My brother Mike took me out to his car and handed me some contraband, which I stowed under the bags in the back of my vehicle.
“Don’t let JoAn know about this,” I cautioned. “She hates it when I bring this stuff into the house.”
As we drove home, she never suspected I had seven 1950s issues of National Geographic Magazine in the the car. When she found out, she wasn’t happy.
“But we’ve got so many books already,” she said while reading a novel on her Kindle. She thinks books stored digitally in a little tablet take up less room than those on bookshelves.
I explained how wonderful those 60-year-old Geographics were. Oh, sure, they had the requisite articles about half-naked natives from around the world, but also photos, maps and stories about strange cultures (“Canada Counts its Caribou”; “New Guinea’s Paradise of Birds”; “Sports-Minded Melbourne, Host of the Olympics”). Best of all, the ads were a hoot.
For instance, even though it was the 1950s, people were already high-tech.
General Electric touted its 20-inch television (“lets you see more than the old 10, 12 and 14-inch sets”). DuMont advertised a 19-inch tube with FM radio, plug-in for record player and a cabinet of fine mahogany veneers. Several TV makers had remote control devices that not only clicked channels but also muted those “long, annoying commercials.” (Zenith’s Flash-Matic Tuning was “absolutely safe to humans.”)
We could type on a Remington Rand (“the first name in typewriters”), or shoot home movies with a 16 mm camera (“You buy for life when you buy Bell & Howell”), or write with an Esterbrook fountain pen (“America’s pen name since 1858”) on American Stationery (“the fine stationery in the plain box”). We were invited to join famed pianist Vladimir Horowitz at the keyboard of a Steinway (“the instrument of the immortals”).
Travel ads were prominent. There were cars, ships, planes and especially passenger trains.
Southern Pacific (“America’s most modern trains”) roared from Chicago to San Francisco – via Omaha, Ogden, Great Salt Lake, Reno and Oakland – in only 401/4 hours. We could ride Union Pacific Railroad, Southern Railway System (“the Southern serves the South”) or the California Zephyr on Western Pacific (“the most talked-about train in the country!”)
Trailways (“the route of the thru-liners”) showed smiling folks getting off the bus in suits and hats. They looked rested and happy. I laughed out loud.
Bell Telephone System had a suggestion for those too tuckered to travel: “You can telephone across the Atlantic as clearly as you call across town.” The cost? A mere $12 for the first three minutes, not counting the 10 percent federal excise tax.
It was a different time, and I’m glad I have the proof on my shelf.