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A Comparison of Two Very Different Worlds : 1962 vs. 2012

As 2012 winds down, it's interesting to reflect upon the way the world was 50 years ago in 1962.

A Comparison of Two Very Different Worlds : 1962 vs. 2012

In 1962, LINC was an acronym for "Laboratory Instrument Computer." It was the forerunner of the modern personal computer and debuted that year for just over $43,000.

LINC was a 12 bit computer with a 0.5 megahertz processor. Today for just under $700, one can buy an HP laptop with a 2.4 gigahertz processor. This is just one of the many contrasts between 2012 and 1962, when Bill Gates was a mere 6-year-old in Seattle.

If you wanted to make a phone call in 1962, you'd have to be at home or in a phone booth somewhere, and you'd think long and hard about how long you'd be talking, as rates for long distance calls both within your state or to another state were exorbitant. There were no cellphones. As for texting, the closest thing was to send a telegram at the Western Union office.

Wanted to see a movie? You'd go to the local movie theater or maybe watch one on your black and white TV that was only capable of getting three or four channels. By 1962, 90 percent of all American households had TVs. Zenith marketed its first color TV, a 21-inch oval that you might have used to watch the 1962 Rose Bowl game — the first ever coast to coast color broadcast of a college football game. You would need, however, a special color TV antenna that cost about $25. No cable back then!

Millions of Americans today have satellite dishes that receive TV signals from orbiting satellites. Back in 1962, the first ever satellite transmission of a signal from space occurred when the Telstar I satellite beamed back the first transatlantic television broadcast on July 23. It was the start of something big.

Back in 1962, the population of the USA was about 180 million. In the intervening 50 years, the population has swelled over 75 percent to nearly 313 million — an enormous increase. Connecticut's population was 2.5 million then and has grown to 3.5 million today. Those people could expect to pay about $12,000 for a new house or, if they rented, about $110 per month. To heat those houses with oil cost about 10 cents per gallon as opposed to nearly $4 per gallon today! Regular gasoline in Connecticut averaged about 28 cents per gallon! Today we pay nearly $4 per gallon to fuel over 204 million motor vehicles — about triple the number of vehicles registered in 1962!

Here are some other contrasts between 1962 and 2012:

  • Women made about 59 cents for ever $1 made by men back then; today that number has risen to 77 cents.
  • Construction workers' salaries averaged just over $5,600 then — about $100 per week — as opposed to nearly $53,000 today.
  • Eggs cost about 32 cents per dozen in 1962.
  • A year at Harvard in 1962 would set you back $1,520; today it costs over $50,000!
  • In a remarkable coincidence,  K Mart, Walmart, and Target all opened their first stores in 1962, and all continue to do well today; in fact, Walmart by itself employed over 2 million Americans in 2012!
  • The minimum wage in 1962 was $1.15 per hour; today it is $7.25.
  • At the height of the Cold War in 1962, the military draft was alive and well, and over 2.8 million Americans were in the military service; today there is no draft,  and there are about 1.6 million people in the service.
  • The median family income in 1962 was $5,956; today it is $60,088!
  • In a statistic that may surprise many, the number of federal personnel today is about 1 million less than in 1962: 4.4 million vs. 5.5 million.
  • Cigarettes cost 15 cents a pack, and most adults smoked them.

Human beings have inhabited the planet for about 6 million years, and for the vast majority of that time not much had significantly changed. The post-industrial period has changed all that.

We take for granted rapid modes of transportation, medical care that has vastly extended our lives, and telecommunications that has shrunk our world dramatically. 

On June 25, 1963, President John F. Kennedy said, "Change is the law of life." Most people will acknowledge that change is a big part of life, but few could have anticipated the scope and pace of change that has affected our lives in just the last 50 years.

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