B3 1950s Convery

Veronica Borders

Andrea Diviney

Alex Garrigo

Marissa Kobylas



MYP Unit Question: How did culture, events and leadership shape and reflect post-WWII America?


The 1950's


*Business & the Economy

       With the economy fully recovered from WWII, the 50’s were booming. More people had more income at their disposal than ever before, so people bought a wider variety of goods, giving America the highest standard of living in the world at this time. It was here in the 50’s when America became a consumer culture. What fueled this new culture was the creation of the suburbs, malls, and credit cards. With more people having to travel to and from work, car sales sailed through the roof. Malls changed the way people purchased goods and with the emergence of the credit card, people could purchase goods at nearly any store with the ease of a swipe and a signature. All of this extra disposable income and ease of purchasing goods is what fueled the US economy and is a fundamental part of the growth of the American consumer culture.


     Obviously the consumer was the force behind America's economic well being. Although purchasing goods was facilitated for the consumer, this was not the reason that they spent so much money. That was due to the baby boom.



      In the 1950’s, enrollment in schools increased dramatically as the baby boomer generation entered school.  Because of this, there was a shortage in both classrooms and teachers. There was scramble for funding, recruitment, and the building of schools across the nation.


     Although the idea is strongly opposed now, religious education was common in public schools. In the latter part of the decade, this was called into question with the argument that the country was run partially on the idea of separation of church and state. However, very little was officially done in this decade to transition out of religious education. One other change to the general curricula was an increased emphasis on the sciences, perhaps motivated by the Soviets being the first in space. 


     One of the most notable occurrences of the 50’s regarding education was the desegregation of schools. The Brown v. the Board of Education case made the segregation of schools illegal, and afterward schools slowly became integrated, though there was still much discrimination. Some of the most famous instances of this included Ruby Bridges and the Little Rock Nine.



     Fashion in the 1950's was independent from the rest of the world.  Boys' and young men's fashion was influenced by the spirit of rock and roll and by movie idols like James Dean and Marlon Brando.  They simply wore jeans and white T-shirts.  Girls and young women wore what many think of as classic 50's attire.  This consisted of a tight sweater, a long, full poodle skirt, ankle high bobby socks, and sturdy saddle shoes.  Women in the 1950's dressed more sophisticatedly.  They took high fashion and made it more American.  Their attire emphasized the female figure and included lots of make-up.  Men, on the other hand, were not concerned with fashion at all.  The working man wore the standard gray, flannel suit with a white shirt and tie.  Most men wore slip on leather shoes known as loafers.  In fact, in the 1950's loafers became the most popular shoes for men.   

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Film and Theater

       The 1950’s was an era of many films, some more popular than others. Some of these films included On the Waterfront, placed during the Hollywood blacklisting; Francis the Talking Mule, a comedy that led to an increase in talking animal appearances in films; and Peyton Place, which later became the first soap opera on prime-time television. The Day the Earth Stood Still was a science fiction film that more or less brought in a new era of this genre. By having the aliens warn Americans of the dangers of nuclear bombs, it also shows anti-war opinion that was present among many Americans. Godzilla also appeared in the 1950’s, and although it was made in Japan with the fire-breathing lizard symbolizing Japanese fear of nuclear devastation because of World War II, it was extremely popular in America as well.


     James Dean was a popular actor whose career piqued in the 1950’s. He starred in films like East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant. His stardom was brief, and he died before reaching his 30’s, but during his acting career he came to personify the anxious youth of America in the 1950’s. Another prominent idol in the 1950’s was Marilyn Monroe. Monroe was a singer and actress who went from an abused child to a famous celebrity. Her rags-to-riches story exemplifies the classic American dream. The films and theater of the 1950’s often reflected the events going on during this time period, even if only in symbolic form, and by studying them one can learn a lot about the era.

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Food & Drink

      The 1950’s brought a desire for convenience, popularizing supermarkets, franchised fast food, and TV dinners. With the return of women to the home, the kitchen became a more important place. Suburban supermarkets allowed a quicker and easier access to food which could be turned into a variety of dishes to feed a family or charm a man. New franchises such as McDonald’s and Burger King brought the hamburger and fries into fashion while becoming easy places to purchase lunch. TV dinners made cooking simpler and allowed consumers to combine mealtime with the entertainment of television.

McDonald's was franchised in the 1950's


Print Culture

     Much of the American print media in the 1950’s reflected the changing ideas of this era. One such item was On the Road by Jack Kerouac. This novel encompasses many of the ideals of the Beatniks and Beat movement. The Beats were a group of people who desired to go through experiences that were very “real,” experiences that sometimes involved sex and drugs, but also certain religions such as Buddhism. On the Road described a very “on-the-go” lifestyle while telling its story, an idea that was unacceptable and somewhat of a scandal in 1950’s society. Another new movement in this era was Science-Fiction. With the growing realization that space travel was becoming more and more probable, people began to fantasize what other worlds, dimensions, and even the future could be like. One such book, that is still popular today and was written in this era is I, Robot by Isaac Asimov. There were also many other popular pieces in the 1950’s, including Fahrenheit 451, The Catcher in the Rye, and Frosty the Snowman. Some popular authors were Dr. Seuss, a children’s book writer, and J.J.R. Tolkien, the writer of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.


     Magazines and newspapers were also becoming more prevalent, such as the satirical MAD Magazine, the tabloid National Enquirer, and the well-known comic strip featuring Snoopy and Charlie Brown, Peanuts. Another new magazine that became immensely popular was Playboy, the first “skin magazine” to gain acceptance in mainstream America, reflecting how the cultural norm of the country was changing at this time. Lastly, the TV Guide began printing in the 1950’s. This demonstrates the new importance that television plays in American culture, and illustrates how advances in technology cause changes to society.


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*Sports &  Games

      Interest in sports magnified in this decade, especially due to the fact that games were broadcasted nationwide via television and a weekly sports magazine called Sports Illustrated, that kept people informed on their teams and individual stats. Baseball remained the most popular sport while professional football became more popular than college football. Basketball is a completely different issue. It remained popular in the winter but college basketball remained more popular. In 1954 a series of rule changes made basketball even more exciting for fans to watch. The 50’s was also a major source of excitement for African Americans, as all three of these sports and others such as tennis and bowling became integrated.


     As for games, kids had a new sensation: Lego as well as Etch A Sketch. These everlasting toys amused younger kids more than teenagers. Pre-teens and teens were more attracted to skateboards, especially those in suburban areas.



      The 50’s were the time of Rock n’ Roll. From Elvis Presley to Johnny Cash, this genre of music boomed in popularity. The new Country-R&B combination sensation appealed to the younger generation and was a form of rebellion and change from other decades that was appearing across pop culture. This music was not only a new genre, but it pioneered integration. Songs by both blacks and whites were played on the same radio stations, and there were even integrated bands. Where music was concerned, the sound of the song was much more important than the the color of the skin of the person singing or playing it.

     There was also an increased awareness in jazz. In the 1940’s, this style was popular in night clubs, but in the 1950’s appreciation became more widespread. Jazz festivals such as The Newport Jazz Festival attracted a great deal of attention.  However, Rock n' Roll was and still is considered the genre of music of the decade.


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A classic example of Rock n' Roll: Hound Dog by Elvis Presley


*"The Way We Lived"

     The 1950’s everyday life has become known as the “bland decade” (Bowling, Beatniks, and Bell-Bottoms) for how little occurred in this particular decade. Home life remained stable for the most part although a large part of the population moved from the cities to a new society called the suburbs. The reason for this relocation was mostly due to the effects of the booming economy and increased prosperity after WWII. With the middle class moving up in the social hierarchy, more people could support a family, which is one of the reasons why the baby boom occurred.


     With a growing percentage of the population that now had to travel to the cities, the Federal-Aid Highway Acts of 1952 and 1954 provided a total of $200 million to eventually build a total of 43,000 miles of interstate highway. With television already connecting the country, the new national highway system made an even more nationwide culture, as it was easier for people to travel, and it facilitated new cultures to spread nationwide.


     According to Bowling, Beatniks, and Bell-Bottoms, “the energy of youth expanded American culture” through their growing popularity of Rock and Roll, which “emerged as an important expression of youth culture," as well as through aspects beyond music. America’s youth also popularized the Slinky, Silly Putty, Frisbees, and most of all the Hula Hoop which, was an instant hit. These new trends merely added to America’s slogan of the Melting Pot since it integrated new and fresh ideas into its already intermixed culture.


     On a darker note, the Cold War sent fear through the public and homes. Bomb shelters were built behind many suburban homes in preparation for the worst. Although not as socially disturbing at the time, women began looking for work outside of the home due to their unhappiness of their status. At the same time African Americans began to protest more than ever the discrimination they faced in society.


*Government & Politics

    The 1950’s fell near the beginning of the Cold War, including the Korean War and the impending start of the Vietnam War. In 1950, Truman ordered United States air and naval forces to Korea under the order of General MacArthur to help South Korea with the invasion from North Korea. At the end of 1951, after the Communist Chinese groups had already entered the war and been fighting for a while, both sides came to a stalemate and negotiated a truce. America never actually declared war during the Korean War, but it was a big problem during the Cold War in Korea.


     In addition, in 1955, the U.S. opposed the entry of several Communist countries into the United Nations, showing their continued anti-Communist feelings. The United States also pledged their aid to South Vietnam in 1957, an action that would later result in U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.


     Meanwhile, McCarthy lead the Red Scare and was continually causing trouble in the government by accusing more and more government officials of being disloyal Communists. Eventually, people would start to question the validity of McCarthy’s accusations, and he would be discredited in court and the numerous, absurd accusations would cease.


     Civil rights were also taking a big leap in the 1950’s, especially for African Americans. The Supreme Court ruled segregation in public schools illegal in 1954, and enforced this law with military in Little Rock, Arkansas. Also, the 84th Congress contained eighteen women who were elected officials. Finally, the 1950’s is also the decade when Alaska and Hawaii were officially annexed as states, bringing America to the size it is today.



      During the 1950’s, there were two Presidents of the United States; Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Truman served from 1945 to 1953, leaving Eisenhower to serve from 1953 to 1961. Truman focused mainly on containment, not wanting to spread the Korean War any farther than it already was. General MacArthur, however, wanted to the bring war to China, using the Nationalist Chinese to open a front against the mainland “Red” Chinese. Truman dismissed him from his office for this action. After Truman announced that he wasn’t running for re-election, the focus fell on Eisenhower, the man who would lead the United States for the remainder of the 1950’s. People of the time adored him, admiring his confidence and optimism, and also his fatherly stature. Now, historians realize that he was in fact a shrewd and savvy politician as well.


     Another important leader of the 50’s was Joseph R. McCarthy. He was a Wisconsin State Senator who is known for his numerous accusations of other State Department officials being Communists. At first, McCarthy had a lot of support from the people, but soon Americans saw him for what he really was: a political bully who destroyed other officials’ reputations to increase his own power.


     The leaders of the 1950’s helped shape the decade. Without Truman, Eisenhower, and McCarthy, many events of this era would have panned out much differently.


Dwight Eisenhower 


*Law & Justice

     Crime increased in number and in nature during this decade.  The juvenile delinquent and the mobster both appeared as a threat to society, as the number of each grew.  However, the criminal justice system, joined by Congress, fought to keep communities safe.


     The Brown v. Board of Education trial overturned the previous Plessy v. Ferguson trial that ruled in favor of separation of the races, as long as the facilities were equal.  However, the facilities were nowhere near equal, so in 1950 Oliver Brown sued the Topeka board of education for not allowing his daughter to attend the all-white school near his home.  By 1954, the case reached the Supreme Court, ruling that separate could not be equal, and was therefore illegal in public education. 


     Another famous trial was that of Ethyl and Julius Rosenburg who were convicted of conspiracy and espionage in 1951.  The couple was accused of leaking information about the new atomic bomb to the Soviets.  Even though the trial for the Rosenburgs seemed questionable and unfair, they were deemed guilty and electrocuted. 








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MYP Unit Question: How did culture, events and leadership shape and reflect post-WWII America?


     The 1950's were a prosperous time, but the decade was also filled with change and fear. Having ended in 1944, World War Two had already become history, and the economy was lunging forward. Technology arose and spread, with nearly every household in the nation owning a television. Suburbia stretched across the country, and the convenience of such things as supermarkets came with it. 


     Unfortunately for some, such as the Rosenburgs, the Red Scare was a huge part of the 50's. Anyone suspected of communism was persecuted, and McCarthy was at the head of the hunt. With the fear of rampant communists (or of being suspected as one), the United States became a paranoid country. In addition to the Red Scare, the country was also at war in Korea in the early 50's, while Truman was president. Toward the end of the same decade, Eisenhower pledged to help South Vietnam, later leading to the Vietnam War. People were not quite as phased by these events, and some were even highly supportive because they liked the president or were caught up in cold war anti-communist sentiment. However, the sentiments that partially drove the support that existed were rooted in paranoia and fear.


     At the same time, things were changing in many parts of society. Different sects of Christianity and other religions tolerated each other a little bit more. On the opposite end of the spectrum, though still involving change, was the rebelliousness of the younger generation. This was shown in the music and art in particular. Probably the most significant change in this time period was the start of the Civil Rights Movement. Brown v. Board of Education desegregated schools. Many other events took small steps toward the acceptance of African Americans.


     Overall, the 1950's were a decade of growth and success, as well as one filled with fear and change. From presidents to senators, from the young generation of baby boomers to the African American minority, and from the Red Scare to Supreme Court decisions, many influences combined to shape America in the 1950's.




Works Cited


"1950s: Commerce." Bowling, Beatniks, and Bell-Bottoms: Pop Culture of 20th-Century America. Ed. Sara Pendergast and Tom Pendergast. Vol. 3: 1940s-1950s. Detroit: UXL, 2002. 643-644. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 8 June 2010.


"The 1950s: Education: Overview." American Decades. Ed. Judith S. Baughman, et al. Vol. 6: 1950-1959. Detroit: Gale, 2001. 119-120. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 8 June 2010.


"1950s: Fashion." Bowling, Beatniks, and Bell-Bottoms: Pop Culture of 20th-Century America. Ed. Sara Pendergast and Tom Pendergast. Vol. 3: 1940s-1950s. Detroit: UXL, 2002. 657. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 26 May 2010.


"The 1950s: Law and Justice: Overview." American Decades. Ed. Judith S. Baughman, et al. Vol. 6: 1950-1959. Detroit: Gale, 2001. 230-231. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 9 June 2010.


"1950s: Music." Bowling, Beatniks, and Bell-Bottoms: Pop Culture of 20th-Century America. Ed. Sara Pendergast and Tom Pendergast. Vol. 3: 1940s-1950s. Detroit: UXL, 2002. 683-684. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 26 May 2010.


"The 1950s: Religion: Overview." American Decades. Ed. Judith S. Baughman, et al. Vol. 6: 1950-1959. Detroit: Gale, 2001. 377. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 26 May 2010.


"1950s: The Way We Lived." Bowling, Beatniks, and Bell-Bottoms: Pop Culture of 20th-Century America. Ed. Sara Pendergast and Tom Pendergast. Vol. 3: 1940s-1950s. Detroit: UXL, 2002. 767-768. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 7 June 2010.


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Bowling, Beatniks, and Bell-Bottoms: Pop Culture of 20th-Century America. Eds. Sara Pendergast and Tom Pendergast. Vol. 3: 1940s-1950s. Detroit: U*X*L, 2002. Print.


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"Government and Politics: Important Events of the 1950s." American Decades. Ed. Judith S. Baughman, Vol .6: 1950-     1959. Detroit: Gale, 2001. 180-183. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 7 June 2010.


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