Boomer Summers: How Moms Treated Scrapes and Cuts

Summer is here, and kids are out of school and ready to hit the video games for a day of indoor, air-conditioned play. This was hardly the case in our boomer youth; of course, video games had yet to be invented, but for us, summer was synonymous with outdoor play.

Each summer day, shortly after the sun came up, and certainly by seven or seven-thirty in the morning, Mister Boomer and his siblings would get out of bed and fix themselves bowls of their favorite sugary cereal. Their mother, having awakened hours earlier to make their father’s breakfast before he headed to work by six-thirty, had returned to bed and remained sound asleep.

The kids, heading out the front door, left it as it had been all night — open to allow the cool evening air to circulate through the screen door. They proceeded to meet up with other boomer kids on the block, of varying ages. Usually the girls would split off on their own to revel in a world of Barbies and tea parties, but occasionally some would join the boys in explorations of streets, fields and forests, as they picked up stray bits of wood, twigs, rocks, dirt balls, insects and garter snakes along the way.

Sometimes the play would stay on the block, with bike riding that inevitably turned to dares of maneuvers with varying degrees of questionable safety: riding no-hands, standing on one pedal, jumping off as the bike crashed into a neighbor’s tree.

Since boys will be boys, there were bound to be bruises, cuts and scrapes. Whether they were self-inflicted from falls or jackass stupidity, or at the hand of a neighbor via a spur-of-the-moment projectile or weapon, there was blood. Rarely did the condition warrant a doctor’s attention. More often than not, a quick pit stop back home would suffice as the Emergency Room of Summer.

At the home front, moms would take the nearest cloth — a dish cloth, dish towel or bathroom washcloth — and wipe the wounded area. Then, reaching into the bathroom medicine cabinet, the family’s bottle of Mercurochrome would be taken out. Just the name alone said “this is real medicine.” It was funny stuff. A bright, red-orange liquid kept in a small, brown bottle, it was topped with a cap that contained a glass stick applicator. The kids cringed as the liquid was spread across the affected area, though it did not sting. It left a reddish patch surrounding the wound as it dried; a Red Badge of Courage in the Battles of Summer. Like a race car driver that finished getting a new set of tires, just like that the kids were out the door and ready to finish the day’s race in record time.

Little did we know that Mercurochrome, the trade name for merbromin, was not a miracle mystery cure, but a topical antiseptic. Unlike iodine, which we sometimes confused it with, Mercurochrome did not contain alcohol and therefore our initial cringes were calmed when the sting that iodine delivered did not follow its application. What it did contain was mercury, which ultimately led to its undoing.

Mercurochrome
Mercurochrome was the trade name for merbromin. Photo attributed to Kevin Vreeland; Some rights reserved. For information on licensing, visit Creative Commons:http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/deed.en



Like many drugs present in our early boomer years, merbromin had been in use for decades. Discovered in 1919, it was developed for public consumption by the Baltimore firm of Hynson, Westcott & Dunning. As a topical antiseptic, it was used to treat small cuts and scrapes through the Depression years, World War II and into the prime boomer years of the 1950s and ’60s.

In 1978, the Federal Food and Drug Administration conducted a review of over-the-counter medication, including mercury-based compounds like merbromin. There had never been a study linking the mercury-based compounds to any injuries or deaths, but some subsequent studies have suggested possible links for mercury-based compounds to a number of illnesses, including autism in children. By 1998, the FDA had concluded that merbromin — Mercurochrome — was “not generally recognized as safe and effective.” As a result, the sale of all forms of merbromin was forbidden across state lines. Thus the reign of this topical antiseptic of our youth had unceremoniously ended.

What boomer memory is conjured up for you when you hear the word, Mercurochrome?

Boomers’ Cars Breezed Along … Without Air Conditioning

As we approach another summer season, Mister Boomer was reminded by a recent conversation about how he and the neighborhood teens would describe the air conditioning in their cars. Some semblance of naming the vehicle make and model followed by “460” was cleverly voiced to describe the model number of the cooling unit (i.e., Ford Fairlane 460). What they were actually saying was, “four windows down at 60 miles per hour.” Of course, that meant turning the hand-cranks to open each of the windows before getting underway. It would be decades before power windows became standard equipment. In other words, when it came to air conditioning in cars, Mister B’s boomer-hood didn’t have it.

Car air conditioning was first seen in a 1939 Packard, but it really began in earnest when the Packard Motor Company offered factory-equipped air conditioning in some of their 1940 models. It consisted of a compressor stored in the trunk that circulated cooled air through tubes inside the car.

Though the timing would make car air conditioning a pre-boomer invention, lower-priced cars aimed at growing families didn’t feature air conditioning as a selling point until the prime boomer years of the 1950s. By 1953, Chrysler presented its Airtemp air conditioning system. It took Ford until 1956 before air conditioning was an option on most models. When the mid-50s rolled around, every auto manufacturer was offering air conditioning as an option on some, if not all, of its models.


Looking to increase their market share alongside Ford, Chrysler and GM, the American Motors Rambler was often associated with the most inexpensive cars available. Unfortunately, it was also considered among the ugliest. By 1958, the top-of-the-line Rambler Ambassador gave air conditioning as a standard feature to help differentiate it from its higher-priced competitors.


DeSoto was introduced by Chrysler in 1929, and sales continued until the disruption of auto manufacturing during World War II. After the war, Chrysler picked up where they left off, and several DeSoto models continued to sell until the recession of 1958. After a precipitous drop in sales that year, the brand never recovered and was dissolved by Chrysler less than two months after they introduced the 1961 models. DeSoto was yet another car model that disappeared in early boomer years, though many recall riding in them with parents or grandparents.

For Mister Boomer, air conditioning wasn’t present in any of his family’s cars until the 1970s. In fact, none of the neighborhood kids had air conditioning in their family cars either, except one. A family living near the Boomer household had a penchant for buying used Cadillacs. Mister Boomer had the occasional ride in their cars, marveling at the power windows and air conditioning while at the same time preferring the windows open since the father of the boomer neighbor liked to smoke cigars in his Cadillac. Car air conditioning in the 1960s may have cooled the air, but it wasn’t a good filter for cigar or cigarette smoke.

In Midwest car culture, most teens had their own vehicles between the ages of sixteen and eighteen. The very nature of buying inexpensive wheels meant teen boomers went for the most style available for the money instead of luxuries such as air conditioning. For Mister B, air conditioning controls never graced the all-metal dashboards of his early-years cars. Even when he was able to purchase his first new car years after college in the late 1970s, he did not equip it with air conditioning. The 460 model had been good enough for him for decades.

What car air conditioning memories come to mind for you, boomers? When was the first time you rode in an air conditioned car?