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The Decade of the 1950s in American History

The Decade of the 1950s in American History

The 1950s were an important decade full of historic events and changes in technology. Important historic and cultural events such as the approval of the hydrogen bomb and transcontinental television in 1950, the signing of the Immigration and Naturalization Act in 1952, the end of fighting in Korea in 1953, Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a public bus in 1955, and Alaska and Hawaii becoming states in 1959 were some of the most vital.

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Part of the 1950’s boom in consumerism included housing. People could afford single-family dwellings and suburbia was born. A small suburban community called Levittown was built by William Levitt for returning servicemen and their families. An influence of Frank Lloyd Wright is seen in the popular Ranch style house. Designers like Bauhaus, who helped create the International style, influenced Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Philip Johnson, Charles and Ray Eames and Eero Saarinen. Louis Kahn, an architect of the Salk Institute, was a noted architect during this period.

America had just begun her recovery from World War II, when suddenly the Korean Conflict developed. The USSR became a major enemy in the Cold War. Senator Joseph McCarthy claimed to know that Communists had infiltrated the United States government at the highest levels. Americans were feeling a sense of national anxiety. Was America the greatest country in the world? Was life in America the best it had ever been? As the decade passed, literature reflected the conflict of self-satisfaction with 50’s Happy Days and cultural self-doubt about conformity and the true worth of American values.

During the fifties, American education underwent dramatic and world-shattering changes. Until 1954, an official policy of “separate but equal ” educational opportunities for blacks had been determined to be the correct method to ensure that all children in America received adequate and equal education in the public schools. In 1954, Chief Justice Earl Warren and other members of the Supreme Court wrote in Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas that separate facilities for blacks did not make those facilities equal according to the Constitution. Integration was begun across the nation.

Fifties clothing was conservative. Men wore gray flannel suits and women wore dresses with pinched in waists and high heels. French fashion designers such as Dior, Channel and Givenchy were popular and copied in America. Families worked together, played together and vacationed together at family-themed entertainment areas like national parks and the new Disneyland. Gender roles were strongly held, girls played with Barbie dolls, boys with Roy Rogers and Davy Crockett paraphernalia. Drive-in movies became popular for families and teens. Cars were seen as an indicator of prosperity and cool-ness.

When the 1950s are mentioned, the first type of music to come to most people’s minds is rock ‘n roll. Popular artists such as Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Lee Lewis were promoted on the radio. The influence of these early rockers has been felt in popular music worldwide.

During the 1950s, television became the dominant mass media as people brought television into their homes in greater numbers of hours per week than ever before. In the early fifties, young people watched TV more hours than they went to school, a trend which has not changed greatly since that time. What was portrayed on television became accepted as fact. The ideal family, the ideal schools and neighbourhoods, the world, were all seen in a way that had only a partial basis in reality. Then, in 1954, black and white broadcasts became colour broadcasts.

Sports like tennis, basketball and boxing were popular in the fifties. Althea Gibson was the first African-American to play in the U. S. Lawn Tennis Nationals at Forest Hills, NY. Major names in basketball were Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Bob Cousy, Oscar Robertson and Dolph Schayes. Another favourite, boxing, gave opportunities to great athletes, Sugar Ray Robinson and Rocky Marciano.

The 1950s opened up great opportunities for people everywhere. People found more influence in TV and radio than their teachers or parents. Blacks were finally given more respect and rights. A new way of technology was born, and a new life began.

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The Decade of the 1950s in American History. (2021, Feb 14). Retrieved June 14, 2021, from