30 Things All ’60s Kids Remember
History's most vibrant decade might have been the best era to be a kid.
When people find out you grew up in the 60s, they have a lot of questions. “What did you think about the Vietnam War?” they ask. “Do you remember the Cuban Missile Crisis? The Summer of Love? Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech? All the Civil Rights protests?” Sure, sometimes you have answers. But more often than not, the response is: “Um…. I was eight.”
Growing up in the ’60s didn’t mean you were rubbing shoulders with Bobby Kennedy and “Mama” Cass Elliot. It meant you have a lot of warm memories about Chatty Cathy, Easy-Bake Ovens, and Beatles 45s. Here are 30 things that everybody who was lucky enough to have a childhood in the ’60s will never, ever forget. And for more nostalgia from the decade, check out these 20 Slang Terms From the 1960s No One Uses Anymore.
The Beatles Rocking on the Ed Sullivan Show
If you were a kid in 1964 and your parents owned a television, you saw The Beatles make their American debut on the Ed Sullivan Show. They played five songs in all (“All My Loving,” “Till There Was You,” “She Loves You,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand”), and every one felt life-changing. That’s because every one was life-changing. And for more on your favorite tunes and those who sing them, check out the 40 Facts About Music That Really Sing.
There’s not a lot that’s appetizing about Tang. It’s an orangish powder that you pour into water, where it magically becomes a neon-orange drink that tastes super-sweet. Not that we cared as kids, but nothing about it is vaguely healthy; the first ingredient is sugar (followed by fructose).
But when we learned that astronaut John Glenn had been chugging Tang while making his historic first trip around the globe in 1962, immediately every kid knew that Tang had to become a dietary cornerstone. If it was good enough for astronauts, it was good enough for us! (For the record, astronauts weren’t fans. As Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, admitted, a few years ago, “Tang [stinks]!”)
Rickie Tickie stickies
These psychedelic flower decals seemed to be everywhere, from bedroom walls to Volkswagen vans. They came in colors ranging from hot pink to ochre and lime, and it wasn’t just hippies and Flower Power enthusiasts who used them. A suburban mom was as likely to decorate her kitchen with Rickie Tickies. In fact, they were so popular that, by 1968, 90 million of the stickers had been sold. And for blasts from the past, check out the 100 Photos That Kids Born After the 20th Century Will Never Understand.
This iconic doll was first introduced in 1959, but it wasn’t until the ’60s that Barbie topped every girl’s wish list. She followed the fashion cues of First Lady Jackie Kennedy, and soon she even had bendable legs for some reason. Soon enough, she was a minted, unforgettable part of the culture at large. And for more trivia about America’s most popular doll, check out these 29 Fascinating Things You Never Knew About Barbie.
”Duck and cover” drills
It was an era of Cold War nuclear anxiety, but all kids knew about the tension between our country and the Soviet Union was that occasionally our teachers asked us to crawl under our desks and put our hands behind our heads. There was even an educational short starring an animated turtle that explained it all for us. Whether ducking and cover would have made any difference during a real nuclear attack? Well…
Hosted by “America’s oldest teenager,” Dick Clark, American Bandstand was must-see-TV for every kid growing up in the ’60s. It’s not just where we discovered new artists like Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Sonny and Cher, and Tina Turner. It’s also where we learned all the newest dance crazes, like the Loco-Motion, the Watusi, and the Mashed Potato, among many others.
The race to break Babe Ruth’s home run record
Baseball has never been more exciting than it was in 1961, when Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees were in a neck-and-neck race to break Babe Ruth’s then-record 60 home runs in a single season. On October 1st, 1961, on the last game of the regular season, Maris hit his 61st home run against the Boston Red Sox. As the New York Times reported at the time, “An ear-splitting roar went up as Maris, standing spellbound for just an instant at the plate, started his triumphant jog around the bases.” That game is the reason many Baby Boomers still get over-emotional about America’s pastime.
The flat-screen TVs of today were inconceivable to ’60s kids. For us, TVs were gigantic, stored in big wooden boxes that were bulky enough to be furniture. There was enough room on top of the standard TV for a family of four to have a Thanksgiving dinner. If you wanted to move a TV to another room, well, you didn’t—unless you had half a dozen burly guys to help you lift it.
With its high-rise handlebars, it looked like a chopper motorcycle, which instantly made banana-seat bikes the coolest ride on the block. First produced by Schwinn in 1963, kids loved it because the padded seat meant a more comfortable ride, and it was big enough to carry more than one rider. Banana seats lost their cachet when BMX and mountain bikes came into vogue, but Baby Boomers will never be convinced that any bike makes for a more idyllic childhood than this one.
Although the low-heeled, mid-calf high boots first became available in 1964, it wasn’t until Nancy Sinatra’s 1966 hit, “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” that go-go boots became the must-have item for girls across the country. How could a lady reasonably be expected to “walk all over” her cheating ex-boyfriends without a pair of these stylish boots? It just wasn’t possible.
The Easy-Bake Oven
For the kid who couldn’t wait to grow up and become responsible for their own meals, Kenner presented the Easy-Bake Oven in 1963, which provided recipes to bake your own cookies and cakes and other confections. More than 23 million Easy-Bake Ovens were sold.
These adorable little dolls—first invented by a Danish woodworker in the late ’50s—were so popular that the Chicago Tribune reported, in 1964, that “bring your own troll” parties were “‘in’ among the teenage set.” Believe it or not, owning one of these dolls put you squarely in the cool crowd. They were supposed to be good luck, but that’s not really why ’60s kids were so drawn to them. As Life magazine once observed, their bushy manes were “strangely soothing to the touch.”
The commercials explaining exactly how to make a fluffernutter made it sound like endless fun. And sure, they tasted amazing. What’s not to love about a sandwich filled with peanut butter and a metric ton of marshmallow fluff? As an adult, it’s not unusual to look back at these childhood meals with equal parts nostalgia and horror. One part, “Oh, yeah, I wanna fluffernutter right now.” And the other part, “Oh, man, how are we all not a thousand pounds from eating a bazillion of these?”
Etch A Sketch
Invented by a French inventor, and originally called L’Ecran Magique, it bombed hard when it was introduced at a toy fair in Nuremberg in the ’50s. Then, an Ohio company bought the idea (for just $25,000), and the magical drawing device—which used a static charge to move around aluminum powder—became every ’60s kid’s favorite cure for boredom.
The Sound of Music
The ’60s was a rewarding decade for cinema lovers, but few films connected with kids like this Rodgers and Hammerstein musical from 1965. The songs are fun to sing along with, but there’s also something about the Von Trapp family and their Austrian governess (played beautifully by Julie Andrews) that made us wish we could be adopted by them. They weren’t just anti-Nazi, they were anti-conformity (and pro-harmony, in multiple senses of the term).
A fun weekend crafting project—you could spend all day figuring out the perfect placement of rubber bands on a scrunched-up t-shirt to get the best psychedelic designs—that resulted in a fashion staple that made it look like you were part of Janis Joplin’s band, pretty much every kid in the 1960s wore tie-dye.
They were standards on most dinner tables, and a culinary contradiction for most kids. On the one hand, they were jello, which ruled. But somewhere in that jiggly gelatin were things like fruit, marshmallow, nuts, and (gasp) even vegetables. It looked like an alien blob that had eaten its way through mom’s refrigerator… and was coming to eat us next!
Riding in one of these German cars as a kid was a revelation. It was nothing like most of the cars everyone’s parents drove, which were hulking beasts that made us kids feel small. Driving our own Lincoln Continental someday felt as impossible as operating a tank. But the Beetle was small and manageable. It was a step up from Hot Wheels, and even a pre-teen felt like he could get behind the wheel and manage to drive it home.
Learning “The Twist”
From the moment Chubby Checker demonstrated “The Twist” on American Bandstand in 1960, it became an obsession. Kids across the country practiced the Twist—it involved dancing on the balls of your feet and swiveling your body—like mastering the moves would unlock a world of instant popularity. The song was so huge that it reached No. 1 on Billboard’s pop chart twice in two different years, the only time that’s ever happened. Imagine that in today’s over-saturated culture; the ’60s were a time when a dance song could be hugely popular for two years in a row!
Color TV was slow to gain popularity—some networks refused to make the switch, as it would be too costly to record shows in color—but when it took off, it was like a revolution. The watershed moment was in 1966, when the number of color TV sets in American homes jumped to five million (an 85 percent increase from the previous year) and 70 percent of prime time programming was in color. It was a remarkable thing to live through, to watch as the world we saw on TV went from dull black-and-white to vibrant, living color.
A parent’s arm as a seatbelt
It’s funny, we never felt unsafe during car trips with our parents, when we’d sit in the front seat without a seatbelt and our parents would use their arm to keep us secure if the car came to a sudden stop. It wasn’t until 1971 when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration finally issued safety standards for kids, requiring not just seatbelts but actual car seats that were required for every child under a certain age or weight. It took another thirty years before every state had a booster seat law on the books. And for more on how the roads aren’t quite as safe as they could (and should) be, This Is the Most Dangerous Day of the Year to Drive.
President Kennedy’s assassination.
Our parents may have tried to shield us from news of that terrible day in 1963. But it was hard to avoid hearing something. The president, who always seemed larger than life, like something out of Greek mythology, was gone, and with him our sense of security. And for more on the Kennedy family, check out the 25 Facts about the Kennedys You Never Knew.
When Hasbro’s G.I. Joe action figure was introduced in 1964, it was like they’d tapped into every boy’s not-so-secret fantasies. Joe wasn’t just tough, he was a trained killer, full of grit and sneering attitude. It looked like the kind of toy that would save Ken from a burning fire—and then steal his girlfriend, Barbie. And we loved him for being (or at least appearing) stronger than we felt in our kid bodies.
With her pixie haircut, androgynous figure, and heavy eyeliner, Twiggy was the model icon of the Swinging Sixties, the era’s one true “It” girl. She was just 16 when the British newspaper Daily Express called her “The Face of 1966,” and she more than lived up to the title. She was literally everywhere, from magazine covers to Andy Warhol parties, and it was nearly impossible to be young in the ’60s and not be influenced by her.
Long before it became a slick and glossy magazine with rock stars on their cover, Rolling Stone was a black-and-white underground mag out of San Francisco, covering artists and stories the mainstream media wouldn’t go near. Just owning a copy made kids feel like they were part of a counterculture movement more thrilling than anything in their suburban lives.
All the cool cats wore turtlenecks. It had the perfect beatnik or bohemian vibe to make you look more worldly than any kid could pull off otherwise. Putting on a turtleneck announced to the world, “I write poetry and listen to Bob Dylan and have a huge chip on my shoulder.” And if you’re looking to bring the trend roaring back, check out these 10 Stylish Turtlenecks That Work With Any Outfit.
Rock’em Sock’em Robots
We didn’t get the robot butlers we were promised, but we did get robot gladiators, giving every kid the chance to blow off some steam by mercilessly pounding their opponent with his robotic fists. When Rock’em Sock’em Robots went on the market in 1964, it was the most awesome new toy any kid could imagine: easy to learn, hard to master, and just the right amount of competitive.
The special effects in Mary Poppins
When Mary Poppins came out in 1964, it really did feel like special effects in film had reached the peak. Cartoon characters and living actors were interacting in the same celluloid frames, singing and dancing and behaving like they co-existed in reality. Dick Van Dyke was tripping over animated bunnies, and then he and Julie Andrews were riding on the shells of turtles. The thought at the time was, collectively: HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE?
Designed by a chemical engineer who accidentally created a mysterious ball of plastic that wouldn’t stop bouncing. He sold the formula to Wham-O, who immediately recognized that a ball powered by the compound polymer zectron would be perfect for children, so they repackaged it as “SuperBall” and sold more than 20 million of them to kids during the ’60s. They were such a hot toy that Wham-O could hardly keep up with the demand, at one point churning out 170,000 balls every day. And for timeless, valuable trinkets from last century, check out the 20 Crazy Valuable Things You Probably Owned and Threw Out.
Watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon.
It was a moment in history that nobody who witnessed will ever be able to forget. Astronaut Neil Armstrong called it “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” but for all of us who saw it on TV, whether we were a full-grown adult or a kid who barely understood how the world worked yet, it was like seeing science fiction come to life. And for more on the greatest decade of last century, don’t miss these 20 Photos Only Kids Who Grew up in the 1960s Will Understand.
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