Top Inventions From the 1950s Through the 1990s

Life-Changing Innovations from the Latter Half of the 20th Century

Lowell, Massachusetts factories

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The second half of the 20th century was a time of post-WWII prosperity when cars gave rise to the suburbs and television sets began displacing radios as the main source of news, entertainment, and information across the country. Live news broadcasts went coast-to-coast. As millions tuned in to the same shows at the same time, the Cold War fueled our fears and fed distrust, even as the all-too-real horrors of the Vietnam War played out on the nightly news in practically every living room.

Many of the most popular consumer products invented in the 1970s and ’80s—including cell phones, home computers, and the Internet—still have a huge impact on our everyday lives. Much in the way emerging automobile technology forever altered the way people lived in the early part of the 20th century, innovations from the latter decades have changed the world in ways we're only beginning to understand the full impact of.

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1950s

Hula Champion
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In the postwar America of the 1950s, many changes for consumers were afoot. New on the scene in this decade: credit cards, power steering, diet soft drinks, music synthesizers, and transistor radios. The baby boom generation made hula hoops a craze, and the Barbie doll began her decades-long, ageless run.

In the changing people's lives department, there were birth control pills, the computer modem, the microchip, and the Fortran language. On April 15, 1955, Ray Kroc launched the first McDonald’s franchise in Des Plaines, Ilinois.

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1960s

Audio Tape Cassette
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Early computers hit the scene in the ’60s, along with the invention of the language called Basic, the mouse, and random access memory (RAM).

The entertainment world saw the debut of the audio cassette, the compact disc, and the video disc.

Cars got electronic fuel injection, and just about everyone got a handheld calculator. ATMs started showing up, making banking at all hours and on the weekends a new convenience.

On the medical front, the 1960s saw the first vaccines for mumps and measles, as well as an oral vaccine for polio. In 1967, Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the first successful heart transplant.

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1970s

Close-Up Of Floppy Disk
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In the ’70s, more progress was made on the computer front with the invention of the floppy disk and the microprocessor.

Consumer goods came on strong in the ’70s as well. For the first time, consumers could use VCRs to record TV shows and view movies on VHS tape. Food processors gave rise to the smoothie fad, and drink cans got easier to open with push-through tabs. Everyone wanted a Walkman so they could listen to tunes anywhere, and Bic made the first disposable lighter. Rollerblades and the Pong video game were favorites of kids everywhere.

Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, was the decade's medical breakthrough, and in the last year of the decade, cell phones were invented.

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1980s

Apple Lisa 2
Dave Jones from Australia/Flickr/CC-BY-2.0

The 1980s was a watershed era for computers that would eventually touch nearly every facet of life as we know it. After the invention of the first IBM Personal Computer, or PC, and the Apple Lisa, Apple followed up with the Macintosh, and Microsoft invented the Windows operating system—and the world has never been the same.

More ’80s tech innovations: Conventional radar was replaced with Doppler radar for weather broadcasting resulting in much more accurate forecasts, high-definition television (HDTV) was invented, and 3-D video games made their debut. Kids went crazy for Cabbage Patch Kids, and many of their parents went crazy for Prozac, the first selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which increase serotonin in the brain and boost mood.

In 1982, Seattle dentist Dr. Barney Clark was the first human to receive an artificial heart—the Jarvik-7—which was implanted by American cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. William DeVries.

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1990s

HTML code
Don Bayley / Getty Images

During the 1990s, DVDs enhanced the home movie-watching experience, Beanie Babies became ubiquitous, the Chunnel opened, and the digital answering machine answered its first call. On the medical front, researchers discovered the HIV protease inhibitor...and Viagra.

Apart from the fuel-cell-powered car and the optical mouse, the ’90s were relatively quiet on the invention/technology scene, however, three things were momentous: the World Wide Web, Internet protocol (HTTP) and WWW language (HTML) were all developed. Oh yes, and two websites you might have heard of—Google and eBay—arrived as well.