During the 1950s, a sense of uniformity was obvious in American society. Conformity was common, as young and old people followed group norms rather than their own individuality. Though men and women had been forced into new employment patterns during World War II, once the war was over, traditional rules were reaffirmed. Men were expected to be the breadwinners, and women’s proper place was at home. The United States experienced phenomenal economic growth. The growth had different sources. The automobile industry was partially responsible, as the number of cars produced annually quadrupled between 1946 and 1955. A housing boom, stimulated in part by easily affordable mortgages for returning servicemen, fueled the expansion.
One of the main political events of the fifties was the Korean War. About two million people were killed in the Korean War. The U.S suffered losses of about 54,000 dead and 103,000 injured. In June 1950, the war exploded and became hot because the Americans realized that the Soviets could find ways to threaten the American’s goal of peace. President Truman ordered American air and naval forces to go help defend South Korea against Communist China and the Soviet Union. By August, enough U.S American soldiers had arrived to reinforce the South Koreans. Soon after, the U.S Marines launched a bold attack around the positions held by the communists.
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In 1951, negotiators from both sides began talks about ending the war, but peace still did not come until July of 1953 when a peace agreement was finally signed. The Korean conflict became one of the first expressions of the Cold War between Russia and America. It was an attempt to balance the power, which had been thrown so badly out of position by World War II.
In 1952, the Americans watched the presidential nominations on TV. They had never seen any like it because of all the excitement and screaming. The Republican candidate was Dwight Eisenhower with Richard Nixon as Vice
President. The Republican campaign slogan was “I Like Ike” and became very popular. The Democratic nominee was Adlai Stevenson. He didn’t win because his solutions to problems were very complicated. Ike was elected because he was a man of peace with simple answers for changing America. Eisenhower was president all during the 1950s.
The fifties were a time of many medical advances. Modern medicine wiped out smallpox, yellow fever and polio. For the first time in the fifties, radioactive isotopes were used to diagnose disease and to treat cancer.
The automobile design of the fifties utilized flashy chrome and wrap-around windshields inspired by fighter jets. Bigger cars flooded the highways and polluted the air. As the number of cars increased, so did the number of accidents because automobile manufacturers had little concern for safety features. In the early 1950’s General Motors’ prestige car was the Cadillac. Two steps behind came the Buick. Buick’s, Oldsmobile’s and Pontiacs rolled off the assembly line in 1955. The fifties was a decade when European compact cars flooded the American market. Sports cars appealed to those who regarded driving as a pleasure.
The end of World War II brought thousands of servicemen back to America to pick of their lives and start new families in new homes with new jobs. The war brought the return of prosperity. Americans began buying goods not available during the war, which created an expansion of business and jobs. By 1956, a majority of the people held white-collar jobs, working as corporate managers, teachers, salespersons and office employees.
Inexpensive assembly line housing popped up on the East coast and was soon imitated everywhere. In the first five years of the decade, suburbs grew seven times as fast as the central cities. Never before had the U.S enjoyed such great economic growth as it did in the fifties.
In 1952, the U.S unleashed the hydrogen bomb, a nuclear device hundreds of times more devastating than the atomic bomb. Guided missiles also became very important weapons in the late fifties, was a time of many technological advances.
Families did many things together in the fifties. They went to church, went on vacation, had family reunions, and watched TV together. An important form of the movement led Americans out of inner cities into new suburbs, where they hoped to find affordable housing for the larger families, created by the postwar “baby boom”. This “baby boom” formed a huge demographic category that influenced everything from the sale of diapers and cars to the popularity of rock and roll. Between 1946 and 1964, 30 million children were born, more then 4 million a year after the mid 1950’s.
One-third of all 19 years old females were married to men only about 22 years old. The Divorce rate was one out ten and was considered unaccepted then. Women were simply accepted to perform the jobs of stay at home moms. A woman was to be a mother, wife and homemaker. Family life was very different from today.
Teens who did not go to college enlisted for three to six years in a branch of the armed forces. Girls who did not graduate from high school without college plans often felt the pressure to get married. By the late 1950s over 3.5 million students were enrolled in colleges and universities.
Coloured television was first introduced in the fifties. You either loved it or you hated it. Most Americans loved it. Many of the first television viewers were city people who often attended the theatre. In just five short years, the number of television sets in the U.S homes jumped from 3 million to 32 million. Soon families were watching TV six hours a day. The programming ranged from comedy and talk shows to drama and quiz games. Many programs had their beginnings as radio shows ad they carried over to television. The most popular show was “ I Love Lucy”. Some other popular shows of the decade were “ Your Show Of Shows” and “Texaco Star Theater”.
By 1950, four major networks were already on the air-NBC, ABC, CBS and the Dumont- Television Network. Many of the first TV dramas were recreations of existing Broadway plays. Soon networks were hiring writers to create original dramas. The daytime and early evening quiz shows that are so popular now were solid prime-time hits in the early fifties. They were a natural for television, too, not just because the large prizes they offered captured the public’s imagination, but also because they were some of the easiest and cheapest programs to produce. Another popular programming that got started in the fifties was the evening talk show. The networks figured that a talk show would be pretty inexpensive way to lure the insomniacs away from the movies. Television commercials became a huge business in the 1950’s.
The television boom in the fifties dealt a serious blow to the movies. So many people stayed home and watched shows on their own screens that thousands of movie theatres had to close their doors. The movies of the fifties were different in many ways from the movies of earlier years. In the fifties, the film focused on creating realism.
In the 1950s, African Americans were treated as second-class citizens. They were not allowed the same basic rights as white people. Most good jobs were not open to them and they earned less money then whites in the jobs they could find. Often blacks lived in dangerous and dirty parts of the cities. African Americans were still experiencing many hardships. There were separate facilities in the south. There were separate schools and bathrooms for whites and blacks. Most southerners accepted it, but blacks resented being treated this way.
In Alabama, black riders were required by law to give up their seats if whites wanted to sit down. On December 1, 1955 a black woman named Rosa Parks had been working hard all day. She boarded a bus and found a seat. When a white man asked her to give up her seat she refused. She was arrested and taken to prison. Later, Mrs. Parks went to trial and was convicted and fined.
A group of African American women decided to take a stand against discrimination. They boycotted the buses. The boycotters made it clear that African Americans would continue to stay off the buses until things changed. In late 1950, the boycott had already lasted for more than 380 days when the Supreme Court made a ruling saying that Alabama’s state and local laws were unconstitutional. The boycott had worked and the next day blacks rode the buses freely.
Integration in schools was also not allowed in Little Rock, Arkansas in the fifties. September 4, 1957, was to be the first day of integration for Central High School. On September 15, the U.S National Guardsmen were ordered to safely escort nine black students into the all-white Arkansas high school. Once inside, each student was assigned a bodyguard and classes resumed. Orval Faubus stopped the Supreme Court orders by shutting Little Rock’s public schools completely. White students attended private school while blacks had no school to attend. The battle went on until 1962 when Little Rock, Arkansas finally integrated its’ schools.
In conclusion, the decade of the 1950s was one of great change, socially, technologically, politically and philosophically. There are not many decades before or after that experience so much change and growth. Many of the privileges we enjoy today were rooted in the 1950s.
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