The 1968 Exhibit: Popular Mechanics, April 1968

For those familiar with Popular Mechanics magazine from the 1930s and 1940s-- with dazzling cover art with alluring futuristic (and non-existent) machines--the issues from the 1960s will seem pretty tame.  


Take this one from April 1968:  The cover story, "Build this 3-Stage Vacation House," is illustrated by a photo of a brightly lit, colorful, sort of mid-century Modern shack, an update on the log-cabin model, but also clearly a simple, home-made affair.  And that's the point:  Guys in these increasingly affluent days have more leisure time on their hands and have been turning to "DIY" projects, especially ones like this one, pitched to the urge to get more out of vacation time.  Popular Mechanics had always been full of home "shop" projects, but by the 1960s they had gotten pretty ambitious.  The magazine does not, however,  give its readers lessons on how to play the guitar and hold your own hootenanny, which seems to be going on in this lively scene.  

Popular Mechanics-- need we point this out?-- is really the quintessential Magazine for Regular Guys.  The ads are for car batteries and tires; power tools; beer; cars and motorcycles (and parts for same).  There are ads promoting career changes (learn electronics) and enlisting in the military or the National Guard.  The articles in this issue address the same demographic:  "Catch More Trout by Telemetry;" "How To Tune Up Your Mower;" a spread on new research submarines.   Not surprisingly, there's hardly a clue that there is anything "turbulent" about 1968--nothing on racial violence or rebellious youth or presidential politics--although you can find the word "Vietcong" in this issue (in an article on deploying new minesweepers in Vietnam).  

One article in this issue caught my eye:  "A Computer in the Basement?"  A Westinghouse engineer, Jim Sutherland, has built a computer in the basement of his Pittsburgh PA home, and is teaching his wife, Ruth, to program it.  ECHO IV (Electronic Computing Home  Operator) takes up 20 square feet formerly occupied by the family playroom (forget about it, kids), and is doing simple tasks like budgeting and programming clocks.  "The computer understands 18 commands," and has a "core memory storage capacity of 8,192 words."  Jim predicts that "when we look ahead 20 years, even our wildest expectations will probably seem pale when compared to what ECHO, 1987 version, may be doing for us."