Inventing the Future in 1962
As I’m sure you’ve noticed in these articles, a lot of things that happened in 1962 still affect us today. Here’s a few of the inventions from that year that continue to make a big impact today. A few of these innovations were mentioned in the AT&T video at the end of my Roadtrip-'62 ™ post on the Seattle World’s Fair – Century 21 Exposition. At the Bell Pavilion, the company demonstrated call waiting and call forwarding. We take these for granted but they were new ideas in 1962! Also demonstrated were touch-tone phones…remember that nearly all phones were rotary dials back then. Bell also showed a pager, called the Bell Boy. These 8-inch, brick-like devices were not too practical, but they knew the paging concept was important. To use them, the device received a phone call and gave you a tone. You then had to find the nearest phone booth and call the party back, as it was not a cell phone. At least there were pay phone booths everywhere: restaurants, public building lobbies, gas stations, motels, and even street corners. (How else could Clark Kent change to Superman just about anywhere?)
One invention of that year has had a major life-saving impact: the familiar 3-point automobile safety belt. While seat belts were first offered by American car manufacturers Nash in 1949, and Ford in 1955, these were simple lap belts with the buckle in the center. This style of belt had serious issues with causing internal injuries during a crash and that is part of why they were not widely adopted. A three-point safety belt had been patented in 1951 by two Americans, but their design still had the buckle in the middle and was not adopted. But in 1962, the United States Patent Office issued Swedish engineer Nils Bohlin a patent for his three-point automobile safety belt. Sweden’s Volvo Car Corporation had hired Mr. Bohlin four years earlier as their first chief safety engineer. One of his first projects was to improve the safety belt. He designed a three-point system in his first year with the company. It significantly reduced injuries by effectively holding both the upper and lower body in place. Volvo introduced it on its cars in 1959 and filed for a US Patent, which was granted three years later.
Unfortunately, the three-year wait between patent filing and grant was not unusual at the time, as we’ll see later. The year 1962 set a new record for patents granted, at 55,000, but the backlog of waiting applications was nearly the same at the end of the year as it was at the beginning, at 200,000. At any rate, Volvo then released the new seat belt design to other car manufacturers, and it is now the worldwide standard. Though the design has been improved over the years, the basic engineering is still Mr. Bohlin’s. The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 made seat belts a mandatory feature on all new American vehicles beginning with the 1968 model year. A study done in 1967 of 28,000 accidents found that when used, the lap and shoulder belt combo reduced the risk of injury or death in accidents by as much as 75 percent. It also showed that drivers not wearing belts died in crashes at all speeds, but no one wearing belts in accidents below 60 mph died. Maybe the lower speeds had a lot to do with it, but it’s sometimes amazing that entire families were not wiped out more often in 1962. My family had 6 kids in a car with no seat belts and the youngest one was on my mother’s lap!
Another thing we take for granted today is the amazing array of small electronic devices. These all use integrated circuits of semiconductor crystals, which did not yet exist before 1962. Some of the basic ideas had been around since 1952, when British radio engineer Geoffrey Dummer formulated the principle of an integrated circuit, but industry had not found a way to use them together. The point was to place electronic components into a solid block with no connecting wires. Transistors had continued to allow devices to become smaller throughout the 1950s, but the reliability of the discrete components in them reached theoretical limits and there was also no improvement in the connections between the components. The breakthrough came in 1958 from three people from three different US companies solving three fundamental problems. Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments patented the principle of integration and created the first prototype integrated circuits. Also that year, Kurt Lehovec of Sprague Electric Company invented a way to electrically isolate the components on a semiconductor crystal. Robert Noyce of Fairchild Semiconductor invented a way to connect the components and improved the insulation. Finally, Fairchild Semiconductor created the first operational semiconductor integrated circuit in 1962. But since Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments held the earlier patent, they started a patent war. By the time the case was settled in 1966 through a cross-licensing agreement, the firms of Westinghouse, Raytheon, Hughes Aircraft, and even NEC of Japan had engaged in the battle. Many other firms have since licensed the technology and many others produced integrated circuits (ICs) without licensing, so that now almost everything we pick up has some ICs inside.
One of my wife’s favorite patents from 1962 is for Kentucky Fired Chicken! More technically, though Colonel Harland Sanders had been producing his chicken since 1940, he didn’t file for a patent until 1956. He filed the 1962 application to improve on the method, as the original patent had not yet been granted due to government backlog. To quote the application, “Generally the process contemplates the deep-fat frying of chicken under accurately controlled conditions of temperature, pressure, time, sizes of serving pieces, and amount and composition of breading used, for the purpose of producing superior taste, texture and appearance in the finished product.” It turns out that cooking chicken this way is rather complicated, due to the need to control the temperature, pressure, and moisture content all at the same time. It is still actually fried, as it is cooked in grease, and the method locks in juices and prevents the coating from drying out.
Other food ideas from 1962 include the Taco Bell restaurant chain. The first location was opened by founder Glen Bell in Downey, California. It was a walk-up window food stand with outdoor seating. Due to its small size and lack of drive-thru service, it closed in 1986. Other entrepreneurs have since used it for their taqueria shops over the years, but it’s been vacant since 2014. Due to development plans, Taco Bell moved the building to a new location at corporate headquarters 45 miles away in Irving, California in 2015. Both Kentucky Fried Chicken and Taco Bell are now owned by the same corporation, Yum! Brands, Inc., which also owns Pizza Hut. And even Pizza Hut has a 1962 connection. The Hawaiian pizza, a generic food that was also created in 1962, is served at Pizza Huts. In fact, you can get pineapple on your pizza almost anywhere, but the idea was not well received when Greek-Canadian Sam Panopoulos first served it at his Satellite Restaurant in Chatham, Ontario, Canada. He had experience in preparing Chinese dishes, which often mixed sweet and savory flavors, and had pineapple in his restaurant, so he experimented with adding pineapple to a pizza. The Hawaiian pizza has stabilized as including ham, though other variations exist.
McDonald’s entry into the food history of 1962 is the Filet-O-Fish sandwich. It was the first non-hamburger sandwich served at McDonald’s. It was created by a franchisee in Cincinnati, Ohio, Lou Groen. His restaurant was located in a heavily Catholic neighborhood and his business fell off greatly on Fridays, when Catholics did not eat meat. So he searched for something else to serve them and settled on fish after noting other restaurants in the area that did alright on Fridays by serving fish. Mr. Groen experimented and settled on a breaded halibut patty, which he presented to Ray Kroc of McDonald’s management. They argued over the new menu item and Mr. Kroc had Mr. Groen find a lower priced fish. Atlantic cod was substituted, with Mr. Groen adding a slice of cheese for extra flavor. Mr. Kroc agreed to have a contest to see if the product would sell, pitting it against his own creation of the Hula Burger, which consisted of a slice of pineapple on a cold bun. (Was everyone getting a discount on pineapple in 1962?) The Filet-O-Fish won handily, selling over 350 sandwiches on Good Friday of 1962, and has been around ever since. Mr. Groen ended up being a very successful franchise owner, eventually owning 43 franchises by the time he retired in the 1980s.
Our grocery store shelves were also enriched by 1962 introductions. Planters introduced Dry Roasted Peanuts, which were seasoned with their own proprietary spice blend. Post Cereals introduced Crispy Critters, which was a sugar frosted oat cereal with pieces shaped like miniature animal crackers. Later versions had colored animals. The cereal faded in popularity and was eventually withdrawn, perhaps in the 1970s, but an attempt to re-introduce it was made in 1987. I used to drink a lot of PDQ, a granular beverage mix that was also introduced in 1962 by the Krim-Ko Corporation. It differed from products like Nestle’s Quik, which were a powder, in that PDQ dissolved instantly. It originally came in chocolate, but by 1965 they added eggnog flavor, which I loved. It was also great sprinkled on ice cream because it added crunch. Even the candy counter displayed new 1962 creations. Ferrara Pan created Lemonheads in 1962, and later in the year added Apple Heads, Grape Heads and Orange Heads. And the Phoenix Candy Company brought out Now and Later. They made taffy, which tended to melt in summer or become brittle in winder, and the new candy was their way to ship taffy products year round. The name Now and Later was meant to suggest that you could eat some now and save the rest for later.
Going back to electronics now that we’ve had lunch, dinner, and dessert, the LED was also invented in 1962. The light-emitting diode (LED) is a solid-state, semi-conductor device that directly converts electricity into light. Nick Holonyak, Jr. invented the first visible-spectrum LED while employed at General Electric. Scientists had realized that the semiconductors used in transistors emitted light but it was not sharp enough to use for much. Mr. Holonyak’s innovation was to combine the crystal of gallium and arsenic with phosphorous to produce a light in the visible spectrum. That first LED was a red light but yellow and green soon followed. The first major use of these was for calculator and computer displays in the 1970s. Because of the direct conversion of energy, LEDs are the most efficient lighting form, especially as efficiencies have improved over the years. For example, a 60-watt or 100-watt incandescent bulb has an efficacy of 15 lumens per watt but current LED replacement bulbs have an average efficacy of 85 lumens per watt. Additional colors have also been created and replacement of all types of older incandescent lighting really took off after the creation of white LEDs.
Today we think of virtual reality in terms of computers and other electronic gear, but there was work in this field as far back as 1962 and earlier, using other technologies. Morton Heilig invented the Sensorama Machine 1957 and received his patent in 1962 (seems that everyone was backlogged). It was a booth for up to four people that provided the illusion of reality through the use of a 3-D movie projector augmented with smell, stereo sound, seat vibrations, and wind in the hair. The movie projector relied on a special movie camera to create the dual images, similar to the Cinerama system using three cameras and screens that I mentioned in an article on US-16. Mr. Heilig expected his invention to have uses in training, though it never caught on. However, if you’ve been to theme parks, you may have seen some variation on the idea. The Bug’s Life Theater at Disneyland’s California Adventure uses all the elements of Sensorama on a theater-wide basis for its presentation of “It’s Tough to Be a Bug”.
It seems like little things we run into everyday were all brand new in 1962! For instance, the pull-ring tab for beverage cans was invented by Alcoa aluminum and first marketed by the Pittsburgh Brewing Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It evolved into the now-familiar pop-top opening some years later after concerns of all the litter caused by tossing away the pull-rings after they came off the cans. The Philips Company of the Netherlands invented and released the first compact audio-cassette in 1962. Until then, tape recording used large reel-to-reel tapes. The Corning Company invented a chemically strengthened glass it began marketing under the Chemcor brand in 1962. Though it is resistant to breakage, dents, and scratches, it failed to find much of a market until mobile computing devices become popular almost 50 years later. Now modified further, it is known as Gorilla Glass and used on your iPhone. Other 1962 patents include powder coating of metals to replace painting, a sensor for the fat content of bacon to enable accurate slicing of same-weight pieces, and the Wash ‘n Dri. The Wash ‘n Dri was the first of the pre-moistened paper towels folded into a foil packet that let you wash up on the go without a wash cloth and water. These were given away by the thousands to Kentucky Fried Chicken customers to clean up after their Finger Lickin’ Chicken dinners! I guess they were invented just in time.
So, everything around me comes from 1962 somehow! I’ll use my iPhone full of solid state semiconductors and a Gorilla Glass screen to check out fast food restaurant locations, while standing under an LED streetlight, then clean up with a Wash ‘n Dri, and drive away on the next Roadtrip-'62 ™ journey buckled up in a seatbelt, while chomping on Lemonheads and listening to some cassette tapes! What a future!
All photos by the author and Copyright © 2018 - Milne Enterprises, Inc., except as noted.
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