The 1950s (pronounced nineteen-fifties; commonly abbreviated as the "Fifties", shortened to "the '50s") (among other variants) was a decade of the Gregorian calendar that began on January 1, 1950, and ended on December 31, 1959.
By its end, the world had largely recovered from World War II and the Cold War developed from its modest beginning in the late-1940s to a hot competition between the United States and the Soviet Union by the early-1960s.
Cold War conflicts involving the influence of the rival superpowers of the Soviet Union and the United States
Korean War (1950–1953) – The war, which lasted from June 25, 1950, until the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement on July 27, 1953, started as a civil war between North Korea and the Republic of Korea (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 war between the Western powers under the United Nations Command led by 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 conducted Operation Chromite, an amphibious landing at the city of Inchon (Song Do port). The North Korean army collapsed, and within a few days, MacArthur's army retook Seoul (South Korea's capital). He then pushed north, capturing Pyongyang in October. Chinese intervention the following month drove UN forces south again. MacArthur then planned for a full-scale invasion of China, but this was against the wishes of President Truman and others who wanted a limited war. He was dismissed and replaced by General Matthew Ridgeway. The war then became a bloody stalemate for the next two and a half years while peace negotiations dragged on. The war left 33,742 American soldiers dead, 92,134 wounded, and 80,000 missing in action (MIA) or prisoner of war (POW). Estimates place Korean and Chinese casualties at 1,000,000–1,400,000 dead or wounded, and 140,000 MIA or POW.
The Vietnam War began in 1955. Diệm instituted a policy of death penalty against any communist activity in 1956. The Viet Minh began an assassination campaign in early 1957. An article by French scholar Bernard Fall published in July 1958 concluded that a new war had begun. The first official large unit military action was on September 26, 1959, when the Viet Cong ambushed two ARVN companies.
Israeli troops preparing for combat in the Sinai peninsula during the Suez Crisis.
Suez Crisis (1956) – The Suez Crisis was a war fought on Egyptian territory in 1956. Following the nationalisation of the Suez Canal in 1956 by Gamal Abdel Nasser, the United Kingdom, France and Israel subsequently invaded. The operation was a military success, but after the United States and Soviet Union united in opposition to the invasion, the invaders were forced to withdraw. This was seen as a major humiliation, especially for the two Western European countries, and symbolizes the beginning of the end of colonialism and the weakening of European global importance, specifically the collapse of the British Empire.
The Mau Mau began retaliating against the British in Kenya. This led to concentration camps in Kenya, a British military victory, and the election of moderate nationalist Jomo Kenyatta as leader of Kenya.
Hungarian Revolution of 1956 – A massive, spontaneous popular uprising in the Soviet satellite state of Hungary against that country's Soviet-backed Marxist-Leninist regime, inspired by political changes in Poland and the Soviet Union. The uprising, fought primarily by students and workers, managed to fight the invading Soviet Army to a standstill, and a new, pro-reform government took power. While the top Soviet leaders even considered withdrawing from Hungary entirely, they soon crushed the Revolution with a massive second invasion, killing thousands of Hungarians and sending hundreds of thousands more into exile. This was the largest act of internal dissent in the history of the Soviet Bloc, and its violent suppression served to further discr the Soviet Union even among its erstwhile supporters.
On November 1, 1950, two Puerto Rican nationalists staged an attempted assassination on U.S. President Harry S. Truman. The leader of the team Griselio Torresola had firearm experience and Oscar Collazo was his accomplice. They made their assault at the Blair House where President Truman and his family were staying. Torresola mortally wounded a White House policeman, Leslie Coffelt, who shot Torresola dead before expiring himself. Collazo, as a co-conspirator in a felony that turned into a homicide, was found guilty of murder and was sentenced to death in 1952 but then his sentence was later commuted to life in prison.
The U.S. ended its occupation of Japan, which became fully independent. Japan held democratic elections and recovered economically.
Within a year of its establishment, the People's Republic of China had reclaimed Tibet and intervened in the Korean War, causing years of hostility and estrangement from the United States. Mao admired Stalin and rejected the changes in Moscow after Stalin's death in 1953, leading to growing tension with the Soviet Union.
In 1950–1953 France tried to contain a growing communist insurgency led by Ho Chi Minh. After their defeat in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954 France granted independence to the nations of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. At the Geneva Conference of 1954 France and the Communists agreed to divide Vietnam and hold elections in 1956. The U.S. and South Vietnam rejected the Geneva accords and the division became permanent.
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 continued to be constant problems in the region.
In 1957, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, after a series of negotiations with the then British empire, secured the independence of Ghana. Ghana was hitherto referred to as Gold Coast, a colony of the British Empire.
In the 1950s, America was the center of covert and overt conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States. Their varying collusion with national, populist, and elitist interests destabilized the region. The United States CIAorchestrated the overthrow of the Guatemalan government in 1954. In 1958, the military dictatorship of Venezuela was overthrown. This continued a pattern of regional revolution and warfare making extensive use of ground forces.
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.
In 1959, Alaska (3 January) and Hawaii (21 August) became the 49th and 50th states respectively of the United States.
In 1959, Fidel Castro overthrew the regime of Fulgencio Batista in Cuba, establishing a communist government in the country. Although Castro initially sought aid from the US, he was rebuffed and later turned to the Soviet Union.
NORAD signed in 1959 by Canada and the United States creating a unified North American air defense system.
Brasília was built in 41 months, from 1956, and on April 21, 1960, became the capital of Brazil
With the help of the Marshall Plan, post-war reconstruction succeeded, with some countries (including West Germany) adopting free market capitalism while others adopted Keynesian-policy welfare states. Europe continued to be divided into Western and Soviet bloc countries. The geographical point of this division came to be called the Iron Curtain.
Because previous attempts for a unified state failed, Germany remained divided into two states: the capitalist Federal Republic of Germany in the west and the socialist German Democratic Republic in the east. The Federal Republic identified itself as the legal successor to the fascist dictatorship and was obliged in paying war reparations. The GDR, however, denounced the fascist past completely and did not recognize itself as responsible for paying reparations on behalf of the Nazi regime. The GDR's more harsh attitude in suppressing anti-communist and Russophobic sentiment lingering in the post-Nazi society resulted in increased emigration to the west.
While the United States military maintained its bases in western Europe, the Soviet Union maintained its bases in the east. In 1953, Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, died. This led to the rise of Nikita Khrushchev, who denounced Stalin and pursued a more liberal domestic and foreign policy, stressing peaceful competition with the West rather than overt hostility. There were anti-Stalinist uprisings in East Germany and Poland in 1953 and Hungary in 1956.
On August 14, 1958, a KLM Lockheed Constellation crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Ireland, killing all 99 people aboard.
The United States was the most influential economic power in the world after World War II under the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower.
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%.
On November 1, 1950, in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus, the Pope Pius XII declared the Assumption of Mary as a dogma:
By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.
Pope Pius XII deliberately left open the question of whether Mary died before her Assumption.
Before the dogmatic definition, in Deiparae Virginis Mariae Pope Pius XII sought the opinion of Catholic Bishops and a large number of them pointed to the Book of Genesis (3:15) as scriptural support for the dogma. In Munificentissimus Deus Pius XII referred to the "struggle against the infernal foe" as in Genesis 3:15 and to "complete victory over the sin and death" as in the Letters of Paul as a scriptural basis for the dogmatic definition, Mary being assumed to heaven as in 1 Corinthians 15:54: "then shall come to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory".
Assassinations and attempts
Prominent assassinations, targeted killings, and assassination attempts include:
1950: The attempted assassination of Harry Truman - two Puerto Rican nationalists attempted to assassinate President Truman in Washington, DC, killing two Secret Service agents. The president was not hurt. One of the assassins was killed in the incident and the other was sentenced to death. President Truman converted his sentence to life imprisonment.
1951: King Abdullah's assassination - King Abdullah I of Jordan was murdered during the Friday prayers in Jerusalem. With his assassination the possibility of peace negotiations between Israel and Jordan came to a long end.
1956: The assassination of the Nicaraguan president - Anastasio Somoza García, the dictatorial president of Nicaragua, was killed by an assassin. After his death the throne took hold of his son, Luis Somosa DeBeila.
1959: The assassination of Sri Lanka's Prime Minister - Sri Lankan Prime Minister S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike was assassinated by a robed Buddhist monk as part of the Sinhalese-Tamil conflict.
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 wasn't until around 1954 that transistor products began to achieve real commercial success with small portable radios.
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. In 1958, the first plastic Coke bottle appeared.
Castle Bravo: A 15 megaton hydrogen bomb experiment conducted by the United States in 1954. Photographed 78 miles (125 kilometers) from the explosion epicenter.
President Harry S. Truman inaugurated transcontinental television service on September 4, 1951, when he made a speech to the nation. AT&T carried his address from San Francisco and it was viewed from the west coast to the east coast at the same time.
Francis Crick and James Watson discover the spiral structure of DNA
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".
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.
An American family watching television together, 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. 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."
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.
Short hair was very popular for young women in the 1950s as can be seen in this photograph taken in 1958
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 similar 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: After World War II the famous designer reestablished herself. This time Chanel introduced very useful clothing for women, the boxy suit. The suits created in 1954 were special because of the unique tweeds that were made just for her. Her ideology was to create comfort clothing that had function and made women look pretty and young. The suits had jackets, skirts and accessories such as hats and handbags. 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.
^ abcdefStevenson, 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.
Bessel, Richard and Dirk Schumann, eds. Life after Death: Approaches to a Cultural and Social History of Europe During the 1940s and 1950s (2003), essays by scholars on recovery from the war
Judt, Tony. Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (2005)
London Institute of World Affairs, The Year Book of World Affairs 1957 (London 1957), comprehensive reference book covering 1956 in diplomacy, international affairs and politics for major nations and regions
Montgomery, John. The Fifties (1960), On Britain.
Wybrow, Robert J. "Britain Speaks Out, 1937-87" (1989), Summaries of public opinion polls in Britain