The Infamous “Windshield Pitting Epidemic” of 1954

This curious incident in the history of Washington State has been reproduced in various books and magazines, and the general consensus is that it was a manifestation of “mass hysteria,” and that it began in Bellingham, WA. A number of sources for further reading about the subject are included at the end of this post.
Steven’s Point, Wisconsin, Steven’s Point Daily Journal, April 16, 1954


Thousands Report Car Windshield Damage

Seattle -(AP)– Superbomb, supernatural or superstition, there as no doubt about it today, the one million people in the Puget Sound country were stirred up by the case of the pockmarked windshields. Some were even blaming H bombs.

And the mayor of this city of 500,000 was trying to stir up the President of the United States. The mayor, Allan Pomeroy, apparently was among the believers that something, rather than someone, is damaging thousands of automobile windshields with an unknown substance.

The mayor asked the president to “instruct appropriate federal agencies ot co-operate with local authorities on an emergency basis.”

There are doubters, too, who think an awful lot of people are victims of mass hysteria, suddenly conscious of something that may have happened days, weeks or months ago.

“Tommyrot!” exploded Dr. D.M. Ritter, assigned by the chemistry department at the University of Washington to assist authorities seeking an answer to the riddle. “There isn’t anything I know of that could be causing unusual breaks in windshields,” he said after examining several and residue found on he cars.

“These people must be dreaming!”


One thing is certain: The claims of damaged windshields are mounting into the thousands. And one thing else appears certain: No other glass objects seem to be suffering, not even side windows of cars.

The description of the damage varies from actual holes to pit marks covering every known shape. Chips, scratches, mars, pits, holes, crumbling, blemishes, blurs, blots and cracks. Some people even claim  that the damage has happened before their very eyes.

Law enforcement officials are convinced that some vandalism was involved in cases reported at Belllingham. Some, but not all, believe the vandalism spread.

Then, this week, other communities south of Bellingham said they had suffered an outbreak of the trouble. Wednesday night it broke out in Seattle. The police switchboard couldn’t handle the complaints; neither could the newspapers.

Some police officers said it even happened to them. Others took the Dr. Ritter attitude. A state patrol official, who asked not to be named because “so many high officials appear to have been taken in,” said he hadn’t found one actual case outside of Bellingham that couldn’t be laid to normal travel damage.

He pointed out that winter, with its heavily sanded streets, has just passed. Windshields were dirty, the atmosphere dark and murky. Blemishes didn’t show up then.


“It’s clearer, brighter, now,” he said. “And with this wave of hysteria, people are inspecting their windshields closely and finding spots they never knew were there before.”

On the other side, persons not know to be the hysterical type reported their autos had been hit. Some said a graphite-like substance had been found on the cars and that it reacted in magnetic fashion.

Meanwhile, rumors were thick that teenagers had been rounded up and signed confessions of responsibility for the Bellingham depredations. The cops are just waiting to round up the rest of the gang, the rumors went.

But police in Seattle said the reported cases of damage are too widespread to have been done by a person or persons.

Some of them, and many of the persons who claimed damage, blamed it on a reaction from the explosion of the hydrogen bomb. [Note: approx. one month prior to the windshield epidemic, the U.S. had conducted the “Castle bravo” test of the first “practical,”  deliverable fusion bomb … The test took place on March 1, 1954 – RB] Others said it was “a manifestation of God’s wrath.”

At Whidbey Island naval air station, where a number of marked windshields were discovered, Geiger counters showed there was no radioactivity present.

Photo credits: Seattle Museum of History and Industry & Seattle Post Intelligencer.


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