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What Were the 1950s Like?
A Buick from the 1950s
Life as a Boy
I remember very little about the first six years of my life. A broken left arm and an acute appendectomy between my fifth and sixth birthdays were traumatic events that I still sometimes dream about. Other than those experiences, my first long-lasting recollection of events begins in 1951. During the years 1951-1953, I began school and started to experience events from daily life related to the Korean War which I share with my readers in this hub.
Life in West Allis
According to my parents, I was born in Milwaukee in 1944 and lived there until about 1949. At that time dad got a job at Allis Chalmers Corporation in West Allis, so my younger sister, parents, and I moved to a small lower apartment on South 63rd Street. Mom and dad enrolled me in a small Catholic School, Saint Mary's Help of Christians on South 61st Street. I vividly remember Sister Colleen, my second-grade teacher. She was very kind and beautiful, and also encouraged me to become an altar boy. When I didn't go to school, I remember often walking down the block with my father to visit my paternal grandfather and grandmother who lived three blocks away. Every summer we would jump into dad's old late 30s Ford and drive up to Marshfield 200 miles away to visit my maternal grandparents. I loved going up there because there was a lot of room to play there in a big field with my aunt who was about my age.
Recollections of Korean War
General Douglas MacArthur played a big role in both the Second World War (World War II) and the Korean War. MacArthur was a five star Army General who had been the U.S.'s commander-in-chief and hero of Pacific troops which had defeated Japan during World War II in 1945. He had also overseen the American occupation of Japan following the end of the war. When the Korean War broke out on June 25, 1950, with North Korea's occupation of South Korea, President Truman appointed MacArthur as commander-in-chief of UN troops in Korea. Starting with the Battle of Inchon in September of 1950, the UN troops under MacArthur's command had landed behind North Korean lines and started to push the North Koreans out of Seoul and past the 38th Parallel back into North Korea.
1. General MacArthur's Recall From Korea And Return to America
During the years 1951-1953 there were a lot of events related to the Korean War which I still recall. the first of these was the return of General Douglas MacArthur to America and Milwaukee in April of 1951. According to Wikipedia and other historians, MacArthur had believed it was necessary to take the Korean War into China to destroy the North Korean's supply depots out of China. Truman disagreed. When MacArthur's UN troops crossed the 38th Parallel into North Korea, the Chinese sent troops in defense of North Korea which led to UN losses. Due to these actions and insubordination to Truman, the President replaced MacArthur with General Ridgeway as commander-in-chief of UN troops on April 11, 1951.
I did not find out until later years that Milwaukee had been MacArthur's legal home for many years. Therefore, it wasn't surprising that Milwaukee had staged a gala homecoming welcome for its Pacific hero. Early in the afternoon of probably a Saturday, I remember walking with my parents up to the corner of Greenfield and National Avenues so that we could catch a glimpse of MacArthur's motorcade.
2. Playing With Toy Soldiers
When I was seven or eight, it was really a lot of fun playing with toy soldiers on the living room floor. At that time you could buy three-inch hollow cast metal toy soldiers in dime stores like Woolworth's for a nickel apiece. I especially liked to line up the flamethrower, bazooka man, and the grenade thrower. Soldiers were my heroes at that time because they were brave and strong and fighting to defeat the Reds in Korea.
3. Reading Combat Comic Books
At the same time, I was playing with toy soldiers, I can recall being sprawled out on the floor reading "Combat" comic books by probably Marvel. It was thrilling to see the heroic American soldiers fighting the bad Communists in Seoul.
4. News Reports About The War on Radio
There wasn't that much TV to watch in the early 50s; therefore, the radio was on a lot in the house. On many occasions, I could hear news flashes about the war which reported, for example, that the UN forces had advanced 10 yards in one day with heavy fighting. Much of the later action in this three-year war was fought in the trenches.
5. Ending the War
By 1952 when it appeared the war was developing into a stalemate, there was a great sentiment in the States to end the war and bring the troops home. In 1952 prior to the presidential election while visiting grandma in Marshfield, she said that she was voting for "Ike" (President Eisenhower) because he was bringing the boys home. Grandma was obviously interested in this because Uncle Raymie was a machine gunner with the U.S. Army in Korea. Eisenhower was elected in 1952, and the U.S. troops did come home when the war ended on July 27, 1953.
USAF Korean War Footage 1950
Radio Shows During The Early 1950s
During the early 1950s, I recall listening to just as much radio as watching television. Some of my favorite programs were as follows:
1. The Lone Ranger
"The Lone Ranger" ran on radio from 1933 until 1955. Wikipedia reports that according to legend, six Texas Rangers were ambushed one day by outlaws. One of the Rangers survived and was nursed back to health by an Indian who was called "Tonto." As his mission in life, The Lone Ranger, a masked man riding a white horse called Silver, vowed to fight injustice in the old American West. He would be accompanied by his loyal companion, Tonto.
It seemed like almost daily I tuned into the latest 30-minute episode of The Lone Ranger. The program began with the awesome music from the "William Tell Overture." Then, the booming baritone voice of The Lone Ranger as spoken by Bruce Beemer thrilled me with the sound of "Hi Ho Silver." Clayton Moore later played The Lone Ranger on TV, but the TV show could never approach the excellence of the radio program. I guess it's because I could imagine more by listening.
2. Milwaukee Braves Baseball Broadcasts
It was 1953 and the Braves first year in Milwaukee having just moved from Boston. I thrilled listening to the play-by-play broadcasts of Earl Gillespie. He made the game come to life by such expressions as "somersault catch" and "holy cow!"
3. Billie The Brownie"
In December right before Christmas, I would listen every day after school to "Billie The Brownie." This was a Christmas show, and "Billie" was one of Santa's elves. This show did much to get kids excited about the coming of Christmas. I remember writing a letter to Santa and having it read over the air.
The Lone Ranger TV Show
TV Shows During The Early 1950s
TV did not start to become popular in America until the early 50s. My folks had a small 12-inch black and white TV with a built-in phonograph. Some of the shows I remember watching were:
1. The Howdy Doody Show
Howdy Doody was a kids TV program which ran 1947-1960. The show was presented by Buffalo Bob Smith who held the talking puppet called Howdy Doody. I especially remember Clarabell the Clown and Flub a Dub as two of Howdy Doody's friends. Then, too, there was Princess Summer, Fall, Winter-Spring who also caught my fancy.
2. Quiz Shows
Mom and Dad used to often watch "You Bet Your Life" hosted by Groucho Marx on Friday evenings. Although this quiz show was funny, I preferred watching "What's My Line?" hosted by John Daly on Sunday evenings. I can still remember Dorothy Kilgallen and Bennett Cerf who were some of the blindfolded celebrities on the panel which had to guess the identities of mystery guests on the show.
3. Variety Shows
There were a lot of variety shows during the early 1950s. My favorite was the Burns and Allen Show which aired on Saturday evenings. George Burns and his wife Gracie Allen were two comedians who were hilarious to watch. We often visited my Uncle Augie to watch this show because he had a big 27-inch screen TV.
The sitcom I remember the best from the early 50s is Amos N' Andy. Although it showed for only three seasons 1951-53, I greatly enjoyed watching Amos, Andy, and the Kingfish's hilarious attempts to get rich.
Howdy Doody Episode: April 6, 1951
The Amos n' Andy Show
Movies During The Early 1950s
I didn't see many movies when I was a young kid, but I do recollect a lot having war or religious themes.
1. Movies With War Themes
Undoubtedly due to the heroic actions of American servicemen, war movies such as "From Here to Eternity" were popular during the early 1950s. My school gave me tickets to watch movies, and on one Saturday morning, I saw "Sergeant York" starring Gary Cooper. It was a great film, and I can still remember the scene in the movie where Sergeant York had just captured a large group of German soldiers single-handedly during World War I.
2. Movies With Religious Themes
Movies with religious themes were also popular during the early 1950s. How can I forget viewing "The Robe" starring Richard Burton with my dad at the Paradise Theater? This was a Biblical epic film and the first movie released in widescreen using Cinemascope. Dad shed a tear during that movie.
3. 3-D Movies
3-D movies became very popular in 1953 with close to 5,000 theaters across America showing these films. According to Wikipedia, the technique used for the movies was called stereoscopic linear polarization. While watching the movies, viewers put on glasses with red-blue or red-green filters. By wearing these glasses, it appeared that the images in the movie were jumping off the screen. I saw my first 3-D film in 1953 while visiting grandma in Marshfield.
Music During The Early 50s
The sounds of Hank Williams and Patty Page were very common for me in the early 50s. Dad really enjoyed listening to Hank Williams records on his phonograph. Some of his favorite songs were "Lonesome Blues," "Your Cheating Heart," and "My Son Calls Another Man Daddy." Mom, on the other hand, loved "The Singin Rage," Patty Page. Countless times I heard ma humming to "Doggie in The Window."
Although almost 60 years have passed, memories of the early 1950s are still etched in my mind. The heroic brave soldiers from the Korean War, The Lone Ranger, and ballplayers for the Milwaukee Braves became my heroes and role models. The experiences during the period 1950-1953 really did a lot in setting a tone and defining my life.
Hank Williams - Long Gone Lonesome Blues
Growing Up in the 50s
Which decade would you have liked to grow up in?
Remembering the 50s
Other Hubs Related to My Memories of the 1950s
- Technology in the 50s and 60s
Technology in the 50s and 60s was less advanced than it is today. This hub tells how the telephone, slide rule, phonograph records, film projectors, and the transistor radio were used in daily life.
- Memories of Living in the City 1950-1953
I spent almost the first ten years of my life living in the city. In this article I recall my life in West Allis, Wisconsin, during the early 50s. I remember my apartment, school, and experiences.
© 2012 Paul Richard Kuehn