A Brief Timeline of the 1950s

Illustrated timeline of the 1950s.

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The 1950s were the first full decade after the end of World War II and is remembered as a prosperous time of recovery from the Great Depression of the 1930s and the war years of the 1940s. Everyone collectively breathed a sigh of relief. It was a time of new styles that broke with the past, like mid-century modern design, and many firsts, inventions, and discoveries that would become symbolic of the 20th century as a time of looking forward.


President Harry S. Truman with Defense Secretary George C. Marshall

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In 1950, the first modern credit card was introduced, which would eventually change the financial lives of every American in the years to come. It was also the year when the first "Peanuts" cartoon strip appeared, and doctors achieved the first organ transplant.

On the political front, President Harry Truman ordered the building of the hydrogen bomb, the Korean War began, and Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisconsin) began a witch hunt that would result in the blacklisting of many Americans as communists.


Winston Churchill in evening dress with cigar
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In 1951, color TV was introduced, bringing life-like shows into American homes. Truman signed the peace treaty with Japan, officially ending World War II, and Winston Churchill took the reins in Great Britain as prime minister for the second time. South Africans were forced to carry identification cards that included their race.


25th December 1952: Queen Elizabeth II making her first ever Christmas broadcast to the nation from Sandringham House, Norfolk.
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In 1952, Britain's Princess Elizabeth became queen at age 25 after the death of her father, King George VI. London suffered through the Great Smog of 1952, with deaths from breathing issues numbering in the thousands. In the "firsts" department, seat belts were introduced, and the vaccine for polio was created.


Crowd looking at Stalin statue
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In 1953, DNA was discovered, and Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first men to ever climb to the summit of Mount Everest. Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin died, and Americans Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for espionage. Another first: Playboy magazine made its debut.


Victors in Brown vs. Board of Education
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In a landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregation was illegal in the Brown v. Board of Education decision.

In other news, the first atomic submarine was launched, Jonas Salk's polio vaccine was given to children in a massive trial, and cigarettes were reported to cause cancer.


Old McDonald's sign
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The good news of 1955: Disneyland opened in Anaheim, California, and Ray Kroc founded McDonald's.

The bad news: Actor James Dean died in a car accident.

The civil rights movement began with the murder of Emmett Till, the refusal by Rosa Parks to give up her seat on the bus to a white man, and the subsequent Montgomery Bus Boycott.


Elvis Presley portrait with an acoustic guitar
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On the light side of 1956, Elvis Presley burst onto the entertainment scene on "The Ed Sullivan Show;" actress Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier III of Monaco; that great device, the TV remote, was invented; and Velcro was first used on products.

Internationally, the world saw the explosion of the Hungarian Revolution and the Suez Crisis.


Technicians trace Sputnik's orbit
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The year 1957 is most remembered for the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik, which began the space race and the space age. Dr. Seuss published the children's classic "The Cat in the Hat," and the European Economic Community was established.


Mao Tse Tung
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Memorable moments of 1958 include American Bobby Fischer becoming the youngest chess grandmaster, Boris Pasternak refusing the Nobel Prize, the founding of NASA and the creation of the peace symbol.

Hula hoops took the world of kids by storm. And a toy that would become a classic was introduced: LEGO toy bricks.

Internationally, Chinese Leader Mao Tse-tung launched the "Great Leap Forward," a failed economic and social effort that led to millions of deaths.


Scene from the play 'The Sound Of Music'
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On the first day of 1959, Fidel Castro, leader of the Cuban Revolution, became the dictator of Cuba and brought communism to the Caribbean country. The year also saw the famous Kitchen Debate between Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon. The great fixed quiz show scandals were revealed in 1959, and the legendary "Sound of Music" opened on Broadway.