Skip to Content

SILENT SPRING: WHAT WAS IT LIKE BACK THEN?

One thing is for sure ... things were different in the 1950s and early 1960s from what they are today.

COMMUNICATIONS

When Silent Spring was published in 1962, there was no Internet, no one had mobile phones,and Apple’s first personal computer was more than 20 years in the future.

INDUSTRY AND POLITICS

Manufacturing in America was thriving after the second World War. The 1950s and 1960s saw the peak times for the US automobile industry, with more and larger cars being produced. Air travel became more common. This was a time of optimism on the home front in the US but also of fear internationally. The Cold War was intensifying between the Western powers and the Soviet Union. The threat of nuclear weapons loomed large. In 1957, the Soviets launched the first satellite into space igniting the ‘space race’. Concerned by the Communist presence at its doorstep, the US staged the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961.

THE ENVIRONMENT

Common attitudes to the environment were also different then from those held by many today. There was limited perceptoin of a ‘balance of nature’, where we regard all processes of Planet Earth as interrelated, and where humans are but part of a complex system of natural forces that we can influence but not entirely control. Ecology was a term rarely used in public media.

From the 1930s to 1950s, there was a growing belief that technology and engineering could resolve all the economic, health, and environmental challenges facing humanity.This prompted a rapidly expanding development and use of chemicals, including pesticides. Companies like DuPont, Monsanto, American Cyanamid, and Dow grew rapidly.

BETTER LIVING THROUGH CHEMISTRY

DuPond adopted the slogan, “Better Things for Better Living...Through Chemistry” in 1935 and used it until 1982 when the “Through Chemistry” was deleted. The phrase “Better Living Through Chemistry” became widely applied as both an advocacy for chemical use and, later, as an ironic criticism of this same chemical advocacy.

The publication of Silent Spring evoked a quick and powerful reaction from those interests that advocated strongly for pesticide use.

In particular, pesticide manufacturing companies regarded the book as a threat to commercial products for agriculture. A number of scientists, especially in agriculture, also criticized some of the case studies noted in the book or questioned the conclusions presented by Carson. The criticism of Rachel Carson was at times caustic, and even today, some writers deride both the book and her motives in writing it.