The Wise Owl Club

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Wise Owl Club display table with photos of three workers wearing safety glasses—and a stuffed owl also wearing safety glasses. (Record Group 434, National Archives Identifier 22118410)

While searching for images of owls in our digital catalog for #SuperbOwl (check Twitter the night of #SuperBowl!), I came across this curious photo of an owl wearing safety goggles. In the same search I found photographs of men shaking hands and showing off tiny owl lapel pins.

Turns out, these are photographs of inductees to the Wise Owl Club. Membership was gained by surviving a terrifying industrial workplace accident where eye protection saved your vision.

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Leo Kalis shows the broken tool that could have blinded him and the protective eyewear that saved his vision and earned him membership into the Wise Owl Club. (Record Group 255, National Archives Identifier 17474611.

The Wise Owl Club of America was founded in the 1950s as an industrial and school eye safety incentive program. The Rocketeer, the newsletter of an ordnance test station in California, featured six new Wise Owl members in 1961. The five men and one woman had worn safety glasses that saved their vision during explosions caused by fires, rocket fuel explosions, and chemical mixes.

Unfortunately, the photographs in the digital catalog don’t give us written details, but they do show some recreations of the scene of the accident with the new Owl wearing his damaged glasses.

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A recreation of the incident that earned Leo Kalis his Wise Owl membership.

So whether you are doing some woodworking or throwing a potato chip at your mouth on Sunday while cheering on your team, be a Wise Owl and wear the right safety equipment!

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Look closely for the little owl pin! (Record Group 255, National Archives Identifier 17450994)

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