Having completed my preparation for this week’s article, a single sentence from a Sunday afternoon TV commercial changed everything: PBS is 50 years old. After scurrying to discover other persons, places, and things turning fifty this year, I realized the public broadcaster actually celebrated its half-century anniversary last year. By that time, however, I was in a birthday mood. So – let’s party like it’s 1971!
First in line for a festive cake is FedEx. I am drawn to this company because its employees deliver packages to my house very professionally, my nephew-in-law works there, and I liked the movie Cast Away. Most fascinating about this multinational corporation, however, is that it began at Yale University as a term paper by Fred Smith. His professor was not particularly impressed by the concept of a business specifically designed for urgent deliveries. No matter. Smith today is the founder, chairman, and CEO of the system he described in a homework assignment fifty years ago.
Fifty years before computers made virtual and remote learning possible and Zoom a “thing,” what I back then considered a technological advance first came to my attention. As a teacher of languages, I dreaded the mathematical conclusion to each grading period – adding by hand all the numbers I had recorded in my gradebook. Oh, I was adept enough at using an electric calculator during my summer job at a local dress shop. Without the financial means to invest in such a device, however, it was pencil and lots of scrap paper for all that tedious computation. One day I saw a book salesman using a handheld calculator, which I immediately coveted for myself. Initial prices in the hundreds of dollars were prohibitive. But a couple of decades after that first glimpse, I finally bought my first pocket calculator for a pittance – and never looked back!
Although it took a couple of years to show up in Ohio, an iconic item on the McDonald’s menu should also be sporting fifty candles. A McDonald’s franchisee in California, Al Bernardin, dreamed up the Quarter Pounder to satisfy adults wanting a “higher ratio of meat to bun.” His invention, with its pre-cooked patty weighing in at a quarter pound, became a staple on the national menu for the 1971 price of 55 cents.
There is probably no better place to celebrate fifty years of anything than at Walt Disney World – and they will be doing just that! Hardly an amusement park aficionado, I have never experienced all “The Happiest Place on Earth” has to offer: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom – plus water parks, golf courses, and hotels galore. My nephew and his family recently joined the 20 million other folks annually visiting the theme park near Orlando; they stayed a whole week!
Walt Disney’s idea for an eastern amusement park similar to Disneyland, which he opened in California in 1955, began as he quietly acquired property in Florida. He unfortunately passed away in 1966 before his dream could come true. His older brother Roy postponed retirement to oversee the construction of Disney World, which he later renamed Walt Disney World in tribute to his younger brother.
I must also point out a significant 50-year-old political development. Responding to growing discontent that 18-year-olds were old enough to be drafted for military service but too young to vote, in March Congress overwhelmingly agreed to lower the voting age. By July, three-fourths of the states had ratified the legislation that became the 26th Amendment: The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.
Although two weeks ago in this very column I refused to disclose the date and age of my upcoming birthday, I am today revealing them. Exactly 73 years ago tonight, my appearance inducted my mother and father into parenthood.
As I clicked along in Google, I recognized other events of 1948 that somehow impacted my life. For example, Israel became a nation that year, one that I would visit with Ingrid and her choir in 1984.
The Marshall Plan, also known as the European Recovery Program, provided Western Europe with aid following WWII in an attempt to encourage economic development and to stop the spread of communism. When the Soviets blockaded land routes to West Berlin, America led other Western allies in landing cargo planes every thirty seconds for eleven months to deliver food and other necessities during the Berlin Airlift. Years later, I would teach my students about both initiatives.
The genesis of my nephew’s current position as head engineer for Kurt Busch occurred when NASCAR ran its first race on a beach road course at Daytona 73 years ago. In 1948 my parents could not have known how often I would pass through the newly-established Idlewild Airport, later renamed for John F. Kennedy. And I would never have played Scrabble had it not been for James Brunot. The original boardless game, Lexico, was not particularly successful during the Great Depression. A second version did no better in the marketplace until Brunot acquired, copyrighted and trademarked it as Scrabble – initially making 18 of the updated boardgames a day in his living room.
Here’s wishing everyone turning 50 or 73 or any age in between the happiest of birthdays! Now, let’s party!
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.