Weird News of the 1940s
January 1941: The Cape Lookout cargo ship was launched in Beaumont, Texas using three-and-a-half tons of "well-ripened bananas" to lubricate its slide into the water. It was the largest ship ever launched by this method. Bananas were used because, at the time, they were cheaper than grease.
April 1941: New York designer Frances Ruskin introduced the "latest in apparel for air raids." It was a slacks suit made out of plastic and fiber fabric in "smart, neutral tones" that was designed to protect a woman from bombs, shrapnel, and fire, while simultaneously "preserving her reputation as a fashion leader." It also featured a metal helmet beneath an enveloping hood.
September 1941: Among the inventions displayed at the Annual Congress of the Inventors of America in Los Angeles was a pair of women's pantyhose designed to repel mice. The "shocking stockings" were made of fine spun copper mesh connected to batteries hidden inside the woman's shoes. Wires ran from the batteries through the stockings up to a coil of wires concealed in the girdle. When a mouse brushed up against the pantyhose, the circuit was closed, releasing a voltage shock guaranteed to repel the rodent. The inventor insisted the stockings posed no danger to the wearer.
October 1941: Reasoning that "we don't have much to show sightseers here," the residents of Sayre, Oklahoma decided to adopt a novel method of attracting visitors. They all waved at tourists.
December 1941: Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Chicago printer Louis Fortman claimed exclusive right in Illinois to the use of the slogans "Remember Pearl Harbor" and "Avenge Pearl Harbor," insisting that he had originated and printed the slogans on December 8 and had registered them under the state's trademark laws. Anyone wishing to use the slogans would need his permission — and would need to pay him. However, Fortman said he was willing to let them be used, at no charge, for "patriotic purposes and to aid defense activities." In response to public outrage, Illinois Secretary of State Edward J. Hughes canceled Fortman's registration of the slogans.
December 1944: During the Battle of the Bulge, Sgt. William Furia decorated his helmet with lace curtain that he found in an abandoned home. He did it as a joke, but then his fellow soldiers realized the lace made excellent camouflage in the snow. So they did it too. Thus camouflaged, the Allied soldiers were able to beat back the German offensive.
January 1945: A wave of antisocial behavior swept the streets of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Residents there reported to the police that people were driving around at night and using their horns to signal "vile and filthy language" in morse code.
July 1946: Mrs. Dorothy Dix of Gloucester, England sued her hairdresser, complaining that a permanent wave she received there had discolored her hair. Witnesses described her new hair color as "like a rainbow with green predominating," "like a dirty sheepskin rug streaked with green," and "streaked with vivid red, brown, green and straw." The court awarded Mrs. Dix 157 pounds ten shillings in general damages and 12 pounds one shilling and one penny in special damages.
December 1946: Believing she had been employed to do detective work, 19-year-old Pearl Lusk accepted an assignment to surreptitiously take a picture of Olga Trapani with an "X-ray camera" camouflaged as a gift-wrapped package. But unbeknownst to her, the "camera" was really a sawed-off shotgun. So when Lusk followed Trapani into Times Square station and pulled the trigger, she shot Trapani in the leg. The man who employed Lusk was Trapani's jealous ex-husband who had devised the elaborate scheme as a way to kill her.
March 1947: Explaining why he had suddenly veered off his daily route and kept driving until he was in Florida, Bronx bus driver William Cimillo said that he had been overcome by a "spring-time urge" and had given in to a "yearning for escape." The bus company filed charges against him, but eventually dropped them and gave him his job back because of strong public support in his favor.
June 1947: Orto the Aquarium Man, a street entertainer in Rome, demonstrated how he could smoke an entire cigarette while submerged in a tank of water. Later he ate and drank underwater while an announcer harangued the crowd.
June 1947: To demonstrate the safety of his new toy pellet gun, gunmaker Melvin Johnson held a dinner party at which he invited guests to shoot at a balloon-clad female model in between courses. Guests expressed astonishment and distress when the balloons failed to break.
June 1947: Alert policemen in Warsaw, Poland arrested M. Piskorski. His crime? They thought he was Adolf Hitler. However, after close questioning, Piskorski managed to convince the authorities that he was not, in fact, Hitler, but rather an ordinary Warsaw resident who bore an unfortunate resemblance to the infamous dictator.
October 1947: Detroit admen awarded Carolyn King the title of "Miss Front End of 1948," having chosen her as "the girl they would most like to have as their radiator ornament." She worked with a team of artists who transformed her into a "dream-designed radiator cap."
October 1947: When Mrs. Minerva Elegan of Louisville, Kentucky died, she left her entire estate of $2500 to Rev. James Chalmers. However, Elegan's daughter promptly contested the will, arguing that the Reverend had exercised "undue influence" over her mother by "plying her with pineapple sodas." An "expert" on sodas, brought to the stand by the defense, refuted this claim, insisting that pineapple sodas "never had influenced anybody to do anything but want another one." The judge directed the jury to uphold the will.
January 1948: Hoping to level the playing field between motorists and pedestrians, Los Angeles auto dealer Hilton Tupman invented a horn that pedestrians could use to honk at motorists. He made it loud enough to be heard within a 1-mile radius.
January 1948: The B.F. Goodrich Company of Akron, Ohio unveiled the "new look" in hot water bottles and ice packs for folks suffering from sore throats, sinus pains, and New Year's hangovers. The wearable device consisted of a helmet-shaped ice cap, a hot water bottle in mask form, and a wrap-around ice bag for the throat.
June 1948: Parisian milliner Jean Barthet debuted the "existentialist hat." It featured a cloud of mauve tulle topped by rose-satin hands wearing a diamond ring. The hands, said Barthet, were intended to symbolize the "hovering hands of fate." Barthet described himself as a member of the existentialist movement.
July 15, 1948: Before his speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, President Truman was presented with a six-foot-tall Liberty Bell made out of red and white carnations. Then attendants pulled a string and released 48 white pigeons (intended to symbolize "doves of peace") concealed inside the bell. Unfortunately, two of the birds had already died because of the extreme heat in the convention hall. The rest staggered out of the bell and began flapping around the hall. One bird landed on the bald head of Sam Rayburn, charman of the convention. He swatted it away and screamed into the microphone, "Get those goddamned pigeons out of here." Other pigeons flew up into the rafters, splattering the audience below with droppings as they did so. People began screaming and running for cover. It took a full day for workers to get all the pigeons down from the roof of the hall.
November 1948: Eric Wildman, president of the National Society for the Retention of Corporal Punishment in Schools, was invited to speak at a British school for boys. During the talk, a group of the boys crept up behind him, pinned him down, and began beating him with his own canes. The assault had been planned by the school's headmaster, who was strongly anti-caning and had decided to give Wildman a taste of his own medicine.
January 1949: A white, female parrot named Laura became the star attraction at the Munich Zoo when it began shrieking "Heil Hitler" repeatedly at visitors. Embarrassed zoo officials insisted they had only recently acquired the bird and had no idea where it had learned the phrase. Laura's caretaker promptly began a program of "parrot denazification" in an attempt to unteach the phrase, although he confessed he had no idea how such a thing was supposed to be done.
October 1949: Mrs. Ida Thompson sued for divorce from her husband, to whom she had been married for 16 months, complaining that he "frequently bought comic books by the dozens and sat around and read them while refusing to help care for our baby."

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All original content in posts is Copyright © 2016 by the author of the post, which is usually either Alex Boese ("Alex"), Paul Di Filippo ("Paul"), or Chuck Shepherd ("Chuck"). All rights reserved. The banner illustration at the top of this page is Copyright © 2008 by Rick Altergott.