Libraries & Spaces
Technology on TIME: An Exhibit of People and Events that have Shaped Our World
The periodical press has never been reluctant to leap in with prompt, if sometimes under-documented, news concerning scientific developments in our society. At the low end this "tabloid grapevine" focuses largely on what we can charitably term pseudo-science, a proclivity determined by the relative scarcity of legitimate breakthroughs in fields which can be made comprehensible to the layman and the relative demand on the part of tabloid readers for sensational "news." At the other end of the publishing spectrum the scholarly journal, certainly not at all sensational, lacks the wide readership to motivate public awareness.
"For many years I have been recording the effects of technical changes on our society as reflected in the periodical press. My medium is the Time cover story. Every cover has the signature of one or more of the participants to dramatize the central issue of the story." Thus in about 1983, that technologically almost incalculable past, wrote Frank J. Dahlhaus, the creator of the collection which makes up this exhibit, in an introduction to the first public display of his collecting efforts.
The choice of title for the exhibit owes more to our current infatuation with digital technology than to Dahlhaus's own focus, although it is perhaps suggestive that the earliest and penultimate items in his collection carry the autographs respectively of computer pioneer Howard Aiken and the first of the personal computer whiz kids, Steven Jobs. In the brief 32 years between those two Time covers our society assimilated quite a few "technical changes," not just in data management but in transportation, in medicine, in communications, and in the surroundings of ordinary culture. Even the two great not-quite disasters, the great Northeast blackout of November, 1965, and the failure at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in early 1979, usefully showed us some of the perhaps unintended results of our communal insistence on progress. If this is indeed some species of "Age of Technology" it is also a "Nuclear Age," a "Communications Age," and an "Age of Space." One picks a favorite only by accepting the risk of partial understanding.
The arrangement of the autographed covers in the exhibit is strictly chronological. A sub-grouping by subject, while possibly more rewarding to someone coming wholly "new" to the events chronicled in the exhibit, prohibits what is probably even more valuable to the viewer, a sense of the multiplicity of fields of scientific, technical, and technological interest of modern life as well as of its increasing apparent rate of change. It is all too easy for some of us to think that there were always bargain round-trip fares from the US to major European airline gateway cities; to notice that the ubiquitous Boeing 747 only became operational in 1970 is perhaps usefully chastening. And if now on our travels in Europe we may dine at McDonald's and stay the night at a Holiday Inn, it was not always so.
Technological change in an age marked by rapid global communication produces, or at least suggests the possibility of, change everywhere. The artifacts of the new technology, in whatever field, are to be found everywhere. As we begin to take the whole world as our province for work or for travel, that world becomes increasingly "just like home." It has been rather a giddy half-century.
George M. Barringer
Georgetown University Library
"Mark III: Can man build a superman?" An article providing a mid-century view of computer development, the cover signed at upper left by Howard Aiken, once director of the computation laboratory at Harvard and a pioneer computer developer. Aiken said, of even faster computers then building, "We'll have to think up bigger problems if we want to keep them busy."
"The Space Race Is Go" Autographed at left on the cover by John Glenn, whose three orbital passes proved that man can perform in space without ill effect from weightlessness. Ironically, a congratulatory message from Nikita Khrushchev suggested that the US and USSR pool "their efforts–scientific, technical, and material–to explore outer space.
"The Communications Explosion: Early Bird–And After" An article detailing the possible effects of synchronous satellite communications, the cover signed at lower right by Brigadier General David Sarnoff, radio pioneer and chairman of the board of RCA. Two weeks later Sarnoff gave an address to the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association also entitled "The Communications Explosion."
"Toward an Artificial Heart" An article on rapid advances in heart surgery pointing towards Robert Jarvik's much later invention of a successful artificial organ, the cover signed lower left and lower right, respectively, by pioneer heart surgeons Michael DeBakey and Frederick Bowman."
"The Biggest Blackout" An article recording the effects and as-yet-undetermined cause of the Northeast blackout that put 30,000,000 people in the dark in an early November evening in 1965, the cover autographed at center by United Airlines pilot Gale Chapman who witnessed it from the air, quoted in the Time article as saying "The whole city of New York was missing. It looked like the end of the world."
"The Pill" An article on the development of the oral contraceptive, the cover signed at top by Dr. John Rock, one of the American pioneers in its development, and at bottom by Fr. Andrew M. Greeley, Catholic sociologist and novelist who later took a stand opposed to the Catholic hierarchy's condemnation of the pill's use.
"Railroads of the Future" An article on the long-awaited merger and bright prospects of the Pennsylvania and New York Central Railroads, the cover autographed at lower right by Stuart F. Saunders, chosen to head up the new Penn Central, which would fail disastrously only two years later.
"Man on the Moon" Time's initial coverage of the first landing on the moon on July 20th, the cover signed at the bottom by the German-born rocket scientist who had a major role in the development and ultimate success of NASA's Apollo program, Wernher von Braun."
"The Superjets Take Off" An article commemorating the placing in service of Boeing's 747 "superjet," the cover signed at bottom by Najeeb Halaby, president of Pan American World Airways, whose firm placed an initial order for 33 of the planes."
"The Emerging Science of Survival" Years after Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962), the issue of our treatment of the environment makes the national media in a cover article, the cover autographed at top left by the "Paul Revere of ecology," Barry Commoner."
"Sesame Street: TV's Gift to Children" An article noting the almost overnight success of "Sesame Street" and comparing it with some other more established children's TV shows, the cover autographed at top left by the show's originator, Joan Ganz Cooney, and at lower right by Bob Keeshan using his better-known alias, "Captain Kangaroo."
"After the SST: Picking Up the Pieces in the Aerospace Industry" An article exploring the ramifications of the Senate's withholding public support for an American SST, the cover signed on the plane's wing surfaces by its chief opponent, Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire, and his two Virginia senate colleagues and supporters, Harry F. Byrd and William Spong.
"Apollo 15: The Most Perilous Journey" A sidebar to an article on Apollo 15 concerns the complexities of managing photography on the moon from the NASA command station in Houston; the cover is autographed at left by Edward I. Fendell, "the space agency's own Captain Video," who controlled the camera on the moon from his Houston console.
"Front Runner For ‘72" An article on the Democratic candidates for the 1972 elections, with some focus on the congressional activities in favor of the environment by Senator Edmund Muskie, by whom the cover is autographed at the left.
"The Man with 300,000 Beds" An article on the development of a reliable nationwide lodging chain, Holiday Inn, by Kemmons Wilson, by whom the cover is autographed at bottom center.
"Toward Control of Cancer" An article on the development of immunotherapy as a weapon in the struggle against cancer, autographed at top center by the immunologist most concerned with the effort, Dr. Robert A. Good.
"The Hamburger Empire" An article on the growth and structure of the McDonald's fast-food empire, the cover autographed by founder Richard McDonald at lower left, company president Fred L. Turner at lower right, and the "pharaoh of fast food," Ray Kroc, at upper left.
"The Secretary and the Tapes" An article on the famous "gap" in the Watergate tapes, the cover signed by three members of the expert panel appointed by Judge John J. Sirica to examine the tapes: Richard H. Bolt, Thomas G. Stockham, and Mark R. Weiss. Stockham later wrote in a letter to Dahlhaus: "The most important significance of our work (especially on the 18 ½ minute gap) was that it had some important influence on the Supreme Court decision to release the tapes to Congress."
"Energy Crunch: Real or Phony?" An article which focuses as much on the character and history of William E. Simon, the newly-appointed "Energy Czar," as it does on the oil crisis; the cover signed at bottom center by Mr. Simon.
"Space Spectacular: Science, Politics & Show Biz" An article on the then-forthcoming docking exercise in space between Russian Soyuz and American Apollo spacecraft, the cover autographed by the respective ambassadors of the two countries to their opposite number, Anatoly F. Dobrynin on the Russian wrist and Walter J. Stoessel on the American hand.
"Forecast: Earthquake" An article on the horrendous effects of earthquakes, the difficulty of predicting them, and celebrating the accurate forecasting of an earthquake in upstate New York by Yash Aggarwal, who has autographed the cover at center.
"The Bugs Are Coming" An article discussing the long-running struggle between mankind and insects, whose civilization-defying powers of survival seem never to be fully appreciated. Cover not signed.
"Disease Detectives: Tracing the Philly Killer" An article devoted to the then urgent research going on into the cause of "Legionnaires' Disease," which killed 29 attendees at an American Legion convention in Philadelphia. The cover is autographed at right by Dr. Ernest W. Campbell, the Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, physician who first noted the coincidence between patients displaying the symptoms and attendance at the convention.
"The Computer Society" An article on the burgeoning influence of computer technology on ordinary lives and on the basics of the computer industry itself, the cover signed at bottom by Robert Noyce, chairman of Intel Corporation, the premier maker of microchips.
"Attack on the Navy" An article exploring the technical advances of the modern Navy and the possible results of cuts in naval spending authorizations during the Cold War, contemporaneously with a large growth in the Russian Navy, the cover signed at lower right by Admiral James L. Holloway, Chief of Naval Operations.
"The Test-Tube Baby: Birth Watch in Britain" An article on the first successful birth of a baby conceived in vitro, Britain's famous "Baby Louise." The cover is signed by the team of American doctors who in 1981 achieved the first successful such birth in the US, gynecologists Howard (at top center) and Georgianne (on hand at right) Jones and obstetrician Mason Andrews (on hand at left).
"New Era in the Air: Cheap Fares, Crowded Flights" An article on the effects of competition on fares (and passenger comfort) on North Atlantic routes following de-regulation, the cover signed by Frank Borman of Eastern Airlines at right center and Sir Freddie Laker of Britain's Laker Airways at bottom.
"Nuclear Nightmare" An article on the near-disastrous failure of the nuclear power plant at Three Mile Island in south-central Pennsylvania, the cover signed at top by John G. Kemeny, chairman of the presidential commission appointed to investigate the affair.
"Showman of Science" An article on the overwhelming public success of the Cosmos television series, TV's first encyclopedic look at the history and description of the universe, the cover signed at bottom center by the show's creator and narrator, Carl Sagan.
"Shaping Life in the Lab: The Boom in Genetic Engineering" Cover signed at lower right by Genentech's Herbert Boyer, whose firm was a pioneer in developing breakthroughs in gene splicing, with widespread effects on such fields as medicine and agriculture.
"Right On! Winging into a New Era" An article covering the successful first orbital flight of the shuttle Columbia, the cover signed at upper left by the two astronauts who manned it, John Young and Robert Crippen.
"Striking It Rich: America's Risk Takers" An article on the riches awaiting those who successfully convert to business utility the technological advances of the day–or who create those advances themselves, the cover signed at top right by Steven Jobs of Apple.