The new big craze in kids’ books seems to be Captain Underpants. Actually there is nothing new about Captain Underpants- the first book came out in 1997 and to date there are 20 books and several movie spin-offs. The books, written by Dav Pilkey, are centered in Piqua, Ohio, a small town in western Ohio, not far from Dayton. The books are about two 4th graders who hypnotize their principal, Mr. Krupp, into behaving like Captain Underpants. And as is so often the case, Mr. Krupp drinks some alien juice and gains superpowers.
I always find it so odd that the very same thing happened to me when I was in grade 4- it was the longest two years of my life! (Interestingly Canadians say “grade 4” and Americans say “4th grade”…)
Actually, there are several things that Piqua, Ohio, is famous for. One is the now defunct Underwear Festival, which is probably why the book was situated in that community. If I had known that I would have made a summer pilgrimage down there. And almost as importantly, this is where Bill Lear lived for a while with one of his four wives.
Bill Lear was a brilliant man who irritated most of his teachers growing up (and perhaps each of his wives as well). As such he was kicked out of school, because he said that he knew more than the teachers did. Despite being brilliant, Bill Lear didn’t have a lot of formal education and didn’t even finish high school, although he tried several times.
As you can glean from his last name, Bill Lear founded Lear Jets. He also invented many other things in the radio and communications industry. After building private jets for wealthy people, Bill thought that it would be nice to have in-cabin music for the passengers. Rolls Royce, Ford, and a few other car manufacturers thought the same thing.
In 1964 Bill Lear invented the Lear Jet Stereo 8 which is the full name of the “8 track” cassette that we all know and love. Actually to this day, I have an 8 track cassette player in my car. (When my in-laws decided to downsize, they had a large 8 track home player that nobody else wanted- go figure! So I took it and it sat in my trunk for about 5 year. Therefore, technically, I have an 8 track player in my car). Having said this, I don’t recall having an 8 track in one of my Rolls Royce cars.
In 1966 Lear introduced the home version of the 8 track cassette player which was a very good thing. Prior to that, one would need to drive your Rolls Royce through the living room wall in order to get living room sound quality for the 8 track system.
The 8 track cassette was actually quite a technical triumph for its time. Unlike the smaller cassettes it actually incorporated part of the recording mechanism in the cassette itself (which is why it was so large) but in doing so, allowed it to be played and recorded on compatible cassette players. And with the larger size, Lear was able to increase the playing time to 80 minutes- essentially offering the same playing time as a 33 sized vinyl record of that era. With 8 tracks there could now be 4 tracks of songs- each offering a stereo output.
By the mid-1970s the love affair was the 8 track had waned in favor of the smaller 4 track compact cassette which was then available. Radio stations continued to use the 8 track for their jingles and commercials however up until the 1980s. Today we giggle at the bulkiness of that format where everything is in an .mp3 or .wav format.
By the end of 1982, 8 track cassettes were phased out of music stores and while there is some debate about the last commercial eight-track released by a major label, many feel that it was the Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits cassette at the end of 1988.
But unlike the 8 track cassette, Captain Underpants is still going strong!