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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Back in the day: Radioactivity, rocketry and rayguns
Uploaded by Bacmaster on Oct 2, 2009

I remember very well the fascination and fear with which we regarded anything "radioactive" during my childhood. In the midst of the Cold War, schools had regular "duck and cover" civil defense drills just like schools have fire drills today. Many families were building bomb shelters in their back yards, and people lived with a low-grade but persistent fear of a nuclear attack.

That said, we also had a love affair with all things atomic and "space age." In the late 1940s, kids had to have the Lone Ranger Atomic Bomb ring, which promised to let you see real atoms split if you looked through the lens (and even had a secret compartment where you could hide a message written on a tiny slip of paper). Rayguns and rocket ships topped Christmas lists around the country, and science fiction movies we consider campy today were truly frightening back then.

Adults fell for "atomic" marketing ploys as well. As I mentioned in a previous post, many clock and watch hands were painted with radium paint to make them glow in the dark, and this was a big selling point for many buyers. Collectors today often want to know if these items pose a significant danger. Roger Russell, who has done extensive research on this issue says (and you can file this in your Good Things to Know folder):

The only real danger with radium paint is when attempts are made to remove it. Some authorities say that even removing a watch dial could result in breathing any accumulation of radon gas or radioactive dust that has come free. Scraping it off with a knife blade and letting the pieces get all over could result in later ingesting some and then it could be a health hazard for you, your family and pets. Then, there is the problem of getting rid of the pieces. Wherever you put them, they are still a radioactive hazard.

Adults had their space age-inspired toys too. Nothing says "rocket ship" more than the cars of the 1950s with their sweeping fins and bullet-shaped tail lights. Everywhere you looked, the "outer space" theme was the design of consumer goods, in signage and in architecture., sorry about the trip back into the 1980s with the "Radioactive" video. For some reason, that song popped into my head when I started writing this post, and I figured if I had to hum it all day, you should too. :)

Kix ad for Atomic Bomb ring, 1947
Atom "Bomb" ring, 1947
Friction space guns, 1960s
Toy rocket, 1960s
1957 Chevy BelAir tailfin
Rex Gray on
1959 Cadillac tailfins and lights
Oldsmobile sign, 1962

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