Whether you experienced and were living in the 1950s or are just curious, Life in the 1950s – A Trip Down Memory Lane will give you insight into some of the events, fads, and lifestyles that mark that decade.
With World War II ending a few years before, there was a renewed spirit of hope and economic expansion in the 1950s. The decade has been referred to as the golden age, and baby boomers were arriving on the scene. By 1952 inflation had receded, and The United States was a major influential economic power.
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The Korean War started on June 25, 1950. The Korean War started between North (backed by Russia) and South Korea (pro-Western Republic). Soon forces from the United States became involved on South Korea’s behalf, and officials saw it as a war against communism.
The Korean War ended, and the Signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement took place on June 27, 1953. This drew a new border between North Korea and South Korea, granting South Korea some additional territory and demilitarizing the zone between the two.
Another defining element of the 1950s was the tension between the United States and the Soviet Union, known as the Cold War. Though military action never occurred, there was hostility between the two nations.
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks took her usual bus trip on her way home from work. She decided to take a sit down and then refused to relinquish the seat to a white passenger. She disobeyed a law in Alabama that required African Americans to give up their seats to white people when the bus was full, which led to her arrest for Civil Disobedience. As a side note, African Americans also had to sit in the back of the bus.
Her arrest led to the boycott of the Montgomery bus system for 381 days. In 1956, the Supreme Court ruled against segregation on public transportation. Many say that Rosa Parks was the figure behind the 1960s civil rights movement.
Video: Life in the 1950s – A Trip Down Memory Lane
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A significant medical finding by Jonas Salk irradicated much of the crippling disease, polio, in the United States by way of vaccination. Mass inoculation of school children started in 1954. By 1955 more than 4 million doses of the vaccine were given, and the drop in polio was substantial.
By 1959, 90 other countries had begun administering the vaccine. Polio is now very rare in the United States. Elsewhere in the world, there are approximately 250,000 cases of polio a year – most in countries where the vaccine is not widespread.
In 1957 the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1. This was the first satellite to orbit the earth. The space race had begun between the Soviet Union and the United States. It was during this time, in 1958, that NASA was founded. The race went back and forth with successes and failures by both countries.
It is said the United States won the race with the Apollo 11 mission when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon via a lunar module called the Eagle on June 20, 1969. Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon with the famous words still heard today, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Buzz Aldrin followed next, and the two spent about 3 hours walking around the moon. Michael Collins, the third cosmonaut, remained in orbit piloting the mother ship.
Two New States
In 1959 an exciting time in American history when two new states were added to the United States – Alaska and Hawaii became the 49th and 50th states.
In 1867 The United States bought Alaska from Russia. In 1912 Alaska was considered a military district and was considered a territory. Since the 1920s, Alaskans had sought statehood. It was on January 3, 1959 that President Eisenhower declared Alaska the 49th state of the union.
Hawaii became an American territory in 1900. Hawaii petitioned to become a state many times during the 60 years between its being acquired as a territory and finally being allowed to become a state. On August 21, 1959, President Eisenhower signed the official proclamation admitting Hawaii as the 50th state.
There were quite a few innovations that became more popular and standard in the automobile of the 1950s. Four of the major ones are:
- Automatic Transmissions
- Though developed in the 1930s, automatic transmissions did not become more prevalent in American passenger cars until the 1950s; however, many automobiles still had manual transmissions.
- Power-Assisted Steering
- Chrysler, General Motors, and Cadillac introduced power steering. Cadillac was the first manufacturer to offer power-assisted steering.
- Power Windows
- Seat Belts
- The GIR-Griswold, still used in vehicles today, was patented in 1955.
Some of the new cars manufactured in the 1950s are:
- Studebaker Starliner – 1953
- Chevrolet Corvette – 1953
- Chevrolet Bel Aire – 1955
- Ford Thunderbird – 1955
- Packard – 1955
- Cadillac Coupe deVille 1959
The average price of a car in 1950 was $1510.00, and at the end of the decade, the average price had climbed to $2200.00
The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956
The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 established an interstate highway system in the United States and is commonly known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956. This statute allowed for the construction of highways across the country, making it the country’s biggest public works project.
The popular dresses of the 1950s were cinched at the waist and flared out to right above the knee. Known as swing dresses, petticoats were worn underneath to give fullness.
Pencil and poodle skirts were very popular, especially among young women.
When thinking about the 1950s and men’s fashion, one of the first images might be of leather jackets like that worn by Fonzi in the popular T.V. show “Happy Days.” And though that was the fashion, many young men wore suits, and they were still worn by men and especially in the office.
Probably no shoe of the 1950s is as iconic as the black and white saddle shoe. Worn with bobby socks and a poodle skirt was a very popular trend for teens and women.
Saddle shoes weren’t only popular with women and girls but with men as well. For men, the color of choice was usually brown and white.
Penny loafers were also popular for men and began replacing lace-up dress shoes.
One of the most popular hairstyles for men was the pompadour. The pompadour became even more popular when worn by stars such as Elvis and James Dean.
Men also wore their hair short with a side part, and crewcuts were also popular.
Popular haircuts for American women included the Poodle Cut worn by such actresses as Lucille Ball and Connie Stevens.
Other popular women’s hairstyles in the 1950s include the classic ponytail, bouffant, soft bob, and pixie cut.
- Popular Dances Included:
- Bunny Hop
- Hully gully
- Sock Hop
- The Handjive
- The Jitterbug
- The Chicken
- The Meatstick
- The Stroll
- The Twist
The 1950s ushered in Rock-n-Roll a type of music to American culture. Artists like Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, Chuck Berry, and the list goes on and on, had emerged.
|Rock-n-Roll||Traditional||Country||Rhythm & Blues|
Jerry Lee Lewis
Nat King Cole
The 1950s has been described as the Golden Age of Television. TV sets became less expensive. In 1950 only 9 percent of American households had televisions; by 1959, that figure had increased to 85.9 percent. By the end of the decade, television was in the homes and a part of family life for most Americans.
The motion picture industry faced its first existential threat in the 1950s with television. However, larger-than-life stars still lit up the screens in movie theaters and drive-in movies.
- Some of the biggest names (though not all ) in the movies of that era are:
- Burt Lancaster
- Charleton Heston
- Danny Kaye
- Dean Martin
- Debbie Reynolds
- Doris Day
- Elizabeth Taylor
- Frank Sinatra
- Grace Kelly
- Humphry Bogart
- James Dean
- James Stewart
- Jerry Lewis
- John Wayne
- Marilyn Monroe
- Marlon Brando
- Montgomery Clift
- Natalie Wood
- Rock Hudson
- Tony Curtis
- William Holden
- Yul Brynner
Video: Top 10 Movies of the 1950s
- Some of the more popular movies of the 1950s are:
- All About Eve – 1950
- Cinderella – 1950
- Sunset Boulevard – 1950
- A Place in the Sun – 1951
- A Streetcar Named Desire – 1951
- High Noon – 1952
- Singin’ in the Rain – 1952
- From Here to Eternity – 1953
- Godzilla – 1954
- Rebel Without a Cause – 1955
- The Ten Commandments – 1956
- 12 Angry Men – 1957
- Ben Hur – 1959
- Some Like it Hot – 1959
In the 1930s, there was the goldfish swallowing fad. While the 1950s brought both panty raids and phonebooth cramming.
Panty Raid A prank where large groups of college men would invade female dorms and steal their panties.
This was the first college fad since the goldfish swallowing of the 1930s. The first documented incident occurred in 1949 at Augustana College in Illinois, but it was the next incident at the University of Michigan in 1952 that began panty raids across the nation.
Many times the women would open their doors and windows and toss out their undergarments.
These harmless pranks soon saw injuries, and the colleges began penalizing those men involved with suspensions.
Phone Booth Cramming – 1959 -a fad where several young people would enter a phone booth until no more could fit in. The record was set on March 20, 1959, in South Africa, where 25 people were able to squeeze in. Soon after, the fad fazed out.
- Ankle-biter – A Child
- Back Seat Bingo – Making Out In The Back Seat Of A Car
- Bash – A Party Or To Insult
- Beatnik- Young And Artistic Person Who Rejects The Mores Of Conventional Society
- Blast – A Good Time
- Bug – Bother/Irritate
- Cruisin For A Bruisin – Looking For Trouble
- Fink – Tell On Someone
- Gas (It Was A Gas) – Good Time
- Go Ape – Be Really Mad
- Greaser – A Male That Uses A Lot Of Grease In His Hair
- Party Pooper – A Person Who Is No Fun
- Peachy Keen – Good
- Pedal Pushers – Capri Pants
- Peel Out – Speed Away In A Car
- Round Heels – A Promiscuous Woman
- Split – Leave
- Threads – Clothes
- Wet Rag – A Person Who Dampens Enthusiasm
A few of the games we love and play today originated in the 1950s.
- Popular Games Originating in the 1950s Include:
- Perquackey 1955
- Risk 1957
- Yahtzee – 1954
- Some of the Most Popular Toys That Made Their Way Onto the Scene in the 1950s Were:
- Beanies with Propellers – 1947 became popular in the 1950s
- Matchbox Cars – 1953
- Hula Hoop – 1958
- Barbie – 1959
In looking back at Life In The 1950s – A Trip Down Memory Lane, I hope you were able to revisit some fond life events. If you didn’t live during that time, my hope is you were able to learn something new about the decade.
If you have any memories of life in the 50’s you would like to share, I would love to read them; please comment below.