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Historically Speaking

Historically Speaking: A Lot of Techno Changes Over Past 70 Years

By Tom Morrow

Over the 77 years I’ve been on this earth, more changes, advancements, and inventions have been made than nearly all of recorded history. A great deal of those have made our lives better – some have not.

Growing up in the Middle West (Iowa), the dissemination of information was limited at best. We had no Facebook, no e-mail, no Internet. There were four primary ways we received our national and world news: The daily newspaper, radio, the weekly newsreel at our movie theatre, and magazines. Well, for those of us who had a local weekly newspaper, that was the fifth outlet. I was well on my way to high school before television entered the picture. For the more populated and sophisticated portions of the country, TV was well established by 1950.

There were four important times of the day on radio: The 6 a.m. news, the 12 noon news, the 6 p.m. evening news, and the 10 p.m. nightly news. Farmers had different requirements. The grain, beef and hog market radio reports followed the above news broadcasts and were must programming for them.

By the mid-20th century, electricity was readily available in Iowa towns, but a good number of farmers in surrounding areas had no such modern convenience. On Saturday afternoon you’d see farmers bringing in their batteries (usual an auto battery) to be charged up after a week’s worth of radio listening.

Radio provided colorful news commentators, each with his own brand of political philosophy. There was H.V. (Hans Von) Kaltenborn, Gabriel Heatter (Ah, There’s Good/Grave News Tonight!), and Paul Harvey. There were others, of course, but for the Midwest and other conservative areas of the country, these three made the biggest impact. (Bill O’Reilly wouldn’t have stood a chance in those days).
Nearly every city in America had both a morning and evening newspaper. The big cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles each had as many as seven dailies in New York City. AM Radio was big, but FM was just a novelty. Most home and car radios were produced with no FM receiving capability. Such was the case until well into the ‘70s and ‘80s.

We had a form of “online” shopping. It was called the mail order catalog. Sear & Roebuck, Montgomery Ward, and Spiegel’s filled the bill. If you couldn’t find what you were looking for in those three catalogs, then you probably didn’t need it. When the new catalog arrived each year, the old one often served another purpose for those unfortunate enough to not have indoor plumbing.

Saturday night was the big shopping day for most farming communities. It was the time of week when area farmers and their families came to down to do their “trading,” shop for necessities and maybe go to a movie. Each town had at least one produce house, which bought eggs and cream from farmers who would then use the money to buy groceries and other needs. When the weather was bad, the snow deep or the roads too muddy, farm families had to wait for better conditions to come to town.

Until the mid-fifties, Iowa and Missouri highways were less than desirable. No Interstates. There was no speed limit – only a caution: “reasonable and prudent. Farm-to-market roads (as they were known) were mostly covered with rock or shale from area coal mines. The yearly highway death toll in Iowa was usually in excess of 500.

As for medical services, unless you lived in or near a town of size with a hospital, you were on your own. Usually a neighbor or relative would take the patient in a car as fast as possible. CPR? Never heard of it. Most of those older folks with serious heart attacks and strokes succumbed.

For those of you over 60, none of these “revelations” will come as a surprise. To those younger, consider yourselves fortunate to live in this age. Technology has made tremendous progress over the past 70 years for the betterment of our lives.


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