AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Time capsules have been buried throughout history to help future generations understand the past. But they're not always deep underground. This summer in West Virginia, Richard L. Harris discovered that sometimes they're hiding in plain sight.
RICHARD L. HARRIS, BYLINE: There they were, deep inside a vast Berkeley Springs antique store. Bins of cellophane wrapped Life magazines, published weekly between 1936 and 1972. One in particular caught my eye - a special issue titled, The Take-Over Generation - 100 of the most important young men and women in the United States. It sold on the newsstand for 20 cents. The date? September 14, 1962. Exactly 50 years ago today.
ROY ROWAN: I wasn't sure I'd be here 50 years later.
HARRIS: Roy Rowan is very much here. Now 92 years old, he was the assistant managing editor of Life magazine in 1962. This issue was his idea.
ROWAN: I called a couple of the domestic bureaus and bounced this idea off of them, of doing an article I was thinking of then on some of the young movers and shakers in the country who were innovative and doing new things and might have a real impact on the world.
HARRIS: So they whittled the list down to 100 - politicians, writers, scientists, businessmen. Yes, mostly men. Only 9 of the 100 were women. And there was only a smattering of minorities.
ROWAN: The glass ceiling was pretty solid in those days and it was very, very hard for women to get into leadership roles. And, of course, today, so many of them are running corporations. Yeah, if you did this list today, obviously it would have many, many more women. Many, many more Hispanics and Blacks. It wouldn't be this lily white list at all.
HARRIS: Most of those selected in 1962 were in their 20s and 30s, just beginning to make a name for themselves. And some would become household names - authors Philip Roth and John Updike, opera diva Leontyne Price. Others would reach the power elite. Harold Brown and Pete Peterson became Cabinet secretaries. As you scan the profiles, you can almost hear the excitement and tumult that was the early '60s.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED SPEECH)
PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY: I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning them...
(SOUNDBITE OF VARIOUS POLITICAL BROADCASTS IN THE '60S)
ROWAN: We were seeing aerial photographs of the missile sites in Cuba and the Cold War, of course, was pretty much at a high. So it was a dangerous time, it was a time of uncertainty.
NEWTON MINNOW: This was before Vietnam, this was before Watergate. It was before all the cynicism had set in.
HARRIS: Newton Minow, another of the red-hot 100 was a young, Chicago lawyer tapped to be the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.
MINNOW: A week before President Kennedy appointed me, I had been turned down for a position on our local suburban library board because I was too young.
HARRIS: A year before this special issue of Life, Minnow, now 86, delivered a now-famous speech to the National Association of Broadcasters criticizing television programming. A speech that's still quoted 50 years later.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED SPEECH)
MINNOW: I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air, and stay there for a day. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.
I'm afraid that when I die, the first words in my obituary will be the vast wasteland. Where I would prefer that they would talk about what we did to create public television, public radio, the communications satellite program, cheaper long distance telephone rates, cable, UHF...
(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SOUNDS FROM SPACE)
FRANK DRAKE: Sputnik had been launched. The space age had begun. And that's opened people's eyes to the idea that there are other worlds out there we might visit.
HARRIS: Frank Drake has been thinking of extraterrestrial life since he was eight. The chairman emeritus of the government funded SETI, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, is 82 now. Though he pioneered the search for life beyond our solar system, he was surprised to be included in that Life magazine.
DRAKE: I was very young. I was not well-established. So I thought perhaps they were ahead of their time.
HARRIS: Perhaps no one else in this group of 100 has spent an entire lifetime on a goal he's unlikely to reach.
DRAKE: One of the things that's most impressed me over these last 50 years is how much the minds of people of Earth have changed on the subject of intelligent life in space. Back in the 1960s, it was a taboo subject. In a few decades, we should be doing searches that actually have a chance to succeed. And so, I'm afraid I won't get to see that but within the next hundred years a lot of humans will.
HARRIS: Selecting future leaders is always perilous, but one of the Life 100, Newton Minnow, hired an intern 20-odd years ago at his law firm and would write him a recommendation for a fellowship.
MINNOW: I said he's going to become one of the most important people in the country.
HARRIS: His name - Barack Obama. I'm Richard L. Harris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.