In the following weeks this small shiny metal sphere orbited the earth broadcasting its signal, which could be heard by anyone with a short-wave radio receiver. This “beep heard ‘round the world” was a real wake-up call for the United States. How had the “Commies” caught us so unprepared?
The finger-pointing started soon after and, predictably, came down along party lines. Gerhard Mennen Williams, Democrat Governor of Michigan from 1949 to 1961, took a rather clever shot at Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower - in rhyming verse. 15 of the last 18 American presidents have been avid golfers and in times of crisis most have been criticized for it. Governor Williams speculated that President Eisenhower and been caught unawares by Sputnik - because he had been spending too much time on the golf course. He penned the following short poem, which was printed in the New York Times.
With made-in-Moscow beep,
You tell the world it’s a Commie sky
and Uncle Sam’s asleep.
You say on fairway and on rough
The Kremlin knows it all,
We hope our golfer knows enough
To get us on the ball.
G. Mennen Williams (1911-1988)
Then-Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson said this about the Sputnik launch: “Now, somehow, in some new way, the sky seemed almost alien. I also remember the profound shock of realizing that it might be possible for another nation to achieve technological superiority over this great country of ours.”
The fear was that the Russians could now access the skies over our great country for nefarious means. In fact, the only physical damage done to America by the Sputnik program was a relatively small hole punched in the middle of a street in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.
With apologies to the late Governor Williams:
Oh little Sputnik Number Four, you thought you were the best
But you fell to earth in Manitowoc and gave us Sputnikfest.
See you in Manitowoc on Saturday September 7, 2013 - Planet Terry