Technology Was No Stranger to Boomers

A good part of our formative boomer years was spent dreaming about the future. After all, we were the first generation that had a realistic hope of achieving some of those dreams. Our parents’ generation lead the way with innovations throughout the boomer decades. Boomers picked up where they left off and created the technological world we live in today.

Boomers were introduced to technological fantasies at an early age, beginning with cartoons and a variety of TV series. Shows like Supercar (1961) featured puppets, like most kids’ shows of the day, but in this series, the main character, Mike Mercury, drove a flying car. Even when the car was driven on land it didn’t need wheels. Instead, it hovered on a cushion of air. And, oh yes, it could also travel underwater. The Flintstones put the idea in our tiny little heads that technology — from TV to record players, cars to telephones — had always been around, even if in “rock” form. Then we looked headlong into the future with The Jetsons (1962). In this cartoon series, a typical 21st Century American family lived with a vast array of technology at their disposal, from treadmills for walking the dog to video phone conferencing; microwave-style ovens to people-moving sidewalks; flying cars to reach their apartments in the sky to a robot named Rosie, replete with human foibles. Of course, there were numerous other cartoons where technology played a key role.


Mister B apologizes for the length of this clip, but there is fun and insightful commentary to be gleaned from this interview with the creators of The Jetsons.

Live-action shows and movies jumped on the bandwagon, often centered around secret agents utilizing technological gadgetry in their defender roles as a direct or vaguely-veiled reference to the Cold War. The James Bond movies entered the scene with Dr. No in 1962, but the famous Bond gadgets began showing their impact on the characters in the second film, From Russia With Love (1963). On TV, The Wild Wild West (1965) featured two secret service agents in the employ of President Ulysses S. Grant in the period after the Civil War. Their ingenious gadgets were often integral parts of the storyline. By this time, it was so natural for us to see “future” technology on screen that we could use it in the comedy of the day as well. Enter Get Smart, a 1965 TV series where the bumbling main character, Maxwell Smart (Don Adams), has all the techno-gadgetry of James Bond, but none of the finesse. The character is most-often remembered for his shoe phone, a precursor to the cellphone.

Real-life technology that entered the consumer market in boomer years played a huge part in the way the entire generation would embrace it for the following decades to come. The list of innovations that began to appear — especially electronic innovations — is mind-boggling, even by today’s standards. The entire electronics revolution was made possible when the first integrated circuit was invented in 1958. Evidently, it was an invention whose time had come, since two men had come up with approximately the same idea at the same time. Both men, Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce, received patents for their inventions. Look at this partial list of electronic marvels that appeared during our early boomer years:

1962 – The first portable cassette recorder was introduced by Phillips.
1964 – Pentax marketed the first 35MM SLR camera.
1967 – Phillips sells the first battery-powered shaver.
1967 – Integrated circuit inventor Jack Kilby created the handheld calculator.
1968 – The Polaroid gave us the Swinger, the first instant camera, though prints were black & white only.
1969 – The telephone got a makeover as the Trimphone. Though created in 1964, it took a few years to catch on with consumers.
1969 – Dr. Christiaan Barnard pioneered and implanted the first artificial heart.
1971 – The first digital watch was created, though mass-production at an affordable price would have to wait another couple of years.
1972 – Color TVs outnumbered black & white sets in the home for the first time.
1972 – Pioneer releases the first home LP cassette recorder.
1974 – The first portable electronic calculator is marketed.
1975 – Home freezers were sold and quickly become a standard appliance in nearly 50% of homes.
1977 – Atari introduced the Atari 2600, the first video game player.
1977 – The Apple II computer was sold; the basic model was $1,300 with an external 5 1/4 inch floppy disk running at 1 MHz and housing 4 kB RAM.

Mister Boomer recalls watching all of those TV shows and movies, and dreaming of the day he’d own a flying car. We have chronicled the time Mister B and his brother received transistor radios in an earlier entry (Boomers Strike Solid Gold). A decade later his brother got a Polaroid camera for Christmas. It was truly amazing to see a picture in a matter of a minute or two, without having to drop off a roll of film at the local drug store to be developed. A few years later, Mister B was employed in a retail setting where all the guys started buying digital watches. The watch “dial” was an overall dull, dark gray circle, with a blacked-out rectangle situated in the top half. There was a side button to push in order to display the time — in numbers — within the blackened slot. A colorful leather wrist band helped give the technology not only a function, but a fashion statement as well.

We took a look at the future as boomer children, saw it unfolding in the gadgets made available to us and our families, and embraced it until it became synonymous with our generation. We may not have invented technological innovation, but we did elevate it to the level it is in the world today.

What do you remember of the early days of electronics entering your family’s world?

Boomers Can Now Say, “When I Was Your Age…”

We’ve all heard it: Growing up, our parents and grandparents would never miss an opportunity to remind us “how good we had it” compared to when they were growing up. Now it’s our turn.

When we look back at the tremendous hardships, coupled with enormous lifestyle changes and technological advances experienced by the preceding two generations after World War II, they did indeed bear witness to amazing times. But looking at the past fifty years that chronicle the growing of the boomer generation, we can say no less about our times. The social and political upheaval of our youth was rivaled only by the technological marvels that evolved to pave the way for the next generations.

So, the next time your grandchildren — or children — ask you about what it was like when you were growing up, here are a few common things that are now taken for granted that our families just did not have when we were young children, because they either hadn’t been invented yet, or were not popularized until we were well into our teens and twenties.

Boomers did NOT have:

Cell Phones (not commercially sold until 1983)

Touch-Tone Phones (slowly replaced the rotary dial when introduced in 1963)

Anything related to Personal Computers (PC not popularized until the 1980s)

Internet (not commercially popular until the mid 1990s)

Master Card/Visa credit cards (Diners Club was the first credit card, introduced in 1950, but MC and Visa weren’t popularized until the mid 70s)

Microwave Ovens (invented in 1946 but not popular in the home until the mid 70s)

Garbage Disposal Units (on the market in 1938 but took until the 1970s to become readily accepted by municipalities and available to consumers)

Plastic Garbage Cans (steel cans ruled; we kept them until they rusted out through the bottom)

Plastic Garbage Bags (not popularized until the late 1960s)

Disposable Diapers (not commercially available until the late 1960s)

Automatic Dishwashers (not common in households until the 1970s)

Non-Dairy Creamer (first introduced in 1961)

Cuisinart Food Processor (available in 1973)

Heart Transplants (first in 1969)

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging — first in 1977)

Rollerblades (introduced in 1979)

Instant Noodles (introduced in 1971)

VCR (introduced in 1971; DVD players weren’t around until the 1990s; and forget about TiVO)

Karaoke (introduced in 1971)

Jacuzzi (whirlpool popularized in the mid 70s)

Here are some things we DID have. While some are still around, others have been relegated to the dustbin of history:

Slinky (invented in 1943)

Lincoln Logs (invented in 1916)

Erector Set (invented in 1911)

Silly Putty (invented in 1943)

Frisbee (introduced in 1948)

Portable Transistor Radio (popularized around 1954)

Etch A Sketch (introduced in 1960)

Tupperware (the famous seal was invented in 1947)

Polaroid Camera (on the market in 1948)

The ‘Pill’ (approved by the FDA in 1960 — for boomer moms, of course)

Music Cassette (first introduced 1n 1962, but popularized in the 1970s)

Roller Skates (around for hundreds of years)

How about it, boomers? What did you have as a child that your children or grandchildren didn’t?