Let’s Read Popular Science, April 1953!

Popular Science began life as The Popular Science Monthly in 1872, by a blind science writer and lecturer who employed his wife, brother, and sister as editors and contributors with the help of their friends like Charles Darwin and Walt Whitman. After a series of mergers and makeovers around 1915, the magazine shifted dramatically in content from being a serious scholarly publication to a general audience magazine that made keeping up with science and technology news easy and interesting for the exponentially increasing amount of people (men) with lots of time on their hands and a job that gave them weekends off. Popular Science continues today as a bimonthly print publication and a thriving website (current topic: “Did the Apollo 13 Astronauts Consider a Hot Dog to be a Sandwich?”).

It turns out that along with other old issues of Popular Science, this entire issue has been scanned and digitized elsewhere, so I hope you take a minute to scroll through it and see the whole thing, because it’s craaazy.

There seems to always be a car on the cover of Popular Science from this era, even though the magazine is focused on a lot more things than just cars. Considering the stories in this one range from flying saucers to atomic submarines to 3-D movies, you’d think they’d vary a little more, but maybe the artist they had commissioned to do covers at the time could only do cars.

Even though this table of contents ran a few pages, I like how it doesn’t waste much space and just gets to the point with the most interesting features straight up on the first page. There was a LOT to sift through in this issue.

Something about the earnest hucksterism of the ad copy depresses me, like it probably got a bunch of dumb people really worked up about changing their crappy lives, and then they sent it in and were probably led on a paper chase and for their troubles got a piece of shit watch in the mail eight months later that probably never worked.

18 floating heads offering varying expressions of barely-concealed disgust and contempt are here to help you! Somehow I don’t think this is affiliated with the same private Catholic LaSalle University School of Business. In fact, La Salle Extension University almost got shut down multiple times for being crappy and misleading until they were finally litigated to death in 1980.

“Does Myrtle like me for me, or for my handsome hair?”

That “stinging pipe-tongue” face steals the show, but don’t overlook Max B. Miller’s letter to the editor about photographing UFOs. Miller, THE authority on flying saucers in the 1950s, was editor of Saucers magazine. I’d review one if single issues weren’t going for $400 from collectors. Max B. Miller looks down at all of us from his flying saucer and laughs.

And a letter from the distinguished Hugo Gernsback, for whom the Hugo Award is named. Evidently he was a horrible person, which would back up this whole “I have a better way to electrocute whales with harpoons” thing he’s writing about.

That label is a wonder of graphic design, which is why the packaging has barely changed at all in almost 100 years.

“Daddy only knew how to do a military fade, so all my brothers and sisters would line up in the kitchen on the morning of the first day of school for our buzz cuts.”

I love the deranged look in that woman’s eyes as she cuts her own hair.

This oil filter traps dirt just as well as these monsters can murder an innocent elephant!

In case last week’s burro ad wasn’t enough for you, how about a baby alligator? Admittedly they’re selling dwarf caimans, which ONLY grow to a maximum of 3-5 feet long and will still totally eat your pets, your baby, and you.

I have a feeling that the founders of Popular Science would probably have some opinions about how much ad space the magazine was selling to pseudoscience.

Ask Roger Hirsch how to win a trophy for being the swolest kid in the sixth grade!

Makes a great Hanukkah gift!

Can you imagine a time when retractable pens were a novelty?


I’m not sure why that babe in the tracing invention (It’s just a mirror!) ad is wearing Santa Claus gloves, but you do you. And how nice that it’s paired with another ad that more or less screams LEARN HOW TO SOUND LESS HOMOSEXUAL.

Stan, Stan, the Seat Cover Man

Wanted by ladies across the land

Covers your seats in bull fighter plaid

Stan, Stan, the Seat Cover Man!

I don’t have much of a caption for this one, other than to remark that this was an era where the ideal picture of a man going fishing wore slacks, a belt, a button-down shirt, and shoes without laces. Just let that sink in for a minute. In 2018 this man is dressed for a job interview.

“For personal protection” because readers of Popular Science really lived on the edge.


Whoa there, 20th Century Fox.


“I’m a synth. Synthetic man. All the parts, minus a few red blood cells.”

This sounds like a great idea, but on the other hand if one person tips over you’re going to knock over the entire auditorium.

Things we take for granted part I lost count 20 magazines ago: panning overhead crowd shots.

Death: small, handy, now travel size. Don’t confuse it with your air freshener plug-in!

“A woman’s shopping car”.

Note the unfortunately named Pollio Dairy Company van in the background. The company is still going today!

Advances in cancer detection and more scoop on the French experimental aviation scene.

I love that someone thought up the visualizer that long ago (and probably even earlier). Same with the magnetic jewelry clasp, which has been an “As Seen On TV” product for at least the last two decades.

Gotta love 50s kitchen tech.

Some good conversation starters for your neighborhood cocktail parties.

Things we take for granted in 2018: gas pumps that give receipts, in-flight entertainment.


This car is a total chick magnet.

From a short article on flying saucers and why they’re bunk, probably to the major chagrin of Max B. Miller and his flying saucer devotees.

From an article on the USS Nautilus, which launched in 1954 and was decommissioned in 1980.

That “Corrosive” sign is not screwing around.

If you note the page number, this is square in the middle of the magazine. I don’t know what their logic was there. Also: crab-eyes, Soviet paranoia, blood powered generators, updates on Tang development, and wearable Geiger counters.

Life Hacks, 1953 edition.

I think this is the only article in the whole magazine that features a woman. Cameras were still marketed heavily to women at this point as a past-time…

…but the rise of home-video cameras were starting to push out women as a market, and the men who made these ad campaigns probably sighed with relief as they turned the conversation safely back towards the man of the house. It wouldn’t be long before ads for cameras featured taglines that said “So easy, even mom can use it!”.

This article isn’t that interesting, but I am a sucker for this apathetic Siamese cat.

I like the confirmation that people have always been dumb and impulsive.

Then they have these random little asides scattered through the magazine, which again are probably really handy when you’re a sexist dirtbag trying to sound witty around other sexist dirtbags.

“Gus Wilson’s Model Garage” was a feature that ran for 45 years (!!) in Popular Science from 1925 to 1970. It’s a thinly-disguised article on car maintenance, this month presenting a particularly spectacular bit of mansplaining to a poor helpless widdle woman about how her car works. What a dumb woman! She questions if her car runs on electricity because he totally leads her into thinking that way! And instead of charging her for the labor, he asks that her husband buy him a cup of coffee so that she can get back to concentrating on her grocery list. Seriously.

Ha ha! Women can’t drive!

And she won’t even get her pearls dirty!

Yes, so many things one can do in their basement with molly…

This seems like commie pinko un-American activity if you ask me, this whole not owning a house in suburbia and driving around from job to job like a spy.

Thank you for reading another week with me! Next week we will be going into the gross world of 80s hair metal with Circus, October 1984!


(Not my picture)