In 1953 I was just old enough to have some sense of what was going on in the world. Have things gotten better since then or worse? On the whole, better, I’d say. Herewith, two lists to which many more items could be added.
Ten things that were better then:
- Clean entertainment, tuneful music
- Safe streets
- Good schools
- Low rate of illegitimate birth
- Predominance of two-parent families, most mothers staying at home
- Stable neighborhoods
- High standards of dress and deportment
- Less intrusive government
- Lower tax burden
- Korean war ending, cold war not yet ramped up
- That great scourge of western civilization, rock-and-roll “music,” was still over the horizon.
- The best schools were not as good as today’s best schools: no AP programs, limited facilities. The worst schools were far better than today’s worst schools. On average, I would say schools were better.
- The top marginal income tax rate was very high but hardly anyone paid that rate. In Ohio, there was no state income tax and the state sales tax was 3%.
Ten things that weren’t so good
- Crummy cars
- Three TV channels, primitive receivers
- Expensive monopoly telephone service
- De facto segregation, marginalization of women
- Air and water pollution
- Primitive medicine and dentistry
- The military draft
- Atmospheric nuclear weapons tests
- CIA overthrow of elected leaders in Guatemala and Iran
- Polio was a crippling and and contagious disease. Our municipal swimming pool was closed during the summer of 1953 because of fears of polio. The Salk vaccine was just over the horizon.
- Car fenders would begin to rust through after a couple of years because of road salt. It was common to have to grind the valves at 35,000 miles or so. A 60,000-mile car was ready for the junk pile.
- Air quality had improved somewhat due to the post-war switch from coal-fired furnaces to natural gas. But if you painted your house white it would gradually take on a reddish tinge due to emissions from factories and foundries. Lake Erie was unsafe for swimming within 50 miles either side of Cleveland.
- If you were black, you couldn’t buy a house or rent an apartment in suburbs like Cleveland Heights where I lived. There were no legal barriers, just an understanding among sellers and landlords.
- The detrimental effects of ionizing radiation were not well recognized, not just with regard to weapons tests. Dental X-rays inflicted 50 times as much radiation as they do now. When my mother took me shopping for shoes, I stuck my feet into slots at the bottom of a machine called a fluoroscope with three viewing ports on top that showed X-ray images of my feet, to show whether a candidate pair of shoes fit well. One such exposure probably didn’t hurt me, but the cumulative effect of many such exposures might have.
- Opportunities for women were beginning to spread beyond the traditional fields of nursing, teaching, clerking and a few others. Professions weren’t closed to women, but there were hurdles.