Pueblo County, Colorado
Mary Babnick Brown
Contributed by Jean, Gracie, Phyllis and Karen.
Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph 6-8-1987 - Woman Donated Hair for War Effort - Pueblo - It took 43 years, but now Mary Babnick of Pueblo knows why the government wanted her long, blond hair. The record of her donation will be beside a Norden bombsight, which used her tresses for cross-hairs. Miss Babnick, now 79, was a prominent labor personality and a popular dancer at the Arcadia Ballroom during World War II. She had never cut her hair and it hung to her knees after the twice-daily washing, always with natural soap. An advertisement caught her eye one day, after the country had been at war for two years. It asked for hair for use in meteorological instruments and specified that the hair must be 22 inches long, blond, "and has never been treated with chemicals or hot irons." Miss Babnick had what Uncle Sam wanted and she had the desire to help. "I was just happy to be able to do something," said Miss Babnick. "Both of my brothers were deferred and couldn't go. I was thinking of all those other boys and their families, the ones who had to go." News stories at the time said she had given her hair to science a reference to the weather instruments the government said the hair would be used for. The stories used her sacrifice as an example to urge people to give blood to the Red Cross. It was a sacrifice, too. She had begun braiding her hair as a toddler and called it her crowning glory. "I had never had it cut,' she said. "I cried for two months . . I sent them all of it."
Colorado Springs Gazette 11-18-1990 Hair Triggered Development of Bombsight Pueblo Woman Cut Her Long Locks for War In 1942, Mary Babnik Brown was known as "the lady with the crown" because of the long braided hair she wore wrapped around her head. For the first 36 years of her life, she had only trimmed the hair that fell below her knees. But in 1942, the world was at war. Her two brothers wanted badly to fight for their country but couldn't for medical reasons. Brown was working in a broom factory to help support her mother and three younger siblings, was a USO volunteer at the Pueblo Army Air Base and taught dancing to airmen at Pueblo's Arcadia downtown. Still she wanted to do more. So when she saw an advertisement in a Pueblo newspaper that the government was looking for women to contribute their hair to the war effort, she sent an inquiry and quickly received a telegram asking her to send a sample. A few days later, she received another telegram pleading for her hair. It was exactly what they needed, said officials with the Institute of Technology in Washington, D.C. I saw so many people crying their eyes out, not wanting their sons to go, she said. I was sad. I wanted to do something for the war effort. Brown, who was honored Saturday at the U.S. Air Force Academy with a special achievement award from the Colorado Aviation Historical Society, didn't learn until two years ago how her hair was used. Until then she knew only that it was used in a secret weapon. When Bill Feder, founder of the International B-24 Memorial Museum in Pueblo, learned that a Pueblo woman had donated her hair, he began looking for her. Two years ago, he was able to tell her that her hair was used experimentally as cross hairs in a bomb-aiming device known as the Norden bombsight. The bombsight, invented in the mid-1930s by a Swiss immigrant named Karl Norden, was essentially a mechanical computer used in high altitude bombing. The device took into account such things as altitude, the plane's speed and wind velocity. When the target reached the center of the cross hairs, the crew could drop the bomb with dependable accuracy. Used on the B-24 Liberator, the B-29 Super Fortress and the B-17 Flying Fortress, the Norden bombsight was so secret that it was equipped with explosives, Feder said, and crews were ordered to destroy it if their bomber ran the risk of falling into enemy hands. At altitudes as high as 20,000 feet, however, the bombsight cross hairs were subjected to freezing temperatures and rapid changes in humidity. Black widow spider webs, which contracted and expanded on scale under those conditions, were originally used but were fragile and hard to come by. Feder said Brown's fine blond hair, which had never been bleached or touched with a hot iron, was so unique that it shared many of the qualities valued in the black widow spider's web. In addition to the bombsight, her hair was used in scientific equipment such as humidity measuring devices important in the production of airplanes and other war machinery. The Norden bombsight eventually was replaced by electronic bombsights, but when the newer devices did not prove accurate enough to drop radio transmitters along jungle trails in Vietnam, the Norden bombsight was successfully used to do the job. Brown, who will turn 83 Thursday, said she didn't really want to give up her hair, but caring for it was becoming a lot of work. The government wanted hair at least 22 inches long. She sent 34 inches. And then she cried for several days. After two months, I got used to it. But at first I was so ashamed I wore a bandana to work so people wouldn't ask me about it, she said. Brown was 13 when her father left and she went to work in the broom factory, a job she held for 42 years. Despite the family's hardships, however, Brown turned down the war bonds she was offered in payment for her hair. She preferred to donate her hair, her own effort to win the war. Her two brothers are ecstatic about the recognition she is now receiving, she said. I would do it all again, she said. The only bad thing about all this glory is I would like to share it with my mother and sister. Both died seven years ago. Feder received his own recognition Saturday, winning induction into the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame for his work with the B-24 museum, his years of volunteer work with the Civil Air Patrol and his naval service during World War II. Others inducted into the hall Saturday were Gen. James Hill, Colorado Springs, retired commander in chief of NORAD and the U.S. Air Force Aerospace Defense Command; Babette Andre and J.W. Duff, both of Denver; Edward H. Gerhardt, Aurora; Howard W. Reid, Roggen; George G. Nesbitt, Granby; and Lamar Steen, Greeley.
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