The Geneva Conventions, Lego and Road Runner turn 70

In 1949, Australia’s population had just hit 8 million, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was brand new, Joan Sutherland was starting out, and it was the heyday of Betty Grable and Bing Crosby.

It was also the year the Four Geneva Conventions were adopted. These rules of war have helped to save countless lives and reduce suffering armed conflicts all around the world. Today, seven decades later, they are as needed as much as ever. 

On their 70th anniversary, we celebrate this and other milestones of 1949 that have made their mark, big and small, on the world. 

The diplomatic conference for the revision of the Geneva Conventions held in Switzerland (taken on 12 August 1949). Photo copyright: ICRC Archives/J. Cadoux
  • Negotiated 

The Four Geneva Conventions of 1949 are adopted. This marks the end of a diplomatic conference at which governments met to revise the existing Geneva Conventions and add a fourth convention dedicated to the protection of civilians. This signals the beginning of contemporary international humanitarian law (known as the laws of war, or IHL). 

These laws limit how wars can be fought and help, among other things, to protect civilians, medical personnel and prisoners of war. They prohibit torture and limit the means and methods of warfare. They give the red cross emblem – which means ‘don’t shoot’ – its protective power. Since then, the Conventions have been ratified by every country in the world, reaching universal acceptance.

Image By Cmglee - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Invented 

Lego is invented. That’s right, toy company Lego began manufacturing the first iteration of its famed interlocking toy bricks in 1949. They were called Automatic Binding Bricks, and only sold in Denmark.

Not only that, but Chrysler also introduced car ignition keys (goodbye starer button), photocopiers arrived to revolutionise our paper usage, the first credit card was distributed (made of cardboard no less) and Silly Putty bounced onto our doorsteps. 

  • Published 

Nineteen Eighty-Four, the dystopian novel by writer George Orwell, is released and goes on to become a cultural classic. It is set in an imaginary future of 1984, when much of the world has fallen victim to continuous war, omnipresent government surveillance and propaganda. Still a bestseller today, this novel gave us phrases like ‘Big Brother’ and ‘Thought Police’.

It was also the year French existentialist Simone de Beauvoir published her then-controversial book The Second Sex and the year Maria Augusta von Trapp published her memoir, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers. Her book was later fictionalised by Rodgers and Hammerstein and became The Sound of Music

  • First heard

Archenemies Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote made their debut in the Warner Brothers cartoon Fast and Furry-ous. From the start, it was a never-ending series of chases through the desert and the Coyote’s comical quest for the perfect Acme Corporation trap. It was also the year that everyone’s favourite Christmas song Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer - based on a story of the same name - was first released.

Lucky Lady II crew members are greeted by officials after landing at Carswell Air Force Base in Texas. Photo: U.S. Air Force
  • Completed

After 94 hours and one minute of flying time, a Boeing B-50 named Lucky Lady II landed at a Texas air force base after completing the first-ever nonstop, around-the-world trip by an airplane. The modified bomber had to refuel four times while it was airborne.

  • Arrived

Future Hollywood stars Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges and the Queen of Sci-Fi, Sigourney Weaver, were born. And if not for 1949, we wouldn’t have the Piano Man, Billy Joel, “the voice” John Farnham, crooner Lionel Ritchie, boxer George Foreman, Formula One legend the late Niki Lauda, or iconic photographer Annie Leibovitz.

Winston Churchill givies his famous "V" sign (left) and at No.10 Downing Street, London. Photos: Imperial War Museums
  • Praised

Time magazine named Winston Churchill – the legendary statesman, writer and orator who as Prime Minister led Britain to victory in the Second World War – its Man of the Year for the second time. Time said he was described as the saviour of his country and a larger-than-life figure who pronounced dreams of victory when all seemed lost. In 1999 this honour was renamed Person of the Year.

Why do the Geneva Conventions matter so much?

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