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A3 1950s Rokicki

Page history last edited by Ling Gu 10 years, 7 months ago





Historic/Cultural Events

1950 - Pres. Truman approves production of hydrogen bomb; sends air force and navy to Korea in June.


1951 - Transcontinental TV begins with a speech by Pres. Truman. 


1953 - 1961 - Eisenhower is president. 


1952 - Immigration + Naturalization Act of 1952 removes racial and ethnic barriers to becoming a U.S. citizen. 


1953 - Julius and Ethel Rosenberg electrocuted for their part in W.W.II espionage. Fighting ends in Korea.

1954 - Joseph McCarthy begins televised hearings into alleged Communists in the army. Racial segregation ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.


1955 - Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on a public bus in Montgomery, Alabama. American Federation of Labor + Congress of Industrial Organizations merge. Dr. Jonas Salk develops vaccine

for polio.


1956 - Federal Highway Act signed, marking the beginning of work on the interstate highway system. 


1958 - Explorer I, the first U.S. satellite, successfully orbits earth. First domestic jet-airline passenger service begun by National Airlines between New York City + Miami. 


1959 - Alaska + Hawaii become the forty-ninth + fiftieth states.

















MYP Unit Question:

How did culture, events, & leadership shape & reflect post-WWII America?  








A prosperous decade for America, the 1950s brought about the realization that the nation’s financial health affected every citizen personally. In 1950, America’s GNP (gross national product, a measure of its national income) was $284.6 billion; by the end of the 1950s, it had reached $482.7 billion, catapulting the nation to the top of the economic world as exports reached record highs.


In terms of business, the 1950s realized an incredible sense of confidence and invincibility in the fiscal system and willing cooperation with the federal government, leading to inflation and exploitation of natural resources. A standout point of the decade was that government did not merely control and regulate the economy – it was an active participant as a consumer of goods and services. For instance, the Internal Revenue Service reported receiving $39.4 billion in tax revenues in 1950, but by 1959 tax revenues had risen to $79.7 billion due to tax rates as high as 67%.


A critical contributor to the flow of the economy and the conduct of business was the increasing power of labor unions during the 1950s decade. The government focused on methods to comfort their fear of labor unions becoming “infested” with Communists, as was a nationwide fear during the time. As a result, such examples of force included President Harry S. Truman’s calling of troops in 1952 to run the country’s steel mills in response to a steelworkers-union strike and President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s using of the same tactic to break a steel strike near the decade’s end. As a direct product of these types of regulations and actions by the government in response to the growing labor unions, the government received an increasing share of the nation’s GNP – exploding to exceed 28.7% and topping more than 33% a decade later.



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Fashion | Food & Drink





Before World War II America had little sense of taste for fashion and style. So in the 1950s fashions were largely dominated by the young minds there were eager to create new styles. In 1955 there were twenty-four to thirty-five young American artist known across the nation, including Anne Klein, Claire McCardell, Kasper, Rudi Gernreich, and James Galanos. All had one purpose and that was to create something for the American population to wear in their busy and active lives.  It was “…a time of optimism domesticity, security through compliance with the system, and apparent simplicity.” (Baughman 1) Simplicity was the key in fashion.


The “American Look” that was developed by a group of young American designers to provide a simple and comfortable sportswear that fitted with the active American’s lives. Christian Dior “New Look” that has been introduced in 1947 began to change in the post-war period. There were sensuous designs for women that were especially popular in evening wear, it was noted by sociologist that “sexuality and maternity were the way to restore the population”. It emphasized the natural curves, resembling the ideal shape of an hourglass in Dior’s fashions. The chemise, or “sack” dress, was popular in the 1950s but only for a short period time. McCardell’s leisure clothes were said to be “of action”, it was “mass-produced, simply made, of clean lines, durable (especially those made of synthetics), and easy to ear.”


Many American Women loved the fact that the comfortable, functional clothing that fits their active lives were inexpensive, and interchangeable giving a variety of outfits, they could purchase fashionable clothing that placed no price barriers on style. Women were also influenced by Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell to wear narrow, clinging sheaths with shimmering sequins. Also because all evening style dresses emphasized more on a women’s curves, evening dresses were usually tightly fitted, sleeveless, and strapless.


Accessories and Cosmetics, especially makeup was essential to a women’s look at the time. Fur stoles, capes, handbags, satin pumps, and gloves were popular. The hair was commonly short and swept back off the face, and people would color their hair to show a wild or adventurous side. Arched eyebrows and dark colored engine red lips completed the emphasis on painted lips and eyes.


As for men, men’s clothing was “self-consciously conformist and sober” (Baughman 1), conformity was the key to men’s fashion in the 50s. A good example is the suits made of “miracle” synthetic fabrics that are lightweight and spot and wrinkle resistant, made by a brand called Dacron. At the same time, men started to become more attracted to clothes that are colored beige, blue, and brown. Men’s hair was usually worn in a crew cut or semi-crew cut. The only jewelry that men had on was a wrist watch and if they are married they would where their marriage ring. “Bermuda shorts made a big splash in the 1950s, with some men even wearing them to parties and the country club with sports jackets and knee-length socks.” Hawaiian “aloha” shirts were also popular especially in evening backyard barbecues time. The best known outwear in the 1950s was the Eisenhower jacket it was “jaunty, blousy, and waist-length” and named after their president Dwight D. Eisenhower. Unlike the women in the era, the men’s fashion choice was so limited that they didn’t care so much about clothing as they did spending money on their family and home.


6 pattern covers of typicals 1950s fashion sewing patterns.

Women's Fashion in the 1950s


"The standard gray suit was worn by all 1950s businessmen." (Stratford 1)


Food & Drink



In 1950s, fast-food restaurants popped-up everywhere, including Sonic Drive-In, and Burger King Corp.

Sonic Drive-In was founded in Oklahoma in 1953; it opened in suburban locations as part of the fast-food in the 1950s. It became the fourth-largest U.S. fast-food chain. They served food that people constantly craved for; “…burgers, chicken, hot dogs, fries and onion rings and an extensive lineup of beverages and desserts.” Roller-skating carhops and other stunts made the fast-food restaurant even more popular.

The Burger King Corp was American “hamburger chain”; they lured customers with attractive marketing campaigns such as, “Have it your way at Burger King”. Burger King was first opened up by James McLamore and David Edgerton in Miami, Florida in 1954. Three years after the business opened, the Whopper was introduced and it soon became the most famous burger nationwide. Then shortly after Burger King was nicknamed, “Home of the Whopper”. In the 21st century, Burger King held 19 percent of the fast-food versus its competitor McDonald held 42 percent of the fast-food. 


Old Burger King building


Film & Theatre | Music

Film & Theatre

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A clip from I Love Lucy, a popular television show in the mid-1950s.







In the 1950s, rock and roll first started to take the stage. This music combined blues, pop, rhythm and blues, and hillbilly music to create a new and unique sound (Pendergast). A famous musician, Ray Charles, said this of the new genre, "When they get a couple of guitars together with a backbeat, that's rock and roll." The transistor radio was a tool that played a large part in carrying this genre of music around, especially as it appealed to teenagers. The songs expressed themes of love, coming of age, and the first wave of independence that accompanies being a teenager.


Elvis Presley was an influential musician during this time period. It was his influence that led to the blending of styles dubbed as rock-and-roll. He mixed racial and gender icons: African - American and Southern White - American working class ideals, feminine codes including long hair and eyeshadow. His performances often displayed sexuality, something that attracted teenage girls and scared the elder generation. These displays were even denounced by a court judge in Florida. His style and lack of inhibitions worried many of the people of the older generation, as they feared their children would come under his devilish influences.


This style of music lead to several famous artists, including Elvis Presley. These artists changed the fashion culture of America. To stand out, teenagers who were fans of rock would wear tight shirts and leather jackets, and try to deviate from the accepted style of dress.


Previously, blues music was marketed towards African Americans, and referred to as "race music" (Pendergast). What was most important about this new era of rock and roll music was that music was integrated. Black and white Americans sang together, listened to the same songs, played music together, and were placed on the same radio station. Being that rock music appealed to teenagers, the newer generation of Americans was slowly becoming integrated, a direct contrast to the segregation of previous times.


As well as this, jazz music was slowly becoming more available to the populace as well. Jazz was heard solely in African American neighborhoods, in the cities. Now, in this decade, jazz was being popularized through several jazz festivals, which only served to integrate music even further.


Listen to some popular songs - courtesy of YouTube :)


Elvis Presley "Jailhouse Rock"

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Bill Haley and His Comets "Rock Around The Clock"

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Ritchie Valens "La Bamba"

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Print Culture




During the 1950s, American writing gained momentum. Nobel Prizes were awarded to American authors William Faulkner in 1950, and Ernest Hemmingway in 1952, giving American writers international regard. In accordance to the rebellious culture of the time, a group of writers called the Beats/beatniks set to defy cultural norms and produced works that spoke against society. The scope of America's magazines were changing as well. Older magazines were being replaced by newer ones. Specialized magazines won over generalized ones, due to the difference in marketing strategies. Advertisers began to appeal to individual target audiences, rather than Americans as a whole. This decade also saw an extreme increase in the number of published children's books, including those written by the now famous Dr. Seuss.


The Beat movement was a literary movement that transformed into a social one. In the 1950s, after World War II, in some groups there was a deep hatred for American culture and society. A group of writers, known as the Beatniks fought to change American consumerism into something more intense, and “real” (Pendergast). This was accompanied by an overabundance of sex and drugs.


One of the most important writers of the Beat Movement was Ginsberg, who wrote the poem “Howl.” This poem spoke of the degenerative values of post World War II America, of a generations’ madness, of a hysterical people. Only a small group formed the Beat movement’s core. Many people adopted the name, though they did not practice or preach the values of the group.


Several novels throughout this decade describe the death of the American dream after the post war, and one of the most important of these novels was The Catcher in the Rye. The main character of the novel, similar to the emerging generation of the 1950s, saw American culture as phony and fake; once the character broke away from this fakeness, he descended into madness.

This book was very controversial in the 1950s, and is still controversial today. It portrays American culture as dirty, fake, and the book is filled with sexual content, occultism, and foul language. It is still, though, an American classic, and symbolic of how the teenagers of the 1950s felt towards authority and adulthood.


Playboy was one of several magazines set to rebel against the repression of postwar American society. Mainstream media allowed little sexual content and suggestive language. These magazines rebelled against these views and set out to display censored materials not allowed in normal media venues.


It was during the 1950s when Dr. Seuss gained his fame. An author, Dr. Seuss specifically wrote stories for children, though he did write some for adults. These stories were mostly nonsense fiction, a genre that involves little plot. These books symbolized a moving away from the repression of earlier times, and towards a more free form of artistic expression. As well, often these seemingly nonsensical books showed a greater depth to them, one such book having to do with the Cold War, another about racism and taking responsibility for one's actions.



Perhaps one of the most important pieces of literature written during this time period was the play, The Crucible. This play was written to comment on the accusing behavior of several politicians during the time. When it was written, Senator Joseph McCarthy and several other politicians started what is now known as the Red Scare. During a small period of time in the beginning of the 1950s, Senator McCarthy told the public that he had received a list of communists working in governmental positions. Similarly to the hunt for witches described in The Crucible, McCarthy accused several people of being communists, even pointing the Secretary of Defense as a suspect. He then started to blindly accuse citizens of being communists, without any proof. Arthur Miller, the author of The Crucible, uses the virus-like growing quality of the Salem Witch Hunts to comment on the political actions of the time. He uses the increase in accusations  of witchcraft to draw parallels to the accusations of being a communist, showing that the spread of this mob mentality will eventually lead to a society's ruin.


Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller himself was accused of being communist.

Start at 3:17

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Sports & Games

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The Way We Lived




During the 1950s, the American population rose greatly in a trend referred to as the “Baby Boom.” This population growth was caused by soldiers coming back from the war wanting to catch up on the lives they had missed out on while away fighting including getting married, starting families, and buying houses. The baby boom meant that the tastes and desires of American youth were more well-known since 1/3 of the population was 15 years old and younger by 1958 (Baughman 262). Americans also began to build their homes outside of cities in places called “suburbs” (Pendergast 767). Americans were able to commute from their homes in the suburbs to jobs in the city with newer more powerful automobiles and more and better roads (Baughman 262). Many people also immigrated to America including Europeans fleeing from communism, Koreans as a result of the Korean War, and Mexicans (Baughman 262). Another part of youth culture were the toys: miniature ten gallon hats and toy guns were made popular by Westerns on TV. Slinkies, Silly Putty, Frisbees, and the Hula hoop all debuted in this decade (Baughman 262). TV dinners were created in 1953 (Pendergast 680). They were originally created because C. A. Swansons and Sons had 260 tons of turkey that had not been sold during the Thanksgiving season, so a Swanson executive Gerry Thomas came up with the idea of freezing the turkey and selling it with other frozen foods in a package as a dinner, then tied it to the new TV fad calling it a "TV dinner" and packaging it in a box that was made to look like a TV (Pendergast 680-2).



Fear during the Cold War of America being bombed caused many families to build bomb shelters ("The Postwar Era (1945–1970)"). In schools, "Duck and Cover" drills were practiced where students would duck under desks and cover the heads in the hopes that they would not be as seriously injured if they covered their heads when a bomb was dropped ("The Postwar Era (1945–1970)")

A Bomb Shelter in Bronxville, New York


A Duck and Cover Drill


The 1950s included the rise of the middle class, more people were able to buy and read newspapers which had sports and news columns, but also included comics like Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz. However, there was still racism which kept most other races from being as prosperous. During the 50s there was also the sentiment of being pressured to conform, and being forced into an unfulfilling job (Baughman 263). Gender roles were reinforced during the 1950s (as opposed to war time in the 40s when women went to work), the feminine ideal during the 50s was to be the perfect wife and mother and to support the husband in whatever his career is (Baughman 263). Ideals about sex before marriage were changed during this decade. Playboy magazine was also created in 1953 (Baughman 263).


Peanuts (a comic strip by Charles M. Schulz)


Government & Politics




“When compared to the turbulent decades that would follow and the world war that had preceded in the 1940s, the 1950s would appear from the present, popular perspective to represent a peaceful interlude in twentieth-century power politics—a kind of return to innocence from which the American people would emerge the ‘children of Eisenhower.’” (Baughman 2)


President Dwight D. Eisenhower was the dominant political figure in the 1950s, an international hero who had organized the Allied victory over the Nazis. He ran on the Republican platform in 1952 and radiated an air of confidence and optimism. Yet, he was an extremely sly and experienced politician who expertly disguised a turbulent political situation as a decade of relative calm. 1950s politics was chiefly fueled by the great paranoia that America and its values of democracy were being threatened by communism. Though much of the fears are dismissed as due to generalization or naïveté, when these fears are placed into context Americans indeed had some right to be afraid. “After World War II the Soviets had acted quickly to annex most of Eastern Europe. In 1949 China had fallen to the Communists. In June 1950 the United Nations intervened in the Korean border conflict, and the United States once again sent troops to war—this time to contain Communist aggression.” (Baughman 3)


Following the already-heightened nationwide suspicion of communists among American citizens, in 1950 Joseph R. McCarthy, a little-known senator from Wisconsin, utilized a women’s Republican club meeting in Wheeling, West Virginia to announce the shocking claim that 206 Communist-party members worked in the State Department. Richard Nixon further heightened the sense of paranoia through his key role in exposing Alger Hiss as a Communist spy. Both of these men’s allegations led to increased questioning, Senate hearings, and accusations. In addition, both Truman’s and Eisenhower’s presidential administrations were unable to stop McCarthy and his brand of scare tactics, dubbed ‘McCarthyism,’ from increasing in power and progressing the American fear of Communism.


A major turning point in American politics arrived when Eisenhower was voted over Democratic opponent Adlai Stevenson in the 1952 elections, where the American people voted in record numbers. Eisenhower broke the chain of almost 20 years of Democratic power in the White House and the aura of college-degree-lacking Truman, whom the Republicans had portrayed as “the last vestige of [the] New Deal, partisan policy-making, and [a] final reminder of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s alleged appeasement of the Soviets at the 1945 Yalta Conference.” (Baughman 4) A new era in government emerged, as Eisenhower promised to cut defense spending while halting Communist aggression – as a direct result, he reinvigorated a sense of the American spirit, the sense of America as a world superpower.


As a last major point, the 1950s led to an increased scrutiny of political image for all levels of government as more and more Americans bought televisions. For instance, McCarthy effectively used and abused this ‘art of image’ to expand his radical views and anticommunist crusade at the beginning of the decade. In fact, this fresh new art was a key factor in detailing Richard Nixon’s political successes and failures during the decade – a huge television audience watched as a “pale and heavily-perspiring Nixon debated his opponent in the 1960 presidential election—a young, handsome, and tanned John F. Kennedy.” (Baughman 5) By the end of the 1950s, the politics of image had rooted themselves in American culture and had arguably become a more important political tool than the ability to articulate the issues themselves.


Leadership | Law & Justice




Law and Justice





During the 1950s, crime was dramatized. Television shows about gangsters and the government premiered weekly, and the crime sections of the newspapers were read daily.  One of the largest populations involving organized crime was slowly becoming the juvenile delinquent. The number of arrests of people under the age of 18 doubled during the decade, though at that time, the population of those people only increased by one-half. The public became intrigued with organized crime, believing that gangsters and the mob were running rampant. Statistics were over exaggerated to make it seem as if crime, within a year, increased by at least 10%. The imagination of the American people was running rampant, and the made-up stories were often more gruesome than the actual ones.


Along with these over-enthusiastic stories, the American people often believed that the law enforcement system was unjust. Police men were corrupt, hardened criminals could walk free, and the courts were incompetent and unable to rule in favor of the innocent. However, these predictions were inaccurate as law enforcement generally improved over the decade, with advances in technology, communication, and criminal behavior analysis. 


Unfortunately, some court proceedings were still very biased. The rich were often treated better than the poor, white Americans better than black Americans, and those with unpopular ideas were not judged favorably towards. Sentences varied depending on the state, and judges were not often fair in their decisions. One such example of this prejudice, was the case of Rosa Parks, a woman who was unable to live under the segregation of the times, and tried to integrate the black and white community of the nation. 


However, the prejudices based on race were slowly dissolving. In the beginning of the 1950s, despite the Fourteenth Amendment, African Americans were being segregated against, and even arrested if not compliant with these segregations. The case, Brown vs. Board of Education, changed this. With this case, it was decided that the idea of separate, but equal public facilities disregarded the Fourteenth Amendment, so the “separate, but equal” law was overturned.   


The law also changed its views on religion and sacrilege. The First Amendment promoted free speech in all venues of the media, but it was often debated. The case censoring of a movie, which dealt with controversial religious views, was taken all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled that religion could not break the First Amendment.  


Throughout the second half of the 1950s, racial prejudices were brought to life, and religious prominence taken down several steps. While stereotypes still ran rampant, and many were still prejudiced, the law & justice systems of this decade sowed the seeds of the tolerance that many of us practice today.


In the 1950s, the face of prison life was quickly changing. One problem that the American people were unable to look at, involving crime, was the overcrowding of prisons. These prisoners headed several riots took place, showing that there was a fundamental problem with American prisons, overpopulation.


However, by the 1950s, many prisons had stopped some of their most brutal practices: torture, starvation, and beatings. Unfortunately, in less wealthy states in the South, this was not true. In 1951, in a Louisiana prison, thirty-seven prisoners cut their Achilles’ tendons with razor blades, harming most of them, and for some, even debilitating them for life. This violent protest exposed that the prison systems were not completely fixed, and that these prisoners could not be ignored.


The law and justice system of the 1950s, though improved from previous generations, was flawed, especially when dealing with the issues of communism and domestic threats of communism. Joseph McCarthy, a Wisconsin senator, used this to his advantage as he began accusing people of being communists left and right. The people who were accused did notreceive a fair trial, often lawyers collaborated with each other, and the evidence was based on the accusations of others who feared of being accused themselves. It was not until a reporter Edward R. Murrow, challenged McCarthy on a new television show, that the situation started to change. Nevertheless, this series of events was a perverting of the American justice system, one that is still rememberd today.


In 1954, the separate but equal laws were exercised by the blacks, however, the whites began a wave of violence against the blacks. And the blacks that voted for schools to be integrated were killed.  It was all largely ignored by the national press until the death of Chicago-born African-American teenager, Emmett Till in 1955 in Money, Mississippi. The murders of Emmett Till faced national attention, which lead onto the problem of racial segregation in the south. It all happened when Emmett Till when a store with his cousin, Curtis Jones, and met up with some other black boys and showed them the picture of white girls he went to school with, one of them dared Emmett to say hello to the white woman in the store so he did and said “Bye, baby.” Unplanned the white men, husband of the woman that Emmett had made a remark to, kidnapped him during the night and with his buddy they beat up and killed Emmett to the point his body was so mutilated that his mother was unable to recognize him. The white murders of Emmett Till were let off lightly however it was not easily forgotten in the black community.


Edward R. Murrow's show, shortly after interviewing McCarthy.



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Political Cartoons


This political cartoon was drawn to commemorate Einstein's death and the scientific knowledge he contributed to the academic community. It was in fact, his work that contributed to the creation of the atom bomb.




Click on the picture to hear it talk in a funny voice~! ^_^




This political cartoon depicts Joseph McCarthy searching for communists in the State Department, paticularly in the desk of John Foster Dulles, the Secretary of State at the time. 



MYP Question: Answered

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Comments (4)

Andrew Yan said

at 6:44 pm on May 29, 2010

I admit defeat.

Ling Gu said

at 6:46 pm on May 29, 2010

Already? You're giving up too easily!

Andrew Yan said

at 6:46 pm on May 29, 2010

Well I've already admitted it...you win.

Grace said

at 3:14 pm on Jun 5, 2010

Are we meeting today???? Can someone please answer my e-mails????

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