hed: Baby boom's soaring era reshaped America

Eighteen months after my father returned from World War II, I entered a rapidly changing world as one of the oldest of the baby boomers.

And what a great time to be alive! The war had ended and unparalleled prosperity was on the horizon (although not so much in Coffeeville, Mississippi). America controlled two thirds of the world's productive capacity, 40 percent of its electricity, and 60 percent of its oil. We represented 5 percent of the people on earth, yet we had more wealth than the other 95 percent combined.

In 1954, 7.5 million new cars were sold (up from 67,000 in 1944) - all made in America for Americans. Under President Eisenhower, we built 42,000 miles of interstate highways where none had existed before - much like China today where from 1988 until the 2008 Beijing Olympics, 45,000 miles of highways will be built.

Blowtorch Mason, running for governor of Mississippi, proclaimed that interstate highways were a communist plot to get people out of small towns.

Cool cars and chrome

And cars were cars back then. Transmissions were Hydramatic, suspensions were Torsion-aire. The 1955 Chevy Bel Air featured interior carpet, chrome headliner bands, chrome spears on the front fenders, and chrome window moldings. Plus the Bel Air name was scripted in gold letters on the sides. One 1958 Lincoln model was over 19 feet long.

Nothing was bad for you. We didn't have seat belts, air bags, calorie counts on packaged foods, or "swim at your own risk" signs. There were no warning signs on gas pumps not to smoke while fueling your car.

And speaking of smoking, cigarettes ads were everywhere. Students at Ole Miss and Mississippi State were free to smoke in class (but female students could not walk across campus attired in anything but a dress). The Journal of the American Medical Association accepted cigarette ads right on up through the 1950's. "More doctors smoke camels" and "Just what the doctor ordered" were two of the most popular.

Then Xrays came on the scene, and people were fascinated. Even shoe stores had Xray machines. You just slipped your feet inside and the salesman gave you a perfect fit. Nothing was bad for you. What could be easier? It was all great fun.

Bombs in Nevada

Nuclear bombs were exploded in the Nevada desert at the rate of one every 3-4 months. Radioactive dust peppered Las Vegas and other towns. Nobody cared and nobody objected. It was all part of the exciting new world in which we lived.

According to the Associated Press, in April of 1956, while on a White House tour, a Mrs. Chase vanished from her group and proceeded to wander through the closed areas of the White House for four hours setting numerous small fires as she went. When finally found, she was described as "addled," taken to the kitchen, and given a snack before being released to her family and never heard from again. Can you imagine the SWAT teams, the special forces armed to the teeth, and the helicopters flying if a similar incident happened today?

I miss the 50's. I miss mimeographs, dime stores, beatniks, Nash Ramblers, nickel drinks, poodle skirts, and Sputniks. But most of all I miss the innocence of an age which changed our country and my own life forever.

Joe Bailey - a community columnist - is a physician who resides in Tupelo. His email address is joepolly@comcast.net.

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