LIFE Magazine 21 October 1957
Cover story: Sputnik
During the aftermath which followed the shock of Sputnik, America sought answers and explanations. Various targets for blame included lack of science and math education, inter-service military rivalries, and postwar American complacency as a self-regarded world leader in technology, politics and emerging cultures. Our consumer culture and materialism were also to blame. American obsession with standards of living and consumer-driven preoccupations with perfection, previously seen as signs of superiority over the Russians were now seen with a new kind of hollowness, under the shadow of someone else's orbiting satellite. While they worried about teeth stains and frozen peas with the perfect shape, size and color (see below), while they sought increasingly dramatic tail fins and perfect bedsprings, the Russians were building their Sputniks and the powerful rocket to launch them. The material wealth which was a pride of the United States in the postwar era, instantly felt like a false prophet and its preoccupation with materialism was somehow seen as being connected to its loss of scientific and technical superiority.
Below are ads from the Sputnik cover issue of LIFE. Perhaps no advert seems more to this point than the first one shown. Three men in the shag-carpeted living room, feet up on stools, having some snacks, watching football. American literally caught napping while the Russians quietly sent up their Sputnik. Several adverts below.