Boomers Lived Through and Celebrated Presidential History

Another Presidents Day is here. Mister Boomer has noted how the federal holiday came to be, and that boomers remember a time before Presidents Day (Boomers Said, “Hail to the Chief”). At this point in history, boomers have been living through the terms of fourteen presidents. However, the man who was POTUS when the first Baby Boomer was born in 1946 was Harry Truman, and not many boomers know much about this president.

If you are a boomer like Mister B, you were not taught much about President Harry Truman, other than he made the decision to drop first one, then another atomic bomb on Japan in an effort to end World War II. Germany had previously surrendered in May of 1945 following the suicide death of Hitler one month earlier. Two weeks prior to Hitler’s death, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died suddenly, thrusting his Vice President, Harry Truman, onto the international stage. The fight with Japan continued.

It was surprising for Mister B to learn that the Vice President of the United States was kept in the dark about the program to develop the atomic bomb — the Manhattan Project. Historians record that Truman only learned of it after becoming President. The Russians, however, did know about it in great detail, due to a network of spies in the U.S. and around the world. Thus, the Russians were working to develop an A-bomb of their own, which ultimately led to the Cold War.

As boomers recall their history lessons, President Truman, when faced with the prospect of a prolonged bloody conflict with a ground invasion of Japan, ordered the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. When Japan failed to surrender after the destruction of that city, the president ordered a second bomb to be dropped on Nagasaki on August 9. Together, nearly a quarter million Japanese citizens were killed in the bombings. Japan signaled surrender, and on August 15, Emperor Hirohito announced it, ultimately signing a formal surrender declaration on September 2.

In 1946, President Truman dissolved the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), the Central Intelligence Group (CIG) and other war-related agencies that were created to gather intelligence during the War. To replace them, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), National Security Council (NSC) and others were created under The National Security Act of 1947. The purpose of these agencies was to oversee the gathering and sharing of intelligence that both military and political figures felt was necessary to protect a post-war America.

In early 1950, paranoia over the rise of the Soviet Union in the wake of the War led some American political figures, notably Senator Joseph McCarthy, to conduct hearings under the authority of the House Un-American Activities Committee. McCarthy, in a speech in West Virginia, specifically charged that the State Department was harboring Communist “traitors.” A reporter asked President Truman for comment, and Truman stated, “I think the greatest asset that the Kremlin has is Senator McCarthy.” The official response to the committee from the Truman Administration, residing in the National Archives, calls the charges rumors, lies, or based on no evidence.

An in-depth look at this underpublicized president is far beyond the scope of a boomer blog; Harry Truman was a complex man filled with contradictions and human emotions. His penchant for speaking his mind is why the phrase, “Give ’em hell, Harry” was attached to him when he began his political career. Records show, in his personal life, he was conflicted by ideas of racial equality. Yet in 1948 he ended segregation in the military, and supported civil rights legislation soon after the War.

In 1950, Truman’s fear of the threat of the spread of Communism led him to bring the U.S. into what was called a “police action” in Korea. Truman’s administration assembled a group of international allies to serve alongside United Nations troops. With the involvement of China and the Soviet Union, it became apparent that victory in Korea was far from a sure thing. Truman was advised to again use nuclear weapons. A World War I veteran himself, and in the wake of his overseeing the end of hostilities in World War II, he refused to do so. Ultimately, the U.S. and U.N. troops retreated to the 38th Parallel, which became the basis for the DMZ that marked the division between North and South Korea.

In January of 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower was sworn in as the 34th President of the United States. Boomers then began witnessing a new era of presidents.

Do you have any memories of learning about President Harry Truman, boomers?

Boomers Wore Their Winterwear Well

Despite any recent prognostication by a groundhog, the calendar shows there are still plenty of winter days ahead. That got Mister Boomer thinking about the different types of winter coats he has had over the past six decades. Prior to the 1960s, practically all winter clothing was made from natural materials, but the introduction of synthetic fabrics to make winter clothes coincided with the rise of the Boomer Generation.

Well into the 1960s, the majority of men’s winter coats were still made from wool, cotton, leather, suede or sheepskin, with wool being the predominant material in Mister Boomer’s neck of the woods. Stuffing and lining, when present, was either animal fur or down.

The DuPont Corporation developed an acrylic fabric in the 1940s, but it was the 1950s before the first practical acrylic fabrics began being used to make clothing. Its first uses were for linings, such as gloves and boots, and sweaters. Acrylic had advantages over wool in that the clothing was more lightweight and moisture-resistant, while still keeping the wearer warm. It could also mimic real wool, and was soft to the touch. Plus, acrylic fabrics generally held up well to repeated washing, and maintained lightfastness with less fading. As the 1950s became the 1960s, the affordability of acrylic fabrics, especially in versions made to feel like materials such as cashmere, became less expensive for growing boomer families. Besides, a bonus for boomer moms was that acrylic coats were not prone to moth damage once stored in the off-season.

Mister Boomer has vivid memories of most of the winter coats he had from the time he walked to kindergarten with his older brother. From those early days through his elementary school years, Mister B’s coats were made of wool or corduroy (a heavy cotton). Sweaters worn under the coats were made of wool or cotton. As boomers will recall, wool sweaters could be an itchy annoyance throughout the school day. Nonetheless, drafty classrooms and daily outdoor recess required that children wear warm clothing throughout the day.

Once Mister Boomer was in high school, he had an inkling of a fashion sense that was directly influenced by Brother Boomer. A few years older than Mister B, Brother Boomer had his eyes open to 1960s fashion, beginning with a Beatles’ style suit. Nonetheless, Mister Boomer’s father generally dressed quite conservatively, so standard winter coats and jackets remained the order of the day.

Sometime in the late sixties, Brother Boomer bought a synthetic suede bomber-style jacket with an acrylic-fur collar and lining (he had been working part-time by then). Mister B had to have the same one, and somehow his parents agreed. Up until that point, most of his winter coats had been three-quarter length, so now this jacket made an unwelcome difference on colder mornings as well as for outdoor play. After two or three years, he outgrew the jacket and went back to longer coats.

Mister Boomer never had a ski-style jacket in his early days. While these jackets began to appear in the 1950s, Mister B’s family didn’t hop on that bandwagon. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 1970s that Mister B purchased a ski-style jacket, which was entirely made from synthetlc materials.

When did you acquire your first winter clothing made with synthetlc fabrics, boomers?