Boomer Parents’ Purchases

Who was that blind man? Perhaps I should add that question to my ‘Contests’ section. If I’m not mistaken, it was Buster Keaton. I wonder if he was involved in the show being sponsored by Studebaker.

Today’s post is about the products being sold to our parents while we were busy playing in the back yard. The American economy was in full swing following the end of the war and I recently learned of a military action that was taken to help spur that economy.

My oldest brothers (the twins) were Navy Sea Bees (Construction Battalion) during the latter stages of the war. One of them was then assigned to an aircraft carrier. Their mission was to load the ship with tons of heavy earth moving equipment, trucks, and other vehicles, take them out to sea, and push them off the ship. Millions of dollars worth of mostly brand new equipment was dropped into Davey Jones’ Locker. Why? To allow American factories to continue building these items for sale back home.

This next commercial is for a cold cream I never heard of; then again, I wasn’t very big into cold cream when I was a mere lad.

Was fear of radiation that strong? I know school children were taking part in drills across the country. Some called them ‘duck and cover’ drills. As I recall, in Pittsburgh we called them ‘retention’ drills. Maybe the ad agency simply thought they’d take advantage of our nation’s new knowledge of radiation. (You might want to check out my brother’s report on the ‘A’ Bomb test at Bikini. You can find it under ‘Genealogy”; or search for ‘Something Different’.)

And then there were the car commercials. More Americans than ever were finally able to afford a family car. And there were many companies that were more than glad to make the sale.

This was your father’s Oldsmobile. But it wasn’t your father’s Packard, Hudson, Henry J, Kaiser, De Soto, Plymouth, or Nash. All of those companies were fighting with Chevrolet, Ford, Buick, Chrysler, Cadillac, Lincoln-Mercury, and others for Daddy’s business. Obviously, many of those other companies lost the battle. Some, such as Oldsmobile, advertised that they were going away. Others, like Plymouth, simply vanished.

Another item that become a hot commodity during my childhood was the television. Most baby boomers vaguely remember listening to Fibber McGee and Molly, the Great Gildersleeve, Jack Benny, and many other popular shows. Then came the boob tube. Initially, there were very few stations (Pittsburgh started with one) and very few programs. Most of a day’s broadcasting was devoted to the test pattern.

And yet… early on, television manufacturers were expanding the capability of their products. This ad for Westinghouse, presented by Betty Furness introduces the ‘new’ UHF converter.

UHF was an interesting phenomenon, but I’m not sure it ever truly caught on. When we left Pittsburgh in 1977, there might have been two or three stations broadcasting on the UHF channels. In Atlanta today, there are only seven or eight. In the meantime, there are many VHF channels available. However, considering that most folks now have cable of satellite, it all seems unimportant now.

And now a word from our sponsor.

In 1984, I had concluded that Reddy Kilowatt had passed away. Then I drove through Vernal, Utah and saw him standing tall on a sign outside the Power Company’s offices. I don’t know if he’s finally gone for good, but I’m sure he’ll live forever in the minds of many of us who always enjoyed his television appearances.

So, thus far our parents have bought a new car, cold cream to wipe away the radiation, and a television – with or without the UHF device. (I wonder if that is anything like the device the government is forcing us to buy so we can watch digital TV.) Obviously, to feed a growing family, our parents had to run out and buy something to replace the ice box.

Some of us are old enough to remember the true ice boxes… those wooden contraptions that had a place to hold a block of ice above the food storage area and a tray underneath to catch the run-off from the thawing ice. If someone forgot to dump the drain pan, the floor around the ice box became a sopping wet mess.

The first refrigerator I can recall was mostly refrigerator. The freezer compartment was barely large enough to hold two ice trays and a half gallon of ice cream. Of course, we seldom had ice cream, so the space above the ice cube trays was usually reserved for the frozen strawberries we’d put on the ice cream – if and when my parents could afford to buy it.

There was very little in the way of frozen food back then. People had no where to store it once they got it home. It was up to the refrigerator manufacturers to solve the problem. Solve it they did!

I should point out that for many years, we continued to use the term ‘ice box’ out of habit. For a while, we called them Frigidaires even if they were made by Kelvinator, Hot Point, or Westinghouse. Frigidaire became a generic term, like Kleenex.

As a small child I can remember my mother doing the laundry using a wringer washer. I was constantly warned to keep my hands away so I wouldn’t have all the water squeezed out of my arms. Then one day a truck arrived with Mom’s first front-loading Bendix washing machine. The excitement was unbearable!

My older brother hooked up the water hoses and the electricity. Mom put in the dirty clothes and the proper amount of Oxydol, closed the door, and switched it on. Things began quietly enough as it filled with water and began to agitate. We noticed that the machine was rocking a bit, but no one took alarm.

Because this was a totally new experience for the entire family, we all stood in the cellar and continued to watch this marvel of science. Mom and Dad, my three older brothers, and I were mesmerized. It was amazing to see the soap bubbles form and then begin to dissipate as the water went from clear to dirty gray.

Our hypnotic trance was broken when the machine went into its first spin cycle. That’s when the machine began to bounce all over the place. One of my brothers finally pulled the plug and stopped the monster. The basic problem was our cellar floor. It slanted every which way. For all I know, we may have originally had a dirt floor and someone poured concrete over it. Whoever did the job was not very good at it. My brothers built a platform for the machine. I vaguely remember that they set bolts into the concrete to make sure the machine didn’t walk away. Within a week or so, the old wringer washer went to the junk yard and Mom’s Mondays were made a little easier.

Of course, it would be years before she got a clothes dryer. So, she still had to hang the clothes on the line so they’d be dry by the next day… so she could sprinkle water on them to get them damp enough to iron.

One thing that made Pittsburgh unique at the time was the smoke that was usually in the air. I can recall times when Dad would be driving with his headlights on in the middle of the day. There was no way Mom would hang the laundry outside on such days… unless she wanted to practice using her new washing machine. On most Mondays, the laundry was hung in the cellar.

This next video is an ad from Westinghouse’s Studio One presentation of “The Laugh Maker”. It was directed by Paul Nickell and starred Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, and Rita Morley. If I saw the original broadcast, I don’t remember it, but with a cast that included Gleason and Carney, it was probably a riot.

Finally, I want to send a salute to I’m amazed at what I find on that web site. It seems that everything I can think of from the good old days is out there somewhere.

Thanks for stopping by. Let me get back to work to discover what I’ll add tomorrow.


2 Responses to Boomer Parents’ Purchases

  1. julie says:

    Sailing is an example of the misery in the old days.

  2. jimsjourney says:

    It sounds like Julie has sailed with a good friend of mine. I won’t mention the person’s name. Suffice it to say we would frequently run aground and the crew would have to get in the water and push the boat off the sand bar.

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