A Brief History
On July 31, 1970, the British Royal Navy experienced one of the darkest days in their long and glorious history, Black Tot Day. This episode was the last day the Royal Navy would follow the long tradition of supplying a daily drink of rum to their sailors. We first brought up this terrible turn of events in our article “10 Traditional Parts of Life That No Longer Exist (Or Barely!)” We have also touched on other articles that marveled at the things we did not have when this author was a lad, some of which may surprise the reader, especially the younger readers. Today we intend to add to the long list of seemingly taken for granted things today that were not around in the latter half of the 1950’s. As always, please nominate your own items for inclusion on this list. (By the way, there was no Walmart before 1970, although its predecessor, Waltons, did exist.)
1. Starbucks Coffee, 1971.
Coffee used to be pretty bad, and this cowboy grew up drinking coffee so you can believe me. (My parents let us get coffee in restaurants because they had free refills, whereas soda pop did not.) People did not notice so much about the poor quality of coffee since cream and sugar were regularly added to the brew. Once coffee shops started producing better quality coffee and many more people started drinking black coffee, the quality of the grind became enormously evident. Starbucks started selling a better quality coffee and other giant retailers of the black gold such as McDonalds were forced to up their game and improve their brew. Even gas stations today are selling far better coffee than was commonly sold in the 1970’s.
2. Roe v. Wade, 1973.
Abortions were once the back alley underground type of surgery that resulted in all sorts of deaths and terrible medical problems because many states had laws against abortion. The Supreme Court of the United States changed all that, and opponents of abortion have been trying ever since to roll back that epic ruling. In fact, today we still see herculean efforts to greatly limit accessibility to abortion or flat out ban the practice.
3. 18 Year Old voting age, 1972.
Following the motto, “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote,” Americans and much of the rest of the democratic world got on board the same train that took us to teenagers voting. Why did it not occur to people that if it was only fair that draftees should be able to vote (or buy a drink) at less than 21 years old, we could make an exception for them, and not have to treat ALL 18, 19, and 20 year olds the same? Well, the 18 year old drinking age came and went, but it looks like the 18 year old voting age is here to stay.
4. Nike Sporting Goods and Shoes, 1971.
What became Nike started out as Blue Ribbon Sports in 1964, and changed to Nike in 1971. Today, they sell over $36 billion (with a “B”) worth of shoes, sox, shirts, shorts, uniforms and other sports related items and clothing. We were darn lucky as kids if we got a pair of Keds or Red Ball Jets instead of cheap imitations. In fact, normal people could not buy actual running shoes. “Tennis shoes” and “Basketball Shoes” were the “sneakers” of the day and the myriad of specialty shoes did not exist, especially by designer brands such as Adidas, Reebok (1958 in England), New Balance (prior to 1960 they made arch supports before branching out into dedicated running shoes) and Puma. (Puma and Adidas were formed in 1949 but were not an American presence at the local department store or dimestore.) It may be hard to believe, but back in the 1950’s and1960’s the thought of paying hundreds of dollars for gym shoes would have been unthinkable.
5. Buffalo Wings, 1964.
Wow, it is hard to imagine life without Buffalo Wings! In fact, we wrote an article about this wonderful gustatory treat just a couple days ago (“Today is National Chicken Wing Day,” July 29, 2020) Although chicken wings can be enjoyed prepared in dozens of different ways, basically any way chicken can be prepared, even soup, we are really talking about deep fried chicken wings with the “Buffalo Wing” variety being the standard bearer of this iconic American food. Allegedly the legend began at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, in 1964, a shockingly recent invention when this author thinks, “Hey, I was born well before Buffalo wings existed!” What a scary thought… Yes, Major Dan and Dr. Zar have made the pilgrimage to the Anchor Bar and enjoyed the real thing in its own birthplace, and if you are wondering, the wings were great. About 25 billion wings are gobbled by Americans each year. And to think, not that long ago Buffalo Wings were not a thing!
6. Racially Integrated Colleges and college sports, 1964.
Although the US Supreme Court Case, Brown v. Board of Education 1954 did away with the concept of “separate, but equal” regarding school segregation according to race, colleges and universities lagged behind primary and high schools in racially de-segregating in the United States. Some significant Southern US institutions of higher learning steadfastly remained All White, and that meant their sports teams as well. (Can you imagine powerhouse football teams such as Alabama without a single African American player? That is the way it was!) Some of the schools listed by the dates they were integrated follow: Georgia-1961, Georgia Tech-1961, Mississippi-1962, Alabama-1963, LSU-1964 (Note: LSU did have a few Black students during the 1950’s, but only 1 at a time. Not until 1964 did they “integrate” with an influx of 6 African American students!) Not until 1972 did every Southeast Conference college football team have African American players on their rosters! In the 1950’s and1early 1960’s many colleges and universities refused to play against racially integrated sports teams from other schools.
7. Popeye’s Chicken, 1972.
If you though Popeye’s was even younger, it is because they started out as “Chicken on the Run.” Founded in Arabi, Louisiana, it is hard to believe they only have a bit over 3100 locations. Hard to believe because POPEYE’S CHICKEN IS THE BEST. At least it is according to my highly refined chicken eating taste buds. Sure, this author also eats KFC chicken, but how does KFC rate over 22,600 locations compared to Popeye’s measly 3100? Seriously, Popeye’s is waaaayyyy better. (By the way, Church’s Chicken is pretty darn good, too, and they have only just over 1000 locations, including restaurants in Bulgaria, Belarus, Vietnam, Thailand, Venezuela and a bunch of other you’ve got to be kidding places. Church’s has been around since 1952.)
8. Anti-lock brakes for cars, 1971.
Anti-lock brakes, also called ABS, were first dreamed up back around 1920, and over the next few decades saw some limited application on airplanes, and then motorcycles and race cars before finally hitting the consumer mass produced automobile market via Chrysler in 1971 on their Imperial line, the luxury division of Chrysler. Ford’s Lincoln division immediately got on board, as did General Motors with their “Trackmaster” system that was applied only to the rear brakes on Cadillac and Olds Toronado models. Even Toyota jumped on the ABS bandwagon in 1971 with their premium Crown model. Fiat applied the technology to a truck in 1971, and by 1976 commercial trucks could be purchased equipped with ABS. Today, we take decent brakes for granted, but back in the late 1950’s, almost all cars except sports cars had 4 wheel drum brakes with asbestos liners. Semi-metallic brake pads and 4 wheel disc brakes came much later, and for that matter, before 1960 almost all cars did not have power brakes as standard equipment, so pressing the brake pedal was A LOT harder. (By the way, so was steering with manual steering, power steering being an option. That is why steering wheels on cars and trucks used to be so big.)
9. Car stereo, 1969.
Yes, the subject of cars alone could fill many pages of how different things are today than they were before 1960. Although the first car radio debuted in 1930 (by Motorola for the Ford Model A) and the first automobile am/fm radio surfaced in 1952 (by Blaupunkt, but there was little in the way of FM radio to listen to back then), it was not until 1969 that car radios made the big jump to stereo sound (Becker’s Europa being the first). Not until 1963 was the first all-transistor car radio made, one featuring no vacuum tubes (after Chrysler found out in 1955 that nobody would pay the high price for such a radio and cancelled their version after a single year) and for that matter, radios were optional equipment on cars all the way to the 1970’s, even on makes such as Buick and Oldsmobile. When I became a police officer in 1985, we had 1985 Chevrolet police cars (Impala) that did not all have even an AM radio (none had am/fm radios). Oddly enough, this author is now totally convinced that life without satellite radio in a car is impossible. Go figure…
10. Normal relations with China, 1979.
When the Chinese communists took over mainland China in 1949 and established The Peoples Republic of China as a communist country, the US did not recognize the communists as the real legitimate rules of China and instead recognized the Nationalist Chinese on the island of Taiwan as the “real” rulers of China. In 1979, all that changed, and the US finally recognized the reality that mainland China, the world’s most populous country, was in fact, “China.” In the years since 1979, relations between the US and China grew increasingly “normalized,” and a tremendous trade relationship ensued, with the United States long reigning as the biggest economy in the world, and now with China, once a third world backwater economically, now ranking second. Trade between the 2 countries now amounts to the largest 2 country trading relationship in the world, amazing since in 1991 China accounted for only 1% of US foreign trade, but became the largest trading partner of the United States until a souring of relations in 2019 with tariffs and counter tariffs being levied by each nation resulting in a decrease in the partnership to China becoming only the third largest trading partner of the US. The world, and especially China, was incredibly different back in 1960, with Chairman Mao in charge and bizarre policies in effect in China that cost millions of lives due to starvation and mismanagement. In fact, China did not even have their first nuclear bomb until 1964. The transformation of China into an economic and industrial/manufacturing powerhouse is nothing short of remarkable, if not troubling. By some measure, the economy of China is even larger than that of the US. Hard to believe.
Bonus car stuff!
Car alarms, remote start for cars, clear coat paint, rear seat heating and cooling vents, sun/moon roofs, radial tires. all season tires, rear defrosters, electric and hybrid cars, self-serve gas stations, all-wheel drive cars, front wheel drive cars, imports from places like Korea, items such as power brakes and power steering were NOT standard, power windows and air conditioning were rarities, space saver mini-spare tires, intermittent windshield wipers, rear window wipers, pick-up truck gas tanks were in the cab behind the seat (!) and pick-ups were not made for luxury, the trailers of semi-trailer trucks were not only not 53 feet as they are today, in the 1950’s the max was 28.5 feet!
Question for students (and subscribers): What standard item exists today that did not exist when you were born? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Chandler, Adam. Drive-Thru Dreams: A Journey Through the Heart of America’s Fast-Food Kingdom. Flatiron Books, 2019.
Sutter, Robert. US-China Relations: Perilous Past, Uncertain Present. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2017.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by Kjetil Bjørnsrud of measuring out the tot on a diorama aboard HMS Belfast, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.