Boomers Watched the Kennedy Inauguration

Every four years, on January 20, we inaugurate the President and Vice President at a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol. Harry Truman was president when the first boomers were born. In 1949, he was the first president to give his inaugural address to a televised audience. However, seeing as the first boomers were three years old, it wouldn’t be until 1953 that early-era boomers could watch the inaugural address of the next president, Dwight Eisenhower.

Nonetheless, for many of us mid-era boomers, it was the inauguration of John Kennedy in 1961 that we most likely remember. The Kennedy inauguration was memorable on several levels. His address, after all, gave us the much-quoted speech where the newly-minted president said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Kennedy was at that time the youngest person ever to hold the office, and the first Catholic ever elected president.

Long before Kennedy’s inauguration, it had become traditional for the president to wear a top hat as part of his ceremonial garb. The top hat, once a must-have in formal wear, had fallen out of fashion since the 1920s, but presidents upheld the tradition until Dwight Eisenhower chose to wear his everyday Homburg hat instead. Boomers certainly recall that men wore hats on a daily basis in the 1940s and ’50s. Kennedy, however, was known more for not wearing a hat on the campaign trial. That prompted one part of the population to appeal to the incoming president to return to the top hat tradition. Kennedy’s tailor agreed, and it was decided that Kennedy would wear a top hat and formalwear that had the traditional day stripe up the side of each leg.

Kennedy is pictured riding in a convertible car in the traditional parade up to the Capitol with his top hat, but he mostly used it to wave to the crowd. Then, in a controversial move, Kennedy chose not to wear the hat at his swearing in ceremony and inaugural address. Ever since that day, there has been a contingent of people who say the president hastened the demise of men’s hats. However, subsequent scholarship has noted that hat wearing was already on the decline among college students in the1920s, and there was a sharp decline in men wearing hats after the War. The Boomer Era was a break from the old ways, including hat wearing. John Kennedy was not the catalyst for the end of daily hat wearing, but merely among the growing group of men who broke the tradition in their own lives for personal choice.

Galas and balls were a part of inaugurations since the first one was held for George Washington. During the Great Depression, presidents Herbert Hoover, then Franklin Roosevelt, held balls as charity fundraisers in a time when people were in deep need of assistance. Harry Truman brought them back after the War, and the number of balls increased in the 1950s and ’60s. Eisenhower had two inaugural balls for his first term, and four for his second. John Kennedy had five.

Kennedy’s ties with Hollywood performers paid off for his pre-inaugural gala. Frank Sinatra and Peter Lawford put together a star-studded event the night before the inauguration, funded by John Kennedy’s father, Joseph. On the bill was Sinatra, Lawrence Olivier, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Belafonte, Ethel Merman, Jimmy Durante, Gene Kelly, Milton Berle, Janet Leigh, Tony Curtis, and Bette Davis. The band leader was Leonard Bernstein. Held at the National Armory on the evening of January 19, a raging snowstorm kept some from attending, while Ethel Merman performed in the clothes she wore at the dress rehearsal since she could not risk a trip to her hotel and back.

Since the Kennedy inauguration, traditions and inaugural balls varied in size and scope. Jimmy Carter chose to reduce the formality of the inauguration, and asked only $25 per ticket for his inaugural ball. Ronald Reagan expanded the number of inaugural balls (and held the most lavish and expensive ball), but George Bush cut them back. Bill Clinton had fourteen at his inauguration.

Despite the pomp and circumstances surrounding the inauguration, boomers have born witness to our shared history, and will do so once again this week. Joe Biden will represent the 14th president inaugurated since the dawn of the Boomer Era.

What inaugurations come to mind for you, boomers? What is the first inauguration you recall watching on TV?

Boomers Adapted Their 45s

There are many objects that were commonplace in our boomer years that have either disappeared from view or have taken a back seat at best. A case in point is the 45 rpm adapter. Its shape is immediately identifiable to boomers, yet today it is mainly audiophiles who know of its purpose.

45 RPM recdord adapters
Here are two 45 rpm record adapters that Mister Boomer owns. The first one slips over the spindle to play one record at a time. The second, Hutchinson adapter, is meant to be inserted into the middle of the record. It’s the classic shape people recognize as a boomer object.

The story of how it came into being is an interesting one, and its origins go back to before the first boomer hit the scene. Throughout the early 1900s and into the 1920s, there was only one size of record, and that was a 10-inch disc with a small hole in the center that slipped over the phonograph spindle. The record speed was played at 78 revolutions per minute (rpm), and this became the de facto standard.

Throughout the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, there were two companies that dominated the phonograph market: RCA Victor and Columbia. Each manufactured machines and created record companies to produce the records to play on them. Enmeshed in a competitive battle, each worked to find ways to get one leg up on the competition. In 1948, their paths veered when Columbia introduced the first “long-playing” 12-inch album, played at 33 1/3 rpm. This speed change would require all future phonographs to play at either 78 or 33 1/3 rpm. RCA went a different route and created a new format, which they defined as a 7-inch record with a large, 1 1/2 inch hole in the center. Further, it was meant to be played at 45 rpm. RCA manufactured the phonographs to play their new-format records. Shortly after, RCA introduced the first drop changer spindle that allowed the listener to stack multiple records all at once. The machine would drop each record one after the other to be played. This increased the amount of time that you could listen to music before having to get up and change the records.

By the 1950s, all brands of phonographs had to allow for the possibility of playing records at 78, 33 1/3 and 45 rpm. Since RCA was a major figure in releasing popular music, even if your record player was not an RCA brand, it needed to find a way to play RCA 45 rpm records, too. Over time, other record companies began to produce records in the format, too. Phonograph companies supplied spindles made of metal or hard plastic to fit over their own, but as can be expected, over time the mechanics of it broke down or the spindle was lost. So the stage was set for the Boomer Generation and the dawn of rock & roll to catapult the use of the 45 rpm adapter into an everyday object.

In 1950, the first separate adapter was released by the Webster Chicago Company. It was made of zinc and, once inserted, was nearly impossible to remove without breaking the record. Soon after, companies experimented with various shapes; ideally, the adapter needed to be easily removed and reused, yet be strong enough to play the record without wobble, and help to separate records when they were stacked so the drop function of the phonograph would operate correctly. Eventually, three major styles with a different number of prongs surfaced as viable in the marketplace, including the spiral Hutchinson model many people identify with the boomer era. It was named after New Jersey inventor Tom Hutchinson, a technician at the Walco Corporation, a company that manufactured cartridges, phonograph needles and phonograph cleaning accessories.

By the 1980s, first cassette tapes and then CDs put an end to vinyl 45 rpm record sales, and with it, the need for multiple adapters in every household. Many boomers had dozens of the plastic inserts permanently placed into their favorite 45s, so they could drop them on the record player at any time.

Mister Boomer’s family received their first record player as a hand-me-down from a cousin when she bought a newer model. It was the portable box variety that looked like a small suitcase when closed. Once opened, the center spindle was ready to receive a stack of 45s, as long as you had the 45 adapters in place. Fortunately, those were inexpensive and readily available. The family needed to go buy some records, so they went to the five and dime and bought a package of a dozen records and adapters. That first package that Mister Boomer’s family bought had a 45 rpm by the Beatles in it. Therefore, She’s a Woman was one of the first 45 rpms that Brother Boomer slipped an adapter in and played in the Mister B household.

How about you, boomers? What do you recall about 45 rpm adapters?