Got your Halloween costume ready? The two old ads in today's post both come from the Oct 29, 1957 edition of Laguna Beach's South Coast News. Both ads also reference Sputnik -- a subject I'll get back to in a moment.The newspaper's editor clearly liked the large photo in the Zenith ad (above) as much as I do, and ran it again, a few pages later, in a features section, with the following caption:
"SPACEMAN VISITS! It's not Superman. And it's not an over-grown 'trick or treat' operator practicing for Thursday night's Halloween festivities. It's popular Laguna businessman Roy Arntson modeling a Zenith Space Commander helmet about town Friday."Space travel was a popular topic for fiction in the 1950s, but it was still theoretical. In 1957, crazy-looking helmet designs like this seemed as reasonable as any other design. But that would soon change.
Just weeks before these ads appeared, on Oct. 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first man-made satellite -- called Sputnik 1 -- into Earth's orbit. Unlike today's complex satellites, Sputnik did only two things while in orbit: 1) It beeped at a radio frequency that could be heard on short-wave radio, and 2) It sent metaphorical shock waves through the free world.
The free peoples of Earth were shocked at what seemed proof of Soviet technological superiority. And of course, the commies took the opportunity to gloat. Indeed, Sputnik served as the opening salvo in a "space race" between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.
Unhappily, that race (and the technology it generated) paralleled a more critical arms race that threatened to destroy the world. If the Soviets could send satellites around the world, couldn't they also send atomic bombs into our backyards? Talk about an extra-scary Halloween surprise.
More happily, the space race also led the U.S. to create ARPA, which gave us the Internet, and NASA, which gave us all kinds of great stuff, including Velcro, an understanding of the structure and history of the universe, Tang, modern telecommunications, freeze-dried ice cream, solar power cells, pens that write upside-down, and astronauts walking on the moon.
Strangely enough, Sputnik also led to a bunch of new words, including "beatnik" (coined by writer Herb Caen in 1958), "refusenik," "peacenik," "computernik," and "neatnik."
For the record, Sputnik's beeping stopped when its battery died; Just three days before these ads were printed.