Monday, August 8, 2016

The Squirt Soft Drink Subjective Color Acid Test

On July 25, 1967, television viewers with black-and-white TV sets were startled to see flashes of color on their monochrome screens for about ten seconds during a 60-second soda-pop commercial. A letter to a columnist in the September 14, 1967 Detroit Free Press asked, "Before I see an eye doctor, let me ask Action Line: Is it possible to pick up color TV on a black and white set? I SWEAR I saw a Squirt soft-drink commercial in color. Not pink elephants Green Squirt!" The image was described in the newspaper column as a red, green and blue sign that had flashed on the screen.

A viewer in Chicago told Popular Photography magazine (July 1968), "I saw pink! It knocked me for a loop...the letters S-Q-U-I-R-T looked greenish or light turquoise...and it kept up for maybe 10 seconds." (Meanwhile a viewer in San Francisco claimed he didn't see anything colorful.)
It was the national debut of an experimental television commercial using a special production process that would give the optical illusion of color. The commercial first aired a few months earlier locally on KNXT, the CBS-owned television station in Los Angeles, and viewers there were just as stunned. Squirt and its advertising partner Color-Tel Corporation of Los Angeles, at the time decided to make no prior announcement of this experimental commercial, preferring to see just how viewers would respond. And respond they did. Within hours, thousands of viewers were asking if they really saw what they thought they did, color on their black-and-white TV screens, according to Popular Electronics magazine (October 1968).

The burst of color was not "living color" (as NBC frequently touted in the 1960s), but something called "subjective color." The process was developed by James F. Butterfield of Color-Tel, a corporation founded in Los Angeles in early 1966. It gave the illusion of color by pulsating white light in a particular sequence for each color with a rotating device attached to a regular black and white TV camera lens. Butterfield had found in his many years of research that the human brain perceives colors through complex electronic codes. Butterfield was able to figure out the individual codes for the colors red, green and blue, and by pulsating white light in predetermined patterns with the device on the camera lens, could induce the brain of the television viewer to perceive color. Beyond that, ordinary monochrome equipment could be used in filming or taping, broadcasting and viewing.

There were a few drawbacks. The images were nothing at all like true color TV. It didn't have the intensity or range of colors. As the technology currently stood, the effect could only be used on still images. The "subjective color" could only be seen in about one-fourth of the TV screen area, and, because it relied on flickering light, there was a lot of flickering. It was also found that some people could not perceive the colors at all, yet some people diagnosed as color-blind could see the colors.

Nonetheless, Popular Science, in its August 1968 issue, saw many possibilities for the technology, particularly for special effects. "Color will appear in cartoons, commercials and special presentations. Polka-dots on a clown's suit will be seen as red flashing dots. You'll see the designs and lettering on a cereal box in pulsating green and blue. A girl will plant a kiss on a boy's cheek--and a red lipstick print will appear on your screen."

Popular Electronics (October 1968) went on to report, "Right now, Color-Tel engineers are checking into the possibility of using electronic color for such things as color radar displays, color computer readouts, and perhaps even color sonar pictures. It may be true that, in its present stage of development, Butterfield's process is nothing but a scientific curiosity — however, 25 years ago, so was television."

Popular Science predicted, "You can expect color on your black-and-white TV by this fall [1968]." But there was one giant flaw in that rosy prediction. By 1968, black-and-white TV was well on the way out. The vast majority of programming (outside of old movies and TV shows) were being broadcast in "living" color by then, and while most U.S. households still had black-and-white TV sets (color sets were big, bulky and expensive in those days), more and more homes were purchasing color television sets every year. Had James F. Butterfield perfected the process ten or fifteen years earlier, in the 1950s when 90 percent of television broadcasts were black and white, it might have had more of a serious impact.

Although James F. Butterfield had many patents to his credit before his death in 2013, it appears this experiment didn't go as far as the press of the time might have suggested it could. Color-Tel last renewed as a corporation in 1972, and we can not find any evidence of other "subjective color" broadcasts beyond the Squirt commercial.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Reader review for "Terror Alert:1970" e-book

Fellow blogger Erin Brew offers this review of my newly published e-book, "Terror Alert: 1970." Find out more at

Terror Alert: 1970 offers a well-articulated introduction into a time many of us could not (or can not) grasp understanding of. It's one of those micro topics you might only briefly cover if you take a history class on the 1960s, as I did in college. One immediately makes comparisons to the nature of today's terror attacks vs. the year 1970 upon reading. And as far as Minnesota goes, well, personally I never heard of a string of such bombings! How is it that I missed that about my own home state's history?

The text transitions very nicely from introducing a specific terror threat at a Twins baseball game and linking it with one of the many summers of unrest due to the Vietnam war protests. But are such unexplained bombings linked to Vietnam? Further reading seems to prove confusion of the motives.

When you think of today's terrorists, you think of an outside enemy with fundamentally different ideals invoking fear and disrupting the daily lives of western citizens. We know who they are and why they want to harm our society. But in the case of domestic terrorists, no one seemed to know who or why. What were they hoping to accomplish?

Also puzzling is why certain companies were targeted that had nothing to do with what was happening in the news about war overseas. With an astonishing 400 bomb threats made in just part of the year, how did the public react? Today, we would think of the many violent gun crimes and hear people rally to do something to stop criminals from getting them. But what do you do about bombs? You certainly can't ban something someone will make at home and use to cause serious damage. That isn't rational.

I think these events happening in the year 1970 tells us something. That there was an alarming shift in our culture. It wasn't the nice, complacent 1950s anymore. Any sense of peace and unity seemed scarce with the ever growing “new left” political atmosphere at the end of the 1960s decade. What it comes down to is, who is to blame for these events? Individual actions? Or outside events that drove them to it? In the end, you, the reader must decide for yourself.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Rise and Fall of the 40 ft. Inflatable Hamm's Bear--a photo essay

On July 9, 2016 in Cloquet, MN, a town just outside of Duluth, the historic Northeastern Hotel and Saloon hosted a brewery collectibles show called the Nordlager Show, named after an old local brew. Hotel and Saloon owner Bert Whittington took out of storage a massive inflatable Hamm's Bear, manufactured around 1980 for the Olympia Brewing Company, the makers of Hamm's beer at the time. Connected to two electric-powered air compressors, the huge vinyl blob lying on the ground came to life, and the familiar cartoon character Hamm's Bear stood tall and proud, greeting passersby for a triumphant but brief moment...until he started to lose air.

1. He came to life from a big blob of vinyl on the ground. Owner Bert Whittington helps him up as he fills with air.
2. "Hello, Folks!" The Bear stands triumphantly, greeting passersby with an awkward left arm.
3. Pete and Bert celebrate with a cool, refreshing Hamm's beer.
Note how much smaller the real can (in Bert's hand) is.
4. People came from all over to look at the thing.
5. Standing tall and proud, 40 feet high.
6. Uh-oh! He's sprung a leak!
7. Looking like he's about to hurl after consuming the contents of the giant beer can.
8. Another view of the sick, deflating bear, the beer can looking dented and forelorn.
9. Oh well. Better luck next year.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Terror Alert:1970

The summer of 1970 was a pretty intense time in my home turf of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, the Twin Cities. After a spring filled with anti-Vietnam War protests and student strikes that were for the most part fairly low-key compared to other places, the late summer and early fall brought on a whole slew of bomb threats on pretty much a daily basis and lasting for months, that had people perplexed, uptight and at the same time bemused. This is the topic of my new e-book, "Terror Alert:1970, the Strange Summer of Bomb Threats in Minnesota," available for $2.99 on
Official e-book cover.

On August 17, 1970, a dynamite blast in the overnight hours at a downtown Minneapolis federal building, where a Selective Service office among other things was located, caused an estimated $500,000 worth of damage, hurled chunks of granite weighing up to 300 pounds into the street and injured a nighttime security guard, the building's only occupant. Five days later, a two-pound stick of dynamite exploded in a wastebasket in the women's rest room at the St. Paul Dayton's department store, seriously injuring one woman. A second, much larger bomb with a timing device was found in a nearby location in the store, and was, thankfully, defused.

Then over the next several weeks, residents, area businesses and the police were kept on their toes with phoned-in bomb threats on a daily basis, forcing many evacuations. In some instances, bombs were found, but more often, the threats turned out to be false alarms. One such threat forced the evacuation of a Minnesota Twins baseball game at Metropolitan Stadium on August 25, 1970. About 3,000 of the nearly 17,700 fans actually went out on to the field, against the wishes of law enforcement and team officials, and mingled with the players. Beer and hot dog vendors followed them out there and did brisk business. No bomb was found and the game resumed after a 45 minute delay. It was obviously an entirely different world then.

A couple days later, a woman was quoted in the Minneapolis Star newspaper, "Imagine. Come to Minneapolis and live dangerously. Who would have thought it?"

The bomb scares continued in the Twin Cities. Area hotels, TV stations, and all kinds of businesses had to deal with bomb threats. Actual bombs were found, and quickly removed, from two Minneapolis restaurants. And a young man was literally blown to bits while carrying plastic explosives during a late night thunderstorm and was apparently struck by lightning, damaging a home and a car, but killing only himself in the process. The big mystery was, why was this happening? There was a lot of speculation, but no clear answers.

My e-book "Terror Alert:1970" documents the incidents and events based on newspaper accounts from the time without speculating myself or throwing in any contemporary political commentary. Take a look. A 20% free sample is available at, and it can be downloaded to any device, including your desktop computer.

Published through Studio Z-7 Publishing.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Fresh-killed chicken.

Fifty years ago, Mobil Oil Corporation ran a series of rather graphic, sharply-worded advocacy ads in newspapers about unsafe driving and young people, with the slogan, "We want you to live." Many decades before anyone conceived of the current problem of texting while driving. Nonetheless, the ads are very much worth taking another look at.

This one, titled "Fresh-killed chicken," featured a depiction of a deceased young man, face-down on the pavement, wearing a "Jets" jacket. It ran in the Minneapolis Star and other newspapers across the United States on October 10, 1966.


Let's hear it for the winner.

That's him lying there--the dead one.

Or is he the loser?

You can't tell. Not that it matters very much. Because in the in the idiot game of "chicken," two cars speed straight for each other. Head on.

With luck, one car steers clear in the nick of time. Without luck, neither car steers clear. And the winner and the loser are equally dead.

Some "game."

It took God Almighty to stop Abraham from making a blood sacrifice on his son. What do you suppose it will take to make us stop sacrificing our children?

We who bear them in sterilized hospitals, stuff them with vitamins, educate them expensively, and then hand over the keys to the car and wait with our hearts in our mouths.

Too bad we educate them only to make a living and not to stay alive.

Because right now--this year--car accidents kill more young people than anything else. Including war. Including cancer. Including anything.

Yet we allow it.

Incredibly enough, fewer than half the young people who get drivers' licenses every year have passed a training course.

Which leaves well over 2 million (!) youngsters who get licenses every year without passing such a course.

And this is the price we pay: 13,200 young people between 15 and 24 died in automobile accidents in 1965. (The exact number for 1966 isn't in yet; it will probably be higher.) It's a gruesome answer to the population explosion. And if we all sit still about it, we ourselves are "chickening out."

Yet we mustn't frighten out youngsters; they're frightened enough. We must teach them.

Does your school system have a driver training course? Are there books in your school library or public library on driving? (did you know such books exist? Do they know?)

Are requirements for getting a driver's license in your state tough enough? Are your radio and TV stations paying any attention to the problem? Your newspapers?

Does anyone in your community give awards for good driving? The PTA? Or the Boy Scouts? The Chamber of Commerce? the churches or synagogues?

What kind of a driver are you yourself? Do you set a good example or a poor one?

Would your company insist on a driver training course before they'd hire someone?

Would your schools insist on a training course before they'd turn a youngster loose?

Would it help?

Yes it would. Education works. Drivers in large truck fleets are trained to drive safely. And some of them have dropped accident rates to only about half that of the general public.

It would cost little or nothing to get these things going. And we haven't a minute to spare. It's blood that we have on our hands, not time.

We at Mobil sell gasoline and oil for our living to the living. Naturally, we'd like young people to grow up into customers. But for now we'd be happy if they'd simply grow up.

Mobil. We want you to live.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

May is National Tavern Month

Since the mid Twentieth Century, around the month of May, a slogan has occasionally appeared in some beer and liquor advertising: "May is National Tavern Month." 
National Tavern Month was established in 1953 by the National Licensed Beverage Association and continues to be promoted by its successor organization, American Beverage Licensees (ABL), based in Bethesda, MD. In recent years the name has been shortened to just Tavern Month. It's unclear as to why the month of May was chosen (some point out the fact that Mother's Day falls in the same month), but according to the ABL, state and local governments have recognized Tavern Month over the years. The special month has a number of goals, including highlighting the hard work of the men and women in the licensed beverage industry, recognizing the "important role that taverns and bars play in American culture," emphasizing "the overwhelmingly positive impact that bars and taverns have on their communities," encouraging support for locally owned businesses and licensees, increasing "awareness of the steps that bars and taverns are taking to ensure the responsible service of beverage alcohol," and to "Increase appreciation of the link taverns provide between customers and the thousands of beer, wine and spirits products on the market."

Said ABL Executive Director John Bodnovich in a 2015 press release, "Whether you're watching the big game, meeting a colleague after work, or dropping in to say hello to your favorite bartender, Tavern Month is a chance to celebrate the culture of the American tavern. In addition to their people and personalities, America's bars and taverns are also a key component of the economic engine that is the hospality industry."
The ABL further pointed out in its press release the historic nature of the American tavern. "From the Colonial Era through Prohibition and into the 21st century, American bars and taverns have been central gathering places for community residents and welcoming sanctuaries for weary travelers. Bars and taverns know no class hierarchy, providing a common forum for those from all professions and walks of life to discuss ideas and offer their assessment of the American landscape."
In 1956, when the fourth annual National Tavern Month was being celebrated, Associated Press reporter Hal Boyle took a humorous look at it in an article that was published in the Spencer (Iowa) Daily Reporter for Wednesday, May 16, 1956.
"(T)he sponsors of National Tavern Month...don't expect the populace to turn the occasion into another Fourth of July, and go around shooting off firecrackers. But they do think it would be nice if you'd drop into your favorite tavern for a friendly drink at the pump, and pause for a moment in silent reverie over the long and important role taverens have played in history...
"What can the average man do to honor National Tavern Month?...I consulted a number of bartenders on what form they honestly would like this testimonial to take...
“'I’d be satisfied if a guy would just order a martini,' one said, “'without adding – "and be sure to make it extra dry." Nobody ever orders a wet martini.'
“'Just tell women – all women to stay out of the bar for the whole month—and give us a rest,' said one lady-hating bartender.
"But most of the bartenders surveyed said something like this; 'If the customers would just shut up about their troubles for a while – and listen to our troubles—life would be a dream.'
"There you are. For most of the year the bartender is a standing psychiatrist to his patrons. Why not, just for a month, become his psychiatrist?
"The poor fellow might be so humbly grateful to find a listening ear he’ll break down and even buy a drink on the house. Don’t count on this, however, not even during National Tavern Month."

Sunday, March 13, 2016

7-Up Folklore

While it's no longer the case, in the Twentieth Century, 7-Up was a major soft drink brand, for a time the largest-selling non-cola (or Uncola) soft drink. With its crisp carbonated lemon-lime flavor it was a refreshing drink and popular mixer with hard liquor, and its advertising almost rivaled Coca-Cola's in its volume, with ads appearing in major magazines, TV and radio, and on signage outside of diners and ma-and-pa corner stores across the United States and foreign lands. There was also a lot of folklore that surrounded the soda-pop that came in the emerald-green bottles. For instance, there's a story of how 7-Up was able to put out a cooking fire and baste hams at the same time.

The alleged account appeared in the October 2, 1946 issue of the 7-Up Refresher, a newsletter for a group of Midwestern 7 Up bottlers, supposedly recounting a conversation between women in a beauty parlor after a fire truck went by. According to the short piece, one of the women told this story:

"During the holidays we were cooking several hams on top of the stove. Somehow or other the flame from the gas jet ignited the grease on the ham, and in an instant all the hams were ablaze. Flames were shooting up in an alarming way and we all were running around hysterically. Someone phoned the fire department but it looked as though the whole kitchen would be [on] fire before the firemen came.

"There happened to be a case of 7-UP on the floor. My nephew grabbed a bottle, pulled the cap, shook it with his thumb over the top and then squirted the stream of 7-UP at the burning hams. It blanketed the blaze and soon everyone had a bottle of 7-UP squirting at the hams. When the fire department arrived, the fire was all out and the hams were cooking away unharmed.

"You know, far from doing any damage, the 7-UP improved the flavor of the ham--it's the finest basting we ever had for them. Plain water would have ruined them all and probably wouldn't have put out the fire either. I always have said that one bottle of 7-UP is worth a gallon of water!"

On the same page was this unrelated anecdote:

"Little Johnnie was taking his third grade spelling the other day and was asked to spell the word straight. He spelled out s-t-r-a-i-g-h-t. The teacher pronounced the word as being correct and then asked the meaning of the word.

"Johnnie answered: 'Without 7-UP.'"