Article: 25 Things Only Baby Boomers Will Remember: HowStuffWorks
25 Things Only Baby Boomers Will Remember
Image: Wikicommons by Volkan Yuksel
About This Article
The period between 1946 and 1964, when members of the baby boomer generation were born, is one of the most idyllic eras in American history. A decade removed from the Great Depression and fresh off a decisive victory in WWII, Americans settled in the suburbs and started families. Unprecedented confidence and one of the most powerful economies on the planet led to higher than average birth rates from the mid-'40s through the mid-'60s, a reversal from the declining birth rates of the previous few decades. The result was a booming generation of young people eager to make their own mark on the world — which they unquestionably did.
This is the generation that watched "I Love Lucy" in real time, dove under their desks during school air raid drills, put together term papers on a typewriter, and witnessed a British invasion that changed the path of rock and roll. They went on dates at the drive-in, can tell you exactly where they were when JFK was assassinated and watched as online shopping made the Sears catalog obsolete. And we're not even going to mention how much phones have changed since boomers were in their teens!
Want to learn more about the shared history and culture of this generation, or simply look back at the trends and events of your youth? Check out this gallery of things that only baby boomers will remember!
The first public payphone was installed in Connecticut in 1889, and within a century, two million phone booths kept people connected across the U.S. With the rise of cell phones, CNN estimates that there are only around 100,000 payphones left in America. So where does Clark Kent swap his reporter duds for his famous blue and red suit?
Ed Sullivan Sundays
Television was just beginning to find its footing back in 1948 when CBS launched a vaudeville-style show on Sunday nights, originally called "Toast of the Town." Producers soon changed the name to "The Ed Sullivan Show." Famous acts included Elvis, the Jackson 5, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, who set a record for the most-watched program in history when they appeared on the show for the first time in February 1964.
Wikipedia for the boomer generation
Before the internet put virtually any piece of information at the fingertips of millennials and Gen Z, baby boomers were stuck writing research papers using books instead of screens. Funk & Wagnalls, World Book and the totally not-British Encyclopedia Britannica were sold door to door or at local grocery stores, where shoppers were encouraged to pick up a new volume on every trip to the market.
The postman always came twice
Before email and text messages, boomers relied on actual letters to keep in contact with friends or conduct business. The earliest baby boomers might even remember a time when mail was delivered to U.S. homes twice a day and up to four times a day to businesses. The Post Office dropped the second daily delivery in most cities starting in the '50s, but continued multiple deliveries to commercial addresses for much longer.
Radio on the go
Before TV, families gathered around the radio in the evening to listen to music or programs. While those home radios were surprisingly hefty, the introduction of transistor radios in the mid-'50s came just in time for the boomer generation to usher in the rock 'n' roll era on the go. Boomers may also remember the introduction of other portable music machines starting in the '70s, from the boombox to the Walkman.
The time before 24/7 TV
With today's 24/7 news cycle and hundreds of cable and satellite channels, it can be tough to believe there was a time when you couldn't even watch one channel through the night. In the mid-20th century, TV stations signed off at midnight or so with the National Anthem, then displayed test patterns until starting back up at around 6 am. If you think that's hard, keep in mind that most people only had three channels ... and you had to get up to change the channel because remote controls weren't common yet.
Dates at the drive-in
Millennials may have surround sound and reclining theater seats, but boomers were all about the drive-in movie theater. During the mid-'60s, thousands of open-air venues welcomed viewers to pull up and enjoy the show ... and some alone time with their date away from prying eyes. Sadly, the '70s gas crisis and the rise of cable TV and VCRs transformed drive-ins into a novelty rather than a continuing trend.
Dimes before dollars
Before the rise of suburban shopping malls and big box stores like Walmart, boomers did their shopping at the local five-and-dime. While countless competitors dotted the landscape, Woolworth's is one of the most memorable, thanks largely to its iconic lunch counters where customers could grab a quick bite. Sure, most of these places sold stuff for more than ten cents by the time the boomers were born, but the five-and-dime nickname stuck around for decades.
There was always room for Jell-O
Sure, plenty of youngsters have tasted Jell-O, but no one did this wobbly dessert like the boomers. Invented in the late 1800s, Jell-O had moved beyond a simple sweet treat to become an entire food genre by the '50s. There were recipe books to teach moms how to make Jell-O salads and other dishes, and the company even introduced savory flavors like celery and tomato in the '60s to take advantage of the craze.
Swapping stamps for fabulous merchandise
Before every store had its own rewards program, many retailers handed out S&H green stamps with every purchase. Many boomers will remember licking and sticking the stamps into books, then saving up to redeem them for cutlery, clothing and pretty much anything else you could imagine. While the program peaked in the '60s, you could actually get these stamps up until the '80s, and believe it or not, S&H allowed people to redeem the stamps up until 2019.
Everyone loved Lucy.
While Millennials can watch "I Love Lucy" today thanks to endless reruns, Boomers got to tune into this classic sitcom in real-time — and without the knowledge that stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz didn't exactly have the fairy tale marriage shown on the show. The series was a runaway ratings success in its day, and the 1953 episode "Lucy Goes to the Hospital" drew a staggering 71% of television viewers in the U.S. at the time.
Before Amazon, there was Sears
Kids born today will never know a time without two-day shipping, but baby boomers also had plenty of their purchases delivered straight to their homes — though these goods came from the Sears Catalog rather than the Amazon website. What began as a flyer for a line of watches in 1886 became a catalog covering more than 500 pages by the mid-'60s. Boomers and their parents could have everything from toys to dresses to homebuilding kits delivered through the mail, but shipping took weeks rather than days or hours.
The Captain and Mr. Green Jeans
The oldest boomers were still in primary school when "Captain Kangaroo" premiered on CBS in 1955. It featured Bob Keeshan of "Howdy Doody" as the Captain and included plenty of puppets and a long-running series of ping pong ball gags. Among beloved cast members like Mr. Baxter and Debbie, the real star was Mr. Green Jeans, played by Hugh Brannum for 29 seasons.
Fresh milk delivered daily
A lack of refrigeration a century ago led to the tradition of daily dairy delivery from the milkman. Even in the early '60s, when many American homes had modern refrigerators, around a third of the population still subscribed to milk delivery services. By the mid-'70s, that number had dropped to 7%, leaving entire generations forced to pick up their own milk at the grocery store.
Their fingers did the walking
Forget computers — it's phones that have changed the most since the boomers were born, and that includes how people access phone numbers. Through the '60s, people still used a two-letter exchange with each number series. So, for instance, Lucy and Ricky Ricardo from "I Love Lucy" could be reached at Murray Hill or MU 5-9975. And, of course, all of those numbers could be found in the phone book, which was dropped off on the doorstep of each home in all of its paper-wasting glory.
Evel Knievel breaks another bone
Baby boomers had the excitement of witnessing daredevil Evel Knievel at the peak of his career. While his terrible crashes at Caesar's and the Snake River Canyon made headlines, it was his appearances on "ABC's Wide World of Sports," starting in 1975, that made him a huge star. His successful jump over 14 buses at King's Island was all anyone was talking about at the end of October in '75.
Duck and cover!
Only a generation that lived through the Cold War could understand the effect of routine air raid drills in school. After the Soviets detonated their first nuclear weapon in 1949, the U.S. created an educational video designed to help school kids survive a nuclear attack. The ads, starring Bert the Turtle, taught kids to duck and cover in case the worst were to happen. It was the '50s version of the modern school shooter drills in the days since the horrors of Columbine and Sandy Hook.
Fun and frustration on the party line
Many boomers will remember when multiple households shared a single phone number, known as a party line, which meant that the unscrupulous could listen in on their neighbors — or even refuse to hang up and share the line during an emergency. To add to the frustration, dialing a number during this time required using a rotary dial rather than modern push-buttons, and dialing a number with even one zero in it seemed to take forever.
The clickety-clack of the typewriter
Folks today have it easy, in terms of typing up a report or letter — just fire up the computer and create an electronic version before hitting print. Back in the day, however, boomers didn't have it quite so easy. Instead, they used typewriters to draft documents, but one wrong keystroke could mean starting from scratch. Things got a little better when Bette Graham Nesmith (yes, mom of Mike from the Monkees) invented a correction fluid called Liquid Paper. Millennials will never know the difficulty of tangled keys and time-wasting typos.
At home on the Ponderosa
The TV Western "Bonanza" was a huge hit among boomers. It ran for 14 seasons, from 1959 through 1973, and millions of viewers tuned in to see how the Cartwright family survived life on the Ponderosa Ranch in 1860s Nevada. Lorne Greene played family patriarch Ben Cartwright, although his sons Adam, Hoss and Little Joe enjoyed equal billing in the opening credits.
Banana seats and baseball cards
Kids have been cruising around on bicycles since the 1800s, but it was the Boomer generation who made bikes cool. Inspired by motorcycle racing, kids in California started customizing their rides in the early '60s. Schwinn took notice, introducing its iconic Sting-Ray in 1963. Despite its $49.95 price tag, the chopper-style bike with its stretched-out banana seat and high-rise handlebars was a huge seller. Of course, '60s kids weren't content to ride bikes that simply looked cool, leading many to clip baseball cards into the spokes of their wheels to create a thrumming engine sound as they pedaled.
Spring-loaded fun with Pogo!
Sure, kids today have virtual reality and video games, but most will never know the excitement of playing with an old-school pogo stick. When this toy came out in 1957, it was an immediate hit, as thousands of kids soared over the sidewalk (and into emergency rooms). The two-handled design of the '50s allowed kids to try tricks and stunts and even gave rise to the extreme pogo craze of the '70s.
Sorry, we're closed on Sundays
In the past, if you wanted to buy a car, new shoes or a bottle of wine, you needed to hope it wasn't Sunday. When the U.S. was formed back in the 18th century, many cities had Blue Laws that prohibited businesses from operating on Sundays. Boomers may remember the days when car dealers, liquor stores or retailers of any kind were forced to close their doors on the "Lord's Day." Blue Laws loosened up significantly by the 21st century, and even North Dakota, which was known for its strict laws, officially allowed shops across the state to open before noon on Sundays beginning in 2019.
Buffalo Bob and the Peanut Gallery
If you know the answer to "Say, kids! What time is it?" then you just might be a baby boomer. This line from the children's television series "Howdy Doody" was uttered on every episode by host Buffalo Bob, and the kids in the audience — nicknamed the Peanut Gallery — would reply, "It's Howdy Doody time!" The real star of the show, which ran from 1947 through 1960, was Howdy himself. The wooden puppet was a huge hit and sold tons of merchandise with his likeness. Real fans will remember that Howdy had 48 freckles ... one for every state in the U.S. at the time.
Where were you on 11/22/63?
Just as every member of Gen X or Gen Y can tell you where they were on 9/11, boomers remember exactly where they were on November 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. The news shocked the nation, leading schools to dismiss students early and causing nearly every TV network to cancel programming in order to stay tuned to coverage of the event. It's hard to forget iconic broadcaster Walter Cronkite becoming emotional as he reported the story of Kennedy's death as it unfolded.
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