Some may call it the "fabulous fifties," but others call it a time of "tensions and insecurities." Several people think back on the fifties and remember them as the "good old days," while others think of it as a time of crisis and terror. Although Americans were faced with many hardships throughout the fifties, I think that the positive aspects such as the new technologies, growing economy, higher focus on education, and growing job opportunities of the era outnumber the negative aspects, such as racism that African Americans faced, and the changing roles of women, making the fifties an overall "happy" period in American history. The fifties are characterized as a watershed period, due to the un parallel growth and change that America socially and economically experienced after WWII. In the years during the War and the Depression there was high employment, low inflation and a yearning for normalcy, and stability in many Americans lives. The fifties changed all of this providing the American culture with prosperity by way of network television, air conditioning, computers, jet travel, a national highway system, chain hotels, and franchised fast food that made businesses boom. The fifties are also characterized as a golden age when everything was simple and innocent.
People had peace and prosperity due to the war ending, and they expressed their feelings of excitement and anticipation through their clothing with men dressing in suits and hats, and women in dresses, stockings and heels, and by going out dancing to big bands downtown, and experimenting with the new technologies and organizations of the time. With World War II bringing thousands of men back to America seeking new lives and opportunities, the US experienced an economic expansion like it had never seen before. During the middle of the twentieth century wages increased 22%, family income went up from $3, 000 to $5, 400, and the Gross National Product increased from $206 billion to $440 billion. In order for the country to meet the demands of the massive consumptions of the American people, industries had to expand and create more efficient ways of selling there products through advertisements, which as a result provided citizens with more job opportunities.
In my opinion I think that the fifties were defiantly more of a "happy" time than they were a hard time for most people. With evolutionary inventions such as the television, computer, portable radios, plastic goods, highways, nuclear missiles, and chemical fuels, that are all still around today and used religiously by our society, the fifties changed the lifestyles of many people. No wonder this was an era full of such high inflation; it had some of the most miraculous inventions and people had to money to purchase them. With Americans going on crazy buying sprees in the fifties industries had to compete for the consumers business by advertising commercials on television and campaigning on Madison Avenue. People had more leisure time, they could spend their incomes however they chose, and were free to live and do as they pleased in the fifties. The ideal American life in the fifties was to get married, start a family, and settle down.
As a result suburban life was created. Families wanted to be like the Cleavers, or other unrealistic families that were portrayed on television. These idealistic families were perfect, never raised their voices, and solved problems within seconds. They had several children, a beautiful, perfect stay at home mother who cooked and could wash the floor in stilettos, along with a hard working father who supported his family.
These families would live in a house enclosed by a white picket fence and they were happy all the time. Now the image of these families for women especially had a profound impact. It made women believe that they had to be perfect all the time, when in fact many mothers and wives of the fifties were heavy drinkers and drug users due to their unhappiness from their lifestyle changes that they were forced to deal with after the war ended. After the war, the roles of women changed dramatically. They were put out of the jobs that they had been filling in for the men during the war, and were expected to be stay at home wives.
The stereotypical women of the fifties were to find a husband, get married, and start a family. Many women did not like this new idea of women staying home and tending to the family and house. Therefore many women rebelled and continued to work outside their homes, and further their education, causing marital problems in many cases. During this time period couples also started to marry much younger, and produce more children than ever before.
Children were seen as successes for women and gave many women a sense of identity and self-worth. Due to the great family increase in the fifties the period obtained the name "the baby boom era." Another reason for the population growth in the fifties was that people started to live longer. More Americans began attending college where they gained more knowledge on health and wellness, which allowed them to live better lives. Higher education gave citizens, minorities in particular more opportunities in the workplace allowing them to seek higher end jobs. The fifties were also a time that was widely based on conservative and anticommunist beliefs. Even the clothing that people wore, men in gray flannel suits, and women in dresses with tight waists and high heels, reflected the conservative view of the fifties.
The traditional views that society had at that time would probably indicate why the phrase "under God" was added to the Pledge in this era. Throughout the fifties, America also took a new step into the nuclear field. With Eisenhower's "Atoms for Peace" speech to the United Nations in 1954, Americans began experimenting with the world of chemicals to produce things like nuclear reactors. Although it may seem like the fifties was full of only happy times, to others it was a very insecure and fearful time for the American society. Issues such as poverty, racism, and sexism, still threatened America, but people just seemed to ignore them.
America was more focused on growth and prosperity with the US creating huge industries and corporations that bought out smaller businesses to increase the economy. The US wanted total control of businesses in America and in other countries such as Cuba with its oil production, so that they would have secure trade routes, and more world powers. Even though this is very greedy of America it is important that we have a stable economy. I think that instead of putting so much effort into expansion, that America should have focused on the problems occurring within the country at the time as well. The fifties may seem like a time of innocence, where life revolved around the traditional family, but we seem to forget some not so happy events like the Korean War, the McCarthy scandal, the high number of atomic bombs that were produced, the communists, and spies that went on during this period. The fifties were a scary time for some people.
Many people were uneasy about the bombs and the events of the Cold War and Korean War. Some people did not agree with McCarthy's decision of dropping the atomic bomb because it killed 200, 000, they did not know the effects of the bomb, and people thought Japan would surrender. Where others thought the bomb was beneficial because it ended the war and preserved democracy in America. McCarthy being fired was also another controversial issue in the fifties. Many people were against his dismissal because they thought due to a lack of communication between the government staff led to the Korean War, while others agreed with his firing because McCarthy disobeyed the President, and intervened in North Korea for no reason causing the Korean War. There was still a lot of racism in the world in the fifties.
African Americans rights were constantly under attack. Racist assassinations and lynching occurred left and right, with cases such as the 14- year old Emmett Till. Although many organizations and laws such as the Brown vs. Board of Education Act worked towards integrating schools and ending segregation, the prejudices that African Americans faced did not end there. In many southern states blacks were unable to vote, go to the same restaurants or public buildings, or have the same working opportunities as whites. As a result to the inequalities that blacks were facing in this time riots, boycotts, and sit-ins broke out in many schools such as Little Rock, along within many public places in hopes of seeking equality and justice.
Unfortunately it was not until years later when the Civil Rights Act was passed that African Americans striving efforts paid off. Another big issue that the Americans faced in the fifties was the Soviets launching of the Sputnik satellite in 1957. The Russians launched the satellite to try to show their communistic superiority in technology. They used satellites as spying devices in the Cold War, which surprised and scared many Americans.
It made Americans want to improve their space technology, and they began to put a greater emphasis on engineering and mathematics, which provided a boom in many of these careers. The Government began building technical institutes focused on scientific, and space research encouraging Americans to further their education in these areas. After the Sputnik event, the US economy began to fall. Unemployment grew, and problems were erupting in the White House. Sherman Adams was dismissed for taking bribes, and many people were becoming to think that life was not as good as they thought it was.
To many the fifties was a period when the United States prospered and dominated much of the world's economy, a time when girls wore poodle skirts and guys wore leather jackets and danced around to Elvis and rock & roll. When Americans began to take advantage of leisure time experiencing new inventions like hula-hoops, Barbie dolls, becoming active in sports like baseball and football, and making television a dominant part of mass media. Although it was also a time when society underwent world shattering changes, it was a period in history that helped stabilized a country that just got out of war and prepared America for the changes that it experiences in the upcoming years.