall that she ever successfully baked a mini-cake.

Creepy Crawlers (1963)
Another toy that could potentially burn boomers’ fingers, Creepy Crawlers let boomers squirt a liquid rubbery substance into a mold that was heated by a hot plate. When the liquid cured, it became rubbery toy spiders, snakes and lizards.

Mister Boomer’s sister received the toy one Christmas, probably in 1963. Though he does not remember his sister burning herself, the toy was declared too dangerous for children and taken off the market in the 1970s. It was refitted with safeguards and re-introduced in the 1980s.

Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots (1964)
Two “robots” in a boxing ring could be controlled via joystick handles with push-button punching action. Boomer players would literally try to knock the head off the opponent’s robot. When struck correctly, the head would lift from the body along a metal shaft, which could be snapped back down for the next round.

Mister Boomer and Brother Boomer did not have one, but got to play the toy when they visited his cousin’s house.

G.I. Joe (1964)
Controversial in its time, G.I. Joe was called an action figure rather than a doll to counter calls that boys should not play with dolls. Designed as a macho hero from World War II, it was aimed squarely at boys. Articulated arms and legs allowed for action poses to interact with a plethora of weaponry, tanks and Jeeps (sold separately).

Neither Brother Boomer or Mister B had one, more than likely because they were out of the targeted age range.

See ‘n Say (1965)
Fisher-Price followed the success of the Chatty Cathy doll with talking toys for the younger set. Little hands could choose the sound they wanted to hear by turning the center pointer to a circular melange of potential sounds and pull a ring to hear it. Later the company made different versions to highlight particular categories of sounds, including the Bee Says, Farmer Says, Mister Music Says, and more.

Mister B recalls younger cousins having versions of the toy, especially Farmer Says.

Super Ball (1965)
Wham-O was on a roll with boomer toys, from the hula hoop and Frisbie of the 1950s to the Slip ‘n Slide and Super Ball of the ’60s. (See Boomers Had A Ball With This Fad)

Spirograph (1966)
A similar toy made of wood was available in the 1908 Sears catalog as The Marvelous Wondergraph. The toy used mathematical formulas to draw shapes by way of gears rotating on a fixed ring. Kenner’s 1960s version had plastic gears that were detailed so when a pen was inserted through designated hole, and the gear operated, would produce geometric designs.

Mister Boomer got one and was constantly enthralled by the geometry of the designs that could be drawn.

Barrel of Monkeys (1966)
Literally a plastic barrel filled with a dozen plastic monkeys, the game took its name from the phrase, “more fun than a barrel of monkeys.” Each monkey had “S”-shaped arms that could be linked with one another. Monkeys were dumped from the barrel to a table, where a player would grab one and try to make a chain by linking the arms of all the monkeys in the pile. A player’s turn ended when a monkey was dropped. One point was assigned for each monkey remaining in the linked chain. The first player to get to twelve points won the game.

Lite Brite (1967)
Hasbro was another toy manufacturer well known to boomers. The Lite Brite was essentially a small light box covered by a sheet of black paper. Kids poked small pegs through paper in templates that formed shapes and objects, or free-form, causing them to light up the resulting shape.

Hot Wheels (1968)
Following the success of Matchbox cars, Mattel went one better with Hot Wheels. The cars were insanely fast when pushed on plastic track accessories, thanks to special ball bearings invented for the purpose. If you are a mid- to late-era boomer male, chances are you had a Hot Wheels collection. Mister B and Brother Boomer were teens by the time Hot Wheels were introduced. In fact, Brother Boomer got his his first real car in 1968.

While this list is by no means all-inclusive, how many of these toys did you play with, boomers?

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

Boomers Have a Cost-Effective Thanksgiving

It’s no secret to boomers and non-boomers alike that the cost of living continues to rise. Boomers, having been around longer, even revel in the fact that they can say, “I remember when…” to recount 10 cent Coca-Colas and 20 cent gallons of gas. Now, from the currently cobwebbed Good News Department, come reports that the cost of a Thanksgiving dinner is actually going down from last year’s high — to just under $50 to feed a party of 10 according to the annual Farm Bureau price survey.

This comes as a surprise to Mister Boomer. After all, on average virtually everything has risen in the past 50 years at a rate of approximately ten times what it was in the 1960s — everything except salaries, that is. The cost of housing, transportation, clothing and more have risen faster than the average weekly pay. Consequently, many boomers, including Mister B, pine for the days when a dollar would just stretch further.

In 1965, the median income in the U.S. was around $7,000, which more than doubled the median income in the 15 years from 1950. It was a boom time for the country, and it helped fuel the entire Boomer Generation. In 1960, the average cost of a Thanksgiving turkey — the biggest cost in the meal — was around 39 cents a pound. That meant a 20-pound turkey cost just under eight dollars. Add the cost of trimmings and the average cost of a Thanksgiving dinner in that decade ran between 20 and 30 dollars. That’s still a bargain when you consider that amounted to no more one third of an average weekly pay, and less than three dollars per person for a Thanksgiving holiday that is centered around the meal.

What boomer Thanksgiving would be complete without a jellied cranberry sauce that is shaped like the can? Today’s cost is between one and two dollars a can, where fifty years ago three or four cans could be purchased for the same dollar. Mister Boomer and Brother Boomer vied for the honor of opening the can of cranberry sauce every year. Mister B in particular enjoyed the slosh-plop as it slid from the can to a plate, ready to be sliced into thick medallions and eaten. It was the 1970s before Mister B was made aware that cranberry sauce could also be purchased with whole berries in a relish-like state. No can shape? Not very festive, now, is it?


In Mister Boomer’s household, generic brands were often purchased over national name brands. Mister B and Brother Boomer would, after taking off the top of the can, use the can opener to puncture the bottom so incoming air could facilitate the plop.

A survey of today’s national supermarkets shows the price of a turkey this year to be hovering around 60 cents a pound. Industry sources are stating that retailers are using the turkey as a loss leader, choosing to make their profit off the trimmings. Unfortunately for retailers, the trimmings have, for the most part, also dropped in price over their highest levels in the early 2000s. On the whole, most vegetables are lower while grains and some dairy are higher.

Boomers, now grandparents in a good many families, have helped shape Thanksgiving to the annual holiday-of-excessive-eating that we enjoy today. As such, regardless of their financial means, they are going to do their best to see that their families enjoy Thanksgiving as much as they did, lower prices or not. Nonetheless, if it really is true that we are spending less of a percentage of our weekly pay on a Thanksgiving meal than we did fifty years ago, then Mister B would have to say there’s one more thing to be thankful for this holiday.

Mister Boomer is thankful for your continued readership, and wishes you your very own can-shaped cranberry sauce this holiday. Happy Thanksgiving!

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

Boomers Celebrate Thanksgiving With Family

The Thanksgiving holiday is right around the corner, and airline industry analysts expect more than 24-and-a-half million people will take a plane in the 21 day period between November 21 and December 2. That’s an increase of more than 31,000 people per day over last year. The reason is simple: people are headed “home,” which is now further away than it used to be in the Boomer Era.

Thanksgiving is the most quintessential of American holidays, and, as boomers can attest, has always meant spending time with family. It’s the most homogenous of the holidays, with turkey and all the trimmings, though the trimmings can vary slightly by region and ethnic origin. One thing hasn’t changed, and that is, it celebrates “home,” wherever that may be. At the turn of the century, over the river and through the woods was the way to grandmother’s house. By the end of the Baby Boom in 1964, the U.S. highway system meant travel by car was much easier than previous decades. The highway system had given a boost to the migration of people away from small towns and rural communities, which began in the 1950s.

The move from small communities was precipitated by a variety of factors. Soldiers returning home from the War had been subjected to stories of other places and future opportunities that stirred their imagination and wanderlust; employment was more plentiful in larger communities; returning soldiers may have married someone from a different region; the new national highway system and car travel expanded suburbs and locations that could be away but still within one day’s drive for burgeoning boomer families; and, as boomers themselves aged and became college students, life in another state was a real possibility.

After two decades of boomer families migrating away from small towns, there was a slight uptick of people moving back to those communities in the 1970s as the aging parents of boomers retired, but that quickly changed in the 1980s. Overall, in the period between 1950 and 2000, there has been a significant loss of 20 to 29 year olds in small town populations. Today only 37 percent of people continue to live in the hometown area in which they were raised. Plus, college graduates are more likely to have lived in multiple states than at any other time in history. That translates into more trips over Thanksgiving as boomers and now the children of boomers travel.

Nonetheless, for most boomers in the core boomer years of 1945 to 1964, “home” remained within a day’s drive from the place from which they were born. In Mister Boomer’s case, all of his aunts, uncles and cousins lived within a hour’s drive of each other. Many lived in the same city. Like many boomers, it was a move out of an urban environment to expanding suburbs during the Baby Boom for Mister B’s parents. As a result, Mister B’s suburb was literally on the edge of suburbia-meets-farmland. There was a working farm directly behind the row of houses across the street from Mister B’s childhood home until the early 1960s, when the land was parceled up and new homes were built. Getting grandparents and extended family together for Thanksgiving was a short freeway drive away.

Unlike a lot of movies and nightmare stories some people have of family gatherings, Thanksgiving for Mister B was a great American holiday designed for stuffing one’s self to the gills, even if it meant sitting at the kids’ table. (See: Boomers Had a Different Thanksgiving).

How far will you travel this Thanksgiving, boomers? Or is your family traveling back to you?

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

Boomers Said “Happy 200th Birthday, America!”

This year marks the 45th anniversary of the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976. The oldest boomers were 30 at the time, while the youngest were 13, making it the quintessential American holiday celebration for a growing Boomer Generation.

The months leading up to July 4, 1976 were filled with patriotic fervor and anticipation of the main event that would officially mark the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Congress established a single American Revolution Bicentennial Commission in 1966 with the goal of coordinating national events in a single city — suggested as Philadelphia or Boston — under the name of Expo76. By 1973, it became clear that there was not going to be a consensus among the states as to the scope and choices of the suggested celebration. Instead, individual states created their own commissions. The Bicentennial was to be celebrated only one year after the end of the Vietnam war, and two years after Watergate. President Gerald Ford encouraged local celebrations that would highlight a “restoration of American values,” rebirth, nostalgia and a retelling of historical events in an effort to unite a country still divided.

The local approach turned out to be a welcome way for the country to celebrate, as it evoked the celebrations around the newly-minted country in 1776. John Adams wrote a letter to his wife, Abigail, on July 3, 1976, in which he expressed his desire for celebrations of that momentous occasion by saying, “It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews [shows], Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

Two hundred years later, the country was covered in red, white and blue. Bicentennial Fever infected young and old, and every aspect of daily life. In many areas, city fire hydrants and sign posts were decked out in red stripes, and white stars on blue backgrounds. Individuals painted their mailboxes with flag themes. Clothing for men, women and children reflected the same red, white and blue aesthetic, with stars and stripes aplenty.

The Super Bowl, played on January 18, 1976, served as the unofficial kick-off of a year of celebrations. Players wore an official American Bicentennial logo patch on their uniforms. Halftime entertainment was the wholesome singing and dancing group, “Up with People.” Dancers were dressed as historical American figures, which were portrayed in song in the program.

TV networks got into the patriotic mood in a big way, delivering entertaining and informative depictions of historical lore, legend and myth all through the year. Saturday morning cartoons were also affected. The theme was written into The Archies cartoon storyline, but the ones that most people will recall were from Schoolhouse Rock. Older boomers already had children of their own who watched the educational kids’ show. Most notably, two of the segments created with the Bicentennial theme have become classics in the annals of educational TV: I’m Just a Bill, and The Preamble. One discussed the legislative process, while the other set variations of the preamble of the U.S. Constitution to music.

Massive celebrations on the Fourth that took on a national mantel, like the fireworks display and entertainment show in Washington, DC that night, were televised by the ABC, NBC and CBS networks. During the day, the country was riveted to their TVs unlike any time since Neil Armstrong walked on the moon as tall ships sailed past the Statue of Liberty in New York City harbor. A non-profit group called Operation Sail, Inc., put the international tribute together, with replicas of eighteenth century sailing vessels from 16 countries taking part. Additional smaller ships also joined the parade. Interestingly enough, the organization was established by President John Kennedy in 1961 with the proviso that the non-profit’s events would be subject to approval by Congress. The goal of the organization was to promote cooperation and good will among nations by providing sailing training and celebrating maritime history. It was a spectacular display that captured America’s attention. Mister Boomer recalls watching the ships with his parents on their black & white TV before the family cookout, sailing one by one, into the New York harbor. Each ship flew a banner with the Bicentennial star logo. Months afterward, boomers and their younger siblings had posters of the tall ships in their bedrooms and dorms. Mister B remembers that his family subscribed to Life Magazine. As 1976 became 1977, the magazine’s annual The Year in Pictures was published; among the highlights featured were dramatic images of the tall ships.

Mister Boomer was out of college and working his first job at a small advertising agency at the time. He recalls that the company produced menus, book covers, flyers and ads of all types, and his art director complained that every client wanted red, white and blue. He proclaimed that after the Bicentennial, he wouldn’t use red or blue ink in another project.

In Mister B’s area, there was a local parade of veterans and school bands, and a great fireworks display on a nearby river. The localization of the event made it feel like every person was invested in the celebration. That meant plenty of firecrackers in Mister B’s neighborhood, but they were illegal in his state. The next state was only about 35 miles away down the main highway, and the first fireworks stand was within a mile of the border. Any boomer over the age of eighteen drove to the neighboring state where they could buy Cherry Bombs, Lady Fingers, M-80s, Roman Candles and rockets. Mister B wasn’t a big fan of fireworks, so he never drove down on his own. One year, long before the Bicentennial, though, he did ride with his brother when Brother Boomer purchased a batch for the Fourth of July.

The Bicentennial was a big deal, and though celebrated differently from one area to another, boomers had a front-row seat. What Bicentennial memories do you have, boomers?

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

A Very Boomer Christmas

It’s Christmas Week and Mister Boomer is behind schedule. He is overwhelmed by the hubbub of the season, like a manic Lucy in a gift wrapping factory. Therefore, please enjoy this encore presentation of some of Mister B’s favorite Christmas posts from Christmases past:

Have Boomers Half-Baked the Holiday Cookie Tradition?

Why Boomers Love “A Christmas Story”

Visions of Aluminum Trees Danced Through Boomers’ Heads

Boomers Watched Santa On Radar

Boomers Had Their Holiday School Break Outside

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