The Jet Age Hits Suburbia

Vintage Travel Ad TWA 1950s family illustration

Morning Lift Off

 Intruding upon on our leisurely Sunday morning breakfast in the winter of 1958, the rude roar of the airplane passing overhead totally obliterated the happy snap, crackle and pop sound effects of my Rice Krispies.

Distracted by the loud disturbance, Mom lost count of how many heaping teaspoons of Tang she had already added to the pitcher of cold water, while Dad took his nose out from the Sports Section long enough to look up  in the direction of the noise.

Vintage Ad airplane Pan Am 1950s illustation stewardess

Stabbing a forkful of burnt salami and runny eggs, Dad wondered what gourmet treat the glamorous Pan Am-coffee-tea-or me- stewardess might be serving her passengers as the jet whisked those lucky travel-now-pay-later tourists  away for their La Dolce Vita Roman Holiday Tours.

Between bites, Dad wondered aloud whether the plane might be one of Pan Am’s new Jet Clippers that was getting so much press lately. Suddenly it seemed, we were catapulted into the jet age, the age of shrinking distances and expanding horizons.

“Imagine,” he mused in wonderment, “only 6 1/2 magic hours to Europe!”

1958 was indeed a year defined by speed and motion. We successfully launched Americas first satellites into outer space, supersonic aircraft were setting world speed records, and now Pan Am Jet clippers with a cruising speed of 600 mph were  criss crossing the ocean.

travel Pan American advertising

Before jet planes, transatlantic flights were longer and noisier.
(L)Vintage ad Pan Am 1949 (R) Vintage ad Pan Am 1958 first commercial jet across the Atlantic

New Horizons

Suddenly the whole world was within easy reach.

Jet travel was a new concept of air transportation. Transatlantic air travel in the immediate post-war years was still a novelty, but offered significant advantages over sea travel. A typical trip by sea across the Atlantic took about 5 days while air travel in a turbo prop plane cut that down to less than half a day, with intermediate stops usually in gander Newfoundland and/or Shannon, Ireland.

Now with the Boeing 707, Pan Am ushered in the jet age. It was a magic world of travel. Pan Am’s jet clippers were the first transatlantic jet airliner- they were pure jets, the airline boasted, a major advance over turbo props. It was a world of vibration-free, quiet comfort.

Take Off

television ad 1950s

Another loud roar was heard this one much closer to home. From the living room we could hear my 6-year-old older brother Andy howling because TV host Chuck McCann’s goofy moon face on “Lets Have Fun” went all fuzzy on our television screen just as he was about to air a Popeye cartoon.

Suddenly  Popeye, Olive Oyl and Wimpy dissolved into  a collection of  wiggles, jiggles and flutters and the mealy-mouthed mumblings of Popeye  was all that could be made out on the TV.“I is disgustipated!”

“Those darn jet planes,” Dad murmured grappling with the TV controls to try to smooth out the flutter on the television reception caused by the airplanes.

No such luck.

Now that we were in the flight path from Idlewild Airport the TV reception on the old Philco would erupt into streaks, flop over’s and a flurry of snow.

Hoping to distract him, Mom poured Andy a cup of the freshly made Tang into his melmac Popeye mug. Between great gulps of the fluorescent orange elixir, my brother and I enthusiastically sang our own version of the Tang commercial:

He’s Popeye the sailor man he’s strong to the finich cause he eats his spinach  but if you want to do what the astronauts do

Join the space gang

 And drink your energy Tang

 Tang is for breakfast, lunch and after school-tang 

 Tang is energy zing like rocket fuel…” causing us to dissolve into gales of laughter.

 Wild Blue Yonder

travel airline Pan Am 1959

Hoo, Ha, those jets are a menace” Mom complained, fixing another cup of instant Nescafe for herself and Dad.

Jets were now constantly screeching over our homes, supermarkets and schools. The wild blue yonder was getting wilder every day as military planes got out of control, collided and exploded on a regular basis.

“Right here in East Meadow no less,” a distraught Mom exclaimed, “ only, three- blocks- god-forbid- from where the Pearlman’s live, an Air Force bomber disintegrated right on the front lawn of a family’s home. Who ever heard of such a thing?”

“Here’s one for you.” Dad read grimly from an article in the Long Island Press “Tragic landing on Highway. Forced into an emergency night landing when his air force C-123 transport ran short of gas over a thickly settled LI suburb, the pilot set down on a highway. The plane plunged through an overpass, smashed 3 cars, and came to a rest after killing…..”

Mom cut him off quickly. “The “kinder” have big ears,” she said nodding in my direction. Sitting at the kitchen table drinking my cup of milk, I sipped in thoughtful silence. As Dad read the story, I gulped it down.

It was both frightening and riveting.


travel globe children 1950s

 With the faulty Philco on the fritz, the prospect of my brother missing his Sunday morning  shows loomed large. Mom wisely anticipated the possibility of our own localized, 38 pound explosion, and quickly handed Andy a favorite book to distract him from the fact he would be missing Sonny Fox on Wonderama.

Captivated, Andy opened the large book on the floor and was going over the pages very carefully.

It was a World Atlas with colored maps and pictures of the strange things to be found in foreign countries. In one page was a picture of the earth, a round ball and a paragraph that said if one were to travel always in a straight line in one direction he would go clear around the world and come back to his starting point.

“Do you know, said Dad buttering his toast, “you could learn a great deal more about geography if you were really in those countries instead of just reading about them.”

“Yeah, Andy answered skeptically, “but how would we get to those places”.

“You could fly for one,” returned Mom, pouring each of us a cup of freshly made Tang. “You could even fly to Paris right now if you wanted to.”

Since October, it was a much smaller world especially with the new commercial jets that could fly you from NY to Europe in a magical 6 ½ hours.

“Forget about the same old places …same old faces…same old things,” the commercial for Pan Am crowed. “This year why not give the globe a spin and pick out the places you’d really like to go.”

“Yes now’s the time to listen to your heart and let yourself go! “

Copyright (©) 2013 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved

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