1962 News of the Nation
So here I am in 1962, commuting home from work to the suburbs, walking into the living room and sitting down with the evening newspaper to see what happened today. I guess today’s paper must be the year end edition, as Roadtrip-'62 ™ takes a look at several things that happened in 1962 around the United States. We recently looked at international news, but today, let’s see what’s happening at home.
On April 16, 1962, Justice Byron White was confirmed as a Justice of the Supreme Court. Justice White had previously been a law clerk to Supreme Court Chief Justice Fred Vinson and had a successful corporate law practice in Colorado. He worked in John F. Kennedy’s campaign in that state in 1960. President John F. Kennedy appointed Byron White to the position of Deputy Attorney General shortly after being elected. President Kennedy appointed another justice, Arthur Goldberg, in September, 1962. At the time of his appointment, Justice White became one of six Democrats of the nine justices on the Court.
During the 1962 session of the Supreme Court, one case ruled on regarded apportionment, or drawing of legislative districts. In Baker v. Carr, the Court reversed their previous finding that apportionment matters were political and not within their review. Not surprisingly, the change created a cascade of new lawsuits around the country. At the time, legislative districts commonly had not been redrawn for decades and disproportionately represented rural dwellers. Opinion at the time noted that the opinion of the Court would likely result in increased political power for city dwellers in the future, a change which has indeed come to pass. There has lately been concern about this again, as several courts around the country have dealt with the “gerrymandering” of legislative districts. The issue is again before the Supreme Court for its 2017-18 term. Justice White retired in 1993, becoming the twelfth longest-serving Supreme Court justice.
On May 28, 1962, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 5.7%. This is on a par with what we now call a “flash crash”, like the one that happened in just 20 minutes when the Dow lost 9% on May 6, 2010. One noticeable difference is that today, they are blamed in part on computer trading, where computer trading programs see a drop and sell, feeding the drop the next computer sees. Back in 1962, trading was still done by real people writing paper orders, so what happened? People couldn’t keep up with the trading. The ticker, which showed everyone else what was happening, got backlogged and didn’t finish reporting for nearly 2½ hours after the market closed. So traders kept feeding a downtrend instead of stepping in to buy at the low prices. Who needs computers to cause a panic?
The year had started with a decline in the stock market, which was accelerated after the President badgered the steel industry into rescinding a price increase early in the year. Business in general was wary of a President who could have such negative effects on them through bad press. Adding to that, the unemployment rate, which had improved from 6.7% at the end of 1961 to 5.5% at the end of 1962, was still seen as too high compared to the late 1950s. In final bad news for the stock market, the Cuban Missile Crisis in October scared just about everyone with the possibility that Armageddon was near, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed the year about 700 points lower than where it began. Considering 1962 levels, that was about a 12% loss, equivalent to about 2600 points today.
There were 22 federal disaster declarations for 1962, including 12 incidents of storms or floods, 8 incidents of high tides, and a barge accident that was responsible for 2 incidents. The two worst storm incidents were known as the Columbus Day Storm on the Pacific coast and the Ash Wednesday Storm on the Atlantic coast. The Columbus Day Storm of October 12, 1962 ravaged Oregon and Washington. With coastal winds of up to 140 miles per hour, things were bad enough inland that they even closed the Seattle World’s Fair. In San Francisco, near the storm’s landfall, the sixth game of baseball's World Series at Candlestick Park was postponed. More than 150 families lost their homes, and over 50 people were killed. More than one billion board-feet of lumber fell in various state-owned forests. The storm began as Typhoon Freda in the South Pacific and had weakened into an extra-tropical storm near Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, but then it veered south, regenerated, and picked up speed. No other storm of this size and intensity has occurred either before or after in the written history of the Pacific Northwest.
The Ash Wednesday Storm hit on March 7, 1962 and affected the coast from Florida to New England. Ocean City, Maryland sustained major damage when a 3-mile stretch of the boardwalk was wiped out and wind gusts hit 60 to 70mph. The high winds caused 40-foot waves and tides that ran 2 to 6 feet above normal. Overall, the Ash Wednesday Storm caused over $200 million dollars in property damage (in 1962 dollars) and major coastal erosion from North Carolina to Long Island, New York. The Red Cross recorded 40 people dead and more than 1,000 injured. Because it hit during a tidal period when the sun and moon are in phase, tides reached 9 feet above normal at Norfolk, Virginia. Besides coastal damage, heavy snows fell in the Appalachian Mountains. Big Meadows, Virginia recorded that state’s highest 24-hour snowfall, with 33 inches. It is still classed as one of the ten worst storms in the United States in the 20th century. An unusual lasting positive effect was on the National Park system. During the 1950s, over 5,000 private lots on Assateague Island were zoned and sold for resort development. The Ash Wednesday Storm halted the plans for development, destroying the few existing structures on the island and ripping roads apart with wave action. The undevelopable land was acquired by the federal government and in 1965, Assateague Island became a National Seashore.
In case you thought that the US House of Representatives always has 435 members, you would be generally be correct, but NOT for 1960. In that year, 1 new representative was added for each of the new states of Alaska and Hawaii. That was because all the other seats had already been apportioned using the 1950 census. It went back to 435 seats with the 1962 election because representation was re-apportioned using the new 1960 census. As a result of this and election results, the Democrats lost 3 seats in the House, though they still held a majority. The Democrats also held a majority in the Senate, and picked up 3 seats from the Republicans there in 1962.
In other election news, President Kennedy’s brother Edward (Teddy) Kennedy was elected to the US Senate in Massachusetts, Mitt Romney’s father, George Romney was elected Governor of Michigan, and former Vice President Nixon lost his bid to become Governor of California. As a result of the loss, political commentators regarded Nixon's political career over. Donald Rumsfeld, who many of remember better as a Secretary of Defense, was elected to the freshmen class of the House of Representatives. Minnesota presaged the tight election of 2008 when Minnesota Senator Al Franken was elected with a margin of only 312 votes after months of recounts. The 1962 Minnesota Governor’s race was also in doubt for over four months as ballots were recounted all across the state. Eventually, Governor Elmer L. Andersen was re-lected by just 91 votes. Some things never seem to change. Or maybe some things do: I doubt anyone will ever win again with 96% of the vote, as Alabama’s Governor George Wallace did in 1962!
On January 12, 1962, the first U.S. combat troops arrived in Vietnam. President Kennedy began the operation because the downfall of Saigon, the capitol of South Vietnam, seemed immanent. I find the most interesting aspect to be the fact that he did so without announcing the move to the public. While he did hold a press conference, Kennedy stated only that the U.S. was assisting South Vietnam with training and transportation. US involvement was seen as necessary to prevent South Vietnam from falling to Communist domination, at a time when adjacent Laos was losing to Communist forces. Kennedy began slowly, first by sending supplies and training Vietnamese troops, but by May our troops were engaged in combat. US Marines were also sent to nearby Thailand at that government’s request in April, as Thailand feared being attacks by guerillas from Laos. By the end of 1962, we had about 10,000 forces in Vietnam alone and the number went up from there. As it turned out, we would be in an undeclared war there until we abandoned it in 1973, in an ignominious retreat from the very rooftops of the South Vietnamese capitol of Saigon. We lost, and judging by our activities in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years, we may not have learned any useful lessons.
That’s enough news for one day. So I’m going to put my newspaper down and pick up a 1962 comic book for some lighter reading. Maybe the first issue of Bullwinkle, or The Incredible Hulk, or Mr. Ed the Talking Horse, or Boris Karloff Thriller. There are plenty to choose from and you can find them all at the Grand Comics Database. See you soon again here at Roadtrip-'62 ™!
All photos by the author and Copyright © 2017, 2021 - Donald Dale Milne, except as noted.
All other content Copyright © 2017, 2021 - Donald Dale Milne.