Inventing Modern: Growing Up with X-Rays, Skyscrapers, and Tailfins

By John H. Lienhard | Go to book overview

15
A Funeral in the Fifties

Modern breathed her last during the 1950s, and we witnessed her passing without any real sense that she was ailing. Such a peculiar alchemy of change and contradiction enveloped us all—we were done with World War II and back to life where we had left off. How could anyone have realized that we were now somehow switched over to a completely different train, and that we were riding down an entirely new track?

Fifty years later, I still recall trying to cast my world into familiar terms and only gradually realizing that 1939 had vanished. I tried to see life as the logical technological extrapolation of everything familiar, and it kept turning into something else. The old technologies were still there, still indexing ahead, but somehow the subject of the conversation had been changed, and they were no longer at its center.

For me, those years remain very raw. They were a piece of my life that I cannot, even now, view with any objective detachment. I shall, therefore, drop all pretense of analysis, and present myself as a primary source—a witness, a cork on the water. Just as I offer my great-grandfather as an “everyman” of 1846 (chapter 1), I myself play that role here. I make my deposition on the end of Modern, knowing full well that, if you were there as well, you might want to stress other events or stress my events differently.

I begin near the end, in the years from 1956 to 1961, when I was a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley. Part of my dissertation was connected to a study funded by the old Atomic Energy Commission, which had asked us to find out whether or not the vapor generated by boiling during a transient energy excursion in the core of a power reactor would shut down nuclear fission and protect the reactor.

My mechanical engineering background suited me to work with the thermofluid action of boiling, but I needed to learn more about the

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Inventing Modern: Growing Up with X-Rays, Skyscrapers, and Tailfins
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Preface vii
  • Inventing Modern xi
  • 1 - 1846: Great-Grandpa and Manifest Destiny 1
  • 2 - Short-Lived Technologies: Searching for Direction 21
  • 3 - “the Irruption of Forces Totally New” 39
  • 4 - A New Genus of Genius 53
  • 5 - Remington to Modern: Finding the Core on the Fringe 64
  • 6 - Fires and the High-Rise Phoenix 84
  • 7 - The Titan City 101
  • 8 - Automobile 115
  • 9 - On the Road: of Highways and Gasoline 137
  • 10 - The Back Door into the Sky 152
  • 11 - Flying Down to Rio 172
  • 12 - A Boy's Life in the New Century 190
  • 13 - Inventing a Better Mousetrap 204
  • 14 - War 219
  • 15 - A Funeral in the Fifties 244
  • 16 - After Modern 258
  • Notes 269
  • Index 285
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