On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite to orbit the earth. Though small—under two feet in diameter—and short-lived, Sputnik demonstrated revolutionary possibilities for humanity. And its “beep,” heard ‘round the world, proclaimed the prowess of Soviet science, mathematics, and technology.
Fear of Soviet domination galvanized reform in education. American scientists, manufacturers, educators, and opinion-makers encouraged the effort. Consumers, prosperous as never before, bought books and toys on mathematics and science for the booming school-age population. Private foundations and government agencies provided new funds for teaching, especially in science and mathematics.
Professional scientists and mathematicians joined with teachers to use media in the classroom more effectively, to design new laboratory apparatus, and to develop challenging curricula for American students at all levels. The nation urgently needed both a select group of mathematicians, scientists, and engineers; and a general population of mathematically and scientifically informed citizens.