'Popular Electronics' from December 1958
Dec.14, 2015
by Mark Ollig

“Say you saw it in Popular Electronics.” These words were highlighted in the December 1958 issue of Popular Electronics magazine.

While thinking of what to write this week, I came across the American Radio History website.

Its online archives were filled with decades-old collections of radio programming schedules, and electronic hobbyist magazines; including Popular Electronics.

How much did this magazine (148 pages) cost in 1958?

You’re right if you guessed 35 cents.

Inside this particular issue, there were detailed step-by-step instructions, neatly diagramed schematic drawings, and a parts list for constructing devices, such as radios, audio stereo speakers, power failure alarm system, ceiling mounted Hi-Fi speakers, appliance tester, and other electronic goodies.

It was very easy to read through this magazine online, as the entire issue was in a portable document format (PDF).

Choosing the December 1958 Popular Electronics magazine had nothing to do with its month and year coinciding with my first Christmas since arriving into this world.

Well, maybe this was the reason I chose it.

To my surprise, I discovered some unexpectedly popular technology topics being written about, as the year 1958 was ending.

In fact, a few of the topics are as popular today as they were back in 1958.

These days, folks are excited about the possibilities; and yet concerned, with the unending advances in technology and automation.

Some feel artificially intelligent robots or sophisticated computer programs could take control of their jobs – or even the world.

Similar feelings were present 57 years ago.

The cover page of this December 1958 issue reads, “Christmas Fun with Electronic Robots.”

The cover shows a painting of what appears to represent robotic parents and a toddler robot, hanging decorations on a green spruce tree inside their home.

On page 45, there is an article titled, “There Are ROBOTS Among Us.”

“Electronic robots, in one form or another, are influencing our daily lives . . . are we due for an “electronic revolution?”” stated the subheading of an article written in 1958 by William Tenn.

This editorial suggests some people believed having robots with human-like brains, would mean they would be doing all the work, while humans enjoyed a life of leisure.

Conversely, there was real fear expressed; “[robots] will replace mankind, they might run amuck and destroy their masters . . . the robots will get us if we don’t watch out,” wrote Tenn.

During the 1950s, many science fiction movies featured evil robots; or good robots altered to perform evil acts on human society.

These movies no doubt helped instill a fear of robots.

One particular robot, which to this day is still remembered, appeared in the 1951 movie, “The Day The Earth Stood Still.”

GORT (Genetically-Organized Robotic Technology) was the 9-foot tall, metal-plated, intimidating automaton from another planet.

It was part of the robotic “interstellar guardian police force,” and protector of the visiting extraterrestrial, yet human-looking, Klaatu.

GORT had the power to destroy the Earth.

The thought of this, of course, would cause a reasonable amount of fear in anybody.

The 1953 movie, “Robot Monster,” featured a 7-foot tall Moon robot named Ro-Man, who wore what looked like a vintage, underwater diver’s helmet.

The 1954 movie, “GOG” featured two robots built in a top-secret underground research base. They were treacherously reprogrammed to eliminate the humans inside the base, but ended up being destroyed.

Probably the most famous robot during 1958 was Robby the Robot.

This 7-foot-6-inch-tall robot, weighing around 300 pounds, was built in 1955 by the MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) studio’s prop department at a reported cost of $125,000.

Robby the Robot was featured in the 1956 movie, “Forbidden Planet,” and in 1957’s, “The Invisible Boy.”

In the midst of all the 1958 robotic pandemonium, a friendly-looking “SPARKY the Robot Pup” was featured on page 51 of the Popular Electronics magazine.

SPARKY the Robot Pup is a small, oval-shaped (resembles an upside-down stainless steel cooking pot), playful-looking robot.

If you saw this cute robotic puppy posted on Facebook, you would immediately click “like.”

Well-written instructions, with detailed diagrams for building your very own, battery-powered, wheel motor-driven, steerable SPARKY (painted with appealing puppy facial features and ears), was included in the article written by Gaylord Welker.

A parts list described the electronic components needed, and places where one could obtain them.

One of the parts sources listed was the Microswitch Division of Minneapolis-Honeywell.

Many ads in this issue referenced Minneapolis locations.

Baily’s School of Electronics had an ad on page 16 saying, “Electronics is the fastest growing industry in America today.”

A photograph of two electronic cabinet bays showed two technicians (presumably Baily graduates) working within its shelf wiring and circuitry.

A message beneath the 1958 photo read, “This Minneapolis-Honeywell system controls hundreds of automatic operations.”

Under the magazine’s “Tools and Gadgets” section, a Model 208 VTVM (Vacuum Tube Volt Meter) was featured.

One could purchase it for $74.50 at the Seco Mfg. Co., on 5015 Penn Ave., South, Minneapolis, MN.

Today, this address is home to Scuba Center.

And so, 57 years later, I can say to you, “I saw it in Popular Electronics.”

Read the complete December 1958 issue at http://tinyurl.com/bytes-pe1958.

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