For many Americans, the 1950’s were a slow return to normalcy after years of world-wide political and military unrest. President Truman signed a peace treaty with Japan in 1951, officially ending World War II. The economy was booming, the happiest place on earth, Disneyland, opened in 1955, and things were looking up for Americans.
The Cold War and threat of hydrogen bombing loomed over the decade. Americans began constructing bomb shelters and children around the country learned how to protect themselves thanks to the instructional “duck and cover” videos that were presented in classrooms around the country.
The scientific accuracy of the tactics demonstrated in the film was called into question. How effective can hiding under a desk while covering your head with a newspaper during a nuclear attack be?
The implementation of nuclear weapons is only one of the many groundbreaking technologies associated with the 1950’s. Other technological and scientific advances from the decade include the discovery of DNA, the launch of the world’s first satellite, Sputnik 1, and the introduction of color television.
Though many historians considered the early fifties to be a relatively quiet decade, some pretty cool things happened as the decade progressed. Dr. Seuss published The Cat in the Hat in 1957 and the LEGO toy bricks were introduced the following year. In 1958, British artist Gerald Holtom created the international symbol for peace and The Sound of Music opened on Broadway in 1959. McDonald’s was founded and car seat belts were introduced.
Elvis Presley shocked the viewers with his gyrating hips on the Ed Sullivan Show, introducing rock-n-roll to the nation. Artists like Sam Cooke, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and many others revolutionized the music industry making rock-n-roll the popular music of choice for teenagers.
Influences from cinematic movements like the French New Wave impacted American filmmakers. Stylized crime dramas known as film noirs became increasingly popular and emphasized cynical attitudes and sexual motivations. Master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, was in his prime during the fifties and directed classics like Dial M for Murder and Vertigo.
The Beat Generation emerged from the New York underground, sporting goatees and berets, rolling their own cigarettes and playing bongos. Women rebelled against the middle class culture of beauty salons, wearing their hair long and unadorned. This group of early hippies known as the Beatniks rebelled against societal standards, experimenting with drugs and alternative forms of sexuality.
The rock-n-roll attitude of the Beat Generation set a foundation for the countercultural attitudes that followed in future decades.