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Mary Babnik Brown & the Norden Bombsight

Discussion in 'WWII Today' started by GRW, Nov 21, 2021.

  1. GRW

    GRW Pillboxologist WW2|ORG Editor

    Oct 26, 2003
    Likes Received:
    Stirling, Scotland
    This popped up on my timeline. True or not, it's a great story.
    "DURING WORLD WAR II, THE U.S. government wanted your hair.
    Americans contributed to the war effort in a variety of ways. For some this meant enlisting in the armed forces, for others it was conserving food and gas. For Mary Babnik Brown of Pueblo, Colorado, it meant sending her knee-length hair to the government—for purposes that are still disputed to this day.
    Babnik Brown was born in 1907 in Pueblo, and grew to be a popular local dancer by her early teens. She even earned the nickname “Arcadia Mary,” after the club where she was often found showing off her moves.
    As recounted in a 1990 article in the Colorado Springs Gazette, by the 1940s, Babnik Brown was employed at a broom factory and volunteered with the United Service Organizations (USO) at the Pueblo Army Air Base (now the Pueblo Memorial Airport), where she taught GIs how to dance. By this time, she had also earned another nickname—“The Lady With the Crown.” This had nothing to do with dancing, but rather with her incredibly long hair, which she claimed had never been cut, save for a few minor trims. Her tresses were around 34 inches long, and she often wore them braided and wrapped around her head like … well … a crown.
    In 1941 the War Department put out a call to the American public—for hair. The government requested donations of long, healthy hair, not to make wigs, but to use the strands in the development of military instruments.
    In 1943, Babnik Brown spotted one of these vague calls for women’s hair in one of the Pueblo papers. While the exact advertisement she saw does not seem to have been preserved, according to a 1943 report in The New York Times, a similar ad answered by a Long Island woman requested “patriotic blonde” hair that had never been “primped with curling irons or treated with chemicals of any kind.”
    Babnik, eager to contribute more actively to the war effort, responded to the ad with a letter offering her long locks. She received a response from the Washington Institute of Technology, dated November 26, 1943, asking for a sample to see if it made the grade. The letter stated that her hair had to be at least 22 inches long and untouched by chemical treatments—neither condition being a problem for Babnik Brown. Authorities promised that, should the hair prove usable in “meteorological instruments,” she would be reimbursed in United States War Savings Stamps.
    She soon received word that her hair would be ideal. So, for the first time in her life, Babnik Brown cut her hair—all of it. She later said that she cried for days afterward and wore a bandanna for months to hide her shorn look. When she was offered the promised savings stamps, Babnik Brown turned them down, satisfied just to have contributed. Then, for decades, she heard nothing about how her hair was used, or even if it was used at all.
    Babnik Brown went on to work with the State Federation of Labor, and never moved out of her hometown. But in 1987, at the age of 80, she finally received word about the fate of her donated hair. It came in the form of a letter from President Ronald Reagan himself, wishing her a happy birthday. The surprising letter not only thanked Babnik Brown for her selfless donation, but also mentioned that her hair had been used to create the reticule in the famous Norden bombsight—a top-secret WWII targeting device."

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