50 Things That Turn 50 in 2013

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We've looked at people, places, events, and things turning 25 and turning 30 in 2013. Here are some that are turning the big 5-0.

1. Beatlemania

Though the Beatles wouldn’t visit America until 1964, they were already making British girls go wild in 1963, with three UK number one singles (which stayed at the top for a combined total of 18 weeks) and a debut album that seemed to stay in the top 10 forever. When they visited the London Palladium to record a TV show in October, screaming fans crowded the streets, causing traffic jams at airports. The next month, they topped the bill at the Royal Variety Performance in London, where the Queen was somewhat more well behaved. 

2. The computer mouse

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Doug Engelbart at the Stanford Research Institute (now SRI International) invented the computer "mouse" in 1963 as an efficient way to control a pointer on a graphics display screen. With a small wooden box, moving around on wheels, and connected to a computer with a cable, “mouse” seemed like a logical name.

3. Weight Watchers

Housewife Jean Nidetch started the first Weight Watchers club after trying every fad diet, losing weight with each one, then regaining it due to her “promiscuous” eating habits. In 1961, despite all the past slimming, she weighed 214 pounds. She sought help from a New York obesity clinic, and invited overweight friends to form a group, meeting weekly to support each other through the dieting. From this club grew a multi-million-dollar empire.

4. Push-button telephones

The Bell System released the first publicly available push-button telephone in 1963. Still, dialing disks remained the standard method of entering numbers on telephones (hence “dialing”) for another 20 years, while push-button phones remained hi-tech and futuristic. 

5. Michael Jordan, Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt...

Michael Jordan turned 50 back in February. Johnny Depp will hit the half-century mark on June 9, which is probably why he’s starting to age. (He looks at least 30!) If it’s any consolation to him, he’s not the only one. Brad Pitt, Quentin Tarantino, Andrew Sullivan, Tori Amos, Edie Falco, Helen Hunt, John Stamos, Charles Barkley, Gary Kasparov, Lisa Kudrow, Joe Scarborough, Coolio, Julian Lennon, Jet Li, Conan O’Brien, James Hetfield, Norm Macdonald, Mike Myers, Steven Soderbergh, politician Rand Paul, and Japan’s Crown Princess Masako all will celebrate (or already celebrated) their fiftieth birthdays in 2013.

6. Marvel’s The Avengers

Nearly 50 years before the movie, Marvel Comics first published The Avengers, a superhero team comprised of some of their most popular solo characters—Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, Ant-Man, and the Wasp. (The last two haven’t yet made it to the big screen.) Since then, dozens of others have joined, including Captain America, Spider-Man, Wolverine, the Black Widow, and Daredevil.

7. The X-Men

In November—the same month as the first issue of The Avengers and, again, years before the movies—Marvel also published the first issue of The Uncanny X-Men, about a team of young mutant heroes. They battled their arch-foe, Magneto, in the very first issue. 

8. Smiley face

Harvey Ball designed the smiley face in 1963 to cheer up and motivate the bored office workers at State Mutual Life Assurance Company. It was originally just the smile, but when cynical people turned it upside down to make a frown, Bell added two dots for eyes.

9. The Rolling Stones

They actually got together in London at the end of 1962, but in 1963 they recruited drummer Charlie Watts, released their first single (the Chuck Berry song "Come On," which they hated), and changed their name from “the Rollin’ Stones” to the Rolling Stones. In this, they were bucking a musical trend at the time: removing the G from any word ending in “ing.”

10. “Blowin’ in the Wind”

See what I mean? Bob Dylan’s peace anthem—also a hit that year for Peter, Paul and Mary—lost the G. So did Dylan’s song “Talkin’ John Birch Society Blues” and his new album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, which turned him into a star that year.

11. “Surfin’ USA”

“Blowin’ in the Wind” wasn’t the only anthem that year to drop the G. The Beach Boys’ anthem for surfers everywhere (not just the USA) was bought by millions of kids that year, most of whom probably didn’t notice that they’d copied the tune from Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen.”

12. Compact cassettes

Before digital recording, this was the cheapest way for kids in the seventies and eighties to record, and the most compact and portable way to play their favorite albums. The first C60 cassettes (30 minutes each side) were produced by Philips in 1963.

13. ZIP Codes

Announced on April 30, 1963, and put into effect on July 1, ZIP—or Zoning Improvement Plan—codes gave the post office a better, more efficient way to sort mail. According to USPS, "The first digit designated a broad geographical area of the United States, ranging from zero for the Northeast to nine for the far West. This number was followed by two digits that more closely pinpointed population concentrations and those sectional centers accessible to common transportation networks. The final two digits designated small Post Offices or postal zones in larger zoned cities." The use of ZIP codes wasn't mandatory until 1967.

14. Tennis for women

The Federation Cup, the premier team competition in women’s tennis (now known as the Fed Cup), and the first tennis tournament to invite women from outside the U.S. and Britain, premiered in 1963. The first Federation Cup had no prize money, and teams had to meet their own expenses. Sponsorship would change that, and now, winning the Federation Cup could be quite a lucrative accomplishment.

15. The Fugitive

Almost three decades before Harrison Ford tried to find the one-armed man, the original TV series starred David Janssen as Dr. Richard Kimble, on the run for a murder he didn’t commit. The final episode in 1967, in which the true murderer confesses, broke ratings records.

16. The Great Train Robbery

On August 8, in one of Britain’s most celebrated crimes, a gang of at least 15 men, armed and wearing masks, hijacked the night mail train from Glasgow to London, taking mailbags worth more than 2.5 million pounds. The most famous member of the gang, Ronald Biggs, was arrested soon afterwards, but escaped from prison in 1965 and fled to Australia. Pursued by police, he settled in Brazil for many years, with an income generated mainly by media interviews. He eventually returned home—and was promptly re-arrested. 

17. Hang-gliding

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Primitive hang-gliders, most of them dangerous, were used by daredevil birdmen before the Wright Brothers. However, it was in 1963 that an Australian, John W. Dickenson, adapted the flexible wing concept of earlier designs to make a new, vastly improved water-ski kite glider. In 2006, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale gave Dickenson the Hang Gliding Diploma (2006) for the invention of the “real” hang-glider.

18. Hover mowers

Lawnmowers had remained basically unchanged since the first rotary-blade mowers in the 1930s ... until Swedish inventor Karl Dahlman, inspired by the hovercraft, invented the Aktiebolaget Flymo, a mower that would hover above the grass, taking the weight out of mowing.

19. Hypertext

The word “hypertext,” the idea behind a common text based system for linking computer information that led to the internet (and the H in HTTP and HTML), was coined by Ted Nelson in 1963.

20. “I have a dream”

The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s most famous speech was made in Washington on August 28, to a gathering of 200,000 people. President Kennedy, not a bad orator himself, also said a few words, but it was King who truly inspired the crowd (and millions of others): “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ I have a dream that the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners would sit together at the table of brotherhood.”

21. “Segregation forever”

From the other end of the political spectrum, it should be mentioned that King was up against the likes of the governor of Alabama, George Wallace. When he was sworn in on January 14, he pledged “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.” Many civil rights demonstrations followed. In September, an African American church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four girls. 

22. “Ich bin ein Berliner”

President Kennedy famously said these words in June at the Brandenburg Gate to boost the morale of West Berliners, more than a million of whom had turned out to greet him. Despite the urban legend, it really did mean “I am a Berliner” (as he had planned), and not “I am a jelly doughnut.” 

23. The election of Pope Paul VI

Following the surprise death of Pope John XXIII after only four years, Giovanni Battista Montini was elected Pope on June 21. Known for his liberal views and support of social reform, he would be the perfect Pope for the 1960s—though many didn’t believe that his reforms went far enough. He led until his death in 1978.

24. Iron Man

Two years before Robert Downey, Jr. was born, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created this superhero at Marvel Comics. In his origin story, Iron Man first built his armor to save his heart in Vietnam. As the years have worn on (and he hasn’t aged), the location has changed a few times. Most recently, he was serving in the Middle East.

25. Kenya

On December 12, Kenya became the 34th African nation to achieve independence, as the Duke of Edinburgh officially handed the nation to its new rulers.

26. Dead-donor kidney transplants

Kidney transplants had been successfully performed since 1958, but this was the first year that doctors successfully transplanted a kidney from a dead man, with the consent of his relatives. The kidney was cooled for preservation, then joined to the blood vessels of a living patient, bypassing his diseased kidneys.

27. Lava lamps

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The lamp with the psychedelic effect, soon to be part of many hip sixties bedside tables (even John Lennon had one), was invented by eccentric British entrepreneur Edward Craven-Walker. If you feel like going retro, you can still get one today.

28. Cleopatra


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Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s most notorious movie, this was the most expensive film ever made, still recalled as one of the great big-budget duds. Still, it was the number one box-office film of the year, and did indeed make a profit—eventually.

29. The Alphanumeric APS2

Twenty years before Microsoft Word, this was the first phototypesetting machine to generate characters onto a cathode ray tube, leading to the next generation in phototypesetting. If you went back in time, and you didn’t know better, you could swear that you were witnessing early personal computers (and in a way, that’s what they were).

30. Lilies of the Field

A milestone film, this would make Sidney Poitier—playing an unemployed construction worker—the first African American to win an Oscar for best actor.

31. Lamborghini

Ferruccio Lamborghini founded his company in Italy in May 1963, and debuted the first protoype model, the 350 GTV, at the Turin Auto Show in November that same year. (Lamborghini's first production model, the 350 GT, would be manufactured in 1964.)

32. Women in space

Twenty years before Sally Ride became the first female astronaut, 26-year-old Lieutenant Valentina Tereshkova became the first female (human) cosmonaut, when the Soviet Union sent her to circle the Earth 43 times in the Vostok 6 spaceship. Before joining the space program, she worked in a textile factory, and enjoyed skydiving in her spare time.

33. The Eruption of Mount Agung

As in most years, some of the greatest death tolls were caused by nature itself. On March 17, the holy volcano of Mount Agung erupted on the idyllic Indonesian island of Bali, killing 11,000 people. 

34. Modesty Blaise

Writer Peter O’Donnell and artist Jim Holdaway created a British comic strip heroine who proved that a female superspy could be just as cool, capable, sexy and multitalented as James Bond. The strip continued until 2001, still written by O’Donnell. The movies—three have been made so far—haven’t been quite so successful, though Quentin Tarantino has reportedly considered doing one.

35. “Be My Baby”

Decades before he was jailed for murder, Phil Spector was a brilliant, cocky, 23-year-old record producer who already had 11 top-20 songs to his credit. In December, fans heard his greatest production so far: “Be My Baby,” performed by the Ronettes (named after the lead singer Veronica Bennett, who later married him). This was possibly the best example of his famous “wall of sound,” with as many as 30 guitarists and pianists playing as one, every note painstakingly arranged by Spector. It was a nice song, but the innovative production made it a masterwork.

36. Nanoseconds

The new fraction of a second was introduced worldwide, mainly for use in future science fiction movies to describe the speed of unimaginably fast things. For the record, a nanosecond is a billionth of a second. Also in 1963, we were given picoseconds (trillionths of a second) and femtoseconds (1 x 10-15 of a second). How quick is that? Let’s just say that there are more femtoseconds in one second than there are seconds in 31 million years.

37. The killing of Medgar Evers

In one of the milestone tragedies of the era, the Mississippi civil rights leader was shot in the back on the night of June 12. This only served to mobilize the civil rights movement—both black and white protesters—which was supported by President Kennedy. 

38. The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

The U.S., the USSR and Britain signed a treaty in Moscow on August 5, banning nuclear tests in the atmosphere, outer space, and underwater. Later, 113 other nations also signed—most of whom didn’t even have nuclear plants—and the Cold War ended (well, 27 years later).

39. The Nutty Professor

Jerry Lewis introduced his most famous character—or characters—in this film about a gawky professor who concocts a potion to temporarily turn himself into a debonair playboy (with a passing resemblance to Lewis’s former comedy partner Dean Martin, with whom he’d acrimoniously split). Unlike Eddie Murphy years later, Lewis didn’t play anyone else in the film—though as the director and co-writer, he had plenty to do.

40.

Federico Fellini’s semi-autobiographical masterpiece, which has appeared in many lists of the greatest films ever made, premiered in February. Many film buffs, however, were perplexed by its title. Fellini explained that he had added up his feature films: seven films as sole director, plus three collaborations counting as half each. Simple!

41. The Profumo affair

The polite world of British politics was dealt a blow with the revelation that John Profumo, Secretary of State for War, was having an affair with 21-year-old former showgirl Christine Keeler, who was also in a liaison with Soviet naval attaché Eugene Ivanov. By the end of the year, Profumo had resigned from the government for lying to the House of Commons, Keeler was jailed for perjury and conspiracy to pervert the cause of justice, Prime Minister Harold Macmillan had resigned, and Dr. Stephen Ward, a central figure in the scandal, had taken his own life before he could be sentenced. 

42. The most peaceful violent protest in history

One of the most shocking images of the peace protest movement occurred on June 13, when Buddhist monk Quang Doc set fire to himself, then sat meditating on the streets of Saigon as his body was engulfed in flames. This ritual suicide was a protest against the unfair treatment that the Buddhists felt that they suffered under the South Vietnamese government, led by President Diem.

43. Skateboarding

The first skateboard probably dates back to the 1940s, as something for surfers to use on the streets when the waves weren’t happening. It became a sport in 1963, however, following the surf craze. It was now called “skateboarding,” even though surf music stars Jan and Dean still had a hit song the next year with “Sidewalk Surfin’” (no G, of course). The first world championship was held in 1966, though the “world” didn’t really extend beyond the U.S.A.

44. Science of Being and Art of Living

The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s famous tome, which introduced the practice of Transcendental Meditation, would inspire thousands of people to meditate, even though it was self-published and only available through The Age of Enlightenment Press. He had already started teaching TM in the West (after starting in his native India), and would become guru to many, including the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Mia Farrow, Stevie Wonder, Peggy Lee, and Joe Namath.

45. The Birds

Perhaps Alfred Hitchcock’s final masterpiece (though he would direct another five films), this movie—in which a village is attacked, for no given reason, by murderous flocks of birds—still proves that a horror film doesn’t need eerie music (or, indeed, any music) to scare the pants off audiences. 

46. Astro Boy

The tiny, robotic superhero Tetsuwan-Atom had already been the hero of Japanese comics (manga) since 1951 when he debuted on Japanese television. The same year, animation cels were added for a U.S. version, Astro Boy, which was sponsored by NBC and syndicated nationwide.

47. Zanzibar

Though this East African country had been a sultanate hundreds of years earlier, it gained independence from Great Britain in December as a constitutional monarchy. A month later, after the violent Zanzibar Revolution, it became the People's Republic of Zanzibar and Pemba. In April 1964, the republic merged with the United Republic of Tanganyika, and they were renamed the United Republic of Tanzania. After one of the shortest histories of any nation, Zanzibar has been a semi-autonomous region ever since.

48. "Pop art" at the Guggenheim

The first large exhibition of this new and super-cool art style at New York’s Guggenheim Museum opened in March, featuring such artists as Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg.

49. The JFK assassination

The biggest news story of the year. When President Kennedy was murdered on November 22, watched by scores of horrified onlookers, the nation—and the world—was in tears. Though Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested, we are still debating who was really responsible. 

50. Doctor Who


Courtesy of WhatCulture

One of the biggest fiftieth anniversary celebrations in 2013 will be for an event that was barely noticed at the time. The first episode of Doctor Who was broadcast in Britain by the BBC on November 23, 1963—and was upstaged by the Kennedy assassination the day before. The most famous Doctor Who monsters, the Daleks, would make their debut the next month.

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May 10, 2013 - 11:00am
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