The 1950s: America Hot and Cold

Uploaded by HooverPresLib on 23.06.2010

I’m Joann Torpy and I will be your tour guide through the museum.
The Fifties was a fabulous decade in our American culture. This was a period of time that was
after World War II and the economy was on the upswing. There were lots of marriages
and lots of babies were born. In fact, if you’ve heard the term “Baby Boomers”
that was that generation of Americans that were born from 1945 to 1953.
We had a general who became President, and his name was Dwight Eisenhower. He had a very
popular wife also, and her name was Mamie. And we’re very pleased to have one of her
hats. Also we see in here, some of the fads that
were popular in the 1950s. The Barbie doll is one of them. And this looks like an original
Barbie. You’ll see more of those later on. Also, America was in love with their cars.
You’ll see that at the bottom. You’ll see some actual cars later.
Also in the 1950s, America wanted to move to the suburbs. And move to the suburbs they
did. Part of the 1950s housing that was in was if you had a big picture window and a
family room and especially a backyard patio. That was really hot. This gentleman is cooking
out for his family. And this was the age of the bar-b-que. And notice how he’s dressed.
Now, why on earth would anyone wear a Hawaiian shirt and plaid Bermuda shorts? But that’s
how we dressed in the 1950s. In the 1950s, the kitchen was the technology
center of the home. Of course we know that is not true today with our computer age. But
actually back then it was; because for the first time, the housewife had a modern dishwasher,
a washer-dryer, a refrigerator-freezer combination instead of the old ice box.
Also in the 1950s we saw the beginning of the quick foods. We had TV dinners for the
first time, and things like Bisquick, Reddi-wip, and Minute Rice that we still have today came
out in the Fifties. This is our 1950s living room complete with
actual 1950s furniture. It was the center of family life in the evening. The family
gathered in here around the TV. This is what TV looked like in the 1950s when it first
came out. This is an old Admiral. At that time, it was only black & white TV and the
screen was approximately eleven inches. And I tease some of my other baby boomer friends
and relatives that all of us that came out of that period watching TV have relatively
bad eyesight from staring at the small screen. You only got three channels back then; just
the three major networks. Not the forty-some or fifty-some channels that you get now. Also
the cost of the TV was around six hundred and fifty dollars. So you had to be relatively
well off to afford one. The heroes that kids used to listen to on
the radio, they now could see on TV. People like Howdy Doody, the Lone Ranger, Zorro,
were all very popular. Then after school, the thing to turn on was
the Mickey Mouse Club. And actually kids couldn’t wait to send in for those ears. Everybody
wanted to get their Mickey Mouse Club official ears. And this was all brought to us by the
world of Disney. Roy Rogers was actually born with the name
of Leonard Sly. And had quite a singing career with a group called the Sons of the Pioneers.
But his buddy, Gene Autry, got fired from the movie studio, so they hired Roy Rogers
to replace him. He starred with his wife, Dale Evans, and also Gabby Hayes. In this
case we see Roy Rogers’ shirt and his hat and a picture of his very famous horse, Trigger
the Wonder Horse. Also, if you had a Roy Rogers lunch bucket; that was really in.
Classic TV, and as I look at this, my eyes focus on truly the best, which was Lucile
Ball, “I Love Lucy.” Situation comedies came into being. Ah, my personal favorites
were “Father Knows Best.” Jim Anderson was the dad, and I don’t care what the problem
was every week, he could solve it. Also we have the Ozzie and Harriet show, and their
two sons. They were an actual family. And Ricky Nelson, one of their sons, went on to
be a singing star and a teen idol. Every Sunday evening Ed Sullivan was an institution. I
can remember, no matter what we were doing, we stopped and turned on the Ed Sullivan Show.
And he would bring talent that you’d probably never heard of and made them stars.
Americans were truly in love with their cars in the 1950s. And remember, this was back
when there was no speed limit and no seatbelts. You could barrel down the road as fast as
you wanted; maybe seventy-five, eighty miles an hour. And here we have a truly classic
American sports car. This is a 1954 Corvette. Actually, GM came out with Corvette in 1953
with the cost of thirty-five hundred dollars. Now we know that this classic Corvette is
worth much more than that today. And you can see that it is pulled into the drive-in burger
joint. This was the age of the drive-in. Not only were there drive-in burger joints, there
were drive-in movies, drive-in churches, funeral parlors, and even dry cleaners. So you could
live life without even leaving your car. And here we have James Dean, who was a movie
actor in the 1950s that many teenagers identified with. He was noted for his sullen acting style
and exceptional good looks. He only made three actual pictures, but that
didn’t make him any less irresistible. If I pick up this phone, I can actually listen
to James Dean making a public service announcement about the dangers of speeding. Very ironically,
he was killed two weeks later, after he made this announcement, speeding in his Porsche.
The 1950s was an era of teen culture like we had not seen in twenty years. In the 1930s,
teens were busy working. In the 1940s they were going off to war. But in the 1950s it
was their era. And their culture was known for fast food, fast cars, and rock-n-roll.
So let’s enter the diner, where teens would hang out after school.
When you went out on a date in the 1950s, you usually ended up at the diner. And here
we see our couple, sitting here. And notice how they’re dressed. Ah, today I know in
the 1990s couples that go out on dates wear shorts, jeans. But the guys usually dressed
very formally, with at least dress pants and a dress shirt, maybe even a sports coat and
a tie. And our lady is dressed up here in a prom dress, but she would normally wear
a skirt and a nice blouse or sweater. By contrast, girls who went to the diner dressed very differently
than if they were on a date. As seen here, Peggy Sue, in the pink satin jacket, is wearing
a poodle skirt. Usually underneath were tons of petticoats – the more the better. Also
the color pink – anything pink and a pony tail was usually donned by the girls. We see
another thing here that you don’t see much of anymore – Peggy Sue has her hair in rollers.
Now today, you wouldn’t be caught dead doing that. But back in the 1950s that was very
common to set your hair in rollers, put a scarf around your head, and go downtown.
Actually, the Fifties wouldn’t be the Fifties if we didn’t have Elvis. He was very much
an unlikely revolutionary, but he became the king of rock-n-roll. He was actually a very
shy and quiet person. He would always say, “Yes sir,” and “Yes ma’am.” But
what rocketed him into stardom, was Ed Sullivan. He had him on his show in 1956. Now, there
was an agreement, when Elvis was gyrating on the stage in front of the cameras, he was
only to be shown from the waist up. Because of what he was doing with his hips; nobody
in America, especially parents wanted their teens to see that. Here we have in this case
one of Elvis’ gold records for the record “Teddy Bear,” and also his shoes, size
twelve. And, Elvis was also in the Army. From 1958 to 1960, he spent some time in Germany.
And we have on loan to us from Graceland, his Army uniform.
If you were a teen in the 1950s, rock-n-roll was the music your parents warned you about.
And actually, rock-n-roll was not supposed to last. It was called “jungle music,”
but it wasn’t until 1953 when Bill Hailey and the Comets came out with their hit “Crazy
Man Crazy” that was the first rock-n-roll hit to get on the Billboard charts.
Here we have an old jukebox and we have the teens dancing around it. Again, notice how
they’re dressed – the poodle skirt, the can-cans. And back then, we didn’t have
cassette tapes and CDs. What we listened to were these little records, they’re called
“45’s.” And you had to have a special hi-fi stereo to play them on.
Some of the movies stars that we saw in the drive-ins in the 1950s.
“You are the softest girl.” “What are you doing tonight?”
This shirt was worn by John Wayne in the picture Rio Grande. Ah, of course, none of us can
forget “the Duke.” In the 1950s baseball was America’s pastime.
We had such heroes as Joe DiMaggio. But almost everyone’s favorite played for the New York
Yankees, and he was Mickey Mantle. In this case we are very fortunate to have on loan
to us from the Baseball Hall of Fame, Mickey Mantle’s bat. If you look very closely,
you’ll see that it’s cracked. And there is also in here a baseball that is signed
by Mickey Mantle and other members of the New York Yankees.
The Wonderful World of Disney came out in the 1950s with many classic movies that we
are still enjoying today – things like Lady and the Tramp, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty.
Also, here we have Annette Funicello donning her ears from the Mickey Mouse Club. As I
mentioned before, that was on every afternoon after school, and they would have their Mickey
Mouse Club, and sing a song, and then it would lead into one of the Disney movies.
Speaking of some of the fads of the 1950s, the thing you really wanted to have was the
hula hoop. Very popular. And if you could hula with it around your waist and keep it
up for several minutes you could probably win a contest.
Today’s kids learn a lot about reading from Sesame Street and the Reading Rainbow. But
back in the Fifties, we learned to read with Dick and Jane.
We have in this case the Barbie doll that came out in 1959. Now, these are all original
Barbies with the original cases. And if any of you out there have some, please hold on
to them. If you’ve ever played Slinky, like this;
and if you’ve ever gazed into an 8-Ball, something like this; or maybe you’ve played
with some Silly Putty – all of these things came from the 1950s.
Up to this point, we’ve mostly been talking about the fun and the fabulous part of the
1950s. But there was a down side, unfortunately. During this time there was the threat of nuclear
warfare, of the atomic bomb, and this made most Americans very nervous. Many homes, businesses,
and schools had what is called a fallout shelter. Where you’d go to and stay for up to a year
at a time. These fallout shelters contained food, first aid supplies, radios, clothing,
water; all of these things to sustain you. On this table you see various products that
I know you recognize but they did all come out in the 1950s. Things like Gold Medal Flour,
Kleenex tissues, Carnation Non-fat Milk, Listerine, Hostess Cupcakes, the list is endless. But
they all started and had their roots in the 1950s.
These pictures depict much of the life that we had in the 1950s. Men went off to the Korean
War, which was from 1950 to 1953. One of the most hateful things that I think
occurred during the 1950s was because of this man, Joseph McCarthy. He was a junior Senator
from Wisconsin. And in 1950 he made up a list of two-hundred and five names who he said
were all affiliated with the Communist party. Now, many of these people were very famous,
they were celebrities. There were also some politicians. And it took them years to get
off this black list. Now McCarthy went on and on and on, and no one challenged him.
Not until 1953 when they caught on to his madness and he was ousted forever after that.
Not all Americans were equal and experienced the prosperous times. Our black citizens experienced
segregation due mostly to the Jim Crow laws. And they couldn’t even drink in the same
drinking fountains as white people did. They couldn’t stay in the same motels. They couldn’t
eat in the same restaurants. But later on, in 1955, a woman named Rosa Parks changed
all that when she refused to give up her seat on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama.
It’s very popular today in the 1990s to collect memorabilia from the 1950s. And most
of this has star quality. As we notice in this case, the James Dean doll, called the
“Rebel Rouser Dean.” Then we have Marilyn Monroe; and then the one and only Elvis.
We have just been through an overview of what was hot and what was cold in the 1950s. But
as you can see, by this memorabilia, the Fifties are hot again.
“… bring them below with the hypnotic wail of the sirens. To feed upon, in cannibalistic