Every decade has memorable events, especially for those who lived through that particular slice of history. Today, those growing up in the 1950s are the grandparents of many young people maturing right now. This decade is revisited by many 50s books, remembering the good, the bad, and the crazy times. Here are some ways that the 1950s changed the course of American history.
The Baby Boom
Although technically the baby boom started in 1946, the height of this trend peaked in 1950 with about 4 million babies born each year. This was such a history changer that an entire generation was dubbed the baby boomers and is referred to as such in subsequent years.
This was the decade of the creation of the suburbs. As families assumed more traditional roles and welcomed more babies than ever, they searched for places outside the center city to raise their families. The growth of both cars, TVs, and cinemas added to this exodus from the city and the proliferation of the suburb.
Cinderella in Cinemas
Perhaps marking the beginning of the technological revolution, the 1950s was the advent of entertainment. Walt Disney World’s Cinderella premiered in theaters in 1950, marking the beginning of an entire series of princess and fairy-tale focused movies for children. Other famous films of the decade include Samson and Delilah, Sunset Blvd, Father of The Bride, and Annie Get Your Gun. It was the place to be on Saturdays.
First Color TV
Walking hand-in-hand with trips to the movie theaters on the weekends was the first color TV broadcast in 1951. American families everywhere began to gather around the tube, mesmerized by color television and much-loved programs like I Love Lucy. More than 8 million households invested in their own television set during the first year.
Every decade has its share of scientific discoveries, and the 1950s was no exception. James D. Watson and Francis H.C. Crick discovered the double helix and found out how genetic instructions move from one living being to the next. In understanding this new structure in molecular biology, scientists everywhere begin exploring DNA in depth.
Segregation Ruled Unconstitutional
The famous Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education ruled that separating students by color was unconstitutional. Other civil rights conflicts arise during this period including the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till, the Montgomery bus boycott, and the Little Rock School crisis.
Soon-To-Be Tech Giants Born
Although their impact would not be made until years later, both Steve Jobs of Apple and Bill Gates of Microsoft made their debut into the world in 1955. Both these individuals would grow up to become history-making men themselves.
Fast Food Takes Off
McDonald’s opens its first fast-food restaurant in 1955 in Des Plaines, IL. What starts as a spot to buy a 15 cent burger will soon spread around the country and, later, the world. Other quick-serve restaurants such as White Castle began earlier and KFC around the same time, but McDonald’s would soon be synonymous with fast food.
Elvis Presley Introduces Rock
Later to be known as the King of rock and roll, Elvis Presley made his first national TV debut in 1956. He was promoting his first number one hit, “Heartbreak Hotel,” which was released in January.
Shopping Mall Born
The first shopping mall opens in 1956 in Minnesota, changing the way families purchase everything from clothing to household goods. The mall would soon become the go-to hang-out for teenagers during the next 30 years as well.
Credit Cards Launch
Is it a coincidence that the first independent credit card began during the same decade as the shopping mall? Back in the 1950s, Diners Club credit cards were made from cardboard and attracted more than 40,000 members in the first year. Just a decade later, plastic cards would make their debut and the mega credit card companies of today would begin their rise.
After World War II, Korea remained divided with North Korea as a communist state and South Korea as a capitalist one. When the North invaded the South in 1950, a civil broke out and became an international conflict. The United States and United Nations sided with South Korea while China assisted North Korea in the battle. After three years, the war ended with status quo remaining, as it does today.
During 1955, the first polio vaccine was given to more than 200,000 children. Soon found to be defective, many of these children developed paralysis and caused 40,000 cases of polio. Polio 1955 was one of the most feared situations during the decade.
In 1957, the Soviet Union launches Sputnik 1, marking the beginning of the space race between the Soviets and the United States over the next several decades. Soon after, various moon probes are launched. President Eisenhower also broadcasts a well-wish to the world from space during this decade.
During the 1950s, the car industry changed a great deal. With the Great Depression far behind and industry picking up after the close of World War II, car manufacturers introduced the easily recognized styles of the 1950s car. Convertibles and four-door sedans became popular. Cars became more accessible and more pleasant to drive with the introduction of automatic transmissions, power braking, power steering, air conditioning systems, and safety features.
Conflict Between Convention and Rebellion
Lastly, this decade was torn between two worlds. A large group of Americans assumed accepted roles of men as breadwinners and women in the home, which was often reinforced by popular television shows of the time. During the same period, a rebellious group was brewing with new music, entertainment, and ideas. This conflict would stretch into decades to come.
The 1950s will be remembered as a history-changing decade. Explore the many websites, children’s books, historical accounts and memoirs about this era to remember and revisit this decade if you are old enough, or to simply learn more about this country’s fascinating history if you are not.