I'm heading down a new road, so to speak. Instead of the long articles relating a roadtrip down a complete highway, I'll now be posting much shorter articles. And the scope will be wider, covering just about everything from the year 1962. This should allow me to post more often, and allow you to have more fun reading. I'm not sure just how often I will post something, but this page will always show the five most recent articles, with the newest at the top. Older articles will be archived at the Blog Archives page. I may even include articles from other people, so if you have something to say about 1962, please let me know. Topics will cover:
- 1962 News of the World
- 1962 News of the Nation
- 1962 Local News
- 1962 in Sports
- 1962 in Entertainment and the Arts (including movies, TV, music, art, fashion, architecture, design, books, comics, and more)
- 1962 in Science
- Cars of 1962
- Consumer Products and Retail in 1962 (including just about anything you could buy, plus the stores you could buy it in)
- On the Road in 1962 (road and roadtrip topics, including things I typically covered on my long journeys)
World News of December 1962
This week, Roadtrip-'62 ™ bounces all around the world, looking at news. Unfortunately, some of it looks the same as what we have 56 years later!
The conflict in modern-day Yemen has been ongoing since at least 1962, when the monarchy in Yemen was overthrown. The coup came just one week after the previous ruler, Imam Ahmad died in September and his son ascended to the throne. The army rebelled, declaring a republic and sending the new imam into exile. The conflict between royalist and republican forces continued beyond the end of the year, with Saudi Arabia supporting the deposed imam and Egypt supporting the army. Following Yemen’s coup in 1962, unrest in the adjacent British Crown Colony of Aden followed in 1963. This forced the British into a hasty exit and the country fell into conflict, as some of the local sultanates did not want to join a proposed federation.
The era of the early 1960s found the colonial powers of Great Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Netherlands, and even Belgium granting independence to their colonies for both philosophical and economic reasons. Unfortunately, most of the new countries immediately devolved into internal wars as old conflicts had never been resolved, just hidden under colonial power. Aden, which was one of 16 states joining a federation to be named South Arabia, was no exception. An additional four states refused to join South Arabia. The entire area was united with the former Yemen in 1990, though that was also short-lived. In 2011, another coup occurred, another leader fled, and today, Yemen is again in another civil war that has impoverished the country. The current war is again being funded and supported by outside forces: Saudi Arabia and Iran are now on opposite sides.
The Caribbean region was very busy politically during 1962, with two colonies becoming independent from Great Britain. Jamaica became an independent nation on August 6th, adopting a flag in the now-familiar colors of green, gold, and black. The next month, the country was granted membership in the United Nations. Trinidad-Tobago achieved independence on August 31st. It also became a member of the United Nations in 1962, as did four countries in Africa: Algeria, Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda. Originally, the British had encouraged a federation among ten of their Caribbean territories, known as the West Indies Federation. The colonies included, mostly of the Leeward and Windward Islands groups, were Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Anguilla, Montserrat, Cayman Islands, and Turks and Caicos Islands. This federation was in effect from January 3, 1958, to May 31, 1962, but political conflicts over how the federation would be governed and how it would function doomed it, as Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago went their separate ways.
Elsewhere in the Caribbean, The Bahamas held their first election in which women were allowed to vote! Voters turned out in high numbers, with over 90% of eligible voters estimated to have cast ballots. They elected legislators from four different parties to serve in their national House of Assembly.
Hatian President Duvalier took full control of the island’s economy, stating that the country would continue their development program without United States help, after the United States instituted a three month suspension of all aid and arms shipments. The United States was concerned that arms had been passed to the wrong hands and demanded that the island government provide a weapon-by-weapon status report for all arms shipped since 1960. President Duvalier refused to comply. It appears that his “development” plans were not successful, as Haiti is still the poorest country in the Americas.
Puerto Rico is unique in the Caribbean area, as the island is a commonwealth of the United States. It had scheduled a vote during 1962 on whether it should remain a commonwealth, become independent, or become a state. The vote was postponed, however, because the US Congress had not yet worked out details of committing to any change, if a change were selected. The referendum was not held until 1967, becoming the first of five such votes. Continued commonwealth status received the most votes then. In the fifth plebiscite held on June 11, 2017, statehood received the most votes. The independence option only received 1.5% of the vote in the 2017 referendum. Congress has not yet dealt with the results of this vote, just as it never dealt with any of the others.
Three new international bridges between Canada and the United States opened in 1962. The Canadian half of a bridge over the St. Lawrence River at Cornwall, Ontario and Massena, New York was completed. A new bridge at Sault St. Marie, Michigan and Ontario was completed at the end of highway US-2. And the world’s longest steel arch bridge opened over the Niagara River between Lewiston, New York and Queenston, Ontario. The bridge at Sault Ste. Marie handled about 7,000 vehicles a day over its 2.8 mile roadbed in 2012. The bridge crosses the shipping channel with a clearance of 128 feet, so that ocean-going ships can pass under it. If you are looking for other bridge news from 1962, please check the Roadtrip-'62 ™ Bridges, Brides, and More Bridges page.
Canada also completed another transportation marvel, the Trans-Canada Highway. This twelve-year long project unites the east and west coasts of Canada with a paved, 4,860-mile road ready for roadtrips across the country. It includes ferry connections between the island provinces of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. A future bridge link was also announced between the mainland and Prince Edward Island, to replace one ferry on the Trans-Canada route by 1970. Canada immediately turned from roads to railroads, beginning construction of a new 430-mile line to Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories.
Canada devalued their dollar in May, officially pegging it at 92.5 cents to a US Dollar. The purpose was to encourage exports by reducing their prices. The effort was not enough to significantly reduce the Canadian trade deficit, and the government set new higher tariffs on imported goods later in 1962. Meanwhile, tariff reductions with the United States on certain goods were negotiated under the newly-passed US Trade Expansion Act of 1962. This law has recently come back into focus, as President Trump used it in 2017 to begin investigations into dumping of steel and aluminum into the United States at below market prices, primarily by China.
The year saw little progress on ratification of the 1962 Columbia River power treaty, which was intended to allow construction of more dams across the Canadian portion of that bi-national river in exchange for permitting long-term sales of electric power back to the United States.
Newsreel of Steelton, Pennsylvania 1962 baseball excursion train wreck from British Pathé.
As more travel occurs by road and air, do train wrecks seem to become rarer? Unfortunately not, as recent years have continued to see many train crashes resulting in many deaths, just like in 1962. The worst wreck of that year was on May 3, 1962 in Tokyo, Japan, where 163 people were killed when two separate commuter trains were involved in a crash with a freight train. This wreck, referred to as the Mikawashima train crash, is considered the 25th worst train crash in history. Next worst was a crash in The Netherlands, where 91 people were killed in January 1962 in a commuter train accident. Fortunately, the numbers of deaths goes down from there, with the next most hazardous crashes killing 69 people in India and another in Italy killing 63 people. Other crashes occurred in Columbia, Poland, Romania and Yugoslavia, killing between 40 and 24 persons each. All but two of these also involved a crash between a freight train and a passenger train.
Of the nine worst train wrecks in 1962, only one was in the United States. It was a special baseball excursion train running to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that was derailed near Steelton, Pennsylvania. The derailment caused five cars to run off the track, with three rolling down an embankment into the Susquehanna River. A total of 119 people were hurt and 19 died. Some bodies were so mangled they had to be identified from fingerprints.
President Kennedy made the least visits to foreign countries of any year of his short presidency, visiting only two countries. He visited Mexico in June, meeting with President Lopez Mateos. One point of contention with Mexico was the destruction of farmland in the Mexicali valley due to an irrigation project in Arizona. The taking of water by the United States for this project left the remaining river water too salty, ruining about 50,000 acres of rich Mexican farmland. During his visit, President Kennedy pledged to immediately improve the situation. Mexico celebrated paying off a debt owed to British and US oil companies that was incurred back in 1938, when Mexico nationalized all foreign oil development into their state-run Pemex company. President Kennedy’s other foreign trip was to The Bahamas, where he concluded the “Nassau Agreement” on nuclear defense systems with Prime Minister Macmillan of Great Britain in December. As part of this agreement, the United States agreed to supply Great Britain with its Polaris missiles. These gave Great Britain the capability to launch nuclear weapons from submarines. In return, The US was granted rights to store its nuclear weapons on British territories.
US-10 Cruise: the Manitowoc end in Wisconsin
A few weeks ago I discussed route US-10, noting that it is one of only two US-numbered highways with a ferry connection: the other is US-9, between Cape May, New Jersey and Lewes, Delaware. Highway US-10 used to officially be two separate parts, but in 2015, the ferry S.S. Badger was officially designated as part of the highway. The S.S. Badger now actually has an image of a US-10 route sign on the ship! The ship began service in 1953 and was only 10 years old by 1962, so we could have enjoyed it then in its glory years. The S.S. Badger is the largest car ferry ever to sail Lake Michigan and is also the only coal-fired steamship still in operation in the United States. While the ship was built by the C&O Railroad primarily to transport railroad freight cars, it also ferried passenger cars and had superior passenger accommodations. It was completely refurbished in 1991 with a buffet-style dining area, private staterooms, and even a movie lounge so you can once again enjoy the cruise in comfort. All railroad car facilities were removed at that time.
This week, as promised when I was in Ludington, Michigan, I will discuss the other end of the ferry journey in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. I was there this past summer, on a trip around Wisconsin. Highway US-10 currently runs from Fargo, North Dakota to Bay City, Michigan. In 1962, it continued south to Detroit, Michigan, overlapping with our US-23 trip for 30 miles. The route also used to run about 1700 miles farther west from North Dakota, ending at Seattle, Washington. Beginning in 1969, for about the next 20 years it was shortened west of Fargo as each segment of I-90 or I-94 freeway was completed. Manitowoc is also the end of another US-numbered highway, US-151, which runs 337 miles to Williamsburg, Iowa. In 1962, it ended in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, but was extended in 1985 to reach the interstate freeway south of that city. Back in 1962, highway US-141 also ran through Manitowoc, on its way from near Walton, Michigan south to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. That route was shortened in the 1980s and now has its southern end at Belleville, Wisconsin.
The history of Manitowoc includes Great Lakes shipbuilding and beer brewing, and both are represented in the attractions we could see in 1962 and today. Wooden ships were built here as far back as 1847, with expansion into steel-hulled ships later. Ships ranging from schooners, clippers, fishing boats, personal pleasure craft and even tankers, naval landing craft, and submarines have been built here. One of the few local attractions that is too new for our purposes is the Wisconsin Maritime Museum, which was founded in 1970. In addition to their museum, they host the World War II submarine USS Cobia, which was built here and is now docked in the water adjacent to the museum. The Burger Boat Company is the last boat builder in Manitowoc and is a builder of custom-designed, hand-built pleasure yachts and commercial vessels. The company was founded in 1863 and began producing welded steel yachts in 1938 and welded aluminum craft in 1952. Today, about 350 employees build an average of three yachts a year.
Another reminder of the city’s shipbuilding past is the Manitowoc Company, known world-wide for the industrial cranes they manufacture. Though they no longer build cranes here, in 1962 we would have seen plenty of activity at the company. The company was founded in 1902 as a shipbuilding and ship-repair company. They began building their most well-known products, lattice-boom cranes, in the 1920s. Because of this diversified product line, Manitowoc was the only Great Lakes shipyard to survive the financial strain of the Great Depression in the 1930s. Because of their shipbuilding background, they were chosen by the US Navy to build 28 submarines, including the USS Cobia, during World War II. The company built and repaired commercial and military ships at yards in nearby Marinette and Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin and Cleveland, Ohio until 2008, when the marine division was sold to an Italian company. But they completed the recent refurbishing of the S.S. Badger before then, as they had built similar ferries years earlier. Another place you may have seen the Manitowoc name while traveling is at motels. Manitowoc Foodservice is a sub-division of the company that produces ice machines!
The brewing industry is represented both by the giant complex of malting silos once belonging to William Rahr’s Manitowoc Malting Plant, and in his legacy at the Rahr-West Art Museum. Rahr’s malting plant is now owned by Briess Malt & Ingredients Company, who bought it in 2011 from Anheuser-Busch. They had purchased it from Rahr’s company in 1962 and shortly thereafter, they painted the massive Budweiser bottle and cans on three of the barley silos at the east end of Washington Street. The Rahrs began selling malt to Anheuser-Busch in 1891. William Rahr began the malting plant in 1847 and it currently includes 40 buildings on 23 acres. About 2,700 railcars of barley arrive annually at the plant where the grain is processed into malt. Rahr family members brewed beer until Prohibition in 1920, but then focused the business on turning malt into cereals. Beer production did not resume when Prohibition ended in 1933.
The Rahr family became very wealthy from the malt business, allowing Mrs. Clara Rahr to donate her 1891-1893 mansion to the City in 1941, to be operated as a museum and civic center. Today, it has become the Rahr-West Art Museum, which houses a varied permanent collection including works by Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, William Bouguerea, Georgia O’Keeffe, Mark Rothko, Andrew Wyeth, and Andy Warhol. The majority of art and historical artifacts are from the United States, including many by Wisconsin-based artists. I enjoyed the mix of art and historical artifacts displayed in period-decorated rooms.
The museum is also where you can find a marker in the sidewalk of North 8th Street, commemorating the event of September 5, 1962, when a 20-pound chunk of the Soviet Union's Sputnik IV satellite crashed onto the middle of the street at the corner of Park street. A brass ring has been embedded in the pavement to mark the exact spot of the impact. A cast of the original piece was made and has sometimes been displayed at the Rahr-West Art Museum. The satellite was launched in 1960 and it appears an operator error caused it to move to an incorrect orbit, resulting in its breakup, destruction, and fall to earth. It is believed that the largest piece of the seven-ton satellite fell into nearby Lake Michigan. The recovered debris was analyzed by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Carnegie Institute of Technology chemistry department, and the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratories before being returned to the Soviet Union. In a goofy celebration of the event, the city hosts Sputnikfest each year since 2008. The festival includes lots of wacky and tacky displays and event.
If you’re tired of the city, I recommend heading north to the edge of town. There, on the shore of Lake Michigan, is the lovely and restful West of the Lake Gardens. These gardens belonged to Ruth and John Dunham West, who began construction on six acres of quack grass and thistle in 1934. Ruth Dunham and a hired gardener hand-spaded those first six acres, planting windbreaks consisting of 70 Colorado spruce trees, which are still standing today. They also built their home here in 1934, known by locals as the "Shoebox Estate" because it was a rather flat, rectangular house showing the modern styles of Walter Gropius and Frank Lloyd Wright. Additions to the house continued into the 1950s, by which time Mrs. West had over 30,000 tulips in the garden planted in the gracefully sweeping beds you can see today. Back in 1962, we could probably only have visited the gardens during the annual West of the Lake Tulip Tea event, when it was open to the public. In the early 1960s, perennials were planted until a mere 13,000 tulips remained and by 1967, all the remaining tulips were removed. Today, West of the Lake Gardens is a place of spectacular color from May to October. The Wests’ fortune was made via the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company, where Mr. West succeeded his father as president in 1957. The Wests also supported the Rahr-West Art Museum with millions of dollars for the construction of the exhibition wing and purchase of works of art for the permanent collection of the museum. After their deaths in 1989 and 1990, the Ruth St. John and John Dunham West Foundation has operated the gardens and has them open to the public during blooming season.
One place I did not visit when I was recently in Manitowoc was Pinecrest Historical Village, operated by the Manitowoc County Historical Society. The society was established in 1906, largely as an effort to preserve local Civil War and pioneer history, but has grown into one of the most active county historical societies in Wisconsin. They began in the second floor of the local library, quickly overrunning the space. The society then moved into the Rahr-West Art Museum, then known as the Rahr Civic Center, in 1941. By 1949 they had overrun that space to such an extent that they filled nearly every room and restricted the use the building by other groups. Other groups then voted the society out of the building and they had to move artifacts into such as a vacant school building, which was vandalized, resulting in the loss or damage of many artifacts. The Manitowoc County Historical Society still held occasional exhibits in the Rahr Civic Center throughout the 1950s and 1960s, so we could have seen those. Today, they operate a 60-acre interpretive museum, Pinecrest Historical Village outside of town. The village is a collection of over 25 historic buildings with period furnishings from Manitowoc County's early settlers. The village property was acquired in 1969 and the first buildings moved in the next year.
Manitowoc also has a small zoo with just under 200 animals, including black bear, bald eagle, cougar, lynx, Prairie dogs, and lots of birds. I enjoyed the bison. There is also an exhibit you don’t see at many zoos: the Fish Rearing Pond, where salmon are raised. The zoo was a project of Manitowoc County Fish & Game, which began it in 1935. That organization eventually turned over the zoo and the land to the city. I strolled around for about an hour and believe I saw it all. There are other trails within the adjacent park where you might even see wild deer.
Some posibilities for a 1962-style lunch or dinner include the local A&W Drive-In or Beerntsen's Confectionary. Though A&W was founded way back in 1919, the current restaurant here was opened in 2009. As with many small towns, there was likely an older one here. They do set a nice atmosphere, with carhops still serving you on your car window and 1950s-1960s music on the jukebox. I’m a big fan of A&W’s chili cheese fries and root beer. Beerntsen’s Confectionary has been a local tradition since 1932, when Joseph A. Beerntsen founded Beerntsen's Candies. They still make hand-dipped chocolates and homemade candies. But what makes it a lunch or dinner stop is the old-fashioned ice cream parlor, with its original black walnut booths, candy cases, and arches, that serves sandwiches and soups. Beerntsen's sundaes are made with their own homemade ice cream and toppings. If you don’t need to stop and eat here, pick up some of their candies and chocolates that are still made using the same methods from over 50 years ago. They also still use copper kettles and wooden paddles with equipment that is irreplaceable due to advances in equipment technology and production.
Well, I’m staying about 7 miles northeast in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, so I should be heading back along the lakeshore. The city is not on any US-numbered route and is a bit too far for my self-imposed limit of 5 miles for Roadtrip-'62 ™ 1962 sight-seeing. But I did stay in an old building: a house designed by Frank Lloyd and built in 1939. The Schwartz House, also known as Still Bend, is now rented out so you can experience living in a design by an American architectural master. It still has the original design features, with colored concrete first floor, no screens on the windows and no air conditioning, some very narrow halls and bathrooms, custom-designed wood trim, and high-ceilinged great room accessed from low-ceilinged entryways. It has been a very interesting experience and I’m heading back tonight to sleep in one of the bedrooms with a private, second floor balcony.
1962 Report from India and South Asia
Roadtrip-'62 ™ usually travels the United States, but today we travel around the world of 1962, looking at the news. The southern part of Asia has conflicts that have been ongoing since before 1962…it seems some things never change.
Let’s begin with China vs. India to illustrate ongoing conflict. On October 20, 1962, China invaded lands occupied and claimed by India since the British controlled the country in 1914. The various Chinese governments since that time never agreed to the British-drawn border. The area in question is in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, which we will also see is a source of conflict between India and Pakistan. Some observers credit the immediate cause of the invasion to China’s claims that India supported Tibetan separatists. India did indeed shelter the Dalai Lama in 1959, when the spiritual leader fled Tibet, and allowed Tibetans to set up a government-in-exile. Others noted that China had recently completed a road connecting their provinces of Sinkiang and Tibet, and wanted to secure it by bolstering their claim to the disputed land nearby. Especially after India sent troops to build new border patrol stations within the disputed territory. The Chinese had further reason to suspect India of expansionist policies, because India had taken the Portuguese colony of Goa (see below) the previous year. Whatever the proximate cause of this Sino-India War, over 2,500 Indian soldiers were either killed or went missing, and the Chinese also suffered loss of life. After several weeks of fighting, which eventually involved the United States providing more modern arms to India, China unilaterally declared a cease-fire on November, 20 1962. They then withdrew to the former border, a “Line of Actual Control” proclaimed by Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai in 1959, which placed the new Chinese road within their control. The area gained by China, known as Aksai Chin, has been claimed by India to be 2,500 square miles and is still controlled by China.
The more recent conflict has similar beginnings, though it was about 1,000 miles to the east. The dispute began June 16, 2017 when China started to pave a road in the Himalayan territory of Doklam, which China considers part of its land but India recognizes as part of the kingdom of Bhutan, its close ally. India sent its troops to stop China, and in turn China sent its troops to reinforce its claims. This time, the results were non-violent, with no shots fired. After two months of literal pushing and shoving by the troops, on August 29, 2017, both sides retreated. Poor demarcation of borders was again at the heart of the dispute. In this case India and China have different interpretations of where the tri-junction between these two countries and Bhutan actually lies. The issue may flare up again because the road remains temporarily unpaved.
Moving on to the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir as previously mentioned, this area lies at the heart of a dispute between India and Pakistan. Back when India gained independence from Great Britain in 1947, it formed two countries: Pakistan and India. Some areas were disputed, including the state of Jammu and Kashmir. In 1962, the situation had not yet been settled, though about half of the territory had been controlled by India since 1949, after the United Nations failed to resolve a war between the two countries. Neither side upheld the UN resolution of 1948, which required India to hold a plebiscite, or vote of the people of Jammu and Kashmir to determine which country to join. The UN resolution also required Pakistan to withdraw its troops from Kashmir, which they did not do. A cease-fire was signed however, and after additional fighting in 1965 and 1971, a Line of Control has been respected by both India and Pakistan.
As previously mentioned, India was also active in the area of Goa, a former colony of Portugal also known as Portuguese India. Goa was the last remaining Portuguese colony on the Indian subcontinent, it having lost some smaller areas in 1954. The question of the status of Goa had divided the United Nations during 1961, with US Delegate Adlai Stevenson fearful that it might be the question that could end in the death of the United Nations. Though India took Goa by military action in December, 1961, Portugal only recognized Indian control in 1975. One symbol of Portugal’s refusal to recognize their loss is a postage stamp issued in January, 1962. The stamp was part of a worldwide effort to publicize the United Nations’ World Health Organization’s drive to eradicate the disease malaria, and many countries issued stamps to publicize the effort. The United States joined the effort with its stamp issued March 30, 1962. Speaking of stamps, the country of Bhutan previously mentioned issued its first postage stamps in 1962, the same year the first road useable by trucks and cars was opened. Bhutan also opened a national museum, national library, national archives, national stadium, and a number of government buildings in the capitol of Thimphu in 1962, including the National Assembly and the High Court.
Another country located in the Himalayan Mountains near India is Nepal. It is more well known than Bhutan because of the capital city of Kathmandu and the country’s proximity to Mount Everest. The international border between China and Nepal runs across the mountain’s summit. Following the move by King Mahendra to scrap the democratically-elected governing body in 1959, guerilla forces attacked police posts and sabotaged government installations for several years, including throughout 1962. There was even an attempt to assassinate the king. The guerilla attacks ceased in November 1962, during the Sino-India War, adding to suspicion that India was behind them. Nepal remained a Hindu Kingdom until 2006, when the monarchy was abolished and it became a federal republic of its 7 states.
Burma, now known as Myanmar, has recently been in the news due to its treatment of the Rohingya Sunni Muslim minority living in its western area. These people have been persecuted and tens of thousands have fled to nearby Bangladesh as refugees. Burma has suffered under a military government for many years, beginning in March 1962, when General Ne Win led a bloodless coup. At the time there were many factions vying for control, including two different groups of communists! Since that coup, the country’s successive governments have limited the rights of the Rohingya because they do not consider them citizens, but consider them as immigrants from India. The political situation was so bad during 1962 that the government forced charity organizations such as the Ford Foundation to withdraw their representatives. All economic activity was socialized under government control. Riots at Rangoon University were put down by troops, who killed over a dozen demonstrators. After more riots and widespread killing of demonstrators in 1988, a new military junta even staged a coup against the old! The situation has continued since then, with some observers calling it the world’s longest civil war. Some things never seem to change.
Video of Myanmar soldiers rounding up and beating Rohingya people, from Daily Mail.
Bang! 5 Toy Guns from 1962
This week Roadtrip-'62 ™ takes a look at a subject that was very familiar to my 1962 me…toys! I was only nine years old most of the year and that meant I spend a lot of time playing. And playing with toys for a boy in that era meant I spent time with toy guns. We had a lot of different types of toy guns back then, many of which still exist but some that may not.
One popular gun of the time straddled the line between toy and firearm: the BB gun. While advertised to and used primarily by boys, it fired a real projectile that could do real damage. Windows and light bulbs were clearly good targets, along with tin cans and other thin metal that could be easily pierced. Mothers’ fears were always that “you could put your eye out with that”, and though real life instances of such injury were few, they did happen. My family never had a BB gun and I don’t recall seeing any of the other boys along the street with one, even the older boys. I’m not sure why, though the lots in our neighborhood were small and houses close together, so maybe it was not a good place to shoot things. The main manufacturer of BB guns was Daisy Manufacturing Company, whose slogan "ask Dad - he had a Daisy" was found in every publication targeted to boys, such as comic books. Crosman BB guns were also advertised in the same magazines. BB guns commonly operate with a spring piston action, pumping air to power the projectile. The guns are smoothbore and fire at low velocities. The pellets were once made of lead but have long been steel because steel is cheaper and shoots more accurately. Modern BBs are plated with either zinc or copper to resist rust and some Asian companies make plastic BBs.
Daisy Manufacturing Company began as Daisy Outdoor Products in 1882 and built windmills used on farms. In a sales promotion just a few years later, they sent a free air gun with the purchase of each windmill. The guns became so popular that they formed their own product line. The company captured the lions share of the BB gun market in the late 1930s with their Red Ryder model, a name licensed from a popular western newspaper strip and radio show character of that time. The Red Ryder newspaper comic strip, by Fred Harman, ran from 1938-1964. This character was used for movie serials beginning in 1940, which were later edited into TV shows, comic books, and the Red Ryder radio program from 1942 until the early 1950s, and Daisy rode along. Daisy’s Red Ryder BB gun model is still in production today, though the movies and TV shows are long gone and even the Red Ryder comic strip was canceled in 1963. Youth groups such as 4H and Boy Scouts held BB gun competitions, and Daisy still sponsors competitions. During the Vietnam War Daisy BB guns were even used for training!
Daisy was originally located in Plymouth, Michigan but moved to Rogers, Arkansas in 1958. Their new corporate offices have housed an impressive airgun collection since 1960. I imagine you could have visited the offices and seen the collection in 1962, but today the Daisy Airgun Museum offers even more to see. The museum, in downtown Rogers, Arkansas, opened in 2000 after the old Daisy plant was sold, with the original corporate collection as its core. Daisy continued to subsidize the museum from 2000 to 2003, but the museum is now operated by a non-profit corporation. It moved again a couple of years ago to it current location in a former Rexall Drug Store. If you love or collect Daisy BB guns, the museum has and online forum to discuss the guns and a gift store to buy current Daisy products and branded collectibles.
Though I never had a BB gun, I had several of the most common toy gun of the time, the cap gun. Cap guns, along with pop guns and other guns that made noise and puffed smoke, were marketed as safer alternatives to BB guns because there was no projectile to shoot at someone. Like the Red Ryder BB Gun, cap guns were made to tie-in with many TV westerns, including Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, The Lone Ranger, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Maverick, Cheyenne, Wagon Train, and The Rifleman. Several of these were on the air in 1962. I don’t remember having guns with any distinctive label, so I probably had just generic cap pistols. The Nichols Rancho was introduced in 1962 and was originally priced at just 29 cents, which was certainly in my mother’s price range for toys. Many toy companies made cap guns, including Nichols, Hubley, Kilgore, Marx, Mattel, Halco, Wyandotte, Kenton, Stevens, and Actoy. Some had realistic, bullet-loading, rotating cylinders, but the less expensive guns used roll caps. Mattel marketed their own “Greenie” brand of caps that were green instead of the industry standard red. I used mostly roll caps, but the 2- and 3-piece bullets used in bullet-loading guns needed single-shot round caps. The only time I used round caps was for the Space Bomb, which was a plastic, vaguely rocket-shaped toy with a top that could be removed to install the cap. You then threw the bomb at the sidewalk to explode the cap! Not a gun, but lot’s of fun.
A cap gun is a toy gun that creates a loud sound somewhat like a gunshot with a puff of smoke when a small amount of gunpowder is exploded. Some models had multi-part bullets that actually fired, like Mattel’s "Shootin' Shells". After World War II, most were made of a zinc alloy, and most newer models are now made of plastic. The metal tasted metallic if you licked them…not sure why we ever did that, but we did. The bit of gunpowder was encapsulated (hence the name “cap”) between two pieces of paper. Roll caps had perforating holes between the caps that were engaged by pins in the gun when you pulled the trigger. This advanced the roll to the next cap for firing. Today, a compound called Armstrong's mixture, which gives a smaller explosion, is often used, but previously it was simple gunpowder. Cap guns were first made following the end of the American Civil War in the mid-1860s, when firearms companies experimented with toy guns in order to stay in business. The "Golden Age" of cap guns was a roughly 20-year period after World War II when television gave us westerns every day. While many were given names from these TV shows through licensing, many cap guns also were given generic western-sounding names. They came in models reproducing just about every type of western gun: Derringers, rifles, six-shooters, and pistols. Besides westerns, during the Civil War Centennial years of 1961-1965, some cap guns were produced that mimicked weapons from that conflict. As the popularity of westerns later diminished, military and secret agent models were sold.
Another toy gun that everybody had several of was the squirt gun. It seems that every one I had was a hard, transparent plastic, so you could see your water level inside the gun. The plastic always cracked, so these didn’t last long. And if you managed not to crack the plastic for a few weeks, then the stopper got lost when you refilled the gun or the trigger spring sprung so you couldn’t shoot. But they were always fun while they lasted. I might have had some other inexpensive model, like a mini-squirt gun that was available in boxes of Kellogg’s cereals. This was a softer, opaque black plastic. The gun was barely half the size of an adult hand and probably only shot about 3 times before it was out of water. Maybe you could get something similar for sending Popsicle wrappers: I sent away for a lot of their premiums!
Though my squirt guns were plastic, some early models were metal. Some Japanese models from the 1950s were metal and I might have seen one of those in the hands of one of the older boys in the neighborhood. Even Daisy made a metal water pistol from 1919-1932. I wonder how they held water: maybe a rubber bladder inside? More expensive, bigger squirt guns existed in 1962, such as Mattel’s "Dick Tracy Snub-Nose .38" and "Dick Tracy Tommy-Burst" guns. The large gun was advertised as shooting water 30 feet and besides shooting water, these fired caps too!
Besides Mattel, other manufacturers tried the two-guns-in-one approach. Ranger Steel Products made a variation on the squirt gun that blew bubbles when you pulled the trigger. It was sold with a bottle of bubble liquid. Another company made a combination squirt gun with a flashlight, marketed as a ray gun. Which brings us to another type of toy gun, the ray gun or space gun. Like the one mentioned, these often were fanciful combinations of effects, with a light being the only actual ray. The Astro Ray Dart Blaster from Ohio Art, the inventors of the Etch-A-Sketch, combined a flashlight with a dart gun. This gun was introduced in 1962 and looks like something I had, though I don’t believe mine shot darts. Maybe they used the basic design for a plain cap gun too? The Astro Ray was sold as the Astro Ray Dalek Gun in England a couple of years later, after the original Dr. Who TV series became popular. And in a testament to a successful product, the Astro Ray is still sold today with Nerf-style foam darts replacing the old rubber tipped darts. Yet another space gun introduced in 1962 was the Century 21 Space Gun, which was the official toy of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. It was a red plastic space gun with two stocks. One shot a spaceship spinner up to 150ft, then the second let you fire a missile at the spaceship! Guns that generated sparks inside a see-through window were often marketed as space guns and we had one. I recall a disc that spun when you pulled the trigger, creating sparks by spinning a rough, sandpaper-like side against flint, the same material that gave sparks in a cigarette lighter.
Other oddball toy guns of the period included the Kusan Ping Pong Ball Gun. This was a hollow red rubber gun that held enough air to blow a ping pong ball out of the muzzle when you squeezed the gun. They had been around since the 1950s. But perhaps the oddest toy gun of the period was the potato gun. These usually used a cap to provide a burst of gas to fire a small chunk of potato. The cool thing was reloading: all you did was stick the muzzle end into a raw potato and when you pulled away, a circle of potato was stuck in the end of the gun. As with any cap gun, the explosion made a sound, but the potato gun used the gas from the explosion to shoot the potato…just barely.
I’m guessing that some of the fun of toy guns has disappeared since 1962, as we make the world ever safer. In 1988, a federal law was passed that required the tip of the muzzle of toy guns be either bright orange, red, or yellow, so the sense of realism of some guns was lost. For retrofitting older toy guns for resale, you can buy orange toy gun plugs. This law was passed to reduce the chances that children with toys could be mistaken for having real guns and shot. Later, in 2008, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission banned toy caps producing noise above 138 decibels. Caps that would once have banged and smoked now just kind of pop due to the change in the explosive chemical. The purpose of this law is to protect children’s hearing. But here at Roadtrip-'62 ™ it’s still 1962, so enjoy a commercial for Mattel’s "Shootin' Shells" cap guns, complete with its introduction from The Beany And Cecil Show!
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