This Week In History: Oct. 4-8

This week we explore three moments of the post-war era. At this time, society was going through drastic change, with appliances like the TV being used for big purposes, as well as the world’s first satellite, Sputnik, being put into action. Illustration by Hiram Chimid/The Daily Campus.

History is full of causes and effects. Just like a stone skipped on a pond, one event can have ripple effects that alter all aspects of life, even if they were never meant to. In “This Week in History,” we’ll examine three moments of the post-war era (1945 to the early 1970s), a time in which every piece of society underwent a drastic change as modernity came screaming into every corner it could reach. So let’s dive in! 

On Oct. 5, 1947, 74 years ago, President Harry Truman delivered the first-ever televised presidential address from the White House. 

While FDR was the first president to use the radio, his successor Truman, was the first to use the TV. In the years following WWII, the TV became the newest staple household appliance. Couches and sofas in living rooms across America were rearranged so every family member could pull up a seat and feast their eyes on the spoils of the post-war boom. Truman was the first presidential candidate to ever broadcast a campaign ad on TV. So you can thank Truman for the constant bombardment of political ads that come around every election season.  

On Oct. 4, 1957, 64 years ago, the Soviet Union launched the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik, beginning the Space Age and igniting the fierce “space race” between the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. 

Before Ross Geller could ever make a Halloween appearance as the “Spud-nik,” there was the actual spacecraft that shocked the world and scared Americans half to death. Named for the Russian word meaning satellite, Sputnik was launched from modern-day Kazakhstan with a weight of less than 200 pounds and the capability to orbit the planet once every hour and 36 minutes. The U.S. had been working on their own satellite at the time, with plans to launch a year later. Sputnik, 10 times the size of the under-construction U.S. satellite, caught Americans completely off guard and sent American society into a frenzy of epic proportions. 

A model of Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite. Sputnik I was launched October 4, 1957 and ignited the “space race” between the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. Photo courtesy of Encyclopædia Britannica.

The U.S. federal government, military and scientific community panicked at the thought of being second-best to the Soviets and automatically heightened efforts to send their own spacecraft up above. Over the next decade, the U.S.S.R. became the first nation to send a dog, a man and a woman into space. They also sent the first spacecraft to impact the moon, orbit the moon, impact Venus, and soft-land on the moon. The U.S. eventually had the last laugh of the “space race,” by successfully landing two men on the moon in the summer of 1969, less than a dozen years after Sputnik. 

The launch of Sputnik had a tremendous impact on everyday citizens in ways that would continue to affect Americans for generations to come. The U.S. government for one, feared in its future, and targeted much of its efforts toward American youth. Scientists worried that while Sergey and Olga Ivanov were studying rocket science in Moscow, John and Mary Smith were listening to rock n’ roll in New York and falling behind. America started to lose faith in its next generation, so government officials decided to inflict teens with the worst part of growing up: homework. 

While homework was by no means invented in the 1950s, it was actually falling out of favor across the country and seemed like a relic by WWII. In fact, in 1901 the state of California actually banned the practice of homework for students in grades lower than high school. New research was published arguing the importance of downtime and outdoor activity for children’s development, so progressive reformers sought to do away with it in nearly every major U.S. city.  

With the onset of Sputnik, however, educators and lawmakers who grew up without homework brought the practice back to life to keep the baby boom generation at home studying instead of at the sock hop. The practice stuck, and every generation since WWII has known the misfortune of sitting inside on a beautiful day because there is homework to be done. So, you can thank Sputnik for the hours of homework given out week after week every September through June. 

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