Yesteryear Technology

Yesteryear Technology

We live in a fabulous technological world! So many great technical feats make our lives better and healthier. For example, in the late 1950s, my sister had a gallbladder operation and spent a week in the Episcopal hospital because they had to cut open her chest. I had a similar operation several years ago, but I only spent one night in the hospital. The doctor just inserted a couple of tubes in me to excise my gallbladder. We live in a world of medical miracles.

Could you have imagined that one day we would watch television on six foot screens and no longer be tethered to a leased telephone with a five-foot cable. Today’s technology is amazing.

That got me thinking about some of the technological miracles those of us born in the 1940s and 1950s experienced in our youth—well, at least those technologies that made an impression or affected me. Here’s my list:


Every summer, my mom and grandmother worried about the kids getting polio, an insidious disease that killed and maimed people. I still remember seeing images of people in iron lungs. In 1955, Jonas Salk’s life-saving vaccine became available, and my mom took me to Dr. Kochman on Allegheny Avenue to get the needle. That vaccine changed the world.


This little invention changed how people listen to the radio. After one of the kids in the neighborhood got a transistor radio, we sat on Billy Pullman’s front steps on Wishart Street, listening to Harry Belafonte singing “The Banana Boat Song” and Fats Domino singing “Blueberry Hill.”


The first TV I ever saw was in the window of a store on Front Street near my house in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. By 1949, the family of a friend who lived on Allegheny Avenue bought a TV. The neighborhood kids would watch Howdy Doody at his house. That same year, my family got our first TV.


In 1957, my mom gave our old RCA black and white TV to my sister and bought a Philco color TV at a discount from my dad’s friend. The thing I remember most about that TV is that my mom was always adjusting the colors as we watched shows. I didn’t buy a color TV for my family until the mid-1970s.


The first computer I ever saw was the Remington Rand Univac computer featured on the Ed Sullivan Show. It looked as big as a house, and it was fascinating. I had to wait until 1979 to buy my first computer from Radio Shack. Now my phone has hundreds of times the power of those old computers, but they were technological wonders in those days.


The 1948 Oldsmobile was the first model to use a true automatic transmission. By the 1980s, it had become an auto industry standard. I learned to drive with my dad’s stick shift Hudson. It was as big as a truck. He was a good teacher because I passed the first time when I went for my test on Belmont Avenue. He also taught me how to curse at other drivers. I am very good at that. 😊


When I was one year old, the first and second nuclear bombs ended World War ll and started decades-long worry about being blasted out of this world. When I was at Cramp Elementary, we practiced what to do if the Russians bombed us: don’t sit near windows, get under your desk, and put your head between your knees. Later in life, I realized that they were right. If a bomb hits us, we should put our heads between our knees and kiss our asses goodbye. After all, it’s an atomic bomb!


In 1947 Edwin Land introduced the Polaroid instant camera. Of course, I did not own one until the late 1960s. In its day, that camera was the hottest piece of photography equipment. Imagine: You got a photo instantly instead of waiting until you finished the film roll and sent it off for processing.


In 1948, the first jukeboxes entered service. Jukeboxes are synonymous with the 1950s. Back then, it was so cool that you could choose songs from twenty or thirty 45 RPM records. I liked the ones that allowed you to make selections from your restaurant table.


My friend Harry Elliott’s dad had an audiotape recorder in the late 1950s. We often went to his basement, grabbed a few of his dad’s Rolling Rock beers, and listened to Red Fox and Moms Mabley recordings.


In 1946 a French designer was inspired by the atomic bomb tests in the Bikini Atoll and designed the two-piece bathing suit he called the bikini. Viva la France for that! And thank you, Sears, for your catalog, which was so important to young boys of the era.

Those are just a few of the marvels of yesteryear. We are lucky to have experienced so many amazing technological inventions. As we look back, these technologies seem quaint, but without them, we wouldn’t have the fantastic technologies modern we can’t live without.


Originally posted on The Kensington Neighborhood Alumni Group on Facebook.

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