Man, What a Heat Wave

vintage illustration from vintage childrens book mans progress

Vintage Illustration “The Story of Man The Panorama of Human Life and Works” 1960 Illustration by Pierre Leroy

The Temperatures Rising… It Isn’t Surprising…

Poor mankind!

His triumphant march towards progress  is always being blamed for the actions of a hot-headed, fickle Mother Nature whose erratic behavior has recently played havoc with our weather systems.

Panicked cries of global warming by hand wringing I-told -you-so environmentalists fault the recent rash of oppressive  heat waves, ferocious wild fires, and devastating drought  on our decades long dependence on fossil fuels.

It’s hard not to connect the dots.

vintage childrens schoolbook illustration transportation through the ages

Wheels Across America 1954 by Terry Shannon, illustration by Charles Payzant

When it comes to weather , it’s certainly not the first time  man’s triumph over nature has been called into question by alarmists .

In the 1950s,  blaming finger-pointing also  turned towards mans  industrial might and scientific prowess.

We’re Having a Heat Wave

vintage images and illustration 1940s,50s

As spring turned to summer in 1954, a debate broke out about the unseasonably hot weather.

Summer  turned out to be a real scorcher that year.

A wilted public looking to point the finger of blame on something blamed the spell of unseasonably hot weather on everything from new fangled TV transmissions racing through the sky to the recent spate of atmospheric Atom Bomb tests in Nevada.

Global warming was the farthest thing from our gas-guzzling minds. What was a little greenhouse gas build up when we had radiation in the atmosphere to be worried about.

The government hotly contested the charges insisting that the bomb tests effect on the weather was at most only local  in character.

vintage illustration of weather patterns school book 1950s

Vintage Illustration of Weather patterns from Vintage Book “The Wonderful World” 1954 by James Fisher

Mopping his perspiring brow with his handkerchief, my father  shrugged off the potential hazards of the bomb testing, especially the long term danger, laughing it off as pure fantasy. Folks were just hot under the collar and the bomb tests were an easy target.

As he pointed out, “It was the same nervous Nellies who thought we should be concerned about the safety of DDT.”

Radiation was like taxes, not pleasant perhaps but you could learn to live with it.

He tried to allay any apprehensions my mother had, reassuring her that our own government had guaranteed us of the safety of these testings and, as he was so fond of pointing out, if you can’t trust the word of Uncle Sam, who can you trust?

Godzilla that pre-historic reptile that mutated into a radioactive monster as a result of bomb tests may have cast a foreboding shadow in the far East with his radioactive breath, but the fiery sun was still shining brightly here at home.

Super Sizing the  Bomb

The recently developed Super-Bomb was thousands more powerful than the Atom Bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

This, Uncle Sam believed was the new kind of power that today’s American wants. A new kind of power for a new kind of people: the growing, restless people of mid-century America.

A Thermonuclear device was still a novelty and was on everybody’s mind, sparked by patriotic fervor and fanned to fascination by the impressionable pictures of the glowing skies and mushroom-shaped clouds presented in Life Magazine.

America’s passion over Bomb tests also flared up.

We’re Having a Heat Wave ….a Tropical Heat Wave….

Some began referring to the current heat wave as a tropical heat wave, igniting the farfetched rumors that attributed the sizzling weather on the even more powerful Hydrogen Bomb tests in the far off South Pacific.

vintage illustration of Nuclear bomb effects 1961

Your Show of Shows

Ever since April 1, 1954 when TV audiences coast to coast watched  an actual broadcast of a Hydrogen Bomb explosion, outlandish allegations from alarmists attributed everything from rising cost of living, to climate changes, birth defects, even throwing the very earth off its axis, to the tests.

The government debunked each of these fears, with Uncle Sam patiently and confidently dismissing every last one.

The recent television broadcast  of Operation Ivy, a once top-secret film that had been  shot in The Marshall Islands in 1952, offered viewers ring side seats in the comfort of their own living room of the first  full-scale test of a thermal nuclear device.

On the morning of April first, my bleary eyed mother got a real jolt with her morning coffee as she was treated to a bird’s-eye view of a nuclear explosion right there on the family Philco.  How about a rasher of radioactive bacon to go with those sunnyside up eggs?

art collage by Sally Edelstein vintage images and ads

By-The-Bomb’s-Early-Light collage Sally Edelstein

April Fools

Walter Cronkite, congenial host of The CBS Morning Show jumped the gun on the competition, teasing the early riser with sampling of clips from the Operation Ivy film scheduled to be broadcast on all 3 channels later in the day.

That evening, as TV sets warmed up all across the nation, an ominous soundtrack of music could be heard emanating from their sets. As the music built to a crescendo , my parents along with millions of other captivated  TV viewers  heard a metronomic voice counting down -5- 4 -3- 2 -1  and then  got an  eyeful when an awesome blast filled their TV screen with a gigantic billowing fireball.

The announcer triumphantly proclaimed “the Hydrogen Age is upon us”.

Afterwards a disbelieving audience witnessed as an entire atoll disappeared from the face of the earth.

Just to make sure the viewer understood the magnitude of the power wielded by this nuclear device they superimposed the explosion on the skyline of Manhattan, transmuting the devastation of the Marshal Islands into visions of American cities in smoldering ruins

Vintage illustration of Nuclear Bombs effects 1961

The spectacle, as theatrical as anything on Playhouse 90 was no hoax, no Orson Welles War of the Worlds Halloween prank. My mother, anxiously hoping for Walter Cronkite to utter the words “April Fools”, was cruelly disappointed!

Weather it Does or Whether  it Doesn’t

The Atomic Energy Commission   uniformly denied there was danger from these tests; in fact the danger lay in not doing the tests. Most folks agreed that the ultimate benefit of peace and security that the H-bomb would bring us was more than enough for the potential slight risk.

Mans harnessing of nature for our purposes has been man’s great triumph! The march of progress continues.

Excerpt from Defrosting The Cold War:Fallout From My Nuclear Family Copyright (©) 20013 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved

vintage illustration childrens book mankind through the ages

“Mans March of Progress” illustration from vintage children’s book “The Story Of Man” 1960


  1. I’m old enough to remember the old films and television commercials that advised children to “duck and cover” (i.e. get under your school desk and cover your head), a sure way to survive a nuclear bomb in your neighborhood.


  2. Yes, it never does quite go away!


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