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Trivia about the 1950s

Updated on August 24, 2012
The American Nuclear Family 1958
The American Nuclear Family 1958 | Source

The world has changed drastically in the last sixty years. Some times for the better and some, questionably, for worse. The American 1950’s are considered the “Golden Age” for the United States. The decade after the Allied Powers were victorious over the Axis Powers during the Second World War brought peace and prosperity to the world. The 1950’s saw the invention and proliferation of some of the world greatest creations. Many of these things we still use today; others seem outdated. I put together a list of some of the iconic things in the fifty’s as well as some of the inventions and price comparisons of the era.

1957 Chevy
1957 Chevy | Source

1. Automobiles

The average car, throughout the 1950's, cost about $2,000.00. The 1956 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz is the most recognized look of the era as well as the 1957 Chevrolet Bel-Air. The Corvette Convertible was introduced in 1953; it was only offered in polo white with red leather seats at a price of $3500 ($30,000 today).

Model homes in Sacramento, CA
Model homes in Sacramento, CA | Source

2. Houses

The average home, throughout the 1950's, cost around $15,000.00 (an average of 3 years income at the time). Most homes were sought out, bought and / or built in the suburbs, and many World War II veterans were eligible for the G.I. Bill, which funded suburban development, as well as low-rate loans for mortgages, money for building farms and businesses, funds for education (high school, college, and trade school) and even unemployment. Life in the suburbs was considered the pinnacle of middle-class achievemnt.

USSR Sputnik launched October 4, 1957
USSR Sputnik launched October 4, 1957 | Source

3. Sputnik and the Cold War

The Soviet Union launched the first artificial earth satellite on the fourth of October 1957. The low orbit launch was successful and gave birth to the Space Age and began the Space Race between the United States and the Russians, deepening the rift between the counties and intensifying the Cold War. Incidentally, the American television show, “Leave It To Beaver” (which showcased the "model" of the American family), debuted the same day. The entire decade (1950s) was filled with an underlying xenophobia in America; with the growing fear of outside forces undermining, undoing and destroying the "America Way of Life". Throughout this time there was the ever present Cold War, the Red Scare, McCarthyism and all out paranoia.

Philco Television 1958
Philco Television 1958 | Source

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4. Household Appliances, Entertainment, Goods and Services

Gasoline prices were at an average of $0.20 a gallon throughout the 50's.

Milk cost roughly $0.90 a gallon. It was brought daily to the house by the milk man.

Household appliance such as the electric percolator (for coffee) were introduced. Before this there were stove top coffee makers.

The microwave (which cost $1,300 at the time, would be 10,000 today) were invented. but obivously, only very weathly people could afford them. It wasn't until the 1980's that microwave became more afforbable to the general.

The average television set had an average cost of $200.00 (for the Philco model 1403), which would be roughly $1,700 nowadays.

Regularly aired television shows began to be extremely popular. The half hour comedy “I Love Lucy” was one of the most popular TV shows through the 1950's. It was one of the first to be filmed in 35mm and also to be filmed in Hollywood, CA. Executive Producer Desi Arnaz (Ricky Ricardo) created the re-run. He set them to play on TV for a few episodes so that Lucille Ball could rest and recover from her pregnancy and delivery.

The Prince And The Showgirl (1957)
The Prince And The Showgirl (1957) | Source

5. Marilyn Monroe

Born Norma Jean Mortenson, she changed her name to Marilyn Monroe (taking her mother's maiden name and her first name after Marilyn Miller) to stand out more in the world of showbiz and modeling. Her most well-known movie was the Seven Year Itch (1955) with the famous updraft dress scene. She became the ultimate pin-up girl and sex symbol through the decade. She appeared in the first edition the Playboy magazine in December 1953. Her blonde hair, birth-marked cheek and whimsical personality become the mainstay /staple of what a beautiful, desired woman was. Her influence on style and sexuality continues and can be seen even today.

1st Swanson's TV Dinner 1953
1st Swanson's TV Dinner 1953 | Source

6. TV Dinner

TV dinners were invented and introduced to the public in 1952. Swanson TV brand TV dinners came with fried chicken, a vegetable medley of peas and carrots, mashed potatoes and spiced apples. The first run of the meals sold 5,000 units, and by the end of 1952, the company had sold 10,000,000. These TV dinners cost $1.00 each (roughly $9.00 today),yet they were very popular because the family began to spend more time watching television in the evenings and the quick-and-easy-to-prepare individual dinners allowed the whole family to watch their favorite shows while eating dinner on TV trays. (Plus, the tin containers made for an easy clean up.)

Hull's Drive-In theatre
Hull's Drive-In theatre | Source

7. Drive-in Theaters

Drive-ins were a 1950's staple celebrated in 1970’s movie “American Graffiti” and the television show “Happy Days”. Invented in the 1920’s, the drive-in theater didn’t gain popularity until after World War II. During their early days the drive-ins were the only place Americans could eat pizza and the theater attendants would offer to do your grocery shopping for you and a family could even have its laundry done while they spent a relaxed and enjoyable afternoons at the movies.

Elvis Presley in Jailhouse Rock 1957
Elvis Presley in Jailhouse Rock 1957 | Source

8. Elvis Presley

Known as “The King of Rock and Roll” Elvis Presley was an icon of the decade and of the early era of Rock and Roll music. His love of Rockabilly, rhythm and blues and his signature singing voice led to a vibrant career and fan base. His famous live performance on the Ed Sullivan Show on September 9, 1956 was clouded in controversy because of his "suggestive" dancing. According to legend, he was only broadcasted (on camera) from the waist up the entire time, but actually, it was only during his dancing parts; the rest of the performance was full body shots. Although considered larger than life (both figurative and in his later years, physically), he was actually a smaller / slender person. Although he was close to 6 feet tall, in his 20’s he had a 30-32 inch waist. His hits included “Hound Dog”, “Don’t Be Cruel”, “Jailhouse Rock” and “Love Me Tender” among others.

Income Chart
Income Chart | Source

9. Income

In the 1950’s the average income was about $3,000.00. Jobs ranged from factory employment like manufacturing automobiles, airplanes, appliances, (blue collar jobs) to “desk jobs” like banking and real-estate (white collar). Many employers offered 30-year contracts with their employees for retirement benefits. Carpooling was commonplace and the average work week was 8 hours / 5 Days: roughly 45 hours a week. The middle class was around 50 percent of the national income. In the 1950’s 28% of Americans worked in manufacturing (15 million workers) out an average national population of 165 million pepole. (Compared to 8% in 2008 / 12 million workers out of a national population of 300 million in 2010)


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    • Edgar Arkham profile image

      Edgar Arkham 5 years ago from San Jose, CA

      Ericdierker, thanks for reading; you're right some things spanned both decades (which made some of the trivia a little trying for me, since I was attempting to stay solely in the 50's)

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 5 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Very cool. Someplaces ran the 1950's into the 1960's because in that time there were lots of places still in the middle of nowhere.

    • Edgar Arkham profile image

      Edgar Arkham 5 years ago from San Jose, CA

      whowas and jthomp42, Thank you for reading. I'm glad you enjoyed it; I must admit, it was far more difficult than I thought to find some of this information. I always love trivia and do have a lot of useless trivia on history in my head, but the 1950's was an era of time I don't concentrate on.

    • profile image

      JThomp42 5 years ago

      Very interesting!! Voted up.

    • profile image

      whowas 5 years ago

      That's an amazing, informative and entertaining summary of the nostalgia that many feel for the era of the 1950s.