That Time Seattle Thought Space Rays Were Attacking Their Cars
In 1954, something strange was happening to the windshields in the city of Bellingham, Washington. Drivers noticed tiny chips had suddenly appeared in the glass. It was as though someone was firing pellets at cars from a BB gun, but no one managed to catch sight of this vandal.
As news of the phenomenon spread, people elsewhere noticed their windshields too were suffering mysterious pitting. All efforts to catch the culprit failed. When the town of Anacortes noticed the pits appearing, police set up roadblocks and investigated everyone entering and leaving the area. None were suitably armed. A naval station even reported an outbreak, meriting a military response—not a bombing, no, but a search of the property, which turned up nothing.
The windshield pitting reached Seattle, where cases rose into the thousands. No mere vandal was responsible. So what was behind this?
Glass-eating fleas, said some. These drivers reported actually seeing the pits forming in the glass as bubbles appeared and burst. No one could see what was in the bubbles, so it had to be some kind of insect invisible to the naked eye. Or maybe the cause wasn't biological but radiological. This year saw the first ever measurement of cosmic rays. Perhaps cosmic rays were responsible? You couldn't rule cosmic rays out, especially if you didn't know what exactly cosmic rays are.
Since a naval station had seen an outbreak, maybe that place was ground zero, and this was all the result of the Navy's newly installed radio transmitter. Of course, this might instead have something to do with that other terrifying 1950s military venture: nuclear weapons test.
The governor ordered a survey from a panel of scientists from various disciplines. These scientists concluded that ... the glass just got pitted because sometimes, stuff hit it. Stuff like road gravel. Same with windshields worldwide. All that was happening in Washington was drivers were looking at their cars closely for the first time. As for the drivers who said they actually saw bubbles forming, they were plain deluded.
Everyone heard the news and had a good laugh. Or, they assumed the scientists were lying, and indeed that all scientists are liars.
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Top image: Veritas