Pages of time provide interesting reading RAMifications 2-6-13

Posted February 5, 2013 at 7:17 pm

I’d guess people find in every generation that the world has made big changes, and sometimes we shake our heads, because (I believe) some of those changes aren’t always for the better.

In the January 4, 1952 issue of the Wessington Times Enterprise, I found an article titled “Another World for 2001?” 1,800 plant workers for Sheaffer Pen Company in Ft. Madison, Iowa, were questioned about what they thought the world might be like in 2001 (survey taken in ’51…looking ahead 50 years). By the way, that pen company, founded in 1912, is still in existence.


Ruth A. Moller

The workers’ answers were encased in an oversized vacuum-sealed fountain pen that was buried in a wall at the Ft. Madison plant. I wonder if they’ve ever opened it.

The replies are interesting. Eighty-nine percent felt atomic energy would be used in peacetime, and 83 percent felt atomic and hydro bombs would be used in war. Eight-eight percent believed there would be another world war. Remember, in 1952, those responders were only a few years past World War II, and the Korean War was going on.

Eighty-four percent believed there would be a cure for cancer by 2001. While we’ve seen great advances, at this point there is no overall “cure.” Sixty-nine percent felt there would be a cure for the common cold…wrong.

Only 26 percent believed there would be hope for growing hair on bald heads.

The great majority agreed that Mom’s clothes budget would be shocking, and 85 percent didn’t believe women’s clothes would be standardized, into utility suits or coveralls.

Sixty-seven percent believed airline flights would exceed the speed of sound, and only 43 percent believed a guided missile would have reached the moon by 2001.

Fifty-six percent believed the United Nations would no longer be in existence, and 57 percent believed that by 2001 there would still be just two main political parties in the U.S.

Some ideas were right, some were wrong. But if you notice, many things we take for granted today were unheard of, so couldn’t even be considered.

For instance, a computer was a foreign term, and what little they might have known would have been about huge machines that spit out “cards.” They certainly wouldn’t have even a dream about cell phones or the Internet or (God forbid) FaceBook.

Their answers were pre-microwaves, pre-electric typewriters. Polio was still dreaded, and it was long before heart and other organ transplants.

In 1951, not many women were in the workplace. Most didn’t wear slacks, let alone jeans. Divorce was considered an aberration, and there were few single-parent households.

Very few had television sets; if they did, the shows were black and white, and stations were extremely limited.

This survey was taken before the Kennedy assassinations, before the Civil Rights movement, before Vietnam and Iraq. There had been no “Hippie” movement. Children felt safe to play outside, and venture away from their home. A school shooting would have been unheard of.

Women had yet to burn their bras, a monk had not set himself on fire, and even the “rebels without a cause,” such as James Dean and Marlon Brando, were just starting. Vulgar language was simply not tolerated, and the most shocking words used in movies up to that time were “damn” and “virgin.”

Elvis had not entered the building at that point. His swivel-hip performances had not yet scandalized the “older” generation.

Movies included “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “The African Queen.” Top tunes included “Come On-a My House” and “Tennessee Waltz.”

I wasn’t very old in 1952, which was a long, harsh winter in South Dakota. Probably my parents’ responses to the pen company’s survey would have been about the same. Change was definitely on the horizon, but few people were aware of it.

Who woulda’ thought back then that 2001 would bring 9-11, that there was the first space tourist, that the War on Terrorism began?

I wouldn’t want to turn back time, but I believe it’s important to recognize the huge changes since that time. What would our high schoolers predict for the world some 50 years hence? I’d love to be around to see what happens.

Pages of time provide interesting reading