At the dawn of the twentieth century, the phrase caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) was the primary means of consumer protection. Everyone has heard of the snake oil salesmen of that time, and that the original recipe for Coca-Cola contained cocaine. There were few, if any, government regulations on consumer products. In 1905, Upton Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle, exposed the horrific conditions in meat packing facilities. The resulting outrage by the public led Congress to pass the Wiley Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, and then twenty years later, to create the Food & Drug Administration to inspect and regulate food safety.
On March 15, 1962, President John F. Kennedy raised questions again about public safety as a topic important to the country’s economy and national interest. In a joint address to Congress, Kennedy talked about a basic Consumer Bill of Rights in which he outlined four principles:
• The right to safety • The right to be informed • The right to choose • The right to be heard
Part of his speech read:
Two-thirds of all spending in the economy is by consumers. But they are the only important group in the economy who are not effectively organized, whose views are often not heard. … Ever since legislation was enacted in 1872 to protect the consumer from frauds involving use of the U.S. mail, the Congress and Executive Branch have been increasingly aware of their responsibility to make certain that our Nation’s economy fairly and adequately serves consumers’ interests. … If consumers are offered inferior products, if prices are exorbitant, if drugs are unsafe or worthless, if the consumer is unable to choose on an informed basis, then his dollar is wasted, his health and safety may be threatened, and the national interest suffers.
Some of the legislation that arose from Kennedy’s notes to Congress was focused on the simple idea that government can further protect consumers by making more information available. Hence, the result was the beginning of accurate labeling requirements that we know as commonplace today. Subsequent bipartisan debate in Congress talked about needing drug companies to prove the efficacy of drug claims. Also mentioned as industries in which fraudulent claims were hurting consumers were the cosmetics industry, food (especially the inadequacy of meat factory inspections and the claims of dietary foods), and used cars. It’s hard to believe in our current environment that there were no laws prohibiting companies from including known carcinogenic ingredients in their consumer products prior to the 1960s. Congress also expressed concern about the lack of educational opportunities for consumers in the burgeoning TV industry, and looked to increase protections on competition and competitive pricing.
The roots of all the consumer protections we take for granted today can be traced to the boomer era of the 1960s and ’70s. That era’s legislation paved the way for further consumer protections that boomers remember, including seatbelts in cars. Then, as now, while the vast majority of Americans could agree on the principle of car safety, there was disagreement on how that could be achieved. Nonetheless, the data since the 1960s is clear that tens if not hundreds of thousands of lives have been saved since the laws requiring seatbelts were enacted. Likewise for food safety, and more.
Kennedy’s basic four principles can be seen in effect in today’s consumer protections from deceptive advertising, unfair business practices, fraud and unsafe products.
What do you recall of the days when there was little in the way of informative food labeling, wild advertising claims went unchecked, and cars did not have seatbelts, boomers?
Time marches on, and many people we knew as household names have passed away, now to be left to history. How many of these people who left us in 2021 had any influence, positive or negative, in your life, boomers?
January 22: Henry (Hank) Aaron, born February 5, 1934. After playing in the last Negro League World Series in 1952, Aaron was signed to the Milwaukee Braves farm team. In 1954 he got called up to the Major Leagues. In 1956, he won his first batting title and was National League MVP in 1957. He broke Babe Ruth’s long-standing home run record on April 8, 1973. He finished his career in 1976 with 755 home runs, a record that stood until Barry Bonds broke it in 2007.
FEBRUARY February 8: Mary Wilson, born March 6, 1944. Mary was one of the founding members of The Supremes, from 1961-70, when Diana Ross left the group for a solo career. The group reformed as the New Supremes and had additional hits in the early 1970s.
MARCH March 9: Roger Mudd, born February 9, 1928. He was the weekend and weekday substitute anchor for Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News in the 1960s. When CBS gave the slot to Dan Rather, he moved to NBC, co-anchoring with Tom Brokaw until being named a host of Meet the Press.
March 30: G. Gordon Liddy, born November 30, 1930. In 1971, he became the White House Staff Assistant to the President of the United States (Richard Nixon). In 1972, he took the position of General Counsel of the Republican presidential campaign and the campaign finance committee. As the mastermind of the Watergate break-in and subsequent cover-up, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 1973. Jimmy Carter released him after five years.
APRIL April 19: Walter Mondale, born January 5, 1928. Mondale was a U.S. Senator from Minnesota from 1964-76, then the Vice President of the United States under Jimmy Carter from 1977-81. He became the Democratic nominee in the 1984 presidential election, losing to Ronald Reagan.
April 28: Michael Collins, born October 31, 1930. Collins was an Air Force test pilot selected for the third group of NASA astronauts in 1963. His first space flight was as the pilot of Gemini 10 in 1966. Nonetheless, he will forever be remembered as the pilot who kept Apollo 11 in orbit as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took the lunar lander to the surface of the moon, conducting the first moon walks.
April 29: Johnny Crawford, born March 26, 1946. Johnny was best known to boomers as one of the original Mouseketeers (1955), and as Marcus McCain, son to Chuck Norris’ Lucas McCain on the TV Western, The Rifleman (1958-63).
MAY May 29: B.J. Thomas, born August 7, 1942. He is best known by boomers for such hits as Hooked on a Feeling (1968), I Just Can’t Stop Believing (1970) and Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head (1969) from the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid movie.
JUNE June 4: Clarence Williams III, born on August 21, 1939. In the TV cop series Mod Squad (1968), he played Linc Hayes, a former delinquent who became a cool undercover cop, sporting an Afro and all manner of 1960s fashion.
June 4: Richard Ernst, born August 14, 1933. Ernst was a chemist who won a Nobel prize in 1991, for his work on nuclear magnetic resonance that led to the development of the MRI.
June 29: Donald Rumsfeld, born July 9, 1932. Rumsfeld was U.S. Secretary of Defense under President Gerald Ford (1975-1977), then again for President George W. Bush (2001-2006).
JULY July 28: Ron Popeil, born May 3, 1935. A prolific inventor and TV pitchman, Popeil is credited with creating the first TV infomercial and the ubiquitous phrase, “but wait… there’s more!” Early in the 1950s he took his product pitches to TV, and became a fixture on TV throughout the Boomer Era. Boomers will recall commercials for the Pocket Fisherman, Ronco Chop-O-Matic, Hair in a Can Spray, and many others.
AUGUST August 7: Jane Withers, born April 12, 1926. Known for numerous child actor roles from the 1930s and 40s, but boomers will probably remember her best as Josephine the Plumber in Comet Cleanser TV commercials (1963-74).
August 29: Ed Asner, born November 15, 1929. An actor boomers will recall seeing in his many guest appearances on TV shows like The Untouchables (1959), Route 66 (1960), The Fugitive (1963), Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964), and The Invaders (1967). His Lou Grant news editor character began on The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970), then the character was given his own spinoff show, Lou Grant (1977-82).
August 24: Charlie Watts, born June 2, 1941. He was the drummer for The Rolling Stones from 1962 until his death.
SEPTEMBER September 4: Willard Scott born March 7, 1934. Scott played Bozo the Clown on TV (1959-62), then became the first Ronald McDonald for McDonald’s (1963-65; the character was called Donald McDonald then). In the 1980s he became known for wishing people who had reached the age of 100 a Happy Birthday on NBC’s The Today Show when he presented the national weather forecast. Mister B recalls watching Bozo on TV.
September 14: Reuben Klamer, born June 20, 1922. Klamer was the co-inventor of The Game of Life (1960). Milton Bradley invented the game in 1860, but boomers will recall playing the board game version engineered by Reuben Klamer one hundred years later. The game is still around, but has undergone multiple revisions since 1960. Mister Boomer’s sister used to like playing it.
September 28: Tommy Kirk, born December 10, 1941. In 1955 he became a member of The Mickey Mouse Club and appeared in many Disney movies during the 1950s and ’60s. Included in his string of boomer-memorable films were: Old Yeller (1957), The Shaggy Dog (1959), Swiss Family Robinson (1960), The Absent Minded Professor (1961), and Son of Flubber (1963), among others.
OCTOBER October 16: Betty Ann Lynn, born August 29, 1926. She is best remembered as Thelma Lou, the girlfriend to Barney Fife (Don Knotts) on The Andy Griffith Show (1961-66).
October 22: Jay Black, born on November 2, 1938. As lead singer for Jay and the Americans, boomers will remember his impressive voice and many hits, including, Come a Little Bit Closer (1964), Cara Mia (1965), and This Magic Moment (1969). The band split in 1973, but Jay continued to perform as Jay and the Americans well into the 2000s.
October 26: Mort Sahl, born May 11, 1927. Mort was a satirist and comedian called part of a new breed of comics when he entered the scene in 1960. He became the first entertainer to be featured in the cover of Time magazine.
NOVEMBER November 11: Graeme Edge, born on March 30, 1941. A co-founder and drummer of The Moody Blues, Edge was a poet, musician and songwriter. He was a Hall of Fame drummer who also contributed spoken phrases on Nights in White Satin (1967). Mister B had a chance to see The Moody Blues live in 1973.
November 13: Philip Margo, born April 1, 1942. Margo became famous for his vocals with The Tokens on the hit, The Lion Sleeps Tonight (1961).
November 21: Mick Rock (Michael Smith), born November 28, 1948. Mick was a photographer who captured memorable images of practically every rock band of the 1970s, including David Bowie, The Ramones, the Sex Pistols, Talking Heads, Roxy Music, Queen, and Blondie, to name a few.
DECEMBER December 2: Richard Cole, born January 2, 1946. Cole was the tour manager of Led Zeppelin from 1968-80.
December 5: Robert (Bob) Dole, born July 22, 1923. Dole was a war hero who was left with a severely injured arm in World War II. He was a representative from Kansas in the U.S. House of Representatives (1961-69), and a Senator (1969-96). He became the Republican nominee for president in 1996, losing to Bill Clinton.
December 9: Alfred (Al) Unser, born May 29, 1939. Unser, part of a race car driver dynasty, was only one of five men to win the Indianapolis 500 four times. His brother Bobby, also a champion race car driver, died on May 2, 2021. Mister Boomer’s father used to listen to the Indy race on a transistor radio when the family went on Memorial Day picnics.
December 9: Lina Wertmueller, born August 14, 1928. She was a film director and screenwriter of 1970s classics, such as Swept Away (1974) and Seven Beauties (1975).
December 10: Michael Nesmith, born December 30, 1942. Most boomers know he was the goofy guy in the knit cap in The Monkees, and his mother invented White Out. But he was also an accomplished songwriter, having penned Different Drum (1964), which became a hit for Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys in 1967.
December 14: Ken Kragen, born on November 24, 1936. Kragen was the executive producer for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (1968-69), The Pat Paulsen’s Half a Comedy Hour (1970) and the producer of the TV movie, Pat Paulsen for President (1968) among many, many others. He was, for a while, the manager for The Smothers Brothers, as well as Pat Paulsen and Lionel Ritchie. There probably aren’t many boomers who have not seen some of his work. In 1985, he helped organize the We Are the World benefit record.
December 15: bell hooks (Gloria Jean Watkins), born September 25, 1952. A true boomer, hooks was a feminist author, social activist and professor. She explored the connections between race, gender and class.
December 19: Sally Ann Howes, born July 20, 1930. She will best be remembered for her role in the film, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) starring opposite Dick Van Dyke.
December 31: Betty White, born January 17, 1922. She wasn’t a boomer, but became a boomer favorite from her roles on TV programs, from The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970) to Golden Girls (1985) and beyond. But many boomers do not know she was the first woman to co-produce a sitcom, in which she also starred, called Life With Elizabeth (1953-55). The show presented three “sketches” in each episode of the life of a married suburban couple, introduced by a narrator.
The cultural impact this group of people had on the Boomer Generation is enormous, and of course, there were many, many others. Which 2021 passing struck you in particular, boomers?