The Half-Century: The View from 1950

Nothing—literally nothing—had been left untouched by 50 years of progress. New York on Jan. 1, 1900 had been innocently delighted with the snowflakes (the kind "that wear well"); but by the Christmas season of 1949, improvements had been made even in this department. Manhattan's Rockefeller Center designed its own snowflakes: they were of plastic, 19 inches in diameter, held by a pin to a 10-foot pipe.

When the wind blew, they spun. Explained a spokesman for the Center: "We hoped they'd spin, but aerodynamically I'm surprised that they do." He added: "It's not the...

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