Monday, March 2, 2009
What a Slide Rule is For
Sam Cooke’s 1960 hit “Wonderful World” opens with the confessional line, “Don’t know much about history,” and leads us to today’s post a couple of stanzas later with the line, “Don’t know what a slide rule is for.”
How very prescient was Mr. Cooke. I think I might have been the last generation to have been taught how to use a slide rule. When pocket calculators swept through the land, these simple instruments of mechanical mathematical calculation, which some boys dashingly (more or less) wore attached to their belts, were left by the wayside and totally forgotten. I have no idea what happened to mine, and I think I’ve forgotten now how to use it anyway.
Mostly forgotten, I should say, as there seems to be a remarkable number of collectors of slide rules out there keeping eBay sellers busy. There are websites for dealers in slide rules.
Above we have Dana Andrews working figures from his slide rule in “I Want You” (1950). Here we have Ruth Roman playfully fingering Van Johnson’s slide rule in “Invitation” (1951). I make no comments about subtext.
Here’s a link to the Foghorn Leghorn vehicle “Little Boy Boo” (1954). When Foghorn attempts to court the Widow Prissy, he must become pals with her intellectual and really quiet son. In one scene, when Foghorn attempts to teach the boy to play hide and seek, little Egghead, Jr. figures out where Foghorn is by using a slide rule.
Tell me where you’ve noticed slide rules in the old movies, or where you think yours might have gone. For now, have a listen below to Sam Cooke.