Boomers Got Vaccinated

In January of 2019, a national health emergency was declared by Washington related to a measles outbreak. The disease was thought to be eradicated in the U.S. in 2000, due to five decades of routine vaccinations, but as of this date nearly 400 cases have been reported in fifteen states. All of those states allow for refusal to get vaccinated based on personal or religious beliefs.

This situation brought Mister Boomer back to the boomer years, when vaccines were a routine step for school-aged children. When it comes to vaccinations for boomers, our parents were whole-heartedly in favor of having their children vaccinated: They lived through decades of horrible diseases, and, by the time World War II arrived, the prevailing thought of the country was to trust science and get on with finding cures. Mister Boomer feels this was particularly prompted by the scourge of polio that gripped the world into the 1940s. Traced back as far as Ancient Egypt, polio was a crippling disease that inflicted tens of thousands of children each year. Some surmise the Tiny Tim character had polio in A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. For the parents of boomers, though, it was the fact that their president — Franklin Delano Roosevelt — had what was believed to be polio in his late teen years. He covered up his increasing inability to walk by holding himself up at sturdy podiums and the Secret Service was diligent in seeing that there were no photos taken of him in a wheelchair.

In 1937, Roosevelt founded the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (later known as the March of Dimes), specifically with the intent of producing a vaccine for polio. The parents of boomers recall that schoolchildren of their generation sent dimes to the White House, doing their part in the search for a cure. Perhaps that is the reason that Roosevelt’s portrait is on the ten cent coin? Boomers will also recall how, each March, teachers were each given a cardboard sign that had slots for dimes in them. The teacher would remind children to ask for a dime from their parents. One by one, children could approach the sign on the teacher’s desk and slide their dime into the cardboard slot.

Roosevelt didn’t live long enough to see the development of a vaccine for polio. There was an epidemic outbreak of polio in the U.S. in 1952. Parents were keeping their children from public places such as municipal swimming pools, as a near-national hysteria added pressure to quickly release a vaccine. Dr. Jonas Salk was given a patent for his vaccination in 1955. It quickly became standard for all boomer children to get the vaccine. Today many scientists are suggesting that FDR did not have polio at all, but probably Guillain-Barre Syndrome. No matter which, by the mid-50s, boomer children were being vaccinated against smallpox, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus and polio. It is more than likely the smallpox vaccination that gives boomers of a certain age that circular scar on their arm. The last case of smallpox was reported in Somalia in 1977. The U.S. stopped routine smallpox vaccinations in 1972, and the World Health Organization declared smallpox eradicated in 1980. No cases of polio have been reported in the U.S. since 1979.

The 1960s saw more advances in vaccinations for boomers. Vaccines for measles were being tested as far back as the 1920s, but it wasn’t until 1963 when an effective version was released to the public. Vaccinations for mumps followed in 1967, and rubella in 1969. The three were combined into one vaccine in 1970.

Mister Boomer’s family was inoculated with all the vaccinations that were available at the time, but Mister Boomer and his brother had both measles and chicken pox in the early 1960s before the measles vaccine was released. The brothers spent a week suffering the relentless itching and light sensitivity that comes with it, prompting them to be quarantined to their bedroom, with drapes drawn, while all the neighborhood kids were out enjoying the summer sun. Fortunately, both brothers recovered without any ill effects; on average there were 450 deaths due to measles reported each year in the decade 1953 to 1963, the year when the vaccine was first given.

How about you, boomers? Do you have a vaccination scar on your arm? Did your family talk about vaccinations?

Boomers Painted By Number

Like so many anonymous influencers of the Boomer Era, not many people know the name, Dan Robbins. Yet, if you mention that Mr. Robbins brought the 1950s and ’60s craze of paint-by-number kits to America, the recognition light bulb glows brightly. This past week, Dan Robbins died at the age of 93.

The story goes, Mr. Robbins was a commercial artist employed by the Palmer Paint Company in Detroit, Michigan. The company specialized in children’s paints. In the late 1940s, he was tasked by his boss, Max Klein, to find a way for the company to sell more paint to adults. Recalling that Leonardo Da Vinci had created a technique to teach his studio apprentices that involved a by-number system, Mr. Robbins put together the idea of a kit, which would include oil paint, a brush, a small bottle of turpentine and a canvas board that had an image in light blue or gray printed on it. The image was broken down into areas of color. Each area was given a number that corresponded with the number on the included cups of paint.

Mr. Robbins chose as his first image a mishmash of three modern abstract artists and showed it to his boss. Mr. Klein hated the imagery, but loved the idea. It wasn’t a new idea, since the first paint-by-number patent was issued in 1923 — but very quickly it became evident the Palmer Paint Company, and Dan Robbins, as its chief artist, were on to something. The first Craft Master Paint-by-Number kit was brought to market in 1950, and cost $2.50. $2 million worth of kits were sold that first year. By 1955, the peak of the craze, sales reached $20 million. By then several other companies had joined in, the market became over saturated, and sales dropped.

At the dawn of the twentieth century, printmaking was at its zenith, offering an affordable way for the public to display art in their homes. Currier and Ives made a career out of it, and many boomers will recall grandparents or parents displaying prints, or reproductions of prints, in their homes when boomers were young. It was an entrance into the art world. Decades later, the paint-by-number kit offered a chance for anyone to feel what it was like to create something with paint, and display it as coming from their hands. The mothers of boomers, as well as growing boomers, were especially the target for the sale of the kits.

Dan Robbins was responsible for drawing the first 30 or so originals that were then broken down into separate colors by placing an acetate sheet over the painting and tracing the color edges. Categories of imagery were animals (mostly cats, dogs and horses); landscapes; people (especially clowns, matadors and dancers); copies of famous paintings (like Gainsborough’s Blue Boy and Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa); and religious scenes. It was a combination of the last two categories that brought about the company’s best seller: A paint-by-number copy of Da Vinci’s The Last Supper. Many boomers will recall entering homes of their relatives or friends that had one of these painted Last Supper kits hung on the wall.

Mister Boomer had a brief foray into the paint-by-number world via a Christmas present one year. He was artistically inclined from a very early age, so more than likely his aunt thought the kit might foster his already burgeoning love of drawing and painting. Instead, though it was his introduction to using oil paints, Mister B found the work — a landscape — tedious and boring. He was much more interested in coming up with his own images, his own way and with his own color choices.

Similar kits are still available today, but the heyday for paint-by-number looks back at the early days of the Boomer Generation. In a similar vein, today’s adult coloring books offer an experience like the paint-by-number kits, but with the twenty-first century twist of not only being available in print books, but on screen with a phone app.

How about you, boomers? Did you or someone in your family try their hand at a paint-by-number kit?