Boomers Liked “Young Girl” Songs

Boomers grew up in a time when underage marriage was allowed in all 48 (and later, all 50) states, at the very least with parental consent. Marriage laws were (and are) a state matter, not a federal one. Yet more than that, the dating of young girls below the age of 18 by men 10 or 20 years older — if not more — was both vilified and treated with indifference, depending on the state and the persons involved. There are many stories of bluesmen, in the decades before boomers arrived, taking advantage of younger women, and now rock ‘n roll, coming out of that tradition, which seemed to bring the subject out in the open. The developing rock ‘n roll culture of the late ’40s and early ’50s did nothing but shine a light on the arguments on both sides.

In 1958, when a 23-year old Jerry Lee Lewis married Myra Gale Brown, the 13-year old daughter of his cousin, he was riding the wave of world popularity. He had a world tour scheduled that year, beginning with England. His plan was to have his bride by his side, but the British tabloids would have none of it. Forced with the choice of either leaving Myra at home, or lying about their marriage, his European tour was cancelled. In the U.S., many venues in various states refused to book him. His career took a nosedive from which he never fully recovered.

In 1959, Elvis Presley was serving the remainder of his Army stint in Germany when he met 14-year old Priscila Beaulieu, the daughter of an Air Force captain. They spent the next six months dating. After Elvis left the Army in 1960, he kept in touch with Priscilla, inviting her to visit him at Graceland. She convinced her parents to let her go for a visit in 1963, under their provision that the entire visit was chaperoned. Within three months, she begged her parents to let her live with Elvis at Graceland. They relented when Elvis promised to marry her, send her to an all-girls Catholic High School and that she would live away from Graceland with Elvis’ stepfather and mother. The couple married in 1967 when Priscilla was 20, despite persistant rumors linking Elvis to many of the leading ladies of his movies through the years, including Ann-Margaret and Nancy Sinatra.

Chuck Berry had a checkered past when it came to young girls. In 1958, he wrote and recorded Sweet Little Sixteen, which on the surface seems a harmless enough tune. On closer inspection, the song can be interpreted as Berry watching 16-year old groupies from various locales heading to the rock shows and gathering autographs, from

… rockin’ in Boston
In Pittsburgh, PA
Deep in the heart of Texas
And round the Frisco Bay
All over St. Louis
And down in New Orleans
All the cats wanna dance with
Sweet Little Sixteen

Berry sings this “girl” has collected About a half a million … autographs. The song reached Number 2 on the charts. The Beatles recorded a cover version in 1963.

Two years later, in 1960, Berry was charged with violating the Mann Act, which made illegal the “transporting of minors across state lines for immoral purposes.” In Berry’s case, the girl was 14 years old. Berry claimed he met her in Juarez, Mexico, and offered her a job in his St. Louis nightclub. She accepted the job as a hatcheck girl, and after she was fired from the club, she went to the police.

After his first conviction, Berry appealed the decision, and a retrial was ordered. He was convicted on the retrial in 1961 and served 20 months in prison on a five-year sentence.

Johnny Burnette was 26 when he sang You’re Sixteen (1960) to the Top Ten on the charts. For coming-of-age boomers, You come on like a dream, peaches and cream/ Lips like strawberry wine/ You’re sixteen, you’re beautiful and you’re mine was teenage love. To guys the age of Johhny Burnette, it was, in the parlance of the age, “robbing the cradle.” It wasn’t any less creepy when a thirty-something Ringo Starr recorded a cover version in 1973.

By the mid-60s, though, songs about young girls took a somewhat hesitant stance in their lyrics. In Younger Girl (1965), John Sebastian and the Lovin’ Spoonful sung that:

A younger girl keeps a-rolling ‘cross my mind
No matter how much I try, I can’t seem to leave her memory behind

… but ultimately he concludes …

And should I hang around, acting like her brother
In a few more years, they’d call us right for each other

Bobby Vee and the Strangers sang Come Back When You Grow Up Girl in 1967. Here Bobby admits his attraction to this young girl:

I want you girl but your wide-eyed innocence
Has really messed up my mind, yeah, yeah
I’d rather you get your very first heartbreak
Somewhere else along the line

Ultimately but reluctantly, his reason takes over as the song concludes:

Come back when you grow up, girl
You’re still livin’ in a paper-doll world
Some day you’ll be a woman ready to love
Come back, baby, when you grow up

Gary Puckett & the Union Gap entered the genre with Young Girl in 1969. Gary wants the young girl to go away so he’s not tempted:

Young girl get out of my mind
My love for you is way outta line
Better run girl
You’re much too young girl

He doesn’t blame his own actions, but says that she misled him:

You led me to believe you’re old enough
To give me love
And now it hurts to know the truth

Boomers liked it enough that it spent three weeks as Number 2 on the Billboard Top 100 chart; the first week it was just behind behind Otis Redding’s Dock of the Bay, and the next two weeks it was bested by Bobby Goldsboro’s Honey.

Just when we think that these situations celebrated in song during the Boomer Era couldn’t be recorded or happen now, we not only get the rise of the Me Too Movement, but the reappraisal of child marriage laws in many states. Delaware became the first state to completely ban marriage under the age of eighteen in May of 2018. That’s correct. THIS YEAR. New Jersey followed suit in June. Several other states have revised their laws, though all the rest allow it at least under some circumstances.

Meanwhile, it is estimated that more than 100,000 children age 12 to 16 were forced to marry in the last decade in the U.S., usually due to pre-arranged marriages through religious beliefs, or due to pregnancy. Worldwide, the United Nations has set a goal of eliminating child marriage by the year 2030. Is that something rock ‘n roll will sing about, and will they be catchy enough tunes that people will propel these songs to the Top Ten?

Did you listen to and buy “young girl” songs, boomers?

Boomers Sipped Through Paper Straws

Boomers remember sipping all sorts of juices, milk, soft drinks and milkshakes through paper straws, but the invention of the paper straw goes back to the century before the Baby Boom. The story goes that one day, inventor Marvin Stone was sipping a mint julep through the type of straw that was used at the time — a stalk of rye grass. Stone saw that the plant-based material left residue and a gritty taste to whatever the person was drinking, so he thought about creating another method. He spiral-wrapped paper around a tube, glued it and received a patent for the first paper straw in 1888. Later, he improved on his design by switching to manila paper and coating it with paraffin wax. His invention quickly became the standard world wide. In 1937, the bendy straw, also made of paper, joined the regular straw and — other than a few innovations on glues, gluing production methods, and food-safe inks for printing on them — remained relatively unchanged when baby boomers took their first sips through straws.

Yet after 80 years, all was not settled in the straw industry. Like the character in The Graduate said to Dustin Hoffman, the world was moving toward “plastics.” The first plastic straws began to appear when Krazy Straws were introduced in 1960. These plastic straws were invented when some glass-blowing students bent glass tubing into twisty shapes, and began drinking from them in their studio.

Young boomers latched on to the novelty of these twisted tubes of colorful plastic, though many reused them again and again thanks to moms who washed them after each use, but the plastics cat was out of the bag. Plastic straws were cheaper to make and therefore cheaper for the rising fast food industry. One by one, soda fountains replaced their bendy and paper straws with plastic, and by the mid-70s, plastic had replaced the paper straw as king of the hill.

While this revolution in single-use, disposable plastic straws was rising, Rachel Carson’s eye-opening book on environmental hazards, Silent Spring, appeared in 1962, sparking the environmental movement. As the sixties rolled on, people in both cities and rural areas complained to government agencies about the obvious pollution of their air, water and soil that was happening at the hands of industrial plants coast to coast. For the first time, large fines were issued to offending companies, but the public wanted more. In response, Congress passed the Environmental Policy Act of 1969. By 1970, President Richard Nixon said, “A major goal for the next ten years for this country must be to restore the cleanliness of the air, the water, the broader problem of population congestion, transport and the like.” Nixon (believe it or not) became instrumental in getting Congress to create the first Environmental Protection Agency as a Cabinet post in order to coordinate and enforce the growing list of national environmental policies. The agency has become a political football ever since.

Despite the progress that has been made in air and water quality since the first steps toward environmental regulation were taken in 1970, plastics — and plastic straws — have escaped notice and criticism. Today America alone disposes of 500 million plastic straws per day. As a result of the worldwide use of plastic straws, scientists are seeing them turn up in the autopsies of dead marine animals and birds, and millions are washing up on the shores of countries around the world. In fact, plastic straws are among the top 10 things that wash ashore on beaches. The drinking straw market is a $3 billion global industry annually.

Currently, many cities and countries around the world are sounding the alarm and are taking steps to outlaw the use of plastic straws. According to CNN, studies are indicating that by 2050, there will be more plastic, by weight, in the world’s oceans, than fish. The European Union is proposing a ban by member states by 2030. Great Britain is investigating a total ban on single-use plastic straws, and Glasgow, Scotland has already issued such a ban. McDonald’s has announced they will stop their use in restaurants in the UK. Many other restaurant chains in the UK have already eliminated their use. Norway, Australia and New Zealand are also discussing a ban. Taiwan is banning all single-use plastic items by 2019, including straws, coffee stirrers and cups, with shopping bags joining the ban by 2030.

In the U.S., several cities — including Miami Beach, Seattle, Asbury Park and Malibu — have banned or plan to ban their use, and many businesses have voluntarily hopped on the “banned” wagon. In New York City, a Give A Sip campaign is recruiting the voluntary help of businesses with early success. This past week, the upscale burger chain, Shake Shack, agreed to stop distributing plastic straws in all their stores nationwide.

Mister Boomer recalls how boomers used paper straws daily, often sucking hard enough while sipping a milkshake to collapse them. Some boomers chewed on the ends, making mush of the paper. Nonetheless, paper straws ruled the day. In fact, paper straws were such an entrenched institution to baby boomers that Pixy Stix came about in 1952. Originally, the sugary-powder-filled paper straws were intended to make a drink similar to Kool-Aid. Once the company discovered that kids were eating the sugar directly from the straw, a national sugar rush was underway.

Mister Boomer recently spoke with a 10 year old girl to ask her if she has heard of the effort to raise awareness about single-use plastic straws. Not only did she say her school had discussed the issue, she said there was a boy in her class who brought his own metal straw to school every day.

Mister Boomer, being raised in an industrial city, saw pollution first-hand. He has written before about how his mother had to shake off the soot from the freshly washed bed sheets after they dried on the outside clothesline. He recalls one day heading to a nearby beach, only to be faced with a fence blocking entry to the lake. A sign said the lake would be closed until further notice due to pollution. This made him an early tree-hugger in his day. He is forever fascinated that many “cheaper, more convenient” items that became ubiquitous during and after the Baby Boom, such as plastic straws, plastic coffee stirrers, plastic shopping bags and plastic produce bags, did not exist in the 1950s and early ’60s. The funny thing is, we got along just fine without them.

Technology today has given us better food-safe glues and stronger papers for our next-generation paper straws. What’s more, they have been invented to naturally degrade over time. These paper straws are making their way to stores and food establishments now. It’s frightening to think that the very first plastic straws we used fifty years ago, boomers, are still out there, sitting in landfills and possibly washing up on beaches thousands of miles away. So why would anyone think we couldn’t return to paper straws and avoid hundreds of millions of these items littering our landscapes and ultimately endangering sea life around the world? Why should we be willing to accept this fact just so we can enjoy sloshing through our fast food soft drink, only to discard the straw when that familiar sucking noise tells us the cup is empty?

Mister Boomer urges you to take a personal stand now; this is not a political statement, this is a human statement on behalf of our one shared planet. When you are out in restaurants and bars, ask if the establishment offers biodegradable straws. If they do not, refuse to use plastic. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young once sang, We can change the world/Rearrange the world/It’s dying to get better. Now is the time for all good boomers to — once again — come to aid of their planet.

Do you remember the days before plastic straws, boomers?

Boomers Watched LBJ’s TV Speech

Fifty years ago this week — on March 31, 1968 — President Lyndon Johnson addressed the nation on TV, and boomers of all ages were watching. The President began his speech with specific proposals about the war in Vietnam that he hoped would further the chance for peace talks. The President announced a halt to all air and naval bombing missions in North Vietnam (north of the Demilitarized Zone [DMZ]), as long as doing so did not endanger American troops. Secondly, he decided to send an additional 13,500 troops and third, he said he would request additional funding from Congress to bolster American efforts to assist the South Vietnamese army. He went on to talk about the divisive nature of politics and the war in the nation, and that he felt a responsibility to devote his time to the Office of the Presidency. At the end of his speech, he shocked the country by announcing, “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president.”

The Tet Offensive at the end of January, 1968 brought the bloody struggles happening a world away into the homes of Americans as pictures of fighting in the streets of Saigon countered the Administration’s optimistic pronouncements of a winnable war. Then the New Hampshire Primary, held on March 12, showed the President to be vulnerable in his own party. Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota had mounted a challenge based on his end-the-war stance. Though Johnson won the New Hampshire Primary, McCarthy picked up 42 percent of the vote and the majority of electoral votes for the state.

Despite his de-escalation announcement, Johnson remained dedicated to a military victory in Vietnam. The U.S. dropped more bombs into the DMZ in the three months after his speech than had been dropped in the previous years of the war.

Lady Bird Johnson recalled that she and the President discussed him not running for reelection as early as 1964. She was concerned about his health — particularly his heart condition. She was completely against him running for another term. Johnson himself said in his memoir, The Vantage Point, that he did not want to announce his decision not to run ahead of the speech. The line was not included on the teleprompter and he did not read it while practicing the speech the day before, but on the morning of March 31 he did inform Vice President Hubert Humphrey that he would include it if conditions were right — that is, no major attacks occurred in Vietnam or there was other world news leading up to the broadcast. He wrote that he did not make the decision to include the now-famous line about not seeking reelection until it was time for the televised broadcast.

A newly-minted teenage Mister Boomer sat with his family watching the speech as it aired. He was still forming his understanding of politics, though he was already certain that he wanted no part of any war. His elementary school days humanized war for him and his boomer classmates when bandaged, wounded soldiers returning from Vietnam — brothers and cousins of his classmates — came to thank the kids for sending them care packages from home.

In retrospect, Mister Boomer can point to this speech as a political awakening of sorts. He began paying much closer attention to the news and the campaigns of the 1968 Presidential Election. Though Mister B was still years away from voting age, the voices of the earliest boomers were about to be heard in one of the most tumultuous years in the country’s history.

Do you remember watching President Johnson’s speech on March 31, 1968, boomers?

Boomers Say Good-bye to More Generational Influencers

Boomers will remember 2017 for many things, not the least of which is the collection of notable deaths of movers and shakers that helped to form the cultural, political and technological landscape that was the Boomer Years.

Jeremy Stone (January 1, age 81)
A scientist, his pro-arms control and human rights advocacy landed him on Richard Nixon’s “enemies list” in 1973. He authored two books in the 1960s: Containing the Arms Race: Some Specific Proposals (1966) and Strategic Persuasion: Arms Control Through Dialogue (1967). Stone served as president of the Federation of American Scientists from 1970 to 2000, contributing to policy debates on the nuclear arms race for more than 30 years.

Dick Gautier (January 13, age 85)
Boomers will best recall him as Hymie the Robot in the Get Smart TV series.

Mary Tyler Moore (January 25, age 80)
Boomers will always remember her on The Dick Van Dyke Show and of course, The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She was definitely a mover and shaker of the cultural zeitgeist. Mister B feels other sources can do far better justice to her importance than he can on this list.

Irwin Corey (February 6, age 102)
This comic was known to boomers as “Professor” Irwin Corey. Malapropisms, double-speak and mangled language defined his comedy on The Steve Allen Show and subsequent appearances on numerous variety shows throughout the 50s, ’60s and ’70s. Mister Boomer enjoyed his antics.

Chuck Berry (March 18, age 90)
Boomers first heard Berry when Maybellene was released by Chess Records in1955. He wrote and recorded Johnny B. Goode in 1958, a genuine rock classic. It was chosen to be on the Golden Record that contained sounds of human achievement and went out with the Voyager I spacecraft launched in 1977. Chuck Berry was the first inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in 1986. Hundreds of musicians, including The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, said they were greatly influenced by his music. Stars of the boomer era don’t get much bigger than Chuck Berry.

Sylvia Moy (April 15, age 78)
Boomers probably don’t know her name, but they know her music. She was a producer for Motown and wrote many hit songs, including Uptight (Everything’s Alright), I Was Made to Love Her and My Cherie Amour, all of which were hits for Stevie Wonder.

Victor Gorbatko (May 17, age 82)
While the U.S. had their original group of seven astronauts, the Soviet Union had their cosmonauts. Major General Gorbatko was one the original group of cosmonauts. He began his training in 1960, but didn’t make it into space until 1967. He went back into space, as a research engineer, in 1977 and 1980. Without our Soviet counterparts, there would have been no Space Race, and arguably, no moon landing to finish the 1960s.

Sheila Michaels (June 22, age 78)
A member of the Congress of Racial Equality, Sheila Michaels began using the title “Ms.” in 1961. When she was introducing the term on a New York radio station in 1969, Gloria Steinem heard the broadcast and named her magazine Ms., in 1972.

George Romero (July 16, age 77)
Boomers knew Romero as the film director who made scary movies. He is known as the Father of the Zombie Film after releasing Night of the Living Dead in 1968. Mister Boomer recalls the film as one of the scariest he ever experienced in that time.

June Foray (July 26, age 99)
Ms. Foray’s death struck a personal chord with Mister Boomer when news broke. See Boomers Lose a Giant Voice of Their Cartoon Youth.

Jerry Lewis (August 20, age 91)
Love him or hate him, Jerry Lewis became a part of the comedic fabric that formed in the boomer years. Mister Boomer, for the most part, hated his comedy. The only thing Mister Boomer liked him in was The Nutty Professor (1963).

Joe Bailon (September 25, age 94)
Born in 1923, Bailon is one of those people who worked behind the scenes, though his name was well known to boomer custom car enthusiasts. It was Bailon who was credited with creating Candy Apple Red, the quintessential hot rod color of the 1950s and ’60s. The shimmering, metallic look was achieved with a three-coat process of a base coat, color coat and clear coat. Joe Baillon went on to create a series of metallic colors. The boys in Mister Boomer’s neighborhood talked admiringly about Candy Apple Red cars they saw, and how they would use the Testor’s paint version on the model cars they were building.

Hugh Hefner (September 27, age 91)
Boomers everywhere remember Hefner as the publisher of Playboy magazine. For many boomer boys (not Mister Boomer, however), the centerfolds of their father’s Playboys were their first glimpse at the unclothed female form, thus the beginning of their sex education. For many boomer girls, the magazine and Hefner’s Playboy Clubs exploited women and propagated the notion of male dominance in the society.

Fats Domino (October 24, age 89)
A giant star who helped to break color barriers in the early days of rock ‘n roll, Fats Domino gave the world hits such as Blueberry Hill and Ain’t That a Shame in his own New Orleans-inspired style. An influencer of the nth degree to early rock and first-decade boomers, he had the first rock record to sell more than 1 million copies (The Fat Man, 1949).

Robert Blakeley (October 25, age 95)
Another man whose name was hardly a household word, but his work was known by every boomer. Blakeley was given the task of designing the first Fallout Shelter sign. He suggested the image of the three upside-down equilateral triangles and the orange-yellow and black color scheme in 1961. The signs would be painted in reflective paint so that they could be seen in subdued light with only a flick of a lighter.
Recently, New York City announced it would be removing most of the Fallout Shelter signs in public spaces, because their rusted and deteriorated condition now presents a hazard in themselves, and the info they intended to relay was misleading and incorrect from the start. (See Mister Boomer’s post: Signs of the Times: Fallout Shelter Signs Were A Common Sight for Boomers)

Charles Manson (November 19, age 83)
The horrific murders of actress Sharon Tate and six others in 1969 brought Manson to the boomer public. His cult-control over his followers turned them into cold-blooded killers. Manson and many of his followers were convicted and jailed, and Manson given a life sentence.

Warren “Pete” Moore (November 19, age 79)
A singer with The Miracles, Mr. Moore was the composer of Tracks of My Tears, Ooo Baby Baby, Going to a Go-Go, I’ll be Doggone and Ain’t That Peculiar, all boomer and Motown classics, among many more. He was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame (with the Miracles, 2001), Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame (2015) and retroactively into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2015) after a Special Committee reported the entire group of the Miracles should have been inducted when Smokey Robinson was inducted in 1987. He died on his birthday.

Jack Boyle (December 12, age 83)
A rock promoter who has been described as one of the architects of the modern concert industry, Boyle turned a small venue called The Cellar Door, in Washington, DC into a premier club for performers in the mid-60s. Among the acts he booked at the club were Miles Davis, Neil Young, the Mamas and the Papas, Kris Kristofferson, Richie Havens, B.B. King, Rick Nelson, Carole King, Muddy Waters, Joni Mitchell and many more. After selling the club in 1981, he went on to form Cellar Door Productions to produce blockbuster rock tours that included The Rolling Stones, the Who, Pink Floyd and dozens of other boomer favorites.

Of course there were many, many more, including fellow boomer Tom Petty, Jim Neighbors, David Cassidy, Monty Hall, Dick Gregory, Glen Campbell, Adam West, Martin Landau, Gregg Allman (also the band’s drummer Butch Trucks), Roger Moore, Don Rickles, Al Jarreau, Barbara Hale, Heather Menzies-Urich (played Louissa Von Trapp in Sound of Music, 1965), Chuck Barris, astronauts Eugene Cernan (last man to walk on the moon), Paul Weitz (commander of the first Space Shuttle) and Richard Gordon (flew on Gemini 11, 1966; walked in space twice; flew around the moon in Apollo 12, 1969), to name but a few of the those who influenced our boomer landscape.

Which people who left us in 2017 will you remember, boomers?

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?

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?