“I can’t imagine there has ever been a more gratifying time or place to be alive than America in the 1950s. No country had ever known such prosperity. When the war ended, the United States had $26 billion worth of factories that hadn’t existed before the war, $140 billion in savings and war bonds just waiting to be spent, no bomb damage and practically no competition. All the American companies had to do was stop making tanks and battleships and start making Buicks and Frigidaires — and boy, did they … Americans owned 80 percent of the world’s electrical goods, controlled two-thirds of the world’s productive capacity, produced more than 40 percent of its electricity, 60 percent of its oil and 66 percent of its steel. The 5 percent of people on Earth who were Americans had more wealth than the other 95 percent combined. We became the richest country in the world without needing the rest of the world.”
— Bill Bryson, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid
I enjoy talking with people who came of age in the invincible 1950s. If there ever was a perfect era, in so many ways, this is the decade that symbolizes the good old days.
Was there ever a more optimistic, hopeful, happy time?
Our country had pulled all ranks together during World War II, and for the first time women had been a successful part of the work force.
Men and women alike were basking in the glow of world victory, soldiers were ecstatic to return home, and everyone was singing along to such great tunes as Happy Days are Here Again.
The baby boom was born while new homes were being built at a rapid rate. The dollar was strong, and it was possible to stretch a paycheck because of it.
Jobs were plentiful as manufacturing kicked in to high gear to crank out all of the new and fabulous items everyone not only wanted, but could happily afford to purchase.
Family farming with a successful cash-flow, while never easy, was at least attainable, if one was willing to work hard.
Young couples were convinced that everything was well within their reach: cars, trucks and tractors of a wide variety of name and color, implements of every type, new kitchen appliances, black and white TV sets, transistor radios, vacuum cleaners.
All of this and more became a part of the booming landscape of the American home. Though much has been said of bomb shelters and air-raid drills, our country’s general sentiment during this era was one of incredible security.
When President Harry Truman turned over the reins to President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953, Truman and his wife and daughter took a cross-country road trip with Truman himself at the wheel of their American-made car.
There were no Secret Service agents accompanying them.
When they were recognized in diners and movie theaters over the course of this road trip, people were respectful and polite. We were still a genteel nation.
Movies and music of this era offer an enchantingly innocent, confident and kind-hearted sentiment across the board.
Cowboys were gentlemen, and the good guy prevailed.
The women of the big screen were spunky and sure of themselves, while managing to remain lady-like in every definition of the word.
So, as I look back on all of this, I cannot help but wonder where in the world things went so wrong? Where along the journey did we give away our innocence mixed with assured bluster? When did we lose our strong economic stance? And why have we as a society become so angry, so fixated on heartbreak and violence in our movies and our music, as well as in daily life?
Some have speculated that much of our undoing hinges upon our relinquishment of transistor technology.
It is interesting to note that while most American companies were researching the transistor for military applications, in 1953 Masaru Ibuka traveled from Japan to the U.S. and convinced Bell Labs to license their transistor technology to his Japanese company. It is said that Bell Labs saw this as a goodwill gesture in wanting to make peace with Japan in the post-war era, while U.S. companies concentrated more on development of the vacuum tube method in very early computer research.
In August 1955, Tokyo Telecon Engineering released the Sony TR-55, Japan’s first transistor radio. The Japanese Sony communications mega-empire was born.
It would be quite simplistic to say that this alone turned the tide toward our modern-day challenges. Regardless of how we got here, wouldn’t it be lovely to be able to turn back time, at least in some regard, to the 1950s?