1953 — Ray Bradbury publishes “Fahrenheit 451”

Bradbury’s best known novel is a savage and dystopian satire of media trends in Bradbury’s day. He foresaw such implausibilities as wall-sized tv screens with hundreds of channels of aneasthetizing pap playing 24 hours a day, while literacy was not merely rare but close to outlawed. It was a world where firemen start fires instead of putting them out, but only to burn books.

As such, it played into the prejudices that every new medium has faced, that it would enfeeble the minds of those who followed it. “Fahrenheit 451” depicts a world where every channel is Fox News (or some close affiliate), and the only escape is to destroy it all and start anew in the ashes of the world – although Bradbury himself (an Emmy winner) presumably has a more nuanced attitude to the glass teat than this novel would indicate

Referenced in:

Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury — Rachel Bloom

1953 – The coverup of toxic waste dumping at Love Canal begins

To be fair, it wasn’t that much of a cover-up on the part of the company. The deed of sale for the site, sold by Hooker Chemicals to the Niagara Falls School Board in 1953 for $1 does specifically mention the presence of the toxic waste, mostly so that the company’s legal liability for the 21,000 tons of chemicals including caustics, alkalines, fatty acids and chlorinated hydrocarbons – residue and waste from the manufacturing of dyes, perfumes, solvents for rubber and synthetic resins – could be limited. The company specifically enjoins against building on the site, because they had a very good idea of how dangerous these chemicals were.

The school board went ahead and built primary schools on the area, and later houses were built as well. Presumably, no members of that school board lived in the area or sent their children to school there. In 1976, journalists began investigating rumours regarding the abnormally high rates of birth defects and diseases in the area – leading to a poorly kept secret becoming front page news across America.

Referenced in:

Cesspools in Eden — Dead Kennedys

1953 – Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reach the top of Mt Everest

After an ascent lasting more than two months, Hillary and Norgay made their final camp about 300 metres below the summit of Everest on the night of May 28, 1953. The next day, they made the relatively short ascent to the top of the mountain, the highest in the world.

Hillary claimed that the two set foot on the summit at the same time, but Norgay has always claimed that Hillary was first. And while Hillary took Norgay’s photo at the top of the world, he would not let Norgay take his. Some people are just too damned modest for their own good.

Referenced in:

(He’ll Never Be An) Old Man River — This Is Serious Mum

1953 – The East German Uprising peaks

Beginning as a strike by 300 construction workers in East Berlin on June 16, 1953, what would become known as the East German Uprising rapidly spiralled out of control of the authorities.

This led to greater and greater measures being employed to stop the uprising, which only intensified the reaction on the part of the protestors. The flames of rebellion were fanned by West German radio, which broadcast the news all over communist-controlled East Germany, leading to a wave of sympathetic strikes across the entire nation that continued for some days after the 17th.

An estimated 40,000 protestors gathered in East Berlin the next day, and numerous other rallies, strikes and protests took place elsewhere in the nation. In the capital, the protests were brutally suppressed by Soviet troops, with nearly 500 deaths caused by rioting or summary executions, and just under another 2000 people injured. More than 5000 people were arrested for their roles in the uprising.

In later years, the anniversary was celebrated as a national holiday in West Germany, under the name of the “Day of German Unity”. In East Germany, it was remembered, but celebrated rather more furtively.

Referenced in:

We Didn’t Start The Fire – Billy Joel

1953 – The Doomsday Clock is set at two minutes to midnight

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is one of the world’s most prestigious scientific publications in the world. Its first issue, published on December 10, 1945, was only two pages in length. It has grown since then.

In June of 1947, its cover featured, for the first time, what became known as the Doomsday Clock. This would become the regular cover for Bulletin, throughout the run of its print edition, and even today’s online version, which has no cover per se, maintains the clock. The number of minutes before midnight – measuring the degree of nuclear, environmental, and technological threats to mankind – is periodically corrected; when it was first published, the clock was set at seven minutes to midnight.

In September of 1953, Volume IX, Number 7, the Clock was set to 2 minutes to midnight – the closest they had ever been. The hands remained here until January of 1960, and have never again been set so close to midnight.

Referenced in:

Two Minutes To Midnight – Iron Maiden

1953 – Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are executed

Julius and Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg were a married couple from New York City. Of Jewish-American origin, the two had met in 1936 at a meeting of the Young Communist League.

Julius joined in the army in 1940, where he served in the Signal Corps, working on radar equipment. He was recruited by the NKVD as a spy in 1942, and passed a considerable body of data to the Soviets, notably the proximity fuse used to shoot down Gary Powers in 1960.

But with the arrest of Klaus Fuchs at Los Alamos, the dominoes started to fall. Fuchs fingered another spy: his courier, Gold. Gold has also been a courier for David Greenglass – Ethel’s brother. Greenglass testified that he had been recruited by Julius, though he denied Ethel’s involvement.

The Rosenbergs were convicted on March 29, 1951, and sentenced to death on April 5. The conviction helped to fuel Senator Joseph McCarthy’s investigations into anti-American activities by U.S. citizens. While their devotion to the Communist cause was well-documented, the Rosenbergs denied the espionage charges even as they faced the electric chair. They were the only two American civilians to be executed for espionage-related activity during the Cold War.

Referenced in:

We Didn’t Start The Fire – Billy Joel

1953 – Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II

Technically, Elizabeth Windsor became the Queen of England as soon as her father, King George VI died on February 2 of 1952. But until her actual coronation – a lengthy religious ceremony held in Westminster Abbey – took place more than a year later.

This was necessary for political and religious purposes – without this apparently meaningless ceremony, the divine right of kings (well, queens in this case), would fall by the wayside, and that would just be unacceptable. Elizabeth has now been the Queen long enough to have become the third longest reigning English monarch.

Referenced in:

We Didn’t Start The Fire – Billy Joel