Undated: Howard Finster

A rural Baptist preacher, Howard Finster begins creating sculptures and structures for what he called the Plant Farm Museum (later to be known as Paradise Gardens) on his property in Pennville, Ga. Over his lifetime he would create thousands of religious-themed works and be acclaimed as a true visionary.

* Official website: @
* finstersparadisegardens.org: @
* "This Southern Life" video: @
* Finster entry from New Georgia Encyclopedia: @
* Finster entry from Encyclopedia of Alabama: @
* Entry from American Studies at the University of Virginia: @


Undated: Ford Gyron

The two-wheeled concept car, built by the Ford Motor Co., makes the rounds of auto shows in 1961 (Detroit, New York), though as a nonrunning prototype; it was never meant to see the open road.

From a March 31 story by UPI: "It would have a gyroscope for stability and might be powered by fuel cells instead of a regular engine. ... The car will hold two people in contoured seats which support not only the head and back but the upper part of the legs as well. It has no steering wheel. Instead it uses a dial with separate rings for automatic speed and steering control. The car could be steered from either seat because the dial is located in a console between the seats and the car has dual accelerator and brake pads. A 10-button panel, also located in the console, supposedly would control a built-in computer to help a motorist of the future 'program' a trip on a non-stop expressway."

* Summary, photos: @
* Entry from "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Extraordinary Automobiles": @
* More information (from Tucker Automobile Club of America bulletin board): @
* "When Dream Cars Collide With Real-World Demands" (New York Times, 2007): @
* Photo and video of Gyron toy car (made in Japan, battery-powered, remote-controlled): @ and @


Undated: Roy Lichtenstein

In the summer of 1961, artist Roy Lichtenstein completes "Look Mickey," among his earliest contributions to the "Pop Art" movement. Lichtenstein often took inspiration from comic books, but in this case the image came from a Little Golden Book called "Donald Duck -- Lost and Found."

* National Gallery of Art pamphlet for youngsters (includes origins of "Look Mickey"): @

* "Deconstructing Roy Lichtenstein" (websites comparing source materials to resulting works): @ and @
* More about the artist (from theartstory.org): @
* More about Pop Art: @ and @
* Roy Lichtenstein Foundation: @
* www.image-duplicator.com (search engine for Lichtenstein's works): @


Sunday, June 25, 1961: Los Angeles International Airport

A dedication ceremony is held for the Los Angeles Jet Age Terminal Construction Project, an expansion of the airport. Among the new structures, the most notable was the futuristic-looking Theme Building (left), which housed a restaurant and observation deck. (People often mistook it for the control tower.) It remains a classic example of "Googie" architecture.

* More about Theme Building: @ and @
* More about Walt Disney Imagineers' work in 1990s on Theme Building: @
* 2010 New York Times article on Theme Building restoration: @
* "Los Angeles International Airport" (book): @
* Encounter Restaurant website: @
* Flight Path Learning Center and Museum: @
* Googie Architecture Online: @


Friday, June 23, 1961: Antarctic Treaty

"Antarctica shall be used for peaceful purposes only" -- so begins Article 1 of the Antarctic Treaty, which goes into effect after ratification by the 12 countries that were active in Antarctic science during the International Geophysical Year in 1957-58. (The treaty was originally signed on December 1, 1959). It goes on to say, "Freedom of scientific investigation ... shall continue" and "Any nuclear explosions in Antarctica and the disposal there of radioactive waste material shall be prohibited."

* Complete text: @
* Secretariat of the Antarctic Treaty: @
* Special Antarctica issue, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, December 1970: @


Wednesday, June 21, 1961: Desalination plant

A seawater desalination plant in Freeport, Texas, becomes operational with President Kennedy "activating" it via remote control from the White House. The plant is capable of producing a million gallons of fresh water a day, to be used by Freeport residents and Dow Chemical. (Cartoon at left is by Art Bimrose of The Oregonian newspaper in Portland.)

* Kennedy's remarks: @
* "A Press Relations Report" (U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of Saline Water, October 1961): @
* "History, Function, and Program of the Office of Saline Water" (director's report, July 1963): @
* Popular Science article (March 1961): @
* Life magazine article (June 30, 1961): @
* Time magazine article (Sept. 12, 1961): @


Undated: 'The Prom: It's a Pleasure!'

Made by The Jam Handy Organization (and sponsored by The Coca-Cola Company), "The Prom: It's a Pleasure!" was an educational film about the prom night experience. Says amazon.com's editorial review: "From the phone call asking Junior Miss for the date, to the drop-off at the end of the night, this film details prom etiquette for the curious and uncouth teenager." (Note: the narrator and star of the film is America's Junior Miss, Mary Frances Luecke, who as Mary Frann would star as Bob Newhart's wife in the 1980s television comedy "Newhart.")

* Watch movie (from www.archive.org): @
* "Doing It for the Kids: Rebels and Prom Queens in the Cold War Classroom Film" (from Colloquy journal, Monash University, Australia): @
* "The American Dream in Postwar Classroom Films" (from DePaul University's School for New Learning): @

June 1961: The wearable computer

Claude Shannon and Edward O. Thorp, both of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, devise the first wearable computer. Its purpose: to predict where a ball will end up on a roulette wheel.

* "The Invention of the First Wearable Computer" (paper by Thorp): @
* Thorp's website: @
* "The Professor Who Breaks the Bank" (Life magazine article about Thorp, March 1964): @
* Short biographies of Claude Shannon: @ and @
* "Father of the Information Age" (video on Shannon): @
* "A brief history of wearable computing": @
* International Symposium on Wearable Computers: @


Undated: Seven-digit telephone numbers

The Bell System is making the transition from alphanumeric telephone numbers ("PEnnsylvania 6-5000") to seven-digit numbers. The reason: to make more numbers available for the ever-increasing number of what were sometimes still called "telephone sets."

* "Mr. Digit and the Battle of Bubbling Brook" (Bell System film, 1961): @
* History of telephone prefixes (from privateline.com): @
* Telephone EXchange Name Project: @
* Time magazine article, May 11, 1962: @
* Time magazine article, July 13, 1962: @
* "The Let's All Call Up AT&T and Protest to the President March" (Allan Sherman song, 1963): @


Friday, June 16, 1961: Rudolf Nureyev defects

The star of the Soviet Union's Kirov Ballet, 23-year-old Rudolf Nureyev, defects to the West at Le Bourget airport in Paris. The ballet company was en route to London, but Nureyev had been told by Soviet authorities -- who had become increasingly suspicious of his behavior of late -- that he was to fly back to Moscow instead. (Photo by Richard Avedon, Paris 1961.)

* Official website of Rudolf Nureyev Foundation: @
* Summary of defection from BBC and history.com: @ and @
* Footage of Nureyev in Paris just after defection: @
* August 28 story from Stars and Stripes: @
* "Le Corsaire" (with Margot Fonteyn, 1962): @
* Solo debut on U.S. television (1963): @
* "Nureyev: The Life" (book by Julie Kavanagh): @


Undated: Tent City, Tennessee

What began as a voter registration drive by black residents of Fayette and Haywood counties in Tennessee became an economic battle as white merchants refused their business and white landowners evicted black tenant farmers. In response -- and out of necessity -- the farmers set up "Tent City" on land owned by a black farmer. On June 14, President Kennedy authorized the Department of Agriculture to send surplus food to the people living there. (On July 26, 1962, a federal court would prohibit white landowners from trying to keep blacks from voting.)

Top photo: Voter registration line at Haywood County Courthouse. Photo by Walter Sanders for Life magazine.
Bottom photo: Tent City family. Photo by Ernest C. Withers.

* "Tent City Stories" (from Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change, University of Memphis): @
* Summary and timeline (from Jackson Sun civil rights series): @ and @
* Summary (from Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture): @
* Summary (from Civil Rights Conference, University of Tennessee at Martin): @
* Summary written for youngsters (from Tennessee History for Kids): @
* "Cold War in Fayette County" (Ebony magazine, September 1960): @
* "Tent City, TN" (Ebony, March 1961): @
* "Which Way Out ...?" (NAACP's Crisis magazine, March 1961): @


Saturday, June 10, 1961: Preservation Hall

Old-time jazz gets a permanent, popular home in New Orleans, Louisiana, as Preservation Hall opens to the public, in a nondescript building that dates back to the mid-1700s. There are few amenities and no admission charge; the audience is just asked to contribute.

* Founding and early history (from "New Orleans on Parade: Tourism and the Transformation of the Crescent City," book by Jonathan Mark Souther): @
* Short documentary: @
* Footage from "David Brinkley's Journal" on NBC: @
* Associated Press story (August 1961): @
* "Preservation Hall" (book by William Carter): @
* Official website: @


Saturday-Sunday, June 3-4, 1961: Kennedy and Khrushchev

U.S. President Kennedy and Soviet leader Khrushchev meet for two days of informal talks in Vienna, Austria. The talks do not go well, particularly from the American point of view: "He just beat the hell out of me," Kennedy would later say. On a range of issues -- Laos, nuclear testing and particularly Berlin -- Khrushchev was the aggressor, trying to take advantage of what he saw as American weakness in the wake of the failed Bay of Pigs operation in Cuba.

* The Summit Conference at Vienna (from "Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961-1963"): @
* Memo of June 3 talks (from JFK library): @
* Newsreel (from C-SPAN): @
* Transcript of Kennedy's televised speech, June 6: @
* Excerpt from "The Cold War: The essential readings": @
* Excerpt from "Khrushchev: The Man and His Era": @
* Excerpt from "Kennedy's Kitchen Cabinet and the Pursuit of Peace": @
* "Berlin 1961": @


Saturday, June 3, 1961: G.I. Joe the pigeon

G.I. Joe, a pigeon credited with saving the lives of 1,000 British soldiers during World War II, dies at the Detroit Zoological Gardens. The following was written by Otto Meyer, U.S. Army (retired), former commander of the U.S. Army Pigeon Service:

The British 56th Brigade was scheduled to attack the city of Colvi Vecchia, Italy, at 10 a.m. October 18, 1943. The U.S. Air Support Command was scheduled to bomb the city to soften the entrance for the British Brigade. The Germans retreated, leaving only a small rear guard, and as a result the British troops entered the city with little resistance and occupied it ahead of schedule.

All attempts to cancel the bombings of the city, made by radio and other forms of communication, had failed. Little "G.I. Joe" was released with the important message to cancel the bombing. He flew 20 miles back to the U.S. Air Support Command base in 20 minutes, and arrived just as our planes were warming up to take off. If he had arrived a few minutes later it might have been a different story.

General Mark Clark, commanding the U.S. Fifth Army, estimated that "G.I. Joe" saved the lives of at least 1,000 of our British allies.

In November 1946, "G.I. Joe" was shipped from Fort Monmouth, N.J. to London, England, where he was cited and awarded the Dickin Medal for gallantry by the Lord Mayor of London. "G.I. Joe" is the only bird or animal in the United States to receive this high award. "G.I. Joe," a dark checker pied white flight cock, was hatched March 24, 1943, at the Pigeon Section in Algiers, Algeria, North Africa. Later he was taken to the Tunisian front, then to Bizerte, and from there to the Italian front.

After World War II, "G.I. Joe" was housed in the Churchill Loft, the U.S. Army's "Hall of Fame" at Fort Monmouth, N.J., along with 24 other pigeon heroes. In March of 1957, the remaining pigeon heroes were placed with different zoological gardens throughout the U.S.A. "G.I. Joe" was placed with the Detroit Zoological Gardens, where he died June 3, 1961 at the age of 18. "G.I. Joe" was returned, mounted and placed in the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Museum, Fort Monmouth, N.J.

* "Pigeons of War" (from American in WWII website): @
* www.pigeonsincombat.com: @


June 1961*: 'Stranger in a Strange Land'

The science-fiction novel "Stranger in a Strange Land," by Robert A. Heinlein, is published. It tells the story of Valentine Michael Smith, a human who was born and raised on Mars and then returns to Earth. The book would introduce the term "grok" into the English language.

(* From William H. Patterson Jr., editor of The Heinlein Journal: "It was offered in June 1961 by the Doubleday SF Book Club ... I regard the true issue as the trade hardback, which was issued on July 1, 1961.")

* Summary: @
* The Heinlein Society: @
* The Heinlein Journal: @
* site:RAH: @
* www.wegrokit.com: @
* "Grok" definition (dictionary.com): @


Thursday, June 1, 1961: FM radio

In April, the Federal Communications Commission approves standards for FM stereo broadcasting. On June 1, WGFM in Schenectady, New York, becomes the first FM station in the U.S. to regularly broadcast in stereo. (According to Billboard magazine, "Enoch Light's Command stereo albums were used exclusively for programming the first day.")

* "What you'll want to know about FM stereo" (Popular Science, June 1962): @
* Excerpt from "The Guide to United States Popular Culture" (book): @
* Sounds of Change: A History of FM Broadcasting in America" (book): @
* Enoch Light website: @

Blog archive


Follow: @