Age of Innocence – 1963, US ZIP Codes and X-RAY Specs

As a teenager I used to read American superhero comics like DC and Marvel and I was always tempted to respond to the full page advertisements for such things as a complete two hundred piece civil war army for $1.49, a miniature secret camera for only $1.00 or a free Charles Atlas body building course.

What prevented me filling in the order form and sending off the cash was not the rather critical fact that I had no idea how to exchange my paper round money into dollars but rather the fact that I didn’t know what a ZIP code was.  I concluded that it was some sort of secret code that prevented overseas orders from being processed and so never had the pleasure of sending off my order form for those intriguing items.

As it turned out there is nothing secret about it at all.  The ZIP code is the system of postal codes used by the US Postal Service. The letters ZIP are an acronym for Zone Improvement Plan and were chosen to suggest that the mail travels more efficiently, and therefore more quickly, when people sending post use it.

ZIP codes of the USA

By the early 1960s improvements were needed in the postal service due to increasing volumes and on 1st July 1963 ZIP codes were announced for the whole country.  This might not sound like a really really big news item but I mention it because for many years I had a lot of difficulty understanding what a ZIP code was as post codes were not introduced to the whole of the United Kingdom until 1974 and then no one really used it for at least the next twenty years or so.  (Post codes were introduced in Australia in 1967 and in Canada in 1971 although here Trade Union opposition held up full implementation until 1974).


sea monkeys

Most of all I wanted a pair of X-ray specs, mostly because the advert seemed to suggest that whilst it might be fun to be able to see the bones in your hand, it would be a whole lot more fun to be able to see through clothing and there was always a curvy girl in the advert that suggested that this was a real possibility.

But, let’s think about it for a minute.  This is how my science dictionary explains X-rays:

‘X-rays are a type of electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths of around 10-10 metres.  When X-rays are being produced, a thin metallic sheet is placed between the emitter and the target, effectively filtering out the lower energy (soft) X-rays.  This is often placed close to the window of the X-ray tube.  The resultant X-ray is said to be hard. Soft X-rays overlap the range of extreme ultraviolet.  The frequency of hard X-rays is higher than that of soft X-rays, and the wavelength is shorter.  During an X-ray the electrons decelerate upon colliding with the target and if enough energy is contained within the electron it is able to knock out an electron from the inner shell of the metal atom and as a result electrons from higher energy levels then fill up the vacancy and X-ray photons are emitted.’

Well, that all sounds rather complicated to me, and X-ray machines costs many thousands of pounds so thinking back it seems highly unlikely that a pair of cardboard specs costing a mere $1.00 was going to be able to deliver the sort of  advanced level of technical process that would enable me to see through girls’ clothing.

Actually the lenses consisted of two layers of cardboard with a small hole punched through both layers.  A feather was embedded between the layers of each lens and the vanes of the feathers were so close together that light was diffracted, causing the user to receive two slightly offset images. Where the images overlapped, a darker image was obtained, supposedly giving the illusion that one is seeing an X-ray image of dark and light.  I know now of course that this isn’t a real X-ray machine at all and I am retro spec tively glad that I never sent off my money and purchased a pair.

x-ray specs

22 responses to “Age of Innocence – 1963, US ZIP Codes and X-RAY Specs

  1. Those were definitely innocent times.

  2. I ordered some of those glasses and was highly disappointed.

  3. Didn’t Andrew’s Daddy tell him that if something cost nothing it’s probably worth nothing and if it only costs a dollar it’s probably only worth fifty cents!
    And by then Andrew grew up and started to figure things out for himself.

  4. Pingback: Age of Innocence – 1963, US ZIP Codes and X-RAY Specs | Have Bag, Will Travel

  5. What I always wondered about those x-ray specs was how they only went through the clothes and stopped at a body. Wouldn’t have gone past all the details that adolescent boys want to see and down to the bone? I know: overthing a $1 pair of glasses.

    You should have gone for the Civil War set.

    • I really wanted that civil war set. I had to settle for two boxes of Airfix model armies. The Confederate army was grey and the Union army blue. You could paint in some detail if you had the patience to do so because they were very small pieces. Being English we have a habit of siding with the underdog so the Confederates were always my favourites.

      • I recently read an article — don’t remember where — about American Civil War reenactors in England. Apparently it’s very popular. The problem is that everyone wants to be a Confederate so they have a hard time staging battles — too one-sided.

  6. Boys will be boys and advertisers knew how to get their attention. 😀 😀

  7. I was fascinated by the same adverts and also ones for ex army jeeps and Daisy BB guns ( I had no idea for ages what BB stood for- ball bearings). I’m sure there was another air-rifle company too but I forget now.
    Hope you’re well Andrew.

    • Hello David. Thanks for the comment. I’d forgotten those. The other one that always fascinated me were Sea-Monkeys – “Real life fun-pets to grow yourself”!
      I am fine thank you. I have just read your weekly review – you have been busy!

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  10. I’m still trying to think what you could possibly object to in the use of post codes. My only suggestion is the problems they could cause for dyslexics. But surely, no more postmen are dyslexic than in any other job?

    • Human nature I guess.
      It took 15 years to make seat belts in front seats the law and was rejected in Parliament 11 times. That is even more unimaginable than a resistance to post codes don’t you think?

  11. When at primary school I swapped American Horror comics with Tom McGuinness. I can still see some of the images 🙂

  12. My brothers ordered the sea monkeys. They were brine shrimp I think. Too funny.

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