Saturday, April 16, 2011

Blast from the Past

This is incredible. My building is getting its windows fixed up, and this morning the repairman pulled out a piece of newspaper that had been stuffed as filler into a gap underneath the window frame. An artifact from the past, sealed in there for who knows how many decades...

Wait, scratch that. Actually we know exactly how long, because it's a newspaper:

The Chicago Sun-Times, Sunday, July 23, 1950.

In fact, pretty much all the questions I would think to ask upon discovering a relic -- where and when did it come from, what sort of environment would have produced it and how did it come to be here -- are answered in this case. For one, there may be no better object than a newspaper for giving a sense of the time it hails from. But even beyond that, it almost feels like this particular page of newsprint was carefully selected for the journey from 1950 to 2011. On the one hand, it's just one page, and not even the front page at that:

And indeed, at first glance I thought it was just a random and unimportant page from the middle of the paper. But on closer inspection this page seems to contain a representative smattering of news items that would normally only be captured over many pages. It's also full of advertisements that give a sense for the trends and technology and prices of the time.

For starters there's the Headline Quiz: Test your knowledge of the news of last week! (complete with Answer Key).

Always good to provide a convenient boxed summary of what's been happening lately for anyone who's just tuning in from, say, The Future.

By the way it's possible the average score on this quiz is not monotonic in the year people take it. I'm not sure if this one was a softball or if it's just easy from the perspective of 2011:

Added: Note the answer to #5 is General Eisenhower. In 1950 he was not yet president.

But not all news can be dressed up as fun and games. Right next to the quiz is a sobering reminder of the era:

That's some heavy stuff. It sure is good to be on this side of the Cold War.

But to get away from that, we need only flip the page over. Advertisements! What were they buying in 1950?

A portable phonograph for only $29.95?!? Carry it like a lightweight overnight bag! Music anytime, anywhere with this handsome Silvertone portable!

How far we've come. Our definition of "portable" has been refined considerably. And size aside, note also that an iPhonograph would not be "handsome" would be iPretty. (Not sure I consider this an advancement).

By the way, if you're wondering how much $30 was in 1950, take a clue from the fact that the buyer could opt to pay in less burdensome installments of $5/month.

Besides phonographs, there's also photographs. TREMENDOUS SAVINGS!

Mail and phone orders promptly filled! Based on this and a couple other ads, it seems to be pretty normal for certain businesses to stay open for one or two days a week.

Finally, back to the fun and games. I wonder if anyone ever found this treasure?

I think we can safely infer that in 1950, pirates were "in"...


I know you can just go to XYZ Archives and pull up records of old newspapers and all. But this was just pulled out of my wall.

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