This year I keep hearing about various institutions turning fifty, which has led me to one conclusion: 1962 was a pretty big year, especially for pop culture. Here are some of the many things hitting the half-century point in 2012.
- Sixties music. Technically, sixties music started in, well, 1960. But look at this: in 1962, Bob Dylan released his first album. The Rolling Stones were founded. The Beatles lost Stu Sutcliffe, hired Ringo Starr, and released their first recording. The Beach Boys (who formed the year before) were first signed. Although three of the year's top five Billboard hits were Elvis singles, the tide was about to turn.
- Spider-Man and the Hulk. Quite a summer for Marvel Comics superheroes (the Fantastic Four were introduced in '61, the Avengers in '63).
- Andy Warhol's soup cans. In 1962, suddenly everybody had an opinion on "pop art", and it was thanks to Warhol's first solo show, with those infamous Campbell's soup can silk screen prints. Interestingly, this big debut was in Los Angeles, not New York. As the story goes, only two of the paintings sold - one to Dennis Hopper. (Warhol became a name in the New York art world later in '62, with his first solo show there.)
- Algeria, Jamaica, and Samoa. In 1962, these three nations gained their independence from France, Great Britain, and New Zealand, respectively.
- The Mets and the Astros. These two Major League Baseball teams debuted in 1962, though the Astros were curiously called "The Houston Colt .45s" for the first couple of years. In other baseball news, Los Angeles' Dodgers Stadium opened in 1962. Incredibly, it's now the third oldest ballpark still in existence, behind Boston's Fenway Park (opened in 1912) and Chicago's Wrigley Field (opened in 1914).
- Silent Spring. Today's ordinary American may not recognize the title of Rachel Carson's controversial nonfiction book, but as a frightening expose of pesticides and the chemical industry, it helped launch the modern environmental movement and led to the banning of DDT.
- James Bond movies. Though Ian Fleming's first James Bond novel was published in 1953, it was the 1962 film adaptation of Dr. No that established the longest-running film franchise in history. By the end of 2012, there would be 23 "official" Bond movies, and two unofficial ones.
- Walmart. The much-loved, much-loathed discount store chain was founded by Sam Walton in 1962. I'll still take the Beatles, Spider-Man, and even the Houston Astros over this monstrosity anyday.
- Telstar. Just as 1962's instrumental track "Telstar" was the first UK single to hit #1 on the U.S. pop charts, heralding the forthcoming British invasion, AT&T's Telstar communications satellite was the first to relay television and telephone signals through space. A great deal of the way we communicate today is thanks to Telstar (which apparently is still orbiting around the Earth as space junk).