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B2 1950s De Zwaan

Page history last edited by Karolina 12 years, 9 months ago


Asha Krishnan, Kristin Figg, Karolina Kalinowski, Ashley Hou, and Max Zimmermann





An introduction to the 1950s presented by Lucille Ball from "I Love Lucy" 



1950’s Timeline of Important Events



  • Hydrogen Bomb Program is begun by President Truman.
  • The credit card is introduced to America
  • War in Korea begins.
  • Senator Joseph McCarthy begins Communist Witch Hunt
  • The United States become involved in Vietnam when Truman sends 15 million dollars to help the French



  • Rock 'n' Roll becomes popular
  • Colored television is invented
  • Truman signs peace treaty with Japan, officially ending WWII



  • Dwight Eisenhower becomes President
  • Car seat belts are introduced
  • Polio vaccine created



  • DNA is discovered
  • Hillary and Norgay are the first people to climb Mt. Everest
  • Joseph Stalin dies



  • McDonald's is founded
  • The first Disneyland opens
  • Rosa Parks refuses to give her seat up to a white man


  • US begins to send troops to Vietnam



  • Laika is the first animal to enter space



  • Mao Zedong launches the “Great Leap Forwards”
  • Hula Hoops become popular
  • LEGOs come from Denmark and become popular
  • NASA is founded
  • Peace symbol created



The Way We Lived


     The 1950s were a time of returned stability. This attitude was reflected in the demographics of the work force as with the ending of the war, women were now expected to go back to working at home. Soon, the view of the “Professional Housewife” evolved. Employment opportunities were limited for women, for employers still preferred men over women. Women worked only if it was economically necessary for the family or for themselves. 




     Women were undergoing another sort of revolution too when The Pill was introduced and diets became popular. Birth control, also known as "The Pill", increased womens' rights. Now, they were free to make choices about their lives and have control over it. They now could decide the time and number of children, making them more independent. Even though at first The Pill was seen as a positive, liberating thing, soon it turned against women when many men took women as "sexually available", abusing them. Yet diets had the opposite effect on increasing women liberation. Even though it gave them control in life, many felt pressured by the media to be thin. Women were bombarded with thousands of publications in magazines and books advertising the newest and most effective diet. It was then when the diet crazy of American culture truly began. 


     As suburbs boomed during that time because it was a dream to have a nice home in a quiet neighborhood. They became monocultural enclaves, with no minorities. This divide had a great impact on the mentalities of the people. The 50s were the time that the expression "chocolate cities and vanilla suburbs" evolved because of this divide. Critics described these suburbs as "conceived in error, nurtured in greed and corroding everything they touch" (Keats). They created people with mediocre lives, all the same, with 2-3 children and always worrying about their financial future. This image angered some. 


     Comics became really popular among young children, especially 3D comic books. Yet adults were opposed to them, believing it pulled their children away from society, corrupting their minds. In addition to the entertainment provided by comics, Wham-O introduced the hula hoop and the Frisbee and the Slinky and Silly Putty were invented. Overall, toys and amusement park popularity soared, as a result of America's growing prosperity.




     It was a time of prosperity and accumulating wealth because the economy was booming. The 50s were called the "bland" decade because America was settling into the lifestyle it leads today. Everything seemed safe and stable at last. Of course, this peaceful lifestyle did not apply to everyone. The minorities, like Black Americans, Mexican migrant workers and Native Americans did not get a taste of America's benefits. 


     Yet not everything was rosy, with the shadow of the Cold War between the US and Soviet Russia beginning right after World War II. Many people succumbed to the anti-communist crusade started by Senator Joseph McCarthy. Some even went as far as building bomb shelters in their backyards in case of enemy bombing.


     In the area of business and industry, there developed the image of the"yes-man", a man that was not encouraged to voice his opinions and ideas, but only to support everything his boss did. This was another aspect of the 50s that was criticized because it was believed that this attitude did not reflect core American beliefs of individualism and innovation. People worried about the direction in which this was going- that in the modern society "only being liked and being able to influence others were [...] important." (Pendergast 215)


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Business and Economy


     In the 1950s, American had finally recovered from the effects of the Second World War and began to lead into it's height as a world power. America's economy was the strongest in the world at this time. People were beginning to realize that the financial performance of all the businesses in the nation would affect every American personally. At the end of the decade, the nation's gross national product was about $482.7 billion, almost twice as much as it was in the beginning of the decade. The US was also respected internationally for the quality and the reliability of their goods leading to an all time high in the amount of US exports. American consumers became eager to purchase anything from American-made electronics, to cars, to chemicals (Baughman 83).


     World War II, ending the Great Depression, had led to an increase in jobs and thus, an increase in income as a whole. This increase also lead to an increase in government revenue in the from of taxes as well which would eventually lead to more government involvement in businesses. The labor force grew as well, with 31% of women seeking outside jobs. The negative affect of the government's involvement was inflation, the rising of prices, was also rising. The government was determined to control the inflation, establishing price ceiling for war goods and necessities as well as by raising the required bank reserves.


     Consumerism was a large factor in helping America's economy. The increase of indoor shopping malls allowed Americans to purchase all their necessities in one stop. With the great number of stores in a mall, Americans were likely to purchase more than they initially would have. The baby boom as an important cause of the prospering economy. The rising birth rate created markets for baby food, clothes, and toys. "Entrepreneurs made and sold bicycles, cowboy fancy dress costumes, space science toys, and produced giant and super-economy packs of nappies for families to buy in their supermarkets" (Pennington 214).


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Ford's 1950 TV ad


     The automobile industry is an indicator of America's increasing wealth. Almost all cars sold in the 50s were American made (by companies such as General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler). In 1955, the combine sales of these companies was about 7.9 million cars , compared to the 2.1 million cars sold in 1946 (Pennington 212). By the end of the decade, almost 70% of American families owned a car. Automobile companies were producing new, more attractive looking cars, such as the Ford Thunderbird and the Chevrolet Corvette which also urged consumers to purchase an American made car. The car industry was not the only industry that prospered. The aviation industry was also able to advance. The technological improvements during WWII of airplanes had allowed airlines to adopt a "coach" class, which lowered to price of flying from around $300 to around $100.



Print Culture


     Print culture was booming in the 1950s. Nobel Prizes were awarded to William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway , giving them international renown. A few other writers gained attention also, such as J.D.Salinger with Catcher in the Rye, John Cheever and Flannery O'Connor. Catcher in the Rye was a very controversial book that explored "phoniness" and the quest for adventure but was condemned by many for its content. Because of this it became a favorite of the rebellious youth still continuing today.



     The Beat movement also emerged, which was a "literary movement that became a social movement as well" (Berg 699). It was begun by a group of American writers who became disgusted with the American culture and society that emerged after World War II. The Beats or Beatniks were going back to their Romantic ancestors, seeking to experience the "real" and break away from the consumer-centered lives many Americans led. The two most influential pieces of the Beat movement were "On the Road" by Kerouac which described Beatnik life and "Howl" by Ginsberg which was a criticism of post-war America. As this movement spread, many young people began to adopt this philosophy, turning it into a social movement as well. 


 Hulton/Archive by Getty Images

     Along with the boom of the Beatniks, there was also a boom in children's books, with their favorite author, Dr. Seuss, becoming very popular during that time. He published Horton Hears a Who in 1954, How the Grinch Stole Christmas in 1957 and The Cat in the Hat also in 1957, all of which remain favorites to this day. In the year of 1950 another family favorite was born- Frosty the Snowman. The song written by Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins became an immediate hit.



     Magazines were undergoing a metamorphosis- the passe ones were dying out and being replaced by new ones. There was an increase in the "general-interest" magazines, with Collier's leading. Yet there many "niche" magazines also surfaced like Sports Illustrated, Playboy and MAD Magazine. To continue the comic book/strip trend of the 1940s, Charles Schulz started his famous Peanuts comic strip. 








     In the decades before the 1950s, education in schools was fairly limited. Most schools only taught fundamental subjects such reading, writing and arithmetic. In the 1950s, the education expanded from the decades before and schools began teaching about other subjects, such as sexual education. Science and history also became a major roles in the school’s curriculum and education program. Enrollment increased by 30% when more and more young children enrolled into elementary schools.



     Some schools also required students to do bomb drills in which they got down on the ground in a “duck and cover” fashion. The students were led to believe that this would save them from a bomb attack, even though it would not save them from the radiation. It was more of an emotional security for the children, and the parents.






     After the Second World War, Americans started to develop a fashion sense that was more independent of the rest of the world. This new style focused on youthfulness and simplicity. Prior to WWII, American fashion was heavily influenced by that of Paris and London.



     Women’s fashion focused on femininity, a contrast from the more masculine styles during the war. It mainly consisted of two different silhouettes: the full skirt and the pencil slim tubular skirt, both of which placed an emphasis on the waist. Christian Dior’s “New Look” of the late 1940s, greatly influenced the fashion of the 50s. It consisted of closely tailored bustlines, slender waists, padded hips, and full, extravagant midcalf long skirts. These outfits were especially popular for evening wear, with full, romantic gowns or narrow, clinging sheaths. Often these gowns were in materials such as silk and taffeta or slathered with sequins. During the day, women wore “wool suits with slim sheath skirts and straight, short jackets over silk blouses” (Women’s Fashion 152). They also wore gloves, hats, handbags, and stilettos heels. Makeup was also essential in a women’s appearance. (Women’s Fashion 152-154).



     Men’s fashion, in contrast to Women’s fashion, was less centered on fads but rather simplicity and conformity. According to author Richard Horn the typical uniform was "a three-button, single-breasted, charcoal gray flannel suit, with narrow shoulders, narrow, small-notched lapels, flaps on the pockets, and pleatless, tapering trousers. A white or pale blue cotton broadcloth shirt with a button-down collar and button cuffs, trim ties with regimental stripes and small knots, and trim black leather shoes that rose at the ankle and the toe...” (Men’s Fashion 154-155). For leisure time, burmuda shorts, sports jackets, slim cut slacks, and the gaudy Hawaiian “Aloha” shirts.



     The youths of the 1950's strived to create an identity separate of their parents. The “preppy look” became increasing popular. Girls wore tight sweaters, poodle skirts, bobby socks, and saddle shoes. Boys wore blue jeans and v-neck sweaters. By contrast, another popular style was the “greaser” look featuring “tight black jeans, black boots, shiny shirts, black leather jackets, and T-shirts with rolled-up cuffs” for the boys and “heavy makeup, tight sweaters, short skirts, and stockings for the girls” (Youth Centered 157).


Film, Television, and Theatre


     During the 50s, one of the largest problems in regards to the film industry was the increasing popularity of television sets. As their sales increased, more and more Americans began to prefer to stay at home. Another problem for the film industry was the 1948 Supreme Court ruling that led to the break up of the "studio system", meaning movie studios would not be able to control the productions showing at a certain theatre. As a response to these issues, Hollywood began producing larger, more extravagant films, although at a slower rate. Films such as as The Ten Commandments, The Robe, Ben-Hur and Godzilla were so dramatic that they could not be recreated in television, leading to a rise in cinema goes. Science fiction, suspense, and horror became very popular in the film industry as a result of the Cold War, with films like Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest, The Day the Earth Stood Sill, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Science fiction could be used to block out the reality of communism as well as portraying communism in a negative light. Popular Hollywood stars included Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, Ava Gardner, Kim Novak, Audrey Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Newman, and Judy Garland (Pendergast 661).



From top: North by Northwest movie poster, Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday.


     As previously mentioned, television began to increase in popularity due to the switch to color from black and white. About 90 percent of families had a television set by the end of the decade, many even having color (Pendergast 727). Many shows, such as I Love Lucy, were popular because they symbolize the ideal lifestyle of the ideal 50s family. What was broadcasted on television soon became accepted as normal. Other popular shows included game shows such as The Price is Right and The $64,000 Question; serious dramas, such as Texaco Star Theatre and Fireside Theatre; and situation comedies (sitcoms), such as The Honeymooners. However television was not only about entertainment, shows like You are There give American families an insight on historical events. New broadcasting was also changed by the fact that live broadcast of events happening at the time of viewing was possible.



     Broadway theatre shows were also a large part of the entertainment industry. The most well-known musical of the 50s, West Side Story, premiered on Broadway in 1957 and highlights many of the social issues prevalent in the 50s. The musical has undergone various revivals and tours since the 50s. Much of the music in Broadway musicals was popular in everyday life as well.


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Food and Drink


     In the 1950s, many Americans still ate at home. However a number of new eating trends began to start. For example, standardizing and franchising became popular. This allowed individual owners to own a restaurant that was part of a chain, such as McDonalds.  



     Another instance of this was TV dinners, frozen meals that could be heated up in the oven. They got their name because they were usually consumed in front of the TV. These eating habits may have been unhealthy but continued because they had been heavily publicized. Americans eventually became so unhealthy that on average they consumed around 3000 calories daily. 



Sports and Games


     During the 1950's, the love for sports in America grew stronger. This was because sports were finally broadcasted over television and over the radio. Sports and games were very popular in the 1950s, and baseball was the most popular among the public, but football was most popular among college students. Sports Illustrated was introduced to the American public in the 1950s in order to provide a weekly source of sports events and information, and was very popular among Americans. Many other sports were popular such as basketball and football, but baseball was still Americas #1 sport.


     There were many sport phenomenons in the 1950’s. For example: in 1956, Yankee pitcher Don Larsen sets World series history when he pitches the first ever perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers. The NBA as well as other major sports companies, started allowing African Americans into the league.


     During World War II, major toy companies started producing a variety of toys and games for the United States public. they had amazing ideas for games, and started to produce barbies, and other dolls. LEGO's started to be imported from Denmark, and kids loved them instantly.  Other toys such as Frisbees, hula hoops, and the Etch A Sketch were also very popular among the youth.


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Government and Politics



Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower, the two presidents of the 1950s.


     The 1950s were a time of major changes with government and politics.  After World War II Stalin and Truman disagreed on what the punishment for Germany should be.  Stalin wanted Germany to remain weak while Truman wanted to rebuild Germany.  The U.S. feared that if Germany were to remain weak it would cause Soviet expansion while the Soviets feared the U.S. would end communism if Germany were to be rebuilt.  This caused the Cold War.  The beginning of the sixties began with the Cold War spreading to Asia.  During the time, Mao Zedong was the communist leader of China.  When China allied with the Soviet Union after taking over US land in China, the United States felt they had lost an ally in China.  In 1950, the communist North Korea was ordered to invade South Korea by the Soviet Union.  When the United Nations called for security actions against North Korea, the Soviet Union did not help North Korea.  The fear of the spread of communism led to the Korean War.  While the Soviet Union was not willing to help North Korea, they did ask China to help.  When China sent 300,000 troops into North Korea by the end of 1950, the war turned into a war against China and the United States.  In 1951, the war reached a stalemate and negotiations began between the two countries.  However, no agreements were reached until after Stalin died in 1953.  This agreement was a truce where all the POWs were exchanged.  This truce was called the Korean Armistice Agreement at Panmunjom and was signed by China, North Korea, the United Nations, and the United States.


     In 1954 communism in the French colony of Vietnam was becoming stronger and stronger.  The United States offered large amounts of money to help the French stop the spread of communism, but when the French lost interest in Vietnam the United States felt it was necessary to step in.  Soon, they began sending troops into Vietnam.  This soon became the Vietnam war which would not end with a Vietnamese victory until 1975.


     The end of the 1950s also began with the Cold War becoming even more heated.  In 1957 tensions worsened after the Soviets launched the satellite Sputnik.  The U.S. and the soviets would now compete to see who would be the first to explore space.  The Soviets would be the first to explore space while the Americans would be the first to land on the moon.





     The religion of the 1950s became more united but some religions also became more separated.  After the Second World War there was a rise of interest in religion, 60 percent of Americans said they attended a weekly service.  When people became more and more religious, the phrase "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance.


     At the beginning of the decade, the National Council of Churches of Christ in America was created, which brought several Protestant and Orthodox religious leaders together to discuss important issues in the religious community.  Later, the Evangelical Lutheran church and the United Evangelical Lutheran church merged.  The Norther Presbyterians and the United Presbyterians also merged.



     However, Protestants and Catholics grew further and further apart after Protestant criticized the Catholic schools and the Catholic leaders wanting to control what movies their followers watched.  Catholicism, however, took major steps in America.  It was not considered just a religion for immigrants, but also an important religion in America.



Law and Justice


    During the 1950s there was increase in crime.  Not only was crime increasing but the nature of the crimes was becoming worse.  Brutal crimes were being committed.  One contributing factor of this could be an increase in mobsters.  Fear in America increased because of the fictional mob boss character.  Another factor that contributed to an increase in crime during the fifties was in increase in juvenile crime.  Luckily, the police force improved during this time.  There were often corruption stories in the new and media, however, these stories helped to keep the rest of the police men more focused on trying their best for the community.  In the 1950s "blind justice" also began.  The purpose of this was to ensure that no one was discriminated against in the court room.  Unfortunately, this was no reality until later.  It was clear that prejudices still existed in the court room.   



     Although there was still discrimination throughout the justice system the 1950s were a time of major rulings to help get equality for everyone.  The Brown vs. Board of education ruling in 1954 made integration of schools legal which cancels out "separate but equal" doctrine.  The 1956 decision of Griffin vs. Illinois was one of the first rulings to give people equal protection.  Now, it was not just the wealthy that were able to have lawyers.





     In the beginning of the 1960's Harry S. Truman was president.  In 1950, North Korea was invaded by South Korea and he faced the problem of invading.  In 1951, the president decided to send troops in.  There was much debate about this war and Truman decided that he would not go for re-election in 1953. 


     The president that was around for the greater part of the 50s (was in office for the rest of the era) was Dwight D. Eisenhower.  To this day, he is considered a great man by many; proof of this is that he is ranked as one of the top 10 president.  Throughout his presidency, Eisenhower believed in a "hands off" government approach.  He felt that it was not the president's job to start social change; it was his job to make sure the federal government did not spend too much and also to help his country during hard times.  He followed through with this by only interfering with social problems once Little Rock. 


      He interfered with the problem in Little Rock because Southern Congressmen were abusing their power.  Chief of Justice, Earl Warren said that separation of the races was not equal and therefore it was decided that integration must happen.  When the Little Rock Nine tried to enter Central High school, Governor Faubus tried to prevent them form doing so and, as a result, Eisenhower felt that he need to do something to fix this situation. 



            Another important event was the Montgomery bus Boycott, inspired by Rosa Parks.  After she was removed from the bus, because she refused to give up her seat, and sent to jail, 50,000 African Americans protested by not riding the city bus for 381 days.  This exemplified that blacks were willing to stand up and lead others down the path of desegregation. 





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     Rock and Roll was created in the 1950s.  It was a style of music that combined both the musical forms of blacks and whites, such as rhythm and blues, pop, blues, and hillbilly music.  Examples of Rock and Roll musicians are Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy holly, and finally, the king of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley.  Elvis became famous because of his tight pants and sex appeal.


            Music was extremely important in this time period because it was not segregated.  For example, blacks and whites were able to play in bands together, record each others' songs, and even play on the same radio stations.  This integrated music was introduced to the public through the use of disc jockeys because they had many listeners.  Finally, another popular type of music was jazz.  Even though this type of music was introduced in the 1940s it was not as popular until the fifties because it mostly listened to in black neighborhoods.  Now that music was more integrated, jazz became more popular.


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Negative political cartoons on the issue of granting civil rights and the problems with Senator McCarthy, respectively. 



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


     The 50s, a decade still recovering from the terrors and consequences of World War II saw many changes and advances. One major event was the invention of the birth-control pill in 1951. This invention was brought on by the campaigning of many women who sought control over their lives. It reflected the mood of post-war America because of the new feelings of individualism and women’s acquired freedom during the war years. The economic boom led to an increase in recreation, with the first Disneyland being built in 1955. This event had an enormous impact on post war America even to this day, remaining one of the most visited sites in the world. It was a perfect representation of the mentality of the time, with the glorifying of movie figures, over-the-top entertainment and mass consumerism. In addition, America became engaged in two wars in the Far East, specifically in Korea and Vietnam, under the pretext of stopping the spread of communism. This action resulted from the ongoing Cold War, both wars being and indirect conflict between the US and Russia. These two invasions were a reflection of the current emotions of time and the fear or communism that resulted from the fight against it during WWII. Both of these actions had a lasting effect throughout other decades as the Vietnam War dragged on, young people protested and young men died. The US then started its "nosy" foreign policy, a new approach that evolved after WWII. As a result of the Cold War, World War II and threats from the Soviet Union the US began nuclear bomb testing in the 1950s. These events reflected the fears of the time as well as the new technology and the development of a new society quickly falling into the race for the superpower.


     In the decades following the 1950s, especially the 1960s and 1970s, trust in the government seemed to be slowly diminishing. Many believe this distrust began in 1950 when Joseph McCarthy, a senator from Wisconsin, accused over two hundred State Department employees as being communists. During this time communism was greatly feared and hated by Americans, anyone accused of being a communist was also feared and hated. The punishment for the State Department employees who were accused were severe. Some people were blacklisted, others were shunned from their community, and a few even committed suicide. The accusations and suspicions of people based on uncertain facts became know as McCarthyism. The Civil Rights Movement also affected post WWII America because there was a large amount of conflict at the time. This was a result of the tension between the different races. Eisenhower believed in a “hands off” government and therefore did not get very involved in this conflict. Many people believed that if he was more involved there would have been less violence. This shaped and reflected post WWII America because, during the Second World War, many people believed that there was not enough democracy at home and the same was true in the fifties. 


     Another result of the ending of the Second World War was the beginning of the "baby boom", a term used to describe the rapid increase in the birth rate after 1945. The prosperity of the nation combined with the family oriented mindset of the people, led to a seemingly "bland" or "boring" decade. Much of the advances in the economy as well as in social lives reflected America's stable family life. As a result of the growing population, the demand for more basic necessities, such as houses and cars, increased. This demand led to a sharp advancement of the American economy, expanding markets and boosting the nations gross national product. The American motor industry thrived and expanded as sales of cars nearly doubled from the previous decade. The baby boom also started the trend of building houses in massive suburbs around cities, something commonly seen today. The rate of birth created many new markets, such as baby food, toys, and baby clothes, as well.


     The entertainment industry also reflected the family images as well as the horrors of the 50s. Shows such as I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners featured the ideal 50s family. Soon these stereotypes of the suburban housewife and the working husband became the accepted normal. These ideas that denied that education and skills were of social necessity to women prompted many critics to air ideas that would eventually form the feminist movement of the 1960s. The rise of science fiction, horror, and suspense movies were used to criticize and block out the real horrors of communism that took place in the 50s. These films would continue into the 60s, 70s, and 80s as responses to the Cold War.


     The Fifties appear to be a time that set the stage for how America was to be in the 20th and 21st century, with many of the current trends invented at that time. It was also then that America began its foreign policy of intervention with other countries' governments with the Korean and Vietnam Wars and then later the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Civil Rights Movement and women's demands for increased rights reflected the more independent and liberal feel of the new American post-war society.




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Comments (1)

Asha K. said

at 7:35 pm on Jun 8, 2010

I was thinking about doing a Voki thing for leadership but I cannot figure out how. Help me please. :)

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