A Brief History
On June 27, 1985, US Route 66, known as “The Main Street of America,” was officially taken off the list of US highways. Established in 1926, it was the main road from Chicago to Los Angeles (Santa Monica). Spawning a hit song (by Nat “King” Cole) and a hit television series, this route was the American highway, at least until superseded by the Interstate Highway System. It survives (barely) today in pieces as “State Route 66” in some states and as stretches of a “National Scenic Byway.” We previously discussed “10 Iconic American Things You Do Not See Anymore” and followed that article up with “10 More Iconic American Things You Do Not See Anymore” and today we add another 10 of these lost American icons. What would you add to these lists? (Yeah, we know some of these things still exist, but you hardly ever see them anymore, especially not in the numbers or frequency you used to see them.)
- Civil Defense Fallout Shelters
Back in the day (1950’s, 1960’s and beyond), you would see little metal signs indicating some public place or another, a gym, a school, a church hall or the like, was designated as a “fallout shelter” for Americans to seek refuge in case of nuclear war. Not only were these places supposed to protect people from nuclear blast (and radioactive fallout), but they were also often equipped with canned water and food (often crackers) to feed and hydrate the survivors of a nuclear apocalypse. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War made Americans feel safe enough to no longer worry (much) about nuclear war.
- Sonic Booms
Another Cold War phenomenon, back in the early 1960’s it was common for Americans in certain cities and locations to be disturbed at night by enormous sonic booms caused by supersonic US Air Force jets pretending to “bomb” strategic locations and the jet fighters sent up to “intercept” these bombers. The sonic booms sounded like giant explosions, and if the aircraft causing the “boom” was close enough, the blast could not only wake you up, but it could also break windows and cause other damage.
- All White Television Shows
Not only were nearly all televisions back in the 1950’s and 1960’s black and white, the cast members of those television shows, even cartoons, were almost exclusively White (Caucasian or of European descent if you will). African Americans and other minorities (such as Indian/Pakistani, Asian, or Latino) characters were either totally absent or if present, portrayed in stereotypical roles. In 1968 a major change was indicated when a show called “Julia” debuted, starring Diahann Carroll putting African American television into the mainstream. Previously, “Amos ‘n’ Andy” had featured Black actors on television in 1951, but the show was criticized as being a furtherance of stereotypes and did not portray African Americans as “mainstream” Americans. Bill Cosby co-starred in the prime-time show, “I Spy” with Robert Culp (1965-1968), though it was a rare thing indeed to find any sort of prominent role on major television productions for African American actors. Likewise, local and national newscasts were delivered almost exclusively by White newscasters.
- Propeller Powered Airliners
Until the commercial debut of the iconic Boeing 707 jet liner (865 produced) in 1958, jet airliners were a rarity, mostly limited to the de Havilland Comet, which was built on in limited numbers (just over 100 copies) and debuted in 1952. The vast majority of airliners prior to the 1960’s were powered by propellers, such as the Lockheed Constellation (debut in commercial service 1945) of which 856 were built. The advent of the 707 opened the flood gates for numerous jet airliners of various sizes to take over the skies, and today you seldom see any propeller driven passenger planes except for small aircraft.
- Tie Bars, Tie Pins and cuff Links
From the 1870’s until the late 20th Century, well dressed American men had shirts that closed their sleeve ends with cuff links and ties secured to their shirts by tie bars or tie pins (also called “tie tacks”). Somehow, as dress became more casual and less formal, these small items of jewelry went by the wayside and are seldom seen anymore. One result of this fashion trend was to find medical doctors, often attired in suits with a shirt and necktie, having their necktie flopping out loosely on patients, thus potentially transferring infectious germs from patient to patient! This fact alone is good reason to bring back tie tacks of all types, not to mention the fact that such necktie accoutrements allowed for advertising whatever association the wearer wanted to portray, such as membership in club, an avocational interest, a profession, or a commercial advertisement. Other personalized tie jewelry could bear the name of the wearer or be an ostentatious display of wealth in the case of heavily jeweled items.
- Board Games
Iconic games such as Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble and the like were once a staple of every household and played by young and old alike. Modern computer-generated games have largely made these old paper and cardboard games a thing of the past, pushed back into closets and cubby holes to be brought out only in times of dire need, such as power outages. Many such games were once all the rage, such as Parcheesi, Risk, Stratego, Life, Clue and others. Even Chess and Checkers have become largely played electronically, though not always. While it is still easy to find these games for sale, it is rare to find anyone actually playing them!
- Hot Pants and Mini Skirts
Ah, the late 1960’s and early 1970’s were a golden age for exceedingly hot and sexy clothing, at least for women! Although short-shorts and tiny skirts/dresses were found throughout history in various forms, it was during the 60’s-70’s that the art form reached a high level of sophistication and widespread distribution. While you may yet see these fashion icons today, you will not see them in such general use as back in the day.
- Beehive Hairdos and Crew Cuts
Hair styles for men and women have always changed over the years, and back in the 1960’s there were a couple of distinctive styles that were pervasive American standards that made the era distinct, including the crew cut sported by sports icons (think NFL’s Johnny Unitas)and astronauts and the “beehive” up-do for women. Did you know the “crew-cut” got its name from way back in 1927 when college rowing crews sported the short male haircut to keep their hair from blowing in their eyes during competition? World War II saw nearly 10 million American men in uniform, all of whom had to have short hair cuts, which popularized the crew cut (or “brush cut,” “butch cut” or other names, including wax to make the hair on top stand up). Supposedly invented in 1960, the beehive hair style was made famous by the super “girl group, The Ronettes, an iconic 1960’s rock group that toured with the Beatles. Yes, you will still see such hair styles sported by some famous entertainers (Adele, the late Amy Winehouse and others), but not in widespread general use by everyday people. The increasingly long hair styles for men in the late 1960’s and into the 1970’s just about eliminated the crew cut, though of course in more recent years men and boys wearing short hair has made a major comeback, although the waxed “brush cut” style of crew cut is rarely seen today.
- Full-Service Gas Stations with attendants in uniform
While New Jersey and Oregon are the exceptions, the rest of the United States responded to the 1973 “Arab Oil Embargo” (due to the 1973 Arab-Israeli War and American support for Israel) by trying to mitigate rising gasoline prices by eliminating gas station service attendants and forcing drivers to pump their own gas, presumably saving a few cents per gallon of gas. Prior to this sign of the collapse of American society, gas stations were staffed by attentive attendants that would not only cheerfully pump your gasoline for you, they served as mobile cash registers right at your car’s driver window and performed complimentary tasks such as checking your oil and water level, topping off your window washer fluid, and cleaning your windshield. Not only did they perform all these nice things for you, they were often attired in uniforms with bow ties and sometimes even police style 6 point hats!
- Movie Double Features
By reading our website you should be aware that we are movie fans and often review films as they debut, sometimes even seeing upcoming films at exclusive preview events. As movie fans, we mourn the passing of common double feature movie presentation that were common in the 1950’ and 1960’s (and maybe even before then, but we were not around), a treat that became a hallmark of Drive-In movies and no longer regular theaters by the 1970’s (though you could rarely still find the occasional double feature, usually old movies). Today, you will virtually never find a double feature with current movies at any normal sit-down theater, though you may still find vintage classic films offered in such combinations. If you can find a Drive-In theater still open, you may find double features offered, but usually not first run mainstream films. Much like double-header baseball games, double feature movies were a great entertainment value and often featured a cartoon or other short film between the main movies during the “intermission” in which movie goers would load up on popcorn and other treats, making the double feature financially feasible for the theater owners. For that matter, movies used to have either a cartoon or 2, or other short film sometimes called a “featurette” (such as ones touting various vacation destinations) shown before the main movie, instead of the horrible infliction of commercial advertisements we see before movies nowadays. Not all change is for the better!
Question for students (and subscribers): What former icons of American life do you miss most? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Moss, Gilbert. Remember This?: People, Things and Events from 1942 to the Present Day. Milestone Memories Press, 2021.
Phoenix, Charles. Addicted to Americana: Celebrating Classic & Kitschy American Life & Style. Prospect Park Books, 2017.