Culture of the 1950s

 
Elvis_Presley_Jailhouse_Rock2.jpg

Ascent: 1950

Decline: 1959

Cultural Hallmarks: Impact of the Cold War and Space Race, television, abstract art, Abstract Expressionism, Color Field Painters, Pop Art, crooners, rock-and-roll, "The Day the Music Died," American Folk Revival, The Beat Generation, The Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, French New Wave cinema, Bertie the Brain


With the advent of the 1950s, the world continued to recover from World War II as the Cold War accelerated. The decade saw numerous clashes between communist and capitalist forces, the most notable of which were the Korean War, fought between 1950 and 1953, and the Vietnam War which started in 1955 and lasted into the 1970s. The United States and Soviet Union commenced vying for domination of space and the launch of Sputnik I in 1957 kicked off the Space Race.

Elsewhere in the world, African and Asian colonies began gaining their independence and the United States ended its postwar occupation of Japan. The Chinese Civil War reached its conclusion in 1950, seeing the Republic of China’s government relocating to Taiwan.

Technologically, televisions became a household item, allowing America’s favorite redhead, Lucille Ball, to entertain many from the comfort of their own living rooms. Portable radios, a solar powered wristwatch and a polio vaccine were introduced, the passenger jet was developed and NASA was organized.

Abstract Expressionism was still influential in the 1950s though another style of abstract art called Color Field Painting emerged as did Pop Art.

Beginning  by Kenneth Noland

Beginning by Kenneth Noland

Inspired by European Modernism and related to Abstract Expressionism, many of the latter’s influential artists were early Color Field Painters. Characterized by fields of flat, solid color spread unbroken across a canvas, the art of this movement favored consistency of form and process rather than brushstrokes and action.

Pop Art saw its artists take influence from various forms of popular culture and challenged the traditions of fine art. Such artists as Eduardo Paolozzi, Richard Hamilton and Larry Rivers made use of irony to emphasize what they saw as the tacky aspects of culture.

The decade opened with the musical landscape dominated by the crooners including Judy Garland, Kay Starr, Johnnie Ray, Rosemary Clooney, Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, Eddie Fisher, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Dinah Shore, and Jo Stafford. However, they would soon be replaced by rock-and-roll with Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, The Platters, The Dells, The Flamingos and The Drifters among others topping the charts.

Primarily targeted at the youth who, unlike other generations, were not expected to grow up or support a family as quickly, Rock-and-roll’s popularity was difficult for older generations to accept. This resulted in accusations of the genre being a communist plot to corrupt the youth.

Buddy Holly

Buddy Holly

The 1950s Rock-and-Roll era is considered to have ended when Presley was conscripted into the Army along with the deaths of Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson in a plane crash, an event now known as “The Day the Music Died.”

There was also the American Folk Music Revival where groups like The Highwaymen, The Brothers Four and The Four Freshmen would present audiences with harmonies and vocals rooted in traditional folk music.

Previously in the 1940s, authors Alan Ginsberg, Herbert Huncke, William S. Burroughs, Lucien Carr, and Jack Kerouac met in New York City and again in San Francisco in the mid-1950s. These authors formed the core group of The Beat Generation whose work explored and influenced American culture and politics. They rejected materialism and traditional narratives in favor of spiritual quests, exploring American and Eastern religions, explicitly portraying the human condition and experimenting with psychedelic drugs and sexual liberation and exploration.

Chronicles of Narnia  

Chronicles of Narnia 

Additionally, fantasy author J. R. R. Tolkien would expand on the world he created in The Hobbit, publishing the The Lord of the Rings trilogy in 1954 and 1955. His contemporary C. S. Lewis published all seven books in the Chronicles of Narnia series between 1950 and 1956 as well, borrowing from characters and ideas in Greek and Roman mythology and British and Irish fairy tales.

Lucille Ball with John Wayne on the set of  I Love Lucy

Lucille Ball with John Wayne on the set of I Love Lucy

Cinema continued to thrive across the world in the 1950s, birthing cinematic renaissance in Europe and the French New Wave movement. Federico Fellini became the first director to win the foreign language film Academy Award with this 1954 film La Strada and Japanese director Akira Kurosawa produced some of his most notable films in this era such as Rashomon, Throne of Blood, Seven Samurai and The Hidden Fortress.

This decade is also referred to as the Golden Age of Television. Many Americans spent their free time watching television broadcasts causing cinema attendance and radio listenership to drop.

Tennis for Two

Tennis for Two

Concepts that developed into video games were expanded upon in this decade following the Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device in 1947. A machine a little more than three feet tall allowing exhibition attendees to play tic-tac-toe christened Bertie the Brain was unveiled in 1950. It was followed by the Nimrod computer custom built to play computer games in 1951, the tic-tac-toe game OXO in 1952 and the tennis simulation Tennis for Two in 1958.

Sociological Timeline

  • 1950 - President Truman sends military advisers to Vietnam
  • Feb. 8, 1950 - Payment by Diners Club card in New York first use of a charge card
  • March 17, 1950 - Californium created
  • June 25, 1950 - Korean War begins
  • Sept. 4, 1950 - first 500-mile NASCAR race; Beetle Bailey created
  • October, 1950 - Turing test published
  • Oct. 2, 1950 - Peanuts first published in newspapers
  • Oct. 7, 1950 - New York Yankees defeat Philadelphia Phillies 5-2 in 1950 World Series
  • Nov. 22, 1950 - Shirley Temple announces her retirement
  • 1951 - IBM formed
  • Jan. 25, 1951 - Anne de Vries releases first volume of Journey Through the Night
  • Feb. 25, 1951 - First Pan American Games opens in Buenos Aires
  • Feb. 27, 1951 - 22nd amendment ratified, limits president to two terms
  • March 2, 1951 - First NBA All-Star Game played in Boston Garden
  • March 29, 1951 - Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I opens on Broadway
  • April 29, 1951 - Howard Hawks’ film The Thing released
  • May 28, 1951 - The Goon Show first broadcast
  • Sept. 28, 1951 - Robert Wise’s film The Day the Earth Stood Still released
  • Sept. 30, 1951 - Charlotte Whitton becomes Canada’s first woman mayor of a major city
  • Oct. 10, 1951 - New York Yankees defeat New York Giants 4-3 in 1951 World Series
  • Oct. 15, 1951 - I Love Lucy debuts on television
  • Oct. 17, 1951 - CBS Eye logo premieres
  • 1952 - Jimmy Boyd’s record of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" released; Capitol Wrestling Corporation founded by Jess McMahon and Toots Mondt
  • Feb. 6, 1952 - Mechanical Heart used for the first time in a human patient; Death of King George VI
  • Feb. 7, 1952 - Elizabeth II crowned Queen of the United Kingdom
  • Feb. 14, 1952 - 1952 Winter Olympics opens in Oslo, Norway
  • May 18, 1952 - Ann Davison becomes first woman to single-handedly sail the Atlantic Ocean
  • June 15, 1952 - Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl is published in English
  • July 19, 1952 - 1952 Summer Olympics opens in Helsinki, Finland
  • Aug. 23, 1952 - Kitty Wells becomes first woman to score number one hit with “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.”
  • Aug. 29, 1952 - John Cage premieres "4’33"
  • Sept. 6, 1952 - Television debuts in Canada
  • Sept. 30, 1952 - Revised Standard Version of the Bible published
  • Oct. 7, 1952 - New York Yankees defeat Brooklyn Dodgers 4-2 in 1952 World Series
  • Nov. 4, 1952 - Dwight D. Eisenhower elected president
  • Nov. 29, 1952 - President-elect Eisenhower travels to Korea
  • Jan. 5, 1953 - Samuel Beckett’s play "Waiting for Godot" premieres
  • Jan. 19, 1953 - Lucy gives birth to Little Ricky on I Love Lucy; 71.1 percent of US television sets tune in to set an unbroken record
  • March 5, 1953 - Death of Joseph Stalin
  • March 19, 1953 - Academy Awards first broadcast on television
  • March 26, 1953 - Jonas Salk announces polio vaccine
  • April 13, 1953 - Ian Fleming publishes Casino Royale as first James Bond novel
  • May 29, 1953 - Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay become first men to reach Mount Everest summit
  • June 30, 1953 - First Chevrolet Corvette built
  • July 27, 1953 - Korean War armistice
  • Oct. 5, 1953 - New York Yankees defeat Brooklyn Dodgers 4-3 in 1953 World Series
  • December, 1953 - First issue of Playboy Magazine
  • Dec. 30, 1953 - First color television sets go on sale
  • 1954 - Boy Scouts of America desegregates; TV dinner introduced;
  • Jan. 21, 1954 - USS Nautilus launched as first nuclear-powered submarine
  • Feb. 3, 1954 - Elizabeth II the first reigning monarch to visit Australia
  • March 30, 1954 - Canada’s first operational subway line opens in Toronto
  • April 1954 - Bill Haley & His Comets record “Rock Around the Clock,” rock-and-roll craze begins
  • May 17, 1954 - Brown v. Board of Education, United States Supreme Court rules segregated schools are unconstitutional
  • June 14, 1954 - “Under God” added to United States Pledge of Allegiance
  • Sept. 11, 1954 - Miss America Pageant broadcast on television for the first time
  • Oct. 2, 1954 - New York Giants defeat Cleveland Indians 7-4 in 1954 World Series
  • Oct. 18, 1954 - Texas Instruments develops first commercial transistor radio; Comic strip Hi and Lois launched
  • Nov. 3, 1954 - First Godzilla film premieres in Tokyo
  • Nov. 13, 1954 - Great Britain defeats France in first ever Rugby League World Cup
  • Dec. 4, 1954 - First Burger King opens
  • Dec. 23, 1954 - First successful kidney transplant
  • March 1955 - Jim Henson builds first version of Kermit the Frog
  • April 15, 1955 - First McDonald's opens
  • April 18, 1955 - Death of Albert Einstein
  • July 17, 1955 - Disneyland opens
  • Aug. 27, 1955 - First edition of Guiness Book of Records published
  • Sept. 19, 1955 - Gunsmoke debuts on television
  • Oct. 3, 1955 - The Mickey Mouse Club debuts
  • Oct. 4, 1955 - Brooklyn Dodgers defeat New York Yankees 2-0 in 1955 World Series
  • Nov. 1, 1955 - Vietnam War begins
  • Dec. 1, 1955 - Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat to make room for a white passenger and is arrested
  • Jan. 26, 1956 - 1956 Winter Olympics opens in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy
  • April 14, 1956 - Videotape first demonstrated
  • June 8, 1956 - First snooze alarm clock introduced
  • June 10, 1956 - 1956 Summer Olympics equestrian events open in Stockholm, Sweden
  • Sept. 13, 1956 - Hard disk drive invented
  • Sept. 16, 1956 - Television broadcasting begins in Australia
  • Oct. 10, 1956 - New York Yankees defeat Brooklyn Dodgers 9-0 in 1956 World Series
  • Nov. 22, 1956 - 1956 Summer Olympics open in Melbourne
  • Dec. 31, 1956 - Bob Barker debuts as television show game host for Truth or Consequences
  • Jan. 13, 1957 - Frisbee produced
  • March 26, 1957 - Elvis Presley buys Graceland
  • May 3, 1957 - Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley agrees to move the team to Los Angeles
  • July 6, 1957 - John Lennon and Paul McCartney meet for the first time
  • Sept. 7, 1957 - NBC introduces animated version of its peacock logo
  • Sept. 9, 1957 - Civil Rights Act of 1957 enacted
  • Sept. 7, 1957 - Leonard Bernstein premieres "West Side Story" on Broadway
  • Oct. 4, 1957 - Soviet Union launches Sputnik 1 as the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth
  • Oct. 10, 1957 - Milwaukee Braves defeat New York Yankees 5-0 in 1957 World Series
  • Oct. 31, 1957 - Toyota begins exporting vehicles to the United States
  • Nov. 1, 1957 - Soviet Union launches Sputnik 2 containing first animal to orbit the Earth
  • Nov. 13, 1957 - Gordon Gould invents the laser
  • 1958 - Jim Henson Company founded; Instant Noodles introduced
  • Jan. 31, 1958 - First successful American satellite, Explorer 1, launched
  • Feb. 21, 1958 - Peace symbol designed
  • April 15, 1958 - San Francisco Giants defeat Los Angeles Dodgers 8-0 at first Major League Baseball regular season game in California
  • June 15, 1958 - First Pizza Hut opens
  • July, 1958 - Hula hoop introduced
  • July 7, 1958 - First IHOP opens
  • Oct. 9, 1958 - New York Yankees defeat Milwaukee Braves 6-2 in 1958 World Series
  • Nov. 10, 1958 - First bossa nova recording
  • 1959 - First known human with HIV dies in the Congo; Caspian tiger becomes extinct; Chevrolet introduces El Camino
  • Jan. 3, 1959 - Alaska becomes 49th state
  • March 9, 1959 - Barbie debuts
  • June 14, 1959 - Disneyland Monorail System becomes the first daily operating system in Western Hemisphere
  • Aug. 21, 1959 - Hawaii becomes 50th state
  • Sept. 12, 1959 - Bonanza premieres as the first regularly scheduled television program in color
  • Oct. 8, 1959 - Los Angeles Dodgers defeat Chicago White Sox 9-3 in 1959 World Series
  • Dec. 1, 1959 - Antarctic Treaty signed as the first arms control agreement of the Cold War, sets aside Antarctica as scientific preserve and bans military activity