1963 at 50
December 1, 2013 5:03 AM   Subscribe

Now that we've gotten past the 50th anniversaries of the JFK Assassination and Doctor Who, it's worthwhile to look at some OTHER important things that happened near the end of 1963, like the creation of the first "smiley face", the publication of Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are", and a paper by Kenneth J. Arrow, professor of economics at Stanford University, which "founded the field of health care economics" (coming to a conclusion that well-funded Economists still deny today). From one of the best time-capsule blogs on the web: The '60s At 50.

Also turning 50 recently...
Push-button Telephones,
Valium,
Beatlemania (in the UK, they hadn't hit the USofA yet) (previously and related),
Misterogers (Fred's first show, pre-Neighborhood) (previously),
"Nightmare at 50,000 Feet" with William Shatner (Twilight Zone previously),
'Report of the President's Commission on the Status of Women',
Linus Pauling's Nobel Peace Prize
and so much more... The '60s at 50 goes back to January 1960 (posted January 2010) and will have so much more to come... because, you know, THE '60S!
posted by oneswellfoop (35 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 


ooh! another health care thing to read! very cool.
posted by sio42 at 5:46 AM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Push-button Telephones,

One of the phones in my house perished quietly last summer and I needed to pick up a replacement. I was mulling over forking out another $39.95 for the same style of phone again when at a yard sale I picked up a 1960s-era 2500-series Touchtone handset for two bucks. It is surprising yet somehow not that a piece of technology older than I am is still working just fine while its many-generations-removed successors conk out after eighteen months.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:12 AM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


It is surprising yet somehow not that a piece of technology older than I am is still working just fine while its many-generations-removed successors conk out after eighteen months.

Two words.
Western.
Electric.

posted by Thorzdad at 6:18 AM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I still have a phone of my Grandmother's that says on the bottom, "Property of Western Electric. Not for Sale". In 1963 (and any time before the '80s), you didn't actually own your own phone, you just rented it from Ma Bell.
posted by octothorpe at 6:36 AM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I still have a phone of my Grandmother's that says on the bottom, "Property of Western Electric. Not for Sale". In 1963 (and any time before the '80s), you didn't actually own your own phone, you just rented it from Ma Bell.

Strange. I never knew that. Sort of like cable companies do with cable boxes today.
posted by Jacob Knitig at 7:34 AM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not only that, but it was illegal to connect anything to your phone jack that wasn't owned by the phone company, because it was all their property. This meant the only modems which could be used without paying the phone company a special fee were those acoustic coupled ones with two holes to accept the mic and speaker ends of the receiver. That scheme worked pretty well though because nearly all phones were of the same design.
posted by localroger at 7:58 AM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


The smiley face predated 1963. This was how kindergarten teachers at least from the 1950's graded the work of students who didn't yet know the difference between A and B and C and D and F.


They drew a smiley face or a neutral face or a frown face on the front of the work. When I was a kindergartner they had progressed to gold, silver, copper foil paste stars.

:)
posted by bukvich at 8:17 AM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


My folks were still using their British Telecom rotary dial phone well into the 80's before BT swapped it out for a push button phone. I kind of miss that period, there was a gravitas associated with using that phone. These days, mobiles with their directories have ruined me of the ability to remember phone numbers.
posted by arcticseal at 8:17 AM on December 1, 2013


Also in the spirit of the 1960's fifty years ago today Bureau of Public Secrets (webmaster has a metafilter userid) is publishing Kenneth Rexroth's newspaper columns every month.

Example Rexroth's columns November 1963.
posted by bukvich at 8:22 AM on December 1, 2013


It is surprising yet somehow not that a piece of technology older than I am is still working just fine while its many-generations-removed successors conk out after eighteen months.

Survivor bias.

Out of all the telephones placed into service in 1963, what percentage of them do you think are still in active service today? I'd be stunned if the answer is more than a couple of percent.
posted by Hatashran at 8:26 AM on December 1, 2013


They might not be in active service but a vast majority of them would still work if you plugged them in today. Back then dropping the phone on the floor might mean that you dented the floor but almost never that you broke the phone.
posted by octothorpe at 8:37 AM on December 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


Back then dropping the phone on the floor might mean that you dented the floor but almost never that you broke the phone

" I just want to say one word to you. Just one word...... Plastics."

Whoever thought it was a good idea to make phones out of glass understood the concept of planned obsolescence better than the auto companies.
posted by HuronBob at 8:45 AM on December 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


It is surprising yet somehow not that a piece of technology older than I am is still working just fine while its many-generations-removed successors conk out after eighteen months.

I bought my house back in 1985, and it came with a Western Electric 554 on the kitchen wall. (Just like the one in Don Draper's kitchen, as it happens....)

Not only does it still work just fine over 28 years later, I fully expect it to outlive me.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 8:57 AM on December 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Old phones lasted because the monopoly telco owned them and had a vested interest in not replacing them. When the monopoly was broken, ownership transferred to the individual. Having you replace your phone frequently is very much in the interest of manufacturers.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:00 AM on December 1, 2013 [12 favorites]


These days, mobiles with their directories have ruined me of the ability to remember phone numbers.

It's not just directories.

I consciously decided *not* to use my phone's contacts directory specifically so that I'd keep more numbers in my memory. So I have this 3x5 in my wallet I use to keep numbers in, and then those I use the most end up memorized.

I didn't anticipate how laziness + the call log feature of my phone would impact me over time, though. There are numbers I should know that I've never even written down because they're usually in the call log. Or in recent text messages.
posted by weston at 9:10 AM on December 1, 2013


> I still have a phone of my Grandmother's that says on the bottom, "Property of Western Electric. Not for Sale". In 1963 (and any time before the '80s), you didn't actually own your own phone, you just rented it from Ma Bell.

Just checking my model 500, it has a small sticker saying "Property of Pacific Tel. Co. NOT FOR SALE", in addition to something similar being stamped into the thick metallic base. The stamping is covered by sticker saying

Sold by: Pacific Telephone
Purchase date: Nov 23 1982

Knowing my Dad, that was probably not the first date you were allowed to purchase your phone, but rather the last date you could still rent it from the phone company.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:43 AM on December 1, 2013


As someone who was born in 1963, I'm finding the constant reminder of all of the other things that are also 50 years old rather disturbing.
posted by doctor_negative at 9:53 AM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


benito.strauss: you're not cynical enough. My grandmother was still renting her wall-mounted phone from Verizon (née GTE) when she passed away in 2000.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:53 AM on December 1, 2013


Me! ME!! I'm 50 this year!
posted by briank at 9:53 AM on December 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


entropic, where did you Grandmother live? My Dad's in Southern California and I could swear there came a time, probably in the 80s, when they no longer wanted to be in the home equipment rental business and stopped. Maybe they just jacked the prices way up to drive the late adopters to private ownership, but kept a rump service for the really change-averse who were willing to pay ridiculous prices.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:04 AM on December 1, 2013


She lived in SoCal, towards the desert. According to this, there were STILL people renting Bell System phones as late as 2004. It actually looks like your old man bought the phone as soon as he could!
posted by entropicamericana at 10:18 AM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


In 1963 (and any time before the '80s), you didn't actually own your own phone, you just rented it from Ma Bell.


Oh yes, and you paid for that phone so many times over in rent, you ought to own stock in the company.
posted by BlueHorse at 11:37 AM on December 1, 2013


I recall a lot of people were annoyed at the idea of actually buying their phone. One of the things that went along with that old regulatory regime was that the phone company also owned and was responsible for the wiring, too — they were responsible for the whole thing. They had to fix it when anything didn't work. You couldn't buy your own phone and you weren't supposed to do your own phone wiring, either. But the benefit was that they had to just make things work, period. When all this changed, suddenly the phone company was offering people service contracts for their home phone wiring and otherwise saying that they weren't responsible for it. This upset people.

It was really actually pretty interesting and amazing to live through the breakup of AT&T and then the subsequent deregulation of the telcos and sudden competition for hardware, long-distance service, and pay-phones. Things changed rapidly and mostly in good ways. I doubt that younger people have any idea just how expensive long-distance phone calls used to be.

The negatives were that a whole bunch of different things became much less reliable.

Those old rotary dial phones were quite reliable not just because the phone company wanted them to last, but also because they were very simple. They didn't include any real electronics — a transformer and an electromagnet for the bell ringer, a small speaker and a variable resistor for the handset, and a spring switch for the hook. That leaves the sprung rotary dial with their intermittent contacts, probably the most likely part to mechanically fail. Maybe the hook switch. None of the electrical parts are likely to fail, absent something like a lightning strike. Tone dialing is more complicated, but you just need seven different particular oscillators and a bunch of contact switches.

Phones are very simple.

I just turned 49, so next year's my fiftieth. Interesting things happened in '64, too. Last night, apparently completely randomly as I was watching a science-y YouTube video, it recommended to me some Australian documentary on Bewitched from the late nineties. (I had no idea that Aussies watched Bewitched. Weird.) It premiered in 1964, which I didn't realize, had eight seasons and then lived on in syndicated re-runs, which explains my heretofore deep connection to the show and Elizabeth Montgomery and "Tabitha". I mean, seriously, I watched this documentary feeling this incredibly strong feeling of familiarity and even comfort. It was a little unnerving.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:51 PM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I recall a lot of people were annoyed at the idea of actually buying their phone.

Yes, I seem to recall people having the same reaction, and I think "annoyed" is even being a little generous. I don't remember how much they cost, but you couldn't just go to a discount store to buy a cheap phone, you had to go to The Phone Company Store.
posted by Room 641-A at 1:01 PM on December 1, 2013


Hunh, we were trend setters. That's surprising.

And it is amazing how much the culture around phones has changed. I'd love to see a movie set in the 70s where the Dad says "Okay kids, Mom's going to make a long-distance call now, so turn off the TV and keep your voices down." I assume anyone under 30 would just think "WTF?".
posted by benito.strauss at 2:46 PM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'd love to see a movie set in the 70s where the Dad says "Okay kids, Mom's going to make a long-distance call now, so turn off the TV and keep your voices down." I assume anyone under 30 would just think "WTF?".

My family kept a small hourglass (a one-minute egg timer) next to the telephone so we could time our long-distance calls.

And in your example, I'm wondering if the Dad would have dialled the call and then handed the phone to Mom. ("Mom" would be the parent more likely to deal with the children, too....)
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 3:18 PM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh yeah, long distance calls were a big deal and only to be made on holidays or emergencies.
posted by octothorpe at 3:45 PM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Haha, that's even more fitting with the cliche of the times, where women didn't deal with technology and men didn't communicate. Of course it wasn't the reality of the time, but I don't think that model even exists as a joke these days.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:48 PM on December 1, 2013


Out of all the telephones placed into service in 1963, what percentage of them do you think are still in active service today? I'd be stunned if the answer is more than a couple of percent.

I suspect a a larger number of potentially functional ones are buried in landfills. Any discussion on the blue of e-books or online shopping or computer hardware or DVRs or anything technological will reveal a lot of people who prefer Thursday to Wednesday because it is Thursday. I have little doubt that this has been the case for decades. Just yesterday my cell carrier called me to ask why I was still using that old iPhone 4 when I could upgrade to an iPhone 5; my answer that "it still works" seemed to unsatisfactory as a rationale for not junking a phone I bought three years ago last month.

Anyway, as others have said above, phone companies had a business interest in making the things endure. My in-laws have two cottages side by side; they spend the summer in one, and rent the other out to weekly vacationers. My father-in-law is retired from the phone company, but knew what strings to pull so that both cottages are to this day on the party line he installed in 1967, and both use the rotary dial 500-series telephones he put in then. The best part is that because the party line rings at both places, the weekly tenants are told not to answer if it rings, but the owners (my in-laws) will alert them from next door if it is for them. How do they do that? With the intercom, of course: two of these.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:44 PM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


The best part is that because the party line rings at both places, the weekly tenants are told not to answer if it rings, but the owners (my in-laws) will alert them from next door if it is for them. How do they do that? With the intercom, of course: two of these.

Goddamn hipsters ;)
posted by crossoverman at 5:52 PM on December 1, 2013


Comedian David Brenner had a great bit about being stuck on the phone with someone. He said what he would do is hang up on himself and then leave the phone off the hook. "I don't what happened -- we must have been disconnected. I tried calling you back but the line was busy." "Oh, I was trying to call you back!"

That double busy signal was usually so annoying but his trick definitely worked!
posted by Room 641-A at 7:05 PM on December 1, 2013


Old phones lasted because the monopoly telco owned them and had a vested interest in not replacing them.

I wish this attitude spread to public roadways in the US.
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:16 PM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Re the telephones: in about '65 they were showing telephones that you could shove a plastic card (credit size) into and the phone would dial the number on the card. I can guess why that probably didn't take off - but phones with memory were still a decade off.

That's also the era of the plastic R-45 modular connector (with the gold 'fingers' in it) ... before then you needed a screwdriver and a half-hour to connect a phone. IF you got the colors right.

Oh, and attention collectors: those old desktop touch-tones are VERY hard to find.
posted by Twang at 7:32 PM on December 1, 2013


The death of Aldous Huxley, hopped up on LSD.

Mr. Huxley had every right. The Perennial Philosophy and The Doors of Perception are two of the seminal works of not just that era, but of any era. Watts was a footnote to Huxley.
posted by Twang at 7:45 PM on December 1, 2013


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