The year was 1959, 60 years ago. So what was going on when my class was three months into our sixth grade year?
There was a lot going on in the U.S. Inflation was low at 1.01 percent. If your family had saved enough money you could buy a new home. The average new house cost $12,400. So how much were workers making in 1959 to pay for their new home? Average yearly wages were $5,010, or about $96 a week.
When you drove the family automobile to the service station, gasoline cost a mere 25 cents a gallon! A new car costs an average of $2,200, nearly half of your earnings for the year. When your mom sent you to the store for a loaf of bread, it would set you back about 20-cents.
I remember riding my bike to the "filling station" across the street from the public library in my home town of Geneva. You could buy a "king size" Coke for a dime and be guaranteed to getting one of the coldest drinks in town. They turned the thermostat way down in the vending machine.
Now if you had a nickel left in your pocket, you could buy a bag of salted peanuts, too. You then had the makings of a "Georgia cocktail." To create this tasty treat, all you had to do was open the Coke and carefully pour in the peanuts. There was something special about the taste of the extra cold drink and the salty nuts. Mmm...delicious.
A much older friend told me a great story about the days when Cokes were brand new. All his friends were dying to taste this drink they had heard so much about.
My friend lived way out in the country. Every Saturday he would help his grandfather hitch their mule to the family's wagon for a trip to town. Usually he would let one of the grandchildren ride along. In return for helping load the groceries and other purchases, my friend or one of his brothers would get a treat. The week that the first Coca-Cola was available in town, my friend's older brother was selected to make the trip.
When his brother returned from town, my friend ran up to the wagon and asked, "What was it like, that Coca-Cola drink?" He said his brother thought about the question for a moment and then came up with this reply, "It tastes just like when your foot's asleep." Now, that's a terrific answer.
As a kid, I had a tendency to compare the cost of living with the cost of Coca Colas. The first price a remember was 5 cents out of a freestanding coke machine. Then the price went up to 6 cents. You had to pay on the honor system utilizing a small tube where you dropped in the penny.
After a while, I realized the extra penny was not connected to the vending machine. They just trusted us to pay the 6 cent total. I'll never forget the day I wheeled my 26" Schwinn bike into the filling station to get a c-o-l-d drink only to find the price had soared to 10 cents a bottle. That was my first lesson in Economics 101.
TV sets in the home were common place by the year 1959. What were we watching 60 years ago? One of my favorite shows from that year was the "Twilight Zone." I can hear Rod Serling's spooky introduction now. It was a new show in 1959 premiering Oct.2. It ran through the early summer of 1964.
I can remember the theme songs from two wildly popular westerns on TV that year, "Bonanza" and "Rawhide." "Bonanza" was the story of Ben Cartwright and his three sons, Adam, Hoss and Little Joe living on the Ponderosa ranch.
I remember working in local radio and playing a song "Ringo" by Loren Green, who played Ben on "Bonanza." I couldn't help noticing what an incredible voice Green had and hoped that maybe someday I would have a deep and resonant voice like him. It didn't happen.
"Rawhide" featured a young actor named Clint Eastwood who played Rowdy Yates, one of the trail hands on the seemingly endless story of a cattle drive across the Midwest. His boss was Gil Favor played by Eric Fleming. The show was on NBC for from Jan. 9, 1959 through Dec. 7, 1965.
Also in 1959, the U.S. grew substantially (land wise) when Alaska was admitted to the union as the 49th state. It was followed by Hawaii as the 50th.
Internationally the biggest story of the year was the Cuban Revolution when Fidel Castro came to power setting up the first communist state in the west.
NASA successfully launched the Pioneer 4 spacecraft on March 3, 1959. In the end it was a bust, getting no closer than 37,000 miles of the moon. NASA had hoped cameras on board the Pioneer 4 would photograph the surface of the moon, but it never happened.
The Soviet Union had been successful with their Luna 1 spacecraft, but 10 years later the U.S. would land a men on the moon, a feat never equaled by the Russians.
And finally, speaking of the race to the moon, in 1959 NASA named its first seven astronauts the "Mercury Seven" in April of that year. Can you name them? They were Alan Shepard, John Glenn, Walter Schirra, Donald Slayton, Virgil Griffin, Gordon Cooper, and Scott Carpenter. And yes, they had the right stuff.