Nothing says Christmas like an aluminum tree

Lisa Hix of Collectors Weekly has just published a great interview with Sarah Archer, whose new book, Midcentury Christmas: Holiday Fads, Fancies, and Fun from 1945 to 1970, explains how companies like Alcoa Aluminum used Christmas to capitalize on the technologies it had developed for World War II.

Here's a snip:

The company that produced the most aluminum for the war effort was Alcoa, but there were also some smaller companies, too, many of which were based in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, of all places, which was one of the big aluminum capitals of North America. Like a lot of mid-century Christmas items, including the acrylic rubber that coats Christmas lights cords, aluminum trees came from thinking about repurposing a material produced for the military. The aluminum strips that were used to make the trees were originally designed for something called chaff, which was sprinkled over enemy territories to scramble radar because the little pieces of metal would diffuse the signal.

Many 1950s aluminum tree producers used Alcoa branding. The exterior of the box would say, “We proudly use Alcoa aluminum.” You could put ornaments on these trees, but one of the challenges of decorating them was not getting electrocuted, which was mentioned prominently in the how-to pamphlet that came with the tree. Because it was not safe to put electric lights on the metal, the companies distributing the trees would sell a rotating lamp that would shine different-colored lights on the tree to bathe it in magenta or purple.

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Proud Bird restaurant humbled by huge rent hike

Back in the aerospace heyday of the 1960s-1980s, the Proud Bird restaurant was the steakhouse of choice for Los Angeles industry workers, who gathered to drink strong martinis and talk shop.

But the Proud Bird (founded in 1958 by a B-17 WWII pilot) will fly no more, thanks to a one-two punch of a gigantic lease hike and declining patronage.

Mid-Century culture fanatic Todd Lappin has a beautiful Flickr set of the storied dining establishment (which is where I swiped the photo above), and the LA Times has an article about the Proud Bird's impending closure, save an 11th hour miracle.

Proud Bird, aerospace watering hole, about to run dry Read the rest

Key to the Gustavademecum

Last week, I posted about the The Gustavademecum for the Island of Manhattan, a delightfully geeky, DIY-made, mid-20th century dining guide produced by a physical chemist for the benefit of traveling scientists and engineers.

One of the key features of the guide was an elaborate series of symbols and letters that provided a lot of information about various restaurants in a small amount of space—and which look like some kind of crazy alchemical shorthand. In the original post, I included a page from the guide, so you can look at that to see the symbols in action.

Hugh Merwin, who wrote the story on The Gustavademecum for Saveur, also scanned a page from the guide's key, which didn't appear in the original story. You can see some of it above, and visit his personal website to see the full key. Read the rest