When describing the 1950s, many historians use the word "boom." This is because of the prosperous economy, the increasing number of people moving to the suburbs and the population explosion known as the "baby boom." Other people called it America's "golden age."
The period between 1946 and 1964, which spans the entire 1950s decade, is often called the "postwar era." For many, it was a pleasant decade because World War II and the Great Depression were officially long behind them. Pop culture changed and helped define the era. Rock and roll music began to dominate, and more households than ever could afford TVs.
The 1950s also saw the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. However, tensions between Russia and the United States and fears of communism also impacted the decade and led to the "Red Scare."
The 1950s was a period of growth in the United States, especially when it came to the population. The term "baby boomer" is used to describe the approximately 77 million people born during the postwar era, due to this sudden population explosion.
As World War II ended, adults saw a brighter future for themselves and their families. They also found themselves with more money in their pockets. Both factors led to a desire to have more children. Soldiers returning from war and families moving to the suburbs also played a role in the boom. At the time, the baby boomer generation was the largest generation the United States had ever seen.
As the population grew, so did the economy and capitalism. Businesses thrived, workers earned more money and people were able to buy more consumer products, like cars, washing machines and TVs. After surviving the war and the Great Depression, American adults had a desire to buy more consumer products than ever. As Europe rebuilt itself after the war, its population became obsessed with American products as well.
Homeownership grew from 40 percent to 60 percent between 1945 and 1960. About 75 percent of American families had at least one car, and the differences between the economic classes shrunk. Around 60 percent of people living in the United States were considered middle class.
Another boom that marked the decade was the movement of people from cities to the suburbs. Apartment dwellers became homeowners. Real estate developers bought large parcels of land and built inexpensive homes on them. Because families were growing, parents opted to move outside of the cities so they had more space and their children had their own yards in which to play. The G.I. Bill made it easier for soldiers returning home from World War II to secure mortgages and buy homes too. And new forms of credit made it easier to buy homes and fill them with appliances and other goods.
For many people, changes in pop culture helped define the 1950s era. Previously, pop, jazz and crooner music ruled the airwaves. But artists like Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, James Brown and Brenda Lee ushered in a new genre of music: rock and roll. By the mid-50s, Evil Presley, aka the King of Rock and Roll, was the most famous musician in the United States.
As more and more Americans purchased TVs, what some call the "golden age of television" began. People stopped going to movies and listening to the radio in favor of watching popular shows, like
I Love Lucy, Gunsmoke, Perry Mason, The Honeymooners, The Lone Ranger, Leave It to Beaver, Lassie, The Twilight Zone and Father Knows Best.
Unity was often a common goal among Americans in the 1950s. Many people began to view each other as equals regarding both class and race. This helped lead to the civil rights movement. In 1954, the United States Supreme Court ruled that it was against the law to require African-American children to attend segregated schools in the case of
Brown Vs. Board of Education. In 1955, Rosa Parks notoriously refused to leave her seat on a bus in Alabama.
Communism and the Cold War
Not all aspects of the 1950s were positive. During the era, tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union grew into the Cold War which lasted for several decades. Fear of communism taking over American society plagued everyone from government officials to Hollywood actors. Those who were thought to be communists were fired from their jobs and blacklisted within their industries. This period of fear is often called the "Red Scare."