Seattle's 1954 Mass Hysteria

Mass hysteria is actually a misnomer for events which took place in the 1954 Seattle, Washington area. Most social scientists today refer to it a case of mass or social delusion, but mass media preferred the term mass hysteria. Perhaps, it was an effort to garner more public attention in their stories.

It all began in March of that year when local newspapers began reporting on an unusual number of pitted windshields occurring in the area. Pits and dings began appearing in windshields of cars at an unprecedented rate and seemingly for no apparent reason. Even police vehicles parked in front of their precincts were not exempt from the damage.

It became known as "The Seattle windshield pitting epidemic." Residents and police were baffled by the sudden rise in the number of pitted windshields. At first, it was blamed on vandals with BB guns. Police began setting up roadblocks to apprehend them. Even a contingent of 75 Marines were called out to assist them, but none were ever caught. However as more and more cases were reported, it became evident hoodlums weren’t the answer.

The phenomenon actually had begun in a city 80 miles to the North of Seattle and over the course of several days it had progressed to the “Emerald City.” Concerned citizens were reporting tiny pit marks to entire parking lots being hit by whatever it was plaguing the area. Most residents were mystified. Some became terrified as wild speculations on the cause erupted. Some blamed it on fallout from recent hydrogen bomb tests that had been conducted in the pacific. Others believed it was sand flea eggs, which somehow, became embedded in the glass and later hatched.

As the media continued covering the issue, more and more reports filtered in to the authorities. Drivers began stopping police on the streets to make their report of damaged windshields. The city was in a state of mild panic.

Scientists at the University of Washington began examining the situation.Their findings indicated nothing unusual and damage reported was being "overly emphasized." To support their findings they explained the fact most cars were pitted in the front and not the back was irrefutable evidence. The Seattle Police Department, in their investigations, found most of the damage was appearing on older cars. For some inexplicable reason new cars were not being affected.

As the phenomenon continued citizens became desperate for an answer. Several theories were advanced, from the preposterous to highly scientific. Here are few:

· Gremlins

· Cosmic rays

· Naval radio transmissions

· Shifting Earth magnetic field

· And of course, the ever popular sand flea eggs.

By April 17, the pitting stopped as suddenly as it had begun. It was reported over 3,000 windshields had been damaged. The Seattle Police Crime Lab who had been working overtime in solving the mystery finally issued their findings. A spokesman said the pittings were “5 % hoodlum-ism, and 95 % public hysteria."

Anyone who has lived in the Seattle area knows pitted windshields are an everyday occurrence. Researchers into the incident have found there was nothing out of the ordinary before the media began reporting on the subject. It was only after they picked it up people became alarmed. When windshields became a topic of concern, for once people actually began looking closely at them and saw pits they had previously failed to notice. It was a textbook example of collective delusion.

The Seattle windshield pitting epidemic is just one of many mass delusions to have occurred in the United States.



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Comments 16 comments

ruffridyer 5 years ago from Dayton, ohio

Better call Agents Mulder and Scully. Sand Flea eggs imbedded in the glass? Really.


JY3502 profile image

JY3502 5 years ago from Florence, South Carolina Author

That's my sources' story and he;s sticking to it.


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York

Great story. I never heard of it before. It's funny how the media can manipulate the collective mind of the masses. Sand flea eggs? Really? I'd be more inclined to believe the hydrogen bomb bit. Thanks, J.


JY3502 profile image

JY3502 5 years ago from Florence, South Carolina Author

I kinda thought it was the gremlins myself :)


WesternHistory profile image

WesternHistory 5 years ago from California

Thanks for an interesting hub. The pitting could have had many explanations. One thing I know is that once the media gets hold of a story like this it tends to hype it a bit to draw in as many viewers, listeners or readers as possible.


JY3502 profile image

JY3502 5 years ago from Florence, South Carolina Author

I wrote it...and it drew you in, didn't it? He He


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

Fascinating! I've always been fascinated by mass hysteria events, and had not heard of this one. How strange public consciousness can be!


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 5 years ago from Central Oklahoma

I'm guessing the pitting was caused by something as innocent as an ingredient in the windshield glass reacting to some factor endemic to the weather in Seattle and nearby areas. Bet NCIS's Abby could've figured it out before the first commercial break! ;D


JY3502 profile image

JY3502 5 years ago from Florence, South Carolina Author

JamaGenee,I lived in the Seattle area for several years, and as I mentioned chips and pits happen all the time there. I had to get my windshield repaired several times...and once had to replace the whole thing.


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 5 years ago from Central Oklahoma

Very strange. But you don't know what caused the chipping and pitting other than living in the Seattle area?


sweetoneangel profile image

sweetoneangel 5 years ago from New Jersey

Very interesting hub. Never heard about this.


JY3502 profile image

JY3502 5 years ago from Florence, South Carolina Author

JamaGenee, I found a lot of it was sand and small rock fragments on the freeways. A lot of sand and construction trucks with gravel and stuff were constantly traveling to and from Seattle where I was working. It was always there, just no one noticed it much until it started getting reported in the news. BTW, look at the photo strip on the top left. That could easily pass as an unidentified flying spacechip! He He. And the second one...no question about it. That's the Loch Ness Monster.


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 5 years ago from Central Oklahoma

Yep, that's a UFO for sure! Right next to the Loch Ness Monster! Amazing how we don't see what's right in front of us when we're whizzing along at 60 or 70 mph! ;D


JY3502 profile image

JY3502 5 years ago from Florence, South Carolina Author

Yep, they come right down outta the sky and zapped my windshield with a pitting ray.


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 5 years ago from Central Oklahoma

A pitting ray! Love it! ;D


Just History profile image

Just History 5 years ago from England

A really interesting hub- mass hysteria can hit without us realising. Its like when there is an epidemic of coughs and colds- something that would previously not have been commented on suddenly becomes a cold. Great hub and voted up and interesting

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