Welcome to 1950:
One American dollar may not seem like much today but back in 1950 you could have used that dollar to buy a loaf of bread, a gallon of milk and a three cent postage stamp. Assuming you didn't spend your last penny on candy you could have taken that home. During 1950 the average American home cost approximately $14,500 while the average annual income was less than a third of that. Buying a new Ford would have cost about half of your $3,216 yearly salary.
Back in 1950 it was normal for families to dine together. According to the fictitious culinary expert Betty Crocker people living in 1950 expected to eat a meal featuring meat, fish or poultry as vegetarianism is a fad that hasn't caught on yet. Time saving food like products such as Kraft American Singles, Minute Rice and boxed cake mixes were seen on the grocer's shelves for the first time during 1950.
Women living in 1950 didn't have the luxury of plugging in a hair dryer every morning. Rollers were worn to bed. Hairspray exists but wasn't used extensively. Hairstyles in the fifties were soft. Men and women alike wore their hair up and away from their faces. Dressing up for a night out in the early fifties was a bit different than it is today. Accessories for women included gloves and scarves which were worn as belts, in the hair or tied around the neck.
Taking your girlfiend to the movies was just as much fun during 1950 as it is now. Award winning screen plays included All About Eve starring Bette Davis and George Sanders. John Wayne was a popular Hollywood actor during 1950 and aspiring actor Marlon Brando made his debut in The Men during 1950. After the movie you and your baby could play back seat bingo. Other slang phrases used halfway through the century include: cool it, cruisin' for a bruisin', haul ass, nerd and don't have a cow.
Threads was a term people living in 1950 used to talk about the clothes they were wearing. Teenage boys paired Ivy Leaguers with their penny loafers while adolescent girls donned poodle skirts, socks and ballet slippers. During 1950 no self respecting women's wardrobe was complete unless she owned a pencil skirt. Saddle shoes are worn by both sexes although some women favored spike heels and stilettos.
Billboard favorites from 1950 include Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer: Gene Autry, Rollin' Stone: Muddy Waters, Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo: Perry Como and Mona Lisa: Nat King Cole. 1950 was an important year for Nat King Cole. His daughter Natalie was born on February 6. American Actor Richard Dean Anderson was two weeks old on the date of her birth but future Philadelphia forward Julius Erving wasn't born until sixteen days later.
If there's a time to be born there is also a time to die. Literature lovers lost George Orwell, George Bernard Shaw and Edna St. Vincent Millay. American Private Kenneth Shadrick became the first casualty of the Korean War on July 5th 1950. Advancements in medicine during 1950 include the first successful organ transplant. Surgeon Charles R. Drew, blood bank developer, died on the first of April leaving American patients with a ready, steady supply of fresh, life giving blood.
The Federal Government:
1950 saw the conviction of Alger Hiss. Communism was a threat Americans feared in 1950 and U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy gave his name to the persecution of people accused of being Communists. Crime doesn’t pay now and it didn't pay then either. It took eleven men seventeen minutes to steal approximately $2.8 million dollars during what is now known as the Great Brinks Robbery of 1950. Later this case was cracked by federal investigators.
Reading the paper was still a large part of American culture during 1950. Several famous comic strips made their debut in 1950. Peanuts, Dennis the Menace and Beetle Bailey all appeared during this twelve month period. Companies spent approximately 35% of their advertising dollars on advertisements that appeared in print. The unemployment rate was 5.3%. There was a 34.3% likelihood that a given business would fail during 1950.
Females and Minorities:
In 1950 roughly 21.6% of American women worked outside of the home. Jobs and career choices for women living in 1950 were broader than they have been however most women are still employed in the traditional roles such as nursing, education, librarian, and secretarial staff. One notable 1950 exception is Althea Gibson who became the first black woman to play international tennis during August of 1950.
1950 was the year Americans saw Joe DiMaggio make his 2,000th hit. The New York Yankees swept the Philadelphia Phillies to win the 1950 World Series. Boxer Sugar Ray Robinson was the middleweight champion during 1950 and the Cleveland Browns defeated the L.A. Rams to become Super Bowl champs. In soccer Uruguay went home with the fourth World Cup after beating their Brazilian rivals. In tennis Australia took home a cup of their own after winning the Davis Cup tournaments.
The global population was around two and a half billion people in 1950. Across the pond from the United States the Swiss parliament denied their female population the right to vote. Another world away a woman known as Mother Teresa founded the First Mission of Charity in poverty stricken Calcutta. Notable Cold War political figures include: Winston Churchill, Josef Stalin, and President Truman.
Entertainment and Literature:
William Faulkner was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950. The song writing duo known as Rogers and Hammerstein won a Pulitzer Prize for their South Pacific musical and The King and I premiered in 1950. Guys and Dolls was another 1950 Broadway smash and if you’ve never seen any of the above mentioned performances I would encourage you to do so.
1950 gave Americans Silly Putty, the hula hoop and voice mail is probably more widely used than the answering machine today but back in 1950 the idea of a machine that would receive incoming telephone calls was revolutionary. There are other inventions that came out in 1950 but I would argue that the Diners Club credit card has had a far greater impact on the lives of future generations than any other invention produced in 1950.
Events that occurred during 1950 are part of our heritage. I can't say that 1950 was a kinder, simpler, gentler time. Racism and segregation were still alive and well in 1950 but challenges to those rules and attitudes are are on the horizon. I chose to write about 1950 for personal reasons. Both my dad and Steve Wozniak were born in 1950. The details of my father's life may not bear chronicling but if 1950 was erased from the history books Apple Computer wouldn't exist and neither would my dad.
Thank you 1950.
Thanks to Protector of Mankind for catching a typo. 5/22/9