Time Capsule: The 1950s; Family Fun, Suburbia, and Nuclear Threats
The 1950s were, for the most part, years of peace and prosperity. Millions of families moved to the suburbs. Americans liked Dwight D. Eisenhower, their kindly war-hero president. Television became popular; “I Love Lucy” and “Gunsmoke” were hits. Teenagers chose their own music; Elvis Presley thrilled young people and shocked their elders.
The decade also had a serious side. The Korean War took more than 50,000 American lives. The first hydrogen bomb was detonated. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court declared racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional, and in 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man. In 1957, President Eisenhower had to use the Arkansas National Guard and paratroopers to enforce integration at a Little Rock high school. In January 1959, Alaska was admitted as the 49th state, and in August, Hawaii became the 50th state.
New words: brainwashing, ballpoint, high-rise, centerfold.
- With postwar prosperity, the blossoming of suburbia, and the national love of cars and movies, drive-in theaters were natural attractions for new American families. Teenage couples found privacy, and sometimes watched the movie.
- Cars of the 1950s were large and ornate. Automakers attracted buyers with annual styling changes. Tail fins, dazzling grilles, chrome trim, and hardtop convertibles were popular, as were big V-8 engines and three-toned paint jobs.
- Teenagers defined their own 1950s fashion look. Girls chose skirts and sweaters, bobby socks and saddle shoes, or, for leisure, blue jeans. Boys liked white T-shirts, V-necked sweaters, jeans, and loafers or white bucks.
- Polio epidemics peaked in the 1950s, with almost 58,000 new cases in 1952 alone. A vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk, and federally approved in April 1955, helped control the spread of the disease when administered nationwide.
- The U.S. Supreme Court declared racial separation in public education unconstitutional in 1954. The ruling initiated the beginning of mandatory integration of public schools.
- “The Cat in the Hat” (1957) was written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel). This masterpiece uses repeated syllables, rhythmic verse, and fanciful drawings to teach children to read and to use their imaginations.
- The first successful U.S. Earth satellite, Explorer I, was launched January 31, 1958. The second, Vanguard I, was launched March 17, 1958. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was formally established October 1, 1958.