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, with conflicts including the Korean War in the early 1950s, the Cuban Revolution, the beginning of the Vietnam War in French Indochina, and the beginning of the Space Race with the launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957. Along with increased testing of nuclear weapons (such as RDS-37 and Upshot–Knothole), the tense geopolitical situation created a politically conservative climate. In the United States, a wave of anti-communist sentiment known as the Second Red Scare resulted in Congressional hearings by both houses in Congress. The beginning of decolonization in Africa and Asia also took place in this decade and accelerated in the following decade. During the 1950s, the world population increased from 2.5 to 3.0 billion, with approximately 1 billion births and 500 million deaths.
See also: List of sovereign states in the 1950s
Main article: List of wars 1945–1989 § 1950–1959
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%.
Prominent assassinations, targeted killings, and assassination attempts include:
|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 was staying at Blair House. One White House Police officer would be 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.|
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 wasn't 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, in November 1959. It revolutionized the electronics industry, and became the fundamental building block of the Digital Revolution. The MOSFET went on to become the most widely manufactured device in history.
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.
A surprise came in 1957: a 184-pound (83 kg) satellite named Sputnik 1 was launched by the Soviets. The space race began 4 months later as the United States launched a smaller satellite.
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. doo-wop entered the pop charts in the 1950s. Its popularity soon spawns the parody "Who Put the Bomp".
Rock-n-roll emerged in the mid-1950s with Sam Cooke, Elvis Presley, Jackie Wilson, Gene Vincent, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Little Richard, James Brown, Bo Diddley, Buddy Holly, Bobby Darin, Ritchie Valens, Duane Eddy, Eddie Cochran, Brenda Lee, Bobby Vee, Connie Francis, Johnny Mathis, Neil Sedaka, Pat Boone and Ricky Nelson 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. Bill Haley, 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.
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 it 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 1972 song "American Pie". This event, combined with the conscription of Elvis Presley into the US Army, is often taken to mark the point where the era of 1950s rock-and-roll ended.
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. 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."
Further information: 1950s in film
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. In 1955, Swedish director Ingmar Bergman earned a Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival with Smiles of a Summer Night and followed the film with masterpieces The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries. Jean Cocteau's Orphée, a film central to his Orphic Trilogy, starred Jean Marais and was released in 1950. French director Claude Chabrol's Le Beau Serge is now widely considered the first film of the French New Wave. Notable European film stars of the period include Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, Max von Sydow, and Jean-Paul Belmondo.
Japanese cinema reached its zenith with films from director Akira Kurosawa including Rashomon, Ikiru, Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, and The Hidden Fortress. Other distinguished Japanese directors of the period were Yasujirō Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi. Russian fantasy director Aleksandr Ptushko's mythological epics Sadko, Ilya Muromets, and Sampo were internationally acclaimed as was Ballad of a Soldier, a 1959 Soviet film directed by Grigory Chukhray.
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 3-D cinematography transpired during the 1950s.
Animated films in the 1950s presented by Walt Disney included Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, Peter Pan and Lady and the Tramp, followed by Sleeping Beauty.
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: 1945–60 in Western fashion
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. 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. 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. 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.
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. He was known for creating sack dresses, heavy volumes and balloon skirts. 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. His first suit was very dramatic. The suit consisted on cutout and cut-ins the waist over a slim skirt, something not seen before. 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. He was known for moving from tailored designs to shapeless allowing him to show portion and balance on the bodies. 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. 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. Coming back from a closed house of fashion was not easy for Chanel and competing against younger designers. The Chanel suit was known as a status symbol for wealthy and powerful women. Chanel influenced over the years and her brand is still one of the most influential brands for fashion.
The 1958 World Cup is notable for marking the debut on the world stage of a then largely unknown 17-year-old Pelé.
The Si MOSFET has revolutionized the electronics industry and as a result impacts our daily lives in almost every conceivable way.