The Fabulous 50’s became the ‘American Way of Life’
MUNCY – The 1950’s is an outstanding period in American History according to local historian and former East Lycoming teacher, Robert Webster as he spoke to an interested group at the Muncy Historical Museum on Sunday afternoon. “It is the greatest decade our country ever experienced,” said Webster.
Many of us have lived through the 50’s and it became the “American Way of Life”. This is where it all started Webster said of these outstanding years under the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower who served 8 out of the ten years. A Supreme Allied Commander during World War II, ‘Ike’ was trusted throughout most of the world. He instilled confidence and people embraced him affectionately.
The 50’s were one of prosperity. Jobs were plentiful. People started receiving regular paychecks, taking paid vacations and the economy was starting to take off. Both the housing and automobile industries put the United States right on top.
“America became a world leader in industry, agriculture and military. And these good times brought about a total change in our way of life,” Webster explained as he mentioned some old stand-by icons of the era.
He further explained how the 30’s and 40’s led to such prosperous times and preceded a way of life as we know today. The 30’s were tough. The stock market crashed and there were no assets, industries shut down and there was 25% unemployment. Goods had to be rationed. In the 40’s, we had a war and every week over 2 thousand American soldiers were killed. People wanted to look ahead and have more enjoyable times.
Housing and automobiles helped the 50’s to soar. These two industries couldn’t keep up with the demand. GI’s wanted to come home, start families and buy a home and a car. They wanted to make up for lost time from the previous 15 years.
Webster acknowledged how people left the cities to live in the outskirts and suburban housing developments and rural neighborhoods flourished. Homes were built in record numbers. There were packaged homes, modular homes, pre-packaged homes. Factories would deliver them to the sites “wrapped in a package ready to be assembled such as the Levitt 3 bedroom ranch homes that were mass produced and sold for about $7,000 around the country. “They came into existence in record numbers,” added Webster.
All this created jobs and more jobs, not to mention new products. Aluminum siding, latex water based acrylic paints, gutters, better materials for walls plus new appliances were added into the home. Dishwashers, garbage disposals, clothes dryers, microwaves, air conditioners – never before did the American home become more attractive, efficient, comfortable and convenient.
Soon coal furnaces were taken over by oil reducing the need to constantly go into the basement. “Fuel oil in the 50’s was only 15 and a half cents a gallon or just $25 to fill your tank, and it stayed that way for sometime,” noted Webster.
But the most significant change in American lives came with the TV. “The American home was never quite the same again.” Corporate giants like RCA, GE, Zenith, and Admiral were created, all in the United States. Every night the family would sit around the television and enjoy host shows, variety shows, game shows and westerns. Saturday nights started with Lawrence Welk and ended with championship wrestling.
Webster remarked, “I remember one of those wrestling shows coming to the Lycoming County Fair.”
Music was also popular in the 50’s, inspiring artists like Patti Page, Elvis Presley, Nat King Cole, the MaGuire Sisters, and Patsy Cline. The high fidelity 33 1/3 records were part of everyone’s hi-fi sets and soon RCA introduced stereo.
The automobile took over and became the new road locomotives. Interstate highways were built and Americans started traveling. Disney opened in 1955. The first McDonald’s opened in 1951. The first shopping mall opened in 1955 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 1959 the St. Lawrence Seaway opened for seaport shipping and jet air travel was introduced in 1958. Two new states were added in 1959, inoculations for polio vaccines were introduced, the first kidney transplant took place, open heart surgery and a computer was introduced to the public in 1951.
RV’s came into existence and blossomed into motor homes. “Life was good in the 50’s. Our whole life was changing.”
Some things weren’t so great during these times, he noted. “Like the Korean War and building ballistic missiles and our relations with the Soviet Union. There was also racial tensions leading to the Civil Rights movement.”
Webster ended his program by saying what is ordinary today to American high school students became the American Lifestyle in the 50’s.
“Things can’t always be so great. Could all this greed today become an offset from the 50’s?” he warned.
Some 50’s icons:
Dick Clark and TV Bandstand