Thursday, December 11, 2008
1947: We Started Kindergarten 61 Years Ago
Riddle: Which building is the tallest?
1947 was a very important and interesting year. World War II was now over for a year and a half, and prosperity was returning. The shortages of the war years were slowly ending - meat, butter, cheese, sugar, rubber and gasoline, to name a few. U.S. sugar rationing ended in June, but Pres. Truman still urged meatless and eggless days to save grain for hungry Western Europe, now helped by the Marshall Plan, a US recovery act giving aid to those war-torn countries.
After the war, American factories quickly returned to producing consumer goods, and scarcity was replaced by a boom in consumer spending. This year had some of the most significant inventions for many years to come, including the transistor and the mobile phone.
61 years ago in early September, just south of Portland, Maine, a 5 year-old girl and boy walked to school for the first time. Little did they know that on the first day of school 10 years later they would meet and be together for the rest of their lives. She lived in Scarborough, and he in South Portland, a city next to Scarborough.
I was very quiet, shy, often sick, and never around any other children. I wasn't taken shopping or to visit relatives, since my grandmother lived with us and my parents left me home with her. She often took me to the Portland Public Library on the bus, and read hundreds of books to me. I learned to read by following along as she read. She had been a schoolteacher, and also taught me colors, numbers and printing before I started school.
Each year the school wanted me to skip a grade, but my parents always said no, what would she do if she graduated at 16? This worked out for the best, as I found school easy and had lots of time to be out sick. When I went back I was always ahead in my classwork, since the school let my grandmother keep my schoolbooks at home, and she taught me at my pace. We finished the year's work about mid-winter, and just reviewed for the rest of the year. I'm sure my hand was up in class more often than Hermione Granger's.
We lived about a block from the school I attended for 5 years, and it was almost in sight. My grandmother crossed me over the busy 4-lane highway in front of our house, and waited by our mailbox until I walked into the schoolyard and out of sight. I always turned and waved to her, and she was always there waving back.
I walked to school quite a distance alone every day that year. I usually took the long way home, stopping at the playground near my house, or squeezing through a broken board in the fence around the sandpit (the fence that was meant to keep kids out).
In school, I had a seat next to the window with wonderful sunshine. I liked the bright daylight and especially looking out like Calvin in the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. It reminds me of the song "The Kid":
I'm the kid who always looked out the window
Failing tests in geography.
But I've seen things
Far beyond just the schoolyard
Distant shores of exotic lands.
I'm the kid who has this habit of dreaming
Sometimes gets me in trouble too.
But the truth is
I could no more stop dreaming
Than I could make them all come true.
Here are our first report cards: S. P. stands for Sub Primary, which is what Kindergarten was called back then. X stands for 'not taught', and was not a failing mark.
Feb - Edwin Land demonstrates the first "instant camera", the Polaroid Land Camera, giving photos in 60 seconds.
April - Jackie Robinson, signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers, becomes the first African American in major league baseball. They play the Yankees this year in the first televised World Series.
July - A downed UFO is allegedly found in Roswell, New Mexico.
July - After being shut off in 1946, ENIAC, one of the world's first digital computers, is turned on after a memory upgrade. It remains in continuous operation until October, 1955.
July - President Truman gives a short speech at the Lincoln Memorial, risking his political future by declaring forcefully that the Constitution guarantees equal rights for blacks.
September - The National Security Act creates the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
October - American test pilot Chuck Yeager flies a Bell X-1 faster than the speed of sound, the first man to do so in level flight.
November - The United Nations partitions Palestine between Arabs and Jews, resulting in the creation of Israel.
December - The first practical transistor is demonstrated. Made from a paper clip, two slivers of gold foil, and a piece of germanium (soon changed to silicon) on a crystal plate, it will replace bulky glass vacuum tubes that overheat and break down. This tiny but rugged semiconductor permits miniaturization of electronics such as computers, radios and TV sets.
Also in 1947:
-Cambridge, the second-oldest university in the English-speaking world, begins to admit women as full students.
-The first jet fighter plane sets a speed record of 670.9 miles per hour.
-Raytheon Co. of Waltham, MA sells the first commercial microwave oven, the $3,000 Radarange. It weighs 750 lb, is 5 ft 6 in. tall, and intended for restaurant use.
-In a cave on the shore of the Dead Sea, a pottery jar containing parchment scrolls is discovered, now known as the Dead Sea scrolls.
-50 separate forest fires in Maine and surrounding states destroy more than 200,000 acres.
-Everglades National Park, a 1.4-million-acre reserve of subtropical Florida wilderness, is dedicated by Pres. Truman.
-First tubeless tires introduced - sealing themselves when punctured.
-The first 33 1/3 rpm LP records are produced.
-The hologram (3-dimensional photography based on an interference pattern of 2 light beams on film) and the Slinky are invented.
-Radioactive carbon-14 dating, to determine the age of ancient materials, is discovered.
-Reddi-Wip whipped cream - first major U.S. aerosol food product.
-The first streamlined car, the Studebaker, introduced in the U.S. Not a great success (there are jokes about not being able to tell the front from the rear), it influences all future automobile design.
-Harley-Davidson Motor Co. begins selling the black leather motorcycle jacket that will become a classic.
-The "New Look" in fashion lowers skirt lengths to 12" above the floor, pads brassieres, unpads shoulders, adds hats, making women's present wardrobes obsolete. U.S. women adopt not only long, full skirts, V-necks, curving waists, sloping shoulders, and frothy blouses, but also clogs, espadrilles, spike-heeled "naked" sandals, and fezzes.
-The Diary of Anne Frank is published.
-TV show Howdy Doody starts, with Clarabell the Clown played by 20-year-old Bob Keeshan (a generation later he was Captain Kangaroo, and had his own show).
-The minimum wage is 40¢ an hour, the average yearly wage is $2,500. New cars (the first manufactured since the beginning of World War II) sell for less than $2,000, gas is 15 cents a gallon, bread is 13 cents a loaf, and milk is 20¢ a quart.
Riddle answer: the library, because it has the most stories.