Jun 092009

I hold in my hands a copy of the June 5, 1939 issue of Life magazine. It is very interesting.

The cover theme is “America’s future”. On the first page, a full page ad features a Chrysler Plymouth coupe for the princely sum of 645 US dollars, taxes and charges included, delivered in Detroit.

The magazine features an illustrated report about the rescue of submariners from the USS Squalus, an incident famous to this day, as this was the first time sailors were rescued successfully from a disabled submarine nearly 80 meters below the surface.

There is a pictorial report about America’s yesterday, nearly a century of photographs (counting back from 1939 that is!) documenting America’s past.

An elegant Westfield watch cost $9.95, a “sensational new miniature” 35mm camera from Eastman Kodak was advertised at $33.50, while an 8mm Cine-Kodak movie camera (“also makes movies in gorgeous full color on Kodachrome Film!” No mention of sound, mind you) was only $29.50.

There is a full-color, two-page “official map of the United States of America – 1939”, and a wonderful full page color photograph of the Hoover Dam. Then there is a “portrait of America” in maps, pictures, and words. A picture report shows numerous scenes from documentaries about urban life in America. The promise, it seems, is that thanks to the automobile and “smooth new parkways”, Americans will soon live in “towns too small for traffic jams” where children get “a chance to play in safety”. The “girl of tomorrow” wears wire eyelashes and walks about in elevator shoes with 4-inch thick soles.

Then there is “America in 1960”, straight from General Motors’ famed Futurama at the New York World Fair. Express highways with 14-lanes indeed… as if only 14 lanes would suffice in places like Toronto!

In “Headlines to the editors”, we read that “Einstein Believes He’s Found Solution to Gravitation Riddle”. (Not sure what this refers to… perhaps Einstein’s 1939 paper (Ann. of Math 40, 922) challenging the existence of black holes?) We read that “New Key is Found to Atomic Energy […] With Power to Release Largest Store Known on Earth”, and that “Endless Duel of Atoms Declared Source of Fuel in Furnace of Sun”. What the magazine isn’t talking about is that two months later, on August 2, 1939, Einstein would sign a letter that was drafted by Leo Szilard and addressed to President Roosevelt, about the possibility that atomic energy could be used to build a weapon. The rest, the Manhattan Project, that is, is of course history.

Finally, a back page ad suggests, “for smoking pleasure at its best, let up–light up a Camel!” Back in my smoking days, Camels were my favorite.

So what else happened on the week of June 5, 1939? Oh, of course. My Mom was born.

 Posted by at 5:38 pm