Bizarre things people believed 50 years ago

A wise man once said, "Time is a flat circle." While we have absolutely no idea what the heck that actually means, it points to a much larger truth: time is a mystery, and we are slaves to its whims. As such, with each passing year, it's impossible to know what amazing technologies, innovations, and concepts we'll have to grapple with. Just imagine the kind of phone you probably used only 15 years ago … it was basically the stone age. 

So just imagine: we practically live in a totally new world since iPhones came along back in 2007. Since then, technology has evolved so quickly that even your cheapest smartphone can run laps around the original Apple phone. So you can imagine that the '60s probably had some pretty different beliefs of what good living was like. People had some really surprising thoughts and ideas about the world before the summer of love…

Ice-pick lobotomies were a great medical option

Psychiatrist Walter Freeman thought he came across a life-changing medical procedure when he did his first "ice-pick" lobotomy in 1946. "Ice-pick" wasn't just some cute name for the lobotomy. He used a metal rod just like an ice pick and jammed it through your eye socket into your brain—while you were still awake. Freeman figured that depression or mood problems were caused by too much emotion, so he wanted to cut the emotional connection in the brain … literally. People did tend to be much calmer or changed after the procedure, though some were left paralyzed or mentally disabled.

Freeman crossed the country, performing lobotomies publicly like a traveling freak show, sometimes doing two people at a time, an ice pick in each hand. The treatment caught on because there were so few resources available for the mentally ill at the time. Hearing of this new way to calm unruly people, Howard Dully's step mother brought him in to see Dr. Freeman. The step mother claimed the child had a variety of mood and behavior problems, but in truth, Dully was just an average kid. The step mother hated him and wanted to do anything to make the child as sedate as possible. So Freeman agreed to perform the lobotomy. Dully was only 12 years old, and they didn't bother to tell the father that his son would be getting the ice pick special.

But operating on a 12-year-old without full parental consent wasn't what brought Freeman down. In 1967, he performed a lobotomy on a housewife who later died of a brain hemorrhage. Finally, people figured out that shoving a knife in your brain may not be an advanced medical technique.

Some doctors thought smoking cigarettes was the best way to relieve pregnancy constipation

Pregnancy can often cause bad constipation. Nowadays, you have to eat healthy or possibly take a fiber supplement to relieve the discomfort, but 50 years ago, doctors had a very different solution: cigarettes. Doctors routinely advised pregnant women to smoke cigarettes to thwart constipation. Alan F Guttmacher, vice president of Planned Parenthood and women's issues "expert," wrote this very advice in his book Pregnancy and Birth. He also said, "There is no logical reason to prohibit the moderate use of alcohol during pregnancy to the patient who enjoys and tolerates it." So, drink up, Mom!

The biggest thing Guttmacher needed moms to avoid was weight gain. He suggested they only gain 20 pounds total, and if they were starting to get heavy, they should "try skipping lunch and substitute skimmed milk with a few unsalted crackers." You've got to keep that hot pregnant bod and birth a svelte little baby, which is another reason to keep up your smoking habits before your baby bump gets out of control.

Feeding a baby at night "sowed the seeds of socialism"

After feeding your baby cigarettes and booze in utero, what should you give your child after birth to make them a good, healthy American? Dr. Walter W. Sackett Jr. had some very clear ideas of how to care for a child so they wouldn't grow up a communist. It was vital for parents to give their children a strict schedule, even as newborns. He felt that breastmilk or formula weren't enough, so babies should start eating cereal at two days old. By 10 days old, they could have strained vegetables, and at the ripe old age of nine weeks, a baby should chow down on bacon and eggs or whatever else the family would normally eat. Sackett wasn't completely crazy—he did recommend waiting until a baby was six months old before you give them black coffee. But you definitely have to give them coffee so that they properly adjust to "the normal eating habits of the family."

Keeping the baby on the family's regular schedule applied to all aspects of parenting. Does your baby cry at night? Don't think about coddling it. Sackett insisted that a baby can't learn that it'll get everything it wants in an instant. He equated soothing a crying baby to "sowing the seeds of socialism." That one extra lullaby in the middle of the night could turn your kid into a commie nightmare.

Future travel would be falling through "mole-hole tunnels"

Futurists of the 1960s weren't the best at predicting the world of the year 2000 and beyond. They set up expectations for flying cars that we still haven't fulfilled, and there's almost never anyone walking around in a tin foil silver jumpsuit that promised to be the fashion of the future. But one prediction was especially strange. A scientist from Sylvania Electronic Systems didn't imagine flying automobiles or teleportation would be the transportation of today. He had his money on "mole-hole tunnels."

The scientist didn't imagine we'd be living in a dystopian underground society but thought the 2000s would bring a friction-free system of travel. By sort of falling through a system of tubes, you'd get between any two cities in under 42 minutes. Perhaps he was just predicting the travel patterns of video game plumbers.

It was normal to have a monkey for a pet

Dear Abby, the most trusted advice columnist of the time, got a concerned letter from a ten-year-old in 1961. The girl really wanted a pet monkey, but her father said, "No way." You'd think Abby's response would be, "Hell no, you can't have a monkey. Are you crazy? Why would you want a monkey in the house?" Instead, she said:

"I have had two pet monkeys (Beth and Bathsheba) and, although I love monkeys, your father is right. To quote my son (he was four at the time), 'Monkeys should live with monkeys and people should live with people.'"

It's clear that Abby's son was not a fan of two monkeys roaming around the house. Though this letter certainly doesn't insinuate that a pet monkey was as common as a dog in the '60s, it also wasn't completely out of the question. Looks like Justin Bieber was just born in the wrong time for their love of pet primates.

"How to handle a gun" classes were taught in elementary school

If a kid learns anything in grade school, it should be how to shoot a gun. At least, that's what the NRA believed in the late '50s. Unfortunately, there have been accidental deaths and injury from kids playing with guns ever since there were kids and guns. So in Indiana in 1954, the state offered a free class about gun handling and safety for any child over six (with a parent's permission). The main goal was to teach gun safety, so they might avoid many of the accidents that came from children playing with guns.

The intention behind the classes was good, and it's not like they were training little first-grade assassins. But some people felt bringing guns into a classroom at that age was inappropriate, that it might glorify guns for young children and make them think they could be safe in handling a firearm. The NRA dismissed that as nonsense, like they do.

Four states allowed firearm classes for grade-school students, and they insisted that they would only offer a class for the good of the children, not for a love of guns. The 1956 article in Time Magazine stated that the instructor of the Indiana class was happy to answer questions from kids about the speed of bullets or other technical queries, but did not want to answer questions like "Have you ever shot anyone?" and "If you shoot a man in the head how long does it take him to die?" The fact that grade-school kids even wanted a good estimate on the time of death from a bullet wound might mean that teaching them all about guns wasn't a great idea.

Teens were to plan active dates, to avoid the awful temptation of necking

When it came to teen dating in the '60s, most of the advice boiled down to, "keep busy so you don't end up getting busy." Adults weren't naive — they knew teens would prefer rounding the bases to sharing a cream soda, so their goal was to keep teens occupied, so things wouldn't lead to sex. Ann Landers gave this advice: "Have a planned program of activity. Don't just sit around with nothing special to do or, even worse, ride around with no destination … a sensible way to stay out of trouble is to keep active and busy. When necking becomes the major interest and No. 1 indoor sport, you're playing with fire and you could get badly singed." Basically, if you allow a date to have a single moment of downtime, the shameful necking will begin and you'll end up pregnant with a bastard child from Hell.

Landers went on to say that if you must neck, do it on the couch with the lights on. Also, don't pick some couch in the basement — you should pick the most public, well-lit place possible (the furniture store, perhaps) to ensure it doesn't go too far. Because if it led to petting, God help you. Landers said, "Petting can: Make you feel guilty and ashamed. Ruin your reputation. Cause you to lose your boyfriend because, after he goes further than he knows he should, he may decide you're cheap. Lead to pregnancy. Break your parents' hearts." You don't want to be a cheap, crappy daughter with no boyfriend, do you? That's why you need each date needs to be a triathlon so you can avoid your natural, teenaged hormones.

Calling fat girls "dumplings" was A-OK

If you had a young girl whose charm was lacking, you could head out to your nearest Montgomery Ward store and enroll your daughter in a course at the Wendy Ward Charm School. You'd learn how to act like a lady and, for graduation, you did a fashion show. Thankfully, you got to keep a handbook to help you remember all the valuable knowledge you learned in a few hours at a department store. One part of the book talks about feminine appeal, and that your job as a girl is to make a man feel manly, not draw attention to your feminine features. The chapter ends with, "wearing tight dresses or low necked sweaters has nothing to do with Feminine Appeal — THEY JUST MAKE EVERYONE UNCOMFORTABLE." Caps were not added for emphasis, that's exactly how it was printed.

Then comes the chapter whimsically titled, "For dumplings (rules for losing)." Yep, for all those poor, fat dumplings (fat little girls in Non-Terrible Speak), Wendy Ward had some tips to make you thin. Some were perfectly normal (eat slowly, don't skip meals, only eat until your full). But one piece of advice has seemed to fade away over the years. "Regard those foods which will make you fat as "ugly pills'." So, all those, ahem, "dumplings" have to do is pretend pizza makes you ugly? Well, why didn't you say so? We declare obesity solved!

Talking on a date was overrated

If you were a teen in the '60s and didn't how to be hip, you could pick up a copy of Art Unger's The Cool Book: A Teen-Agers Guide to Survival in a Square Society. You know that someone who teaches coolness is definitely the coolest person of all, and Unger had all kinds of tips for the kids. In the chapter "Cool ways to talk on a date," Unger gives some vital tips of things to do to keep the conversation flowing … or to stop a conversation from every happening in the first place.

Unger gives a few tips, like ask her if she's read any good books lately. Or try out a few comical stories on your dad. If he likes them, commit the tale to memory and bring it up whenever you're in need of something to say. But a lot of his tips are ways you can eliminate talking all together, like planning a bunch of activities for the date, so no one feels the need to speak. He even tells girls to say something shocking "so he'll be too stunned to realize what a bad conversationalist you really are." That seems erroneous on about a billion levels, but okay. Lastly according to Unger, just pretend you lost your voice. Yep, feign an illness on your very first date so you literally can't speak. Real cool.

A flight attendant had to retire on her 32nd birthday

In the '60s, a stewardess had to live up to a very high set of standards to keep her job, or get one in the first place. Some airlines opened schools for flight attendants, charmingly known as "charm farms." Girls would step on a scale first thing every morning, make sure their weight and appearance were acceptable, and presumably learn how to smile while a drunk businessman gropes you.

The image of the stewardess held a lot of status for an airline, so they kept very firm specifications on how you were to dress, wear your hair, do your makeup, and that you had to maintain your figure. If you got pregnant or even just married, that meant you had to retire. Even without any of that, until 1972, a stewardess got a pink slip on her 32nd birthday. Who'd want some horrible 33-year-old hag giving them drinks anyhow?

Thankfully all those rules are gone today, but now someone's emotional support dog might crap on your flight and make you turn around. So, you win some, you lose some.

ATMs wouldn't make a difference in ordinary people's lives

We truly take for granted how wonderful the ATM is. You can get cash at all hours, make deposits, and never see a bank teller for the rest of your life. But the original ATMs weren't considered so important. The very first automated teller machine came to life in 1939, invented by Luther George Simjian. He convinced a bank to try out the proto-ATM service for six months to see how people liked it. Simjian was ultimately disappointed with the results, complaining, "It seems the only people using the machines were a small number of prostitutes and gamblers who didn't want to deal with tellers face to face." Not having enough hookers and hustlers to sustain the invention, they closed up the first ATM with little fanfare.

In 1967, three new ATMs opened up, one in Sweden and two in England. At first, they weren't much of a hit. Since there weren't any debit or credit cards at the time, the ATM would work by putting a token (that you'd get from the bank) in the machine, which would dispense the amount requested via the token. Some machines would hold the token, then mail it back to you once the bank completed all points of the transaction. So, it wasn't a huge surprise that people were skeptical about the need for ATMs.

After about a decade, the ATM came closer to how we know it today. The machines were networked between banks, customers had a card with a pin number attached to their account they could use, and folks could go out on weekends without making an advanced withdrawal before Friday at 6 PM. Surely, the world of strip clubs would never have thrived without the lifesaving invention of the ATM.

TV corporations had no interest in video games

In 1967, the "Brown Box" was invented by Ralph Baer. No, the past didn't go that long without cardboard box technology—Baer's invention was the very first video game system.

He worked for a TV company and tried to sell them on the idea of including a video game system with their televisions. One boss said, "Are you still screwing around with that stuff?" Video games seemed pretty stupid to most of the executives, though he got a little money to produce a prototype.

Once the box was made, it was sold to Magnavox and marketed as Odyssey. Unfortunately, by the time their system debuted, Atari's Pong stole all their glory. But Magnavox sued Atari, and they settled for $1.5 million by licensing Odyssey. Though the Brown Box or Odyssey may not be well remembered today, it was the birth of the incredibly huge video gaming industry.

Single women were advised to pick up men at AA meetings

Sex and the Single Girl became a go-to textbook for dating when it hit the shelves in 1962. Though it was nice to see women allowed to be a little more open with their sexuality, not all of Helen Gurley Brown's advice would hold up today.

In 1962, it wasn't easy to find a good and/or rich man. In the book, Gurley recalls a way a friend found herself a husband. She didn't meet him at a bar but cruised a local AA meeting to find a beau. "She was about 43, had no drinking problem of her own, but since outsiders are permitted to attend AA Meetings … she wandered into the Beverley Hills chapter of the meeting, sat next to a famous writer, and bagged him within the year."

So, all a girl needs to do is prey on a rich man during a time of struggle and need, and you'll have yourself a rich husband in no time. Certainly all the women who took this advice ended up with stellar mates.

Wives were to provide an orderly home and only talk in low, soothing tones

If you've ever watched Mad Men, you know that the expectations of a wife have changed greatly over the years. But some of the ways women were supposed to keep a home for their husbands are still a little surprising. Housekeeping Monthly published a "Good House Wife's Guide" in 1955 to let women know the best way to keep the men in their life happy.

Outside of making sure dinner's on the table when he gets home and keeping the house neat and clean, a woman was expected to create a calming haven to give her man respite from his weary world. The home should remain peaceful, and that meant no noise from kids. The guide suggests, "Children are little treasures and he would like to see them playing the part. Minimize all noise. At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of the washer, dryer, or vacuum. Try to encourage the children to be quiet."

The guide has another gem for how the conversation should go after a husband's long day at work. "You may have a dozen important things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first—remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours." So, make the kids pretend they're angels and stifle yourself and your stupid, womanly thoughts. Who knew that men required such silence in a '50s and '60s home?

Good speech was an important womanly virtue

Housewives weren't the only ones seeking advice on how to please men. Teenagers needed their dating tips, too. Seventeen Magazine gave out beauty advice and told girls how to dress, but looks weren't the only important thing. How you speak was just as important.

'How pretty do you sound?" the magazine asked. "You can't expect to charm a royal ball or end up with Rex Harrison with sloppy speech habits." Every teen dreamed of having a beau like the always old-looking and temperamental Rex Harrison. Also, we didn't realize royal balls were so commonplace for '60s teenagers.

But how can you get yourself to sound pretty? Seventeen had you covered. "Hold a matchstick in your teeth the next time you phone your best friend. Can she tell it's there? If so, you need practice." What does the matchstick accomplish? Most any human would sound weird if you talked with a matchstick in your mouth, so it's hard to imagine why that was desirable. Unless high-level ventriloquism skills were considered the height of beauty at the time.

Laser erasers were going to be the next big advancement in technology

Laser technology was just developing 50 years ago, and a lot of what they predicted came true. Lasers are now commonly used for eye surgery and tattoo removal, as the 1967 documentary The Laser: A Light Fantastic predicted. But they got one thing very wrong. Inventors assumed that they'd need something to tackle the major problem of typewriter typos. They figured lasers were the answer.

The film shows off the "laser eraser." Looking like a ray gun from a '50s sci-fi film, a man demonstrates the ease with which lasers can take care of troublesome typos. You only have to take out the paper from the typewriter, get out your huge laser gun, fire it exactly at the letter you want to get rid of, delete one letter at a time, line the paper up precisely to where you need to correct the original typo, and voila! It's like you never typed an extra "e," and it only took 15–20 minutes!

Detroit was a great city with a bright future

Detroit! A city of commerce, progress, and a bright future! At least that's what we thought 50 years ago. Looking back on the educational film Detroit: A City on the Move is pretty sad. The city was full of constant activity, new construction, and an array of businesses in the area. They never would have imagined that the year 2000 would bring a time of abandoned buildings and rampant crime.

Watching this film about the unbridled hope of Detroit's future is so depressing now. The film said things like "[Detroiters] enjoy more sparkling, pure water than any similar area in the world." You wonder how many new swear words these hopeful Detroiters would come up with when they heard about a poisoned water crisis in Michigan half a century later.

Or how about '60s Detroit bragging about being "second only to New York in legitimate theater attendance." Sure, Fox Theater is still there and still a beautiful work of architecture, but it sits in a weirdly empty neighborhood, with most of the theatergoers over age 65.

The film also sings the praises of a wonderful up and coming neighborhood filled with shops, businesses, and fun. Yes, "the inner city is becoming an exciting place to live." Today, Detroit will literally pay you to move downtown, and if you tell anyone you live in "inner-city Detroit," people are amazed you're still alive to tell the tale.

State-run lotteries were a moral outrage

New Hampshire dared to have the first state-run lottery in 1964, and it was not a popular choice. Government lotteries did not exist 50 years ago and were illegal. But New Hampshire found if they kept it within state lines, it shouldn't violate the law, so they wanted to try their hand at the lotto business to raise money for schools. When the initial legislation went through state congress, they received hundreds of letters expressing outrage at the idea of using gambling to fund government efforts. All the same, the bill passed, and New Hampshire scheduled their first lottery for September 14, 1964.

Now, this wasn't a normal lottery. New Hampshire wasn't going to deal with balls and numbers. They had a horse race. People would buy a ticket, then a drawing was held to link a person to each horse. Then, whoever's horse won the race won the money. The media were infuriated. One columnist wrote that New Hampshire had worked hard to cultivate a beautiful state worth living in. "Now, almost overnight, all that's to be wiped out." Another journalist wrote, "What's happening to New Hampshire's image at the hands of politicians shouldn't happen to a dog."

But people bought tickets in droves. Though it was technically illegal, people even came from other states to get a chance at the winnings. In the end, six people had a chance at the jackpot. The group included a six-year-old boy and the wife of a virulent anti-lottery campaigner.

The Sweeps was a huge success. At $3 a ticket, the state made $5.7 million. With so much money to be made, it's not surprising that all the outrage faded away and other states jumped on the lottery bandwagon.