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Centuries: 19th century - 20th century - 21st century
Decades: 1920s 1930s 1940s - 1950s - 1960s 1970s 1980s
Years: 1950 1951 1952 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958 1959

The 1950s was the decade spanning from the 1st of January, 1950 to the 31st December, 1959. Some Americans propose a long "Fifties period" going from the end of World War II in 1945 to the Kennedy assassination of November 22, 1963.


[edit] Economy

[edit] Rebirth of Europe

Recovering from World War II and its aftermath, the economic miracle emerged in West Germany and Italy. Additionally, wartime rationing ended in the United Kingdom.

[edit] Ascendancy of the United States

The 1950s in the United States of America were marked with a sharp rise in the economy for the first time in almost 30 years, and a return to the 1920s-type consumer society built on credit and boom-times, as well as the baby boom from returning GIs who went to college under the G.I. Bill and settled in suburban America. Most of the internal conflicts that had developed in earlier decades like women's rights, civil rights, and imperialism were relatively suppressed or neglected during this time as a world returning from the brink hoped to see a more consistent way of life as opposed to the liberalism and radicalism of the 1930s and 1940s. The effect of suppressing social problems in the 1950s would have a significant impact on the rest of the twentieth century.

[edit] Social and political movements

[edit] Trends

In the West, the generation traumatized by the Great Depression and World War II created a culture with emphasis on normality and conformity.

[edit] Korean War

Overview map of the Korean War

The Korean War, lasting from June 25, 1950 until a cease-fire on July 27 1953 (as of 2006, there has been no peace treaty signed), started as a civil war between communist North Korea and republican South Korea. When it began, North and South Korea existed as provisional governments competing for control over the Korean peninsula, due to the division of Korea by outside powers. While originally a civil war, it quickly escalated into a Cold War-era conflict and served as a proxy war between the capitalist powers of the United States and its allies and the Communist powers of the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union.

On September 15, General Douglas MacArthur planned a grand strategy to dissect North-Korean-occupied Korea at the city of Incheon (Song Do port) to cut off further invasion by the North Korean army. Within a few days, MacArthur's army took back Seoul (South Korea's capital). The plan succeeded which allowed American and South Korean forces to cut off further expansion by the North Koreans. The war continued until a cease-fire was agreed to by both sides on July 27, 1953. The war left 33,742 American soldiers dead and 92,134 wounded.

In the end, neither side had won the war. It was as if the match had ended 0-0; nothing gained nothing lost. Before the war, the border was a longitudinal line; after the war, it was shifted slightly diagonally.

[edit] U.S./USSR tensions result in "Cold War"

Image:Cold War Map 1959.png
This map shows two essential global spheres during the Cold War in 1959. Consult the legend on the map for more details.

The "Cold War", which began as a geopolitical, ideological, and economic struggle between the Soviet Union and the United States, intensified. During this time the Warsaw pact and NATO were founded.

The most American above-ground nuclear test explosions happened during this decade than any other during the Cold War.

The 1950s were also marked with a rapid rise in tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, which would touch off the Arms Race, the Space Race, McCarthyism, and the Korean War. Stalin's death in 1953 left an enormous impact in Eastern Europe that forced the Soviet Union to create more liberal policies internally and externally.

The most notable political shift in the Eastern bloc would be the Hungarian revolution of 1956 which would soon falter due to the Soviet Union's intervention.

Cuban revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro gained power, ousting the government of General Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

In the United States there was a "Red Scare" resulting in the McCarthy Hearings.

[edit] Suez Crisis

Image:1956 Suez war - conquest of Sinai.jpg
Israeli conquest of Sinai during the Suez Crisis

The Suez Crisis was a war fought on Egyptian territory in 1956. The conflict pitted Egypt against an alliance between the United Kingdom, the Fourth French Republic and Israel. The United States also played a crucial role, albeit not a military one.

[edit] European Common Market

The European Community (or Common Market), the precursor of the European Union, was established.

[edit] Civil rights

Seen here in 1989, Lucille Ball was one of the best known stars in the 1950s

[edit] Culture

  • Brylcreem and other hair tonics had a period of popularity
  • Juvenile delinquency was said to be at unprecedented epidemic proportions in the United States, though some see this era as relatively low in crime compared to today.
  • Continuing poverty in some regions during recessions later on in this decade. The 1950s is often mistakenly painted as the pinnacle of American prosperity.To some, it also may be considered the peak of our modern American civilization The '50s were supposed to be a time of the "Affluent Society". In reality however, more than a fifth of Americans lived in poverty during this time, compared with roughly an eighth at the beginning of the 21st century.
  • The 1950s saw fairly high rates of unionization, government social spending, taxes, and the like in the United States and European countries. Most Western governments were liberal or moderate, though domestic politics were also affected by reactions to communism and the Cold War.
  • Optimistic visions of a semi-utopian technological future, including such devices as the flying car, were popular.
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still hits movie theaters.
  • Along with the appearance of the sentence Kilroy was here across the United States, graffiti as an art form develops, especially among urban African Americans; graffiti eventually becomes one of the four elements of hip hop culture
  • Considerable racial tension arose with military and school desegregation in mostly the southern part of the United States, though major controversy and uproar did not truly erupt until the 1960s.
  • Rise of evangelical Christianity including Youth for Christ (1943); the National Association of Evangelicals, the American Council of Christian Churches, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (1950), and the Campus Crusade for Christ (1951). Christianity Today was first published in 1956. 1956 also marked the beginning of Bethany Fellowship, a small press that would grow to be a leading evangelical press.
  • Carl Stuart Hamblen, a religious radio broadcaster, hosted the popular show "The Cowboy Church of the Air".

[edit] Emerging social perspectives in the 1950s.

[edit] Music

[edit] Rock-and-roll music

Image:Elvis presley.jpg
Elvis Presley in 1957. He became known as "The King of Rock 'n' Roll"

Traditional pop music such as the bebop era of jazz hit its peak and climaxed as early rock and roll music led by Elvis Presley was embraced by teenagers and the emerging youth culture as the first wave of the Baby Boom reached its teen years. Rock music was generally dismissed or condemned by older generations. Other prominent rock and roll musicians inclued Paul Anka, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard.

[edit] The 1950s in cinema

[edit] World cinema

Image:Rashomon pic.jpg
Toshiro Mifune and Machiko Kyo in Rashomon, a significant film for the development of Japanese cinema

The 1950s represent what many see as the epitome of Japanese cinema, starting in 1950 with Rashomon, the first major success of legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, which is considered to be one of the greatest films of all time. [1] Kurosawa followed this success with a string of classics such as Ikiru (1952), Seven Samurai (1954), Throne of Blood (1957), and The Hidden Fortress (1958).

Other Japanese directors who were at the top of their game at this period in time were Yasujiro Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi. Ozu made Tokyo Story in 1953, which is widely considered one of the best films ever made, as well as the best Japanese film ever made. [2] [3] Ozu followed this success with a remake of his earlier A Story of Floating Weeds, only this time in color and sound, which are both regarded as some of Ozu's best work.

In 1953 and 1954, Mizoguchi made the two films that are widely considered to be his masterpieces, Ugetsu and Sansho the Bailiff.

Cabiria on the streets, from Nights of Cabiria, an international hit for Italian cinema

In addition to Japanese cinema receiving vast success worldwide, European cinema was experiencing a reboot after World War II. In 1953, renowned Italian director Federico Fellini made what is widely considered to be his first masterpiece, I Vitelloni. Although it did not achieve significant success at the time, Fellini followed it up with his international breakthrough, La Strada, which went on to win the first competitive foreign language film Oscar. Fellini followed the success of La Strada with another huge success, Nights of Cabiria. Nights of Cabiria was lauded worldwide and earned Fellini another Oscar.

Death as featured in The Seventh Seal, among the most prominent films of Swedish cinema

Meanwhile, in Sweden, a young Ingmar Bergman was starting to leave his indelible stamp in cinema. In 1955, after a string of financial flops, Bergman achieved his first international success, Smiles of a Summer Night. Smiles of a Summer Night received international acclaim and earned Bergman a Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Bergman followed up the success of Smiles with what remains his most famous film to this day, The Seventh Seal (1957).

The Seventh Seal was an ambitious project in which Antonious Block, after returning from the Crusades plays chess with Death in the hope that Death will allow him to live. The Seventh Seal earned unanimous praise worldwide and established Bergman as one of cinema's most promising, young directors and is still considered to be one of his best films, and some even consider it to be his masterpiece.

That same year, Bergman decided to follow The Seventh Seal with a more personal project on a much smaller scale, Wild Strawberries. Wild Strawberries is the story of an old man (played by Victor Sjöström) who goes on a trip to receive an honorary degree with his daughter in law (Ingrid Thulin). During the trip, she tells him he is cold and unfeeling and he thinks over all the failures of his life. Bergman explores such trademark themes as the existence of God and mortality in this film. Wild Strawberries also received enormous acclaim and only further emphasized his talent. It is now considered one of his greatest films, and 1957 is considered a year of prodigious output for the young Bergman.

Car thief Michel Poiccard, aka Laszlo Kovacs (Jean-Paul Belmondo) eyes a movie theater photograph of his idol Humphrey Bogart, in Breathless, an early box office success for the French New Wave

Meanwhile, over in France, young critics such as Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, and Éric Rohmer, who worked for the influential magazine Cahiers du Cinéma were starting to make their stamp in film. In 1958, Chabrol made Le Beau Serge, the film that is widely considered to be the first film of the French New Wave. But the New Wave only started receiving recognition in 1959, when Truffaut released his debut feature, The 400 Blows. The 400 Blows struck a chord in audiences worldwide and praise was lavished upon it. Today it is considered one of Truffaut's two best films, along with 1961's Jules and Jim.

Later that year, Godard released his first film, Breathless. It received attention for its radical storytelling methods and mocking of American gangster clichés. It is now regarded as a masterpiece, and one of Godard's best films. It remains Godard's only box office success to date.

[edit] Hollywood

The corpse of Joe Gillis floating in Norma Desmond's pool, in the opening scenes of Sunset Boulevard. Among the hits of American cinema at the time

Known as the "Golden Age", this era of movie-making saw the release of many classics and a slew of talented stars and directors. Films like Sunset Boulevard with William Holden and Gloria Swanson, All About Eve with Bette Davis, and Ben-Hur with Charlton Heston, would become instant classics.

Westerns were getting bigger in the 1950s, with films like High Noon starring Gary Cooper, and Cheyenne with Clint Walker, wrangling moviegoers back to the time of outlaws and wild shoot-outs. There was no shortage of war movies: the 1950s saw the release of Stalag 17, directed by Billy Wilder, The Bridge over the River Kwai starring Alec Guinness, and Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory, a potent anti-war film that starred Kirk Douglas as the French Col. Dax, defending three soldiers accused of cowardice.

Thrillers were also turning into a huge genre in post-war Hollywood. Alfred Hitchcock directed many big name pictures, including Rear Window, starring Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly, North by Northwest with Cary Grant, and Vertigo, with Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak.

Comedies are always popular, and the 1950s were no exception. It Happens Every Spring, Some Like It Hot with Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, and The Ladykillers starring Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers, would be loved by many. The year 1951 would have an important comedy milestone, the last film of the great comedy duo, Laurel and Hardy, Atoll K, in which the pair starred as the inheritors of an island in the Pacific.

[edit] Radio and television

The Twilight Zone's original opening

Television replaced radio as the dominant mass medium in industrialized countries. Popular television programs in the U.S. included Texaco Star Theater, Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, I Love Lucy, The $64,000 Question, and Gunsmoke. The Twilight Zone premiered as the first major science fiction show.

[edit] In the United Kingdom

[edit] In the United States

Reading Lord of the Flies by William Golding.

[edit] Literature

Photograph of Jack Kerouac and Joyce Johnson by Jerry Yulsman, taken outside the Kettle of Fish Bar in Greenwich Village during the 1950s. Kerouac was the among the prominent figures of the Beat generation.

Beatniks and the beat generation, an anti-materialistic literary movement that began with Jack Kerouac in 1948 and stretched on into the 1960s, was at its zenith in the 1950s. Such groundbreaking literature as William S. Burroughs's Naked Lunch, Allen Ginsberg's Howl, William Golding's Lord of the Flies, Jack Kerouac's On the Road, and J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye were published.

[edit] Architecture

[edit] Science and philosophy

[edit] Prizes

Albert Schweitzer is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952. In 1953 Churchill is given the Nobel Prize for literature. In 1955 Laxness is awarded the Nobel Prize for literature for his work with Icelandic literature.

[edit] The 1950s in sports

[edit] The Olympics

[edit] The 1950s in technology

  • Sputnik 1 was launched in 1957.
  • Fortran, perhaps the single most important milestone in the development of programming languages, was developed at IBM.

[edit] National issues

[edit] In the Middle East

Most of the countries of the Middle East continued in the national divisions created by their former European occupiers. However, with the growing importance of their abundance of oil, the otherwise mostly impoverished states experienced an increase of wealth to mostly the elite aristocratic or later theocratic regimes.

The growth of the state of Israel occurred.

Mahmoud Abbas became involved in Palestinian politics in Qatar.

In 1958 American troops entered Lebanon to restore order. This was just the beginning of problems for this nation. Toward the end of the 20th century Lebanon became a battleground of civil warfare for Syrian, Arab, and Israeli meddling that cooled down in the mid-1990s allowing a Western culture to take root temporarily.

[edit] In Africa

Decolonization was occurring in Africa in the 1950s. In 1956 Sudan, Tunisia, and Morocco became independent. In 1954 guerrillas started the Algerian War of Independence. France continued its occupation and extensively used torture and death squads in a attempt to win the war. They were later forced out, but not until after training through example some of the most skilled torturers of the late 20th century.

The Mau Mau began their terrorist attacks against the British in Kenya. This led to concentration camps in Kenya, the retreat of the British, and the election of former terrorist Kenyatta as leader of Kenya.

Africa experienced the beginning of large-scale top-down economic interventions in the 1950s that failed to cause improvement and led to charitable exhaustion by the West as the century went on. The widespread corruption was not dealt with and war, disease, and famine continue to be constant problems in this region.

[edit] In Asia

The nations of the People's Republic of China and Indonesia began their history after their establishment in the late 1940s. Mao Tse-Tung began to rise in prominence in China as he helped lead a revolution against the Nationalist government. In 1953 the French occupiers of Laos gave that country independence. Other countries of southeast Asia also gained independence, but were faced with continuing civil strife from struggles between communists and anti-communists. Dien Bien Phu fell in 1953 to Vietnamese revolutionary forces.

By 1953 the three-year war between North Korea, supported by China, and South Korea, supported by the United States, ended. This war resulted in a permanent border between the north and south sections of this country that were not erased even after the Fall of Communism in 1989.

After World War II the United States occupied Japan and assisted in its rebuilding. Social changes took place, including a move toward democratic elections, universal suffrage, emphasis on rebuilding of industry, as well as secure lifetime employment.

[edit] In South America

In the 1950s South America was the center of covert and overt conflict between the CIA and the KGB. Their varying collusion with national, populist, and elitist interests destabilized the region. However, the intervention of the CIA allowed future exploitation of South American mineral and natural resources with no or minimal repayment to the general population. The United States CIA orchestrated the overthrow of the Guatemalan government in 1952. In 1957 the military dictatorship of Venezuela was overthrown. This continued a pattern of regional revolution and warfare making extensive use of ground forces.

[edit] In Europe

Post-war reconstruction succeeded, thanks to mostly non-corrupt implementation of the Marshall Plan. Europe continued to be divided into "free" and "Soviet bloc" countries. The geographical point of this division came to be called the Iron Curtain. It divided Germany into East and West Germany. In 1955 West Germany joined NATO. This alliance was formed out of fear to defend against a theoretical Russian ground invasion that never took place. The leaders of East Germany were equally afraid of this. In 1956 Soviet troops marched into Hungary.

In 1957 the Treaty of Rome was part of the beginning of the process that led to the European Union. This union from the beginning was based on regulation and trade, and the weakness of basing a union on mercantile principles was not seen until into the 21st century.

[edit] In the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc

The Soviet Union continued its domination of the territories it conquered during World War II. Life was economically harsh and persecution of native religions intense. (See the Black Book of Communism.) In 1953 Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, died. This enabled the future leadership of Russia to scapegoat him for the problems caused by the Communist Revolution.

[edit] In the United States

The United States, thanks to the GI Bill, low-entry-cost housing, and a booming economy, experienced a cultural shift as people acquired spacious housing, kitchens, and washing technologies that gave a higher quality of life. The Salk polio vaccine was introduced to the general public in 1955. This was one of the major advances in vaccinations in the 20th century. The television program I Love Lucy became the most popular television show watched in the United States by 1952. The Holy Bible continued to be the best non-fiction seller throughout the early 1950s although by 1954 it was displaced by other books. The Family of Man was published in the middle 1950s. This pictorial display of human beings remained popular, although not a bestseller, throughout the rest of the century.

In 1957 Elvis Presley became the number one best-selling musical artist. Also in that year, the Ten Commandments, starring Charlton Heston, was released. Heston later went on to lead the NRA, a gun-owner-rights organization in the United States toward the end of the 20th century.

[edit] In the Caribbean

In 1957, Dr. François Duvalier came to power in an election in Haiti. He later declared himself president for life, and ruled until his death in 1971.

Fidel Castro raj overthrew the corrupt Batista regime in Cuba. This revolution was locally widely supported but lost support of the population every year after. The United States was unable to meddle with either its social or economic development throughout the decade. The United States became logistically involved in an embargo just as the Soviet Union became involved in propping up the Castro regime. The United States foreign policy towards this country as well as a mixture of thoughtlessness and incompetence led to an embarrassing abandonment of Guantanamo Base in the next decade that was partially covered up by the Bay of Pigs fiasco. Americans no longer had access to Cuba's casinos or cigars.

[edit] In the United Kingdom

After World War II the United Kingdom made a slow return from post-war rationing of food. The economy was also rebuilt slowly but thanks to abundant oil fields as well as geographical separation from the European continent it experienced more post-war prosperity then the rest of Europe.

[edit] In the Commonwealth

In the 1950s Australia experienced a slow growth in prosperity thanks to a lack of damage to the national infrastructure after World War II. White Australia immigration policies began to be relaxed, though they are not considered to have ended completely until 1973. The portable beer cooler or esky was invented in Australia in this decade.

New Zealand started to build its more distinctive characteristics relating to environmental protection, developed social and political rights and diversity in its primary production industries. It was this post-war trend that would see it become one of the more progressive nations in the 21st Century when issues it had started to address decades before would come to dominate the world agenda, not least being global warming, regional conflict related to resources such as oil and water and international terrorist activity.

The 1950s also saw the start of a greater divergence between New Zealand and Australia. Two nations that until the later 1950s had a great deal in common. By the end of the century this divergence, that was established in the mid-1950s, would see Australia becoming tied closer to the only major superpower USA, while the stronger minded "Kiwi" nation firstly broke the ANZUS treaty and then refused to become involved in the 2nd Iraqi war and declared all its sovereign territories Nuclear Free. It is also interesting to note that it was in the 1950s that it was first mooted that New Zealand should give up its air force and concentrate on building a technologically advanced army and navy. By the 21st Century this was indeed the direction it had taken and it stands as the only Western nation that has no attack wing airforce, and perhaps the only one that can given the fact that it is the most isolated (geographically).

[edit] People

[edit] Entertainers

[edit] World leaders

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

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