The Windshield-Pitting Mystery Of 1954

On April 15, 1954, Bellingham, Seattle and other Washington communities were in the grip of a strange phenomenon — tiny holes, pits, and dings seemingly appeared in the windshields of cars at an unprecedented rate. Initially thought to be the work of vandals, the pitting rate grew so quickly that panicked residents soon suspected everything from cosmic rays to sand-flea eggs to fallout from H-bomb tests. By the next day, pleas were sent to government officials, asking for help in solving what would become known as the Seattle Windshield Pitting Epidemic. The small size of the pits led Bellingham police officers to believe that the damage was the work of vandals using buckshot or BBs. The sheer number of damaged windshields ruled out hoodlums, and experts were at a loss as to the cause of these strange pits and holes appearing out of nowhere. Finally, Sgt. Max Allison of the Seattle police crime laboratory stated that the pitting reports consisted of “5% vandalism and 95% public hysteria." By April 17, the pitting suddenly stopped. The Seattle Windshield Pitting Epidemic has become a textbook case of collective delusion — not mass hysteria as reported. Although natural windshield pitting had been going on for some time, it was only when the media called public attention to it that people actually looked at their windshields and saw damage they had never noticed before.