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Korean WarPolio vaccineThermonuclear weaponCuban RevolutionElvis PresleySuez CrisisHungarian Revolution of 1956Sputnik 1
Top, L-R: U.S. Marines engaged in street fighting during the Korean War, c. late September 1950; The first polio vaccine is developed by Jonas Salk.
Centre, L-R: US tests its first thermonuclear bomb with code name Ivy Mike in 1952. A 1954 thermonuclear test, code named Castle Romeo; In 1959, Fidel Castro overthrows Fulgencio Batista in the Cuban Revolution, which results in the creation of the first and only communist government in the Western Hemisphere; Elvis Presley becomes the leading figure of the newly popular music genre of rock and roll in the mid-1950s.
Bottom, L-R: Smoke rises from oil tanks on Port Said following the invasion of Egypt by Israel, United Kingdom and France as part of the Suez Crisis in late 1956; The Hungarian Revolution of 1956; The Soviet Union launches Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth, in October 1957. This starts the Space Race between the Soviet Union and the United States.

The 1950s (pronounced nineteen-fifties; commonly abbreviated as the "Fifties" or the "'50s") (among other variants) was a decade that began on January 1, 1950, and ended on December 31, 1959.

Throughout the decade, the world continued its recovery from World War II, aided by the post-World War II economic expansion. The period also saw great population growth with increased birth rates and the emergence of the baby boomer generation. Despite this recovery, the Cold War developed from its modest beginnings in the late 1940s to a heated competition between the Soviet Union and the United States by the early 1960s. The ideological clash between communism and capitalism dominated the decade, especially in the Northern Hemisphere.

In the United States, a wave of anti-communist sentiment known as the Second Red Scare aka McCarthyism resulted in Congressional hearings by both houses in Congress. In the Soviet Union, the death of Joseph Stalin would lead to a political campaign and reforms known as "de-Stalinization" initiated by Nikita Khrushchev leading to the deterioration between the relationship of the Soviet Union and China in the 1960s.

The beginning of the Cold War lead to beginning of the Space Race with the launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957 and the United States would create NASA in response in 1958. Along with increased testing of nuclear weapons (such as RDS-37 and Upshot–Knothole) called the arms race, the tense geopolitical situation created a politically conservative climate.

The beginning of decolonization in Africa and Asia also took place in this decade and accelerated in the following decade albeit would lead to several conflicts throughout the decade and so on. Wars include the First Indochina War, Malayan Emergency, Korean War, the Algerian War, the First Sudanese Civil War, the Vietnam War, the Cuban Revolution, and the Suez Crisis. Coups include the Egyptian Revolution, the Iranian coup d'état, the Guatemalan coup d'état, the 14 July Revolution in Iraq, and the Pakistani coup d'état in 1958.

Television, became a common innovation in American homes during the 1950s culminating in the Golden Age of TV. This led many to purchase more products and upgrade whatever they currently had resulting in mass consumerism. While outside of America, it would take a few decades for TV to become commonplace in other countries.

The 1950s saw a turning point for polio with the successful discovery of the polio vaccine. Following the widespread use of poliovirus vaccine in the mid-1950s, the incidence of poliomyelitis declined rapidly in many industrialized countries while it would gradually decline for the next few decades in developing countries reducing the number of death rates from this disease.

During the 1950s, the world population increased from 2.5 to 3.0 billion, with approximately 1 billion births and 500 million deaths.

Politics and wars

See also: List of sovereign states in the 1950s

The world map of military alliances during the Cold War in 1959


Main article: List of wars 1945–1989 § 1950–1959

Korean War
Israeli troops preparing for combat in the Sinai peninsula during the Suez Crisis.

Internal conflicts

Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. Castro becomes the leader of Cuba as a result of the Cuban Revolution


Main article: List of coups d'état and coup attempts § 1950–1959

Gamal Abdel Nasser and Mohammed Naguib, leaders of the 1952 Egyptian Revolution

Prominent coups d'état of the decade included:

Leading figures of the Nepali Congress and King Tribhuvan
Leading figures of the Nepali Congress and King Tribhuvan

Decolonization and independence

Prominent political events

The maximum territorial extent of countries in the world under Soviet influence, after the Cuban Revolution.




Official portrait of Dwight D. Eisenhower, president of the United States for a majority of the 1950s



North Sea flood of 1953




Inflation was moderate during the decade of the 1950s. The first few months had a deflationary hangover from the 1940s but the first full year ended with what looked like the beginnings of massive inflation with annual inflation rates ranging from 8% to 9% a year. By 1952 inflation subsided. 1954 and 1955 flirted with deflation again but the remainder of the decade had moderate inflation ranging from 1% to 3.7%. The average annual inflation for the entire decade was only 2.04%.[5]

Assassinations and attempts

Prominent assassinations, targeted killings, and assassination attempts include:

Abdullah I of Jordan
Date Description
1 November 1950 Harry S. Truman, 33rd President of the United States, survives an assassination attempt when two Puerto Rican independence activists open fire while he is staying at Blair House. One White House Police officer is killed in the ensuing firefight.
16 July 1951 Riad Al Solh, former Prime Minister of Lebanon, is shot to death by three gunmen at Marka Airport in Amman.
20 July 1951 Abdullah I of Jordan is assassinated while attending Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
2 January 1955 José Antonio Remón Cantera, 16th President of Panama, is assassinated in Panama City. His successor, José Ramón Guizado, would be convicted for his involvement in the murder.
29 September 1956 Anastasio Somoza García, President of Nicaragua, is shot to death in León.
25 September 1959 S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, 4th Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, is shot to death by a disgruntled Buddhist priest at his private residence in Colombo.

Science and technology


The MOSFET (MOS transistor) was invented by Mohamed Atalla and Dawon Kahng at Bell Labs in November 1959. It is central to the Digital Revolution, and the most widely manufactured device in history.
In 1957, the Soviet Union launches to space Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite

The recently invented bipolar transistor, though initially quite feeble, had clear potential and was rapidly improved and developed at the beginning of the 1950s by companies such as GE, RCA, and Philco. The first commercial transistor production started at the Western Electric plant in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in October, 1951 with the point contact germanium transistor. It was not until around 1954 that transistor products began to achieve real commercial success with small portable radios.

A breakthrough in semiconductor technology came with the invention of the MOSFET (metal–oxide–semiconductor field-effect transistor), also known as the MOS transistor, by Mohamed Atalla and Dawon Kahng at Bell Labs,[6] in November 1959.[7] It revolutionized the electronics industry,[8] and became the fundamental building block of the Digital Revolution.[9] The MOSFET went on to become the most widely manufactured device in history.[10][11]

Television, which first reached the marketplace in the 1940s, attained maturity during the 1950s and by the end of the decade, most American households owned a TV set. A rush to produce larger screens than the tiny ones found on 1940s models occurred during 1950–52. In 1954, RCA intro Bell Telephone Labs produced the first Solar battery. In 1954, a yard of contact paper could be purchased for only 59 cents. Polypropylene was invented in 1954. In 1955, Jonas Salk invented a polio vaccine which was given to more than seven million American students. In 1956, a solar powered wrist watch was invented.

In 1957, a 184-pound (83 kg) satellite named Sputnik 1 was launched by the Soviets. The space race began four months later as the United States launched a smaller satellite.

Castle Bravo: A 15 megaton hydrogen bomb experiment conducted by the United States in 1954. Photographed 78 miles (125 kilometers) from the explosion epicenter.


Francis Crick and James Watson discover the spiral structure of DNA

Popular culture


Further information: 1950s in music, Rock and roll, Timeline of musical events § 1950s, First rock and roll record, and List of acts who appeared on American Bandstand

Elvis Presley was the best-selling musical artist of the decade. He is considered as the leading figure of the rock and roll and rockabilly movement of the 1950s.

Popular music in the early 1950s was essentially a continuation of the crooner sound of the previous decade, with less emphasis on the jazz-influenced big band style and more emphasis on a conservative, operatic, symphonic style of music. Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Frankie Laine, Patti Page, Judy Garland, Johnnie Ray, Kay Starr, Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Dean Martin, Georgia Gibbs, Eddie Fisher, Teresa Brewer, Dinah Shore, Kitty Kallen, Joni James, Peggy Lee, Julie London, Toni Arden, June Valli, Doris Day, Arthur Godfrey, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Guy Mitchell, Nat King Cole, and vocal groups like the Mills Brothers, The Ink Spots, The Four Lads, The Four Aces, The Chordettes, The Fontane Sisters, The Hilltoppers and the Ames Brothers. Jo Stafford's "You Belong To Me" was the #1 song of 1952 on the Billboard Top 100 chart.

The middle of the decade saw a change in the popular music landscape as classic pop was swept off the charts by rock-and-roll. Crooners such as Eddie Fisher, Perry Como, and Patti Page, who had dominated the first half of the decade, found their access to the pop charts significantly curtailed by the decade's end.[12] Doo-wop entered the pop charts in the 1950s. Its popularity soon spawns the parody "Who Put the Bomp (in the Bomp, Bomp, Bomp)".

Rock-n-roll emerged in the mid-1950s with Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Gene Vincent, Fats Domino, James Brown, Bo Diddley, Buddy Holly, Bobby Darin, Ritchie Valens, Duane Eddy, Eddie Cochran, Brenda Lee, Bobby Vee, Connie Francis, Neil Sedaka, Pat Boone, Ricky Nelson, Tommy Steele, Billy Fury, Marty Wilde and Cliff Richard being notable exponents. In the mid-1950s, Elvis Presley became the leading figure of the newly popular sound of rock and roll with a series of network television appearances and chart-topping records. Chuck Berry, with "Maybellene" (1955), "Roll Over Beethoven" (1956), "Rock and Roll Music" (1957) and "Johnny B. Goode" (1958), refined and developed the major elements that made rock and roll distinctive, focusing on teen life and introducing guitar solos and showmanship that would be a major influence on subsequent rock music.[13] Bill Haley, Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Everly Brothers, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty, Johnny Horton, and Marty Robbins were Rockabilly musicians. Doo-wop was another popular genre at the time. Popular Doo Wop and Rock-n-Roll bands of the mid to late 1950s include The Platters, The Flamingos, The Dells, The Silhouettes, Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers, Little Anthony and The Imperials, Danny & the Juniors, The Coasters, The Drifters, The Del-Vikings and Dion and the Belmonts.

Harry Belafonte in 1954, whose breakthrough album Calypso (1956) was the first million-selling LP by a single artist.

The new music differed from previous styles in that it was primarily targeted at the teenager market, which became a distinct entity for the first time in the 1950s as growing prosperity meant that young people did not have to grow up as quickly or be expected to support a family. Rock-and-roll proved to be a difficult phenomenon for older Americans to accept and there were widespread accusations of its being a communist-orchestrated scheme to corrupt the youth, although rock and roll was extremely market-based and capitalistic.

Jazz stars in the 1950s who came into prominence in their genres called bebop, hard bop, cool jazz and the blues, at this time included Lester Young, Ben Webster, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Art Tatum, Bill Evans, Ahmad Jamal, Oscar Peterson, Gil Evans, Jerry Mulligan, Cannonball Adderley, Stan Getz, Chet Baker, Dave Brubeck, Art Blakey, Max Roach, the Miles Davis Quintet, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Nina Simone, and Billie Holiday.

The American folk music revival became a phenomenon in the United States in the 1950s to mid-1960s with the initial success of The Weavers who popularized the genre. Their sound, and their broad repertoire of traditional folk material and topical songs inspired other groups such as the Kingston Trio, the Chad Mitchell Trio, The New Christy Minstrels, and the "collegiate folk" groups such as The Brothers Four, The Four Freshmen, The Four Preps, and The Highwaymen. All featured tight vocal harmonies and a repertoire at least initially rooted in folk music and topical songs.

On 3 February 1959, a chartered plane transporting the three American rock and roll musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson goes down in foggy conditions near Clear Lake, Iowa, killing all four occupants on board, including pilot Roger Peterson. The tragedy is later termed "The Day the Music Died", popularized in Don McLean's 1971 song "American Pie". This event, combined with the conscription of Presley into the US Army, is often taken to mark the point where the era of 1950s rock-and-roll ended.


An American family watching television together in 1958.

The 1950s are known as the Golden Age of Television by some people. Sales of TV sets rose tremendously in the 1950s and by 1950 4.4 million families in America had a television set. Americans devoted most of their free time to watching television broadcasts. People spent so much time watching TV, that movie attendance dropped and so did the number of radio listeners.[14] Television revolutionized the way Americans see themselves and the world around them. TV affects all aspects of American culture. "Television affects what we wear, the music we listen to, what we eat, and the news we receive."[15]


Further information: 1950s in film

Cary Grant as Roger O. Thornhill in North by Northwest (1959)

European cinema experienced a renaissance in the 1950s following the deprivations of World War II. Italian director Federico Fellini won the first foreign language film Academy Award with La Strada and garnered another Academy Award with Nights of Cabiria. Sidney Poitier became the first Black actor to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for the 1958 film The Defiant Ones (an award he later won in the 1960s).

Similarly with the mid 1950s rush of Rock and Roll and teenage rebellion, the filns of Marlon Brando and James Dean had a profound effect on American culture.

In Hollywood, the epic Ben-Hur grabbed a record 11 Academy Awards in 1959 and its success gave a new lease of life to motion picture studio MGM.

Beginning in 1953, with Shane and The Robe, widescreen motion pictures became the norm.

The "Golden Era" of 3D cinematography transpired during the 1950s.

Animated films in the 1950s presented by Walt Disney included Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and Lady and the Tramp, followed by Sleeping Beauty.

Art movements

In the early 1950s abstract expressionism and artists Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning were enormously influential. However, by the late 1950s Color Field painting and Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko's paintings became more in focus to the next generation.

Pop art used the iconography of television, photography, comics, cinema and advertising. With its roots in dadaism, it started to take form towards the end of the 1950s when some European artists started to make the symbols and products of the world of advertising and propaganda the main subject of their artistic work. This return of figurative art, in opposition to the abstract expressionism that dominated the aesthetic scene since the end of World War II was dominated by Great Britain until the early 1960s when Andy Warhol, the most known artist of this movement began to show Pop Art in galleries in the United States.


See also: 1945–1960 in Western fashion

Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in 1953, showing American fashions and popular hairstyles of the era
Liz Taylor in the 1950s, a fashion icon of the era

The 1950s saw the birth of the teenager and with it rock n roll and youth fashion dominating the fashion industry. In the UK the Teddy boy became both style icons and anti-authoritarian figures. While in America Greasers had a similar social position. Previously teenagers dressed similarly to their parents but now a rebellious and different youth style was being developed. This was particularly noticeable in the overtly sexual nature of their dress. Men wore tight trousers, leather jackets and emphasis was on slicked, greasy hair.

New ideas meant new designers who had a concept of what was fashion. Fashion started gaining a voice and style when Christian Dior created “The New Look” collection. The 1950s was not only about spending on luxurious brands but also the idea of being comfortable was created. It was a time where resources were available and it was a new type of fashion. Designers were creating collections with different materials such as: taffeta, nylon, rayon, wool and leather that allowed different colors and patterns. People started wearing artificial fibers because it was easier to take care of and it was price effective.[16] It was a time where shopping was part of a lifestyle.

Different designers emerged or made a comeback on the 1950s because as mention before it was a time for fashion and ideas. The most important designers from the time were:

Christian Dior: everything started in 1947 after World War II was over. Christian Dior found that there were a lot of resources in the market. He created the famous and inspirational collection named “The New Look.” This consisted on the idea of creating voluminous dresses that would not only represent wealth but also show power on women. This collection was the first collection to use 80 yards of fabric.[16] He introduced the idea of the hourglass shape for women; wide shoulders, tight waistline and then voluminous full skirts. Dior was a revolutionary and he was the major influence for the next collections. He is known for always developing new ideas and designs, which led to a rapid expansion and becoming worldwide known.[17] He had pressure to create innovative designs for each collection and Dior did manage to provide that to the consumers. He not only made the hourglass shape very famous but he also developed the H-line as well as the A and Y-Lines. Dior was a very important designer, he changed the way fashion was looked on the world but most importantly he reestablished Paris as a fashion capital.[17]

Cristobal Balenciaga: Cristobal Balenciaga a Spanish designer who opened his first couture house in 1915. In 1936, he went to Paris in order to avoid the Spanish Civil War, there he had inspiration for his fashion collections. His designs were an inspiration for emerging designers of the time. His legacy is as important as the one from Dior, revolutionaries.[17] He was known for creating sack dresses, heavy volumes and balloon skirts.[18] For him everything started when he worked for Marquesa de Casa Torre who became his patron and main source of inspiration. Marquesa de Casa Torre helped Balenciaga enter the world of couture.[17] His first suit was very dramatic. The suit consisted on cutout and cut-ins the waist over a slim skirt, something not seen before.[17] Balenciaga was a revolutionary designer who was not afraid to cut and let loose because he had everything under control. In the 1950s and 1960s his designs were well known for attention to color and texture. He was creating different silhouettes for women, in 1955 he created the tunic, 1957 the sack dress and 1958 the Empire styles.[19] He was known for moving from tailored designs to shapeless allowing him to show portion and balance on the bodies.[17] Showing that his designs evolved with time and maintained his ideologies.

Coco Chanel: Her style was well known over the world and her idea of having functional luxurious clothing influenced other designers from the era. Chanel believed that luxurious should come from being comfortable that is why her designers were so unique and different from the time period, she also achieved her looks by adding accessories such as pearl necklaces.[20] Chanel believed that even though Dior designs were revolutionary for the time period they did not managed to represent the women of the time. She believed women had to wear something to represent their survival to another war and their active roles in society.[21] Coming back from a closed house of fashion was not easy for Chanel and competing against younger designers.[21] The Chanel suit was known as a status symbol for wealthy and powerful women.[21] Chanel influenced over the years and her brand is still one of the most influential brands for fashion.


Paavo Nurmi and the Olympic flame in the opening ceremony of the 1952 Summer Olympics


FIFA World Cups

The 1958 World Cup is notable for marking the debut on the world stage of a then largely unknown 17-year-old Pelé.



W. Sterling Cole, first Director-general of AIEA

Actors and entertainers



See also: List of musicians of the 1950s and Million Dollar Quartet


Sports figures

See also


The following articles contain brief timelines which list the most prominent events of the decade:



  1. ^ "The Pentagon Papers, Volume 1, Chapter 5, Section 3, "Origins of the Insurgency in South Vietnam, 1954–1960"". Archived from the original on 2017-10-19. Retrieved 2010-01-15.
  2. ^ "Greenland (Kalaallit Nunaat)". World Statesmen. Retrieved 30 June 2016.
  3. ^ "Montgomery Bus Boycott". Civil Rights Movement Archive.
  4. ^ Stratton, J. M. (1969). Agricultural Records. John Baker. ISBN 978-0-212-97022-3.
  5. ^ "Inflation and CPI Consumer Price Index 1950–1959". Inflation Data. Retrieved 23 April 2014.[permanent dead link]
  6. ^ "1960 - Metal Oxide Semiconductor (MOS) Transistor Demonstrated". The Silicon Engine. Computer History Museum.
  7. ^ Bassett, Ross Knox (2007). To the Digital Age: Research Labs, Start-up Companies, and the Rise of MOS Technology. Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 22. ISBN 9780801886393.
  8. ^ Chan, Yi-Jen (1992). Studies of InAIAs/InGaAs and GaInP/GaAs heterostructure FET's for high speed applications. University of Michigan. p. 1. The Si MOSFET has revolutionized the electronics industry and as a result impacts our daily lives in almost every conceivable way.
  9. ^ Wong, Kit Po (2009). Electrical Engineering - Volume II. EOLSS Publications. p. 7. ISBN 9781905839780.
  10. ^ "13 Sextillion & Counting: The Long & Winding Road to the Most Frequently Manufactured Human Artifact in History". Computer History Museum. April 2, 2018. Retrieved 28 July 2019.
  11. ^ Baker, R. Jacob (2011). CMOS: Circuit Design, Layout, and Simulation. John Wiley & Sons. p. 7. ISBN 978-1118038239.
  12. ^ R. S. Denisoff, W. L. Schurk, Tarnished gold: the record industry revisited (Transaction Publishers, 3rd edn., 1986), p. 13.
  13. ^ M. Campbell, ed., Popular Music in America: And the Beat Goes on (Cengage Learning, 3rd edn., 2008), pp. 168–9.
  14. ^ Kallen, Stuart (1999). A Cultural History of the United States. San Diego: Lucent.
  15. ^ American History. ABC-CLIO, 2012. Web. 11 Dec. 2012.
  16. ^ a b Thomas, Pauline. "1950s Fashion History 50s Glamour, Dior New Look". Retrieved 2016-10-31.
  17. ^ a b c d e f Stevenson, N. J. (2012). Fashion: A Visual History from Regency & Romance to Retro & Revolution: A Complete Illustrated Chronology of Fashion from the 1800s to the Present Day. New York City: St. Martin's Griffin.
  18. ^ "Cristobal Balenciaga : Fashion, History". Archived from the original on 2016-11-01. Retrieved 2016-10-31.
  19. ^ "Cristóbal Balenciaga". LoveToKnow. Retrieved 2016-10-31.
  20. ^ "Coco Chanel Biography". August 12, 2016.
  21. ^ a b c Krick, Jessa. "Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel (1883–1971) and the House of Chanel | Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art". The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Retrieved 2016-10-31.

Further reading

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United States