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1950s facts for kids

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1950s decade montage
Top, L-R: U.S. Marines engaged in street fighting during the Korean War, c. late September 1950; The first polio vaccine is developed by Jonas Salk.
Centre, L-R: US tests its first thermonuclear bomb with code name Ivy Mike in 1952. A 1954 thermonuclear test, code named Castle Romeo, is shown here; In 1959, Fidel Castro overthrows Fulgencio Batista in the Cuban Revolution, which results in the creation of the first and only communist government in the Western hemisphere; Elvis Presley becomes the leading figure of the newly popular music genre of rock and roll in the mid-1950s.
Bottom, L-R: Smoke rises from oil tanks on Port Said following the invasion of Egypt by Israel, United Kingdom and France as part of the Suez Crisis in late 1956; The Hungarian Revolution of 1956; The Soviet Union launches Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite to orbit the Earth, in October 1957. This starts the Space Race between the Soviet Union and the United States.
Millennium: 2nd millennium
Centuries: 19th century20th century21st century
Decades: 1920s 1930s 1940s1950s1960s 1970s 1980s
Years: 1950 1951 1952 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958 1959
Categories: BirthsDeaths – Architecture

The 1950s (pronounced nineteen-fifties; commonly abbreviated as the "Fifties" or the "'50s") (among other variants) was a decade that began on January 1, 1950, and ended on December 31, 1959.

Throughout the decade, the world continued its recovery from World War II, aided by the post-World War II economic expansion. The period also saw great population growth with increased birth rates and the emergence of the baby boomer generation. Despite this recovery, the Cold War developed from its modest beginnings in the late 1940s to a heated competition between the Soviet Union and the United States by the early 1960s. The ideological clash between communism and capitalism dominated the decade, especially in the Northern Hemisphere, with conflicts including the Korean War in the early 1950s, the Cuban Revolution, the beginning of the Vietnam War in French Indochina, and the beginning of the Space Race with the launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957. Along with increased testing of nuclear weapons (such as RDS-37 and Upshot–Knothole), the tense geopolitical situation created a politically conservative climate. In the United States, a wave of anti-communist sentiment known as the Second Red Scare resulted in Congressional hearings by both houses in Congress. The beginning of decolonization in Africa and Asia also took place in this decade and accelerated in the following decade. During the 1950s, the world population increased from 2.5 to 3.0 billion, with approximately 1 billion births and 500 million deaths.

Politics and wars


  • Cold War conflicts involving the influence of the rival superpowers of the Soviet Union and the United States
    • Korean War (1950–1953) – The war, which lasted from June 25, 1950, until the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement on July 27, 1953, started as a civil war between North Korea and the Republic of Korea (South Korea). When it began, North and South Korea existed as provisional governments competing for control over the Korean peninsula, due to the division of Korea by outside powers. While originally a civil war, it quickly escalated into a war between the Western powers under the United Nations Command led by the United States and its allies and the communist powers of the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union.
      On September 15, General Douglas MacArthur conducted Operation Chromite, an amphibious landing at the city of Inchon (Song Do port). The North Korean army collapsed, and within a few days, MacArthur's army retook Seoul (South Korea's capital). He then pushed north, capturing Pyongyang in October. Chinese intervention the following month drove UN forces south again. MacArthur then planned for a full-scale invasion of China, but this was against the wishes of President Truman and others who wanted a limited war. He was dismissed and replaced by General Matthew Ridgeway. The war then became a bloody stalemate for the next two and a half years while peace negotiations dragged on.
      The war left 33,742 American soldiers dead, 92,134 wounded, and 80,000 missing in action (MIA) or prisoner of war (POW). Estimates place Korean and Chinese casualties at 1,000,000–1,400,000 dead or wounded, and 140,000 MIA or POW.
    • The Vietnam War began in 1955. Diệm instituted a policy of death penalty against any communist activity in 1956. The Viet Minh began an assassination campaign in early 1957. An article by French scholar Bernard Fall published in July 1958 concluded that a new war had begun. The first official large unit military action was on September 26, 1959, when the Viet Cong ambushed two ARVN companies.
  • Arab–Israeli conflict (from the early 20th century)
Israeli troops in sinai war
Israeli troops preparing for combat in the Sinai peninsula during the Suez Crisis.
  • Suez Crisis (1956) – The Suez Crisis was a war fought on Egyptian territory in 1956. Following the nationalisation of the Suez Canal in 1956 by Gamal Abdel Nasser, the United Kingdom, France and Israel subsequently invaded. The operation was a military success, but after the United States and Soviet Union united in opposition to the invasion, the invaders were forced to withdraw. This was seen as a major humiliation, especially for the two Western European countries, and symbolizes the beginning of the end of colonialism and the weakening of European global importance, specifically the collapse of the British Empire.
  • Algerian War (1954–1962) – An important decolonization war, it was a complex conflict characterized by guerrilla warfare, maquis fighting, terrorism against civilians, use of torture on both sides and counter-terrorism operations by the French Army. The war eventually led to the independence of Algeria from France.

Internal conflicts

Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. Castro becomes the leader of Cuba as a result of the Cuban Revolution
  • Cuban Revolution (1953–1959) – The 1959 overthrow of Fulgencio Batista by Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and other forces resulted in the creation of the first communist government in the Western hemisphere.
  • The Mau Mau began retaliating against the British in Kenya. This led to concentration camps in Kenya, a British military victory, and the election of moderate nationalist Jomo Kenyatta as leader of Kenya.
  • The wind of destruction began in Rwanda in 1959 following the assault of Hutu politician Dominique Mbonyumutwa by Tutsi forces. This was the beginning of decades of ethnic violence in the country, which culminated in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.
  • Hungarian Revolution of 1956 – A massive, spontaneous popular uprising in the Soviet satellite state of Hungary against that country's Soviet-backed Marxist-Leninist regime, inspired by political changes in Poland and the Soviet Union. The uprising, fought primarily by students and workers, managed to fight the invading Soviet Army to a standstill, and a new, pro-reform government took power. While the top Soviet leaders even considered withdrawing from Hungary entirely, they soon crushed the Revolution with a massive second invasion, killing thousands of Hungarians and sending hundreds of thousands more into exile. This was the largest act of internal dissent in the history of the Soviet Bloc, and its violent suppression served to further discredit the Soviet Union even among its erstwhile supporters.
  • 1951 Nepalese revolution (Sat Salko Kranti) – The overthrow of the autocratic Rana regime in Nepal and the establishment of democracy in Nepal.


Prominent coups d'état of the decade included:

Nepali Congress 1951
Leading figures of the Nepali Congress and King Tribhuvan

Decolonization and independence

Prominent political events

  • European Common Market – The European Communities (or Common Markets), the precursor of the European Union, was established with the Treaty of Rome in 1957.
  • On November 1, 1950, two Puerto Rican nationalists staged an attempted assassination on U.S. President Harry S. Truman. The leader of the team Griselio Torresola had firearm experience and Oscar Collazo was his accomplice. They made their assault at the Blair House where President Truman and his family were staying. Torresola mortally wounded a White House policeman, Leslie Coffelt, who shot Torresola dead before expiring himself. Collazo was found guilty of murder and was sentenced to death in 1952 but then his sentence was later commuted to life in prison.
  • On July 7, 1950, the first Group Areas Act was promulgated by the Parliament of South Africa and implemented over a period of several years. The passing of the Act contributed significantly to the period of institutionalised racial segregation and discrimination in South Africa known as Apartheid, which lasted from 1948 to 1991. One of the most famous uses of the Group Areas Act was the destruction of Sophiatown, a suburb of Johannesburg, which began on the 9th of February 1955.
  • Establishment of the Non-Aligned Movement, through the Bandung Conference of 1955, consisting of nations not formally aligned with or against any major power bloc.
Soviet empire 1960
The maximum territorial extent of countries in the world under Soviet influence, after the Cuban Revolution.


  • The U.S. ended its occupation of Japan, which became fully independent. Japan held democratic elections and recovered economically.
  • Within a year of its establishment, the People's Republic of China had reclaimed Tibet and intervened in the Korean War, causing years of hostility and estrangement from the United States. Mao admired Stalin and rejected the changes in Moscow after Stalin's death in 1953, leading to growing tension with the Soviet Union.
  • In 1950–1953 France tried to contain a growing communist insurgency led by Ho Chi Minh. After their defeat in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954 France granted independence to the nations of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. At the Geneva Conference of 1954 France and the Communists agreed to divide Vietnam and hold elections in 1956. The U.S. and South Vietnam rejected the Geneva accords and the division became permanent.
  • The Chinese Civil War, which had started officially in 1927 and continued until the Second World War had ended on May 7, 1950. It resulted in the previous incumbent government in China, the Republic of China, retreating to the islands of Taiwan and Hainan until the Landing Operation on Hainan Island.


  • Africa experienced the beginning of large-scale top-down economic interventions in the 1950s that failed to cause improvement and led to charitable exhaustion by the West as the century went on. The widespread corruption was not dealt with and war, disease, and famine continued to be constant problems in the region.
  • Egyptian general Gamel Abdel Nasser overthrew the Egyptian monarchy, establishing himself as President of Egypt. Nasser became an influential leader in the Middle East in the 1950s, leading Arab states into war with Israel, becoming a major leader of the Non-Aligned Movement and promoting pan-Arab unification.
  • In 1957, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, after a series of negotiations with the then British empire, secured the independence of Ghana. Ghana was hitherto referred to as Gold Coast, a colony of the British Empire.


Dwight D. Eisenhower, official photo portrait, May 29, 1959
Official portrait of Dwight D. Eisenhower, president of the United States for a majority of the '50s
  • In 1950, Greenland (27 May) became a Colony of the Kingdom of Denmark. North Greenland and South Greenland were united with one governor.
  • In 1953, Greenland (5 June) was made an equal and integral part of Denmark as an amt.
  • In 1954, the CIA orchestrated the overthrow of the Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz and installed Carlos Castillo Armas.
  • In 1956, the Montgomery bus boycott occurred against the policy of racial segregation on the public transit system of Montgomery, Alabama, US. It was a foundational event in the civil rights movement, sparked by activist Rosa Parks, and officially ended when the federal ruling Browder v. Gayle took effect and led to a Supreme Court decision that declared the Alabama laws that segregated buses were unconstitutional.
  • In 1957, Dr. François Duvalier came to power in an election in Haiti. He later declared himself president for life, and ruled until his death in 1971.
  • In 1958, the military dictatorship of Venezuela was overthrown.
  • In 1959, Alaska (3 January) and Hawaii (21 August) became the 49th and 50th states respectively of the United States.
  • In 1959, Fidel Castro overthrew the regime of Fulgencio Batista in Cuba, establishing a communist government in the country. Although Castro initially sought aid from the US, he was rebuffed and later turned to the Soviet Union.
  • NORAD signed in 1959 by Canada and the United States creating a unified North American air defense system.
  • Brasília was built in 41 months, from 1956, and on April 21, 1960, became the capital of Brazil


  • With the help of the Marshall Plan, post-war reconstruction succeeded, with some countries (including West Germany) adopting free market capitalism while others adopted Keynesian-policy welfare states. Europe continued to be divided into Western and Soviet bloc countries. The geographical point of this division came to be called the Iron Curtain.
  • Because previous attempts for a unified state failed, Germany remained divided into two states: the capitalist Federal Republic of Germany in the west and the socialist German Democratic Republic in the east. The Federal Republic identified itself as the legal successor to the fascist dictatorship and was obliged in paying war reparations. The GDR, however, denounced the fascist past completely and did not recognize itself as responsible for paying reparations on behalf of the Nazi regime. The GDR's more harsh attitude in suppressing anti-communist and Russophobic sentiment lingering in the post-Nazi society resulted in increased emigration to the west.
  • While the United States military maintained its bases in western Europe, the Soviet Union maintained its bases in the east. In 1953, Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, died. This led to the rise of Nikita Khrushchev, who denounced Stalin and pursued a more liberal domestic and foreign policy, stressing peaceful competition with the West rather than overt hostility. There were anti-Stalinist uprisings in East Germany and Poland in 1953 and Hungary in 1956.


Watersnoodramp 1953
North Sea flood of 1953


  • On August 15, 1950, the 8.6 Mw Assam–Tibet earthquake shakes the region with a maximum Mercalli intensity of XI (Extreme), killing between 1,500 and 3,300 people.
  • On January 18, 1951, Mount Lamington erupted in Papua New Guinea, killing 3,000 people.
  • On January 31, 1953, the North Sea flood of 1953 killed 1,835 people in the southwestern Netherlands (especially Zeeland) and 307 in the United Kingdom
  • On September 9, 1954, the 6.7 Mw Chlef earthquake shakes northern Algeria with a maximum Mercalli intensity of XI (Extreme). The shock destroyed Orléansville, left 1,243–1,409 dead, and 5,000 injured.
  • On October 11, 1954, Hurricane Hazel crossed over Haiti, killing 1,000.
  • On August 19, 1955, Hurricane Diane hit the northeastern United States, killing over 200 people, and causing over $1.0 billion in damage.
  • On June 27, 1957, Hurricane Audrey demolished Cameron, Louisiana, US, killing 400 people.
  • In April 1959, the Río Negro flooded central Uruguay.
  • Typhoon Vera hit central Honshū on September 26, 1959, killing an estimated 5,098, injuring another 38,921, and leaving 1,533,000 homeless. Most of the damage was centered in the Nagoya area.
  • On December 2, 1959, Malpasset Dam in southern France collapsed and water flowed over the town of Fréjus, killing 412.


  • On March 12, 1950, an Avro Tudor plane carrying a rugby team crashed in Wales, killing 80 people.
  • In early December 1952, the Great Smog of London caused major disruption by reducing visibility and even penetrating indoor areas, far more severely than previous smog events, called "pea-soupers". Government medical reports in the weeks following the event estimated that up to 4,000 people had died as a direct result of the smog and 100,000 more were made ill by the smog's effects on the human respiratory tract.
  • On June 18, 1953, a USAF Douglas C-124 Globemaster II crashed after takeoff from Tachikawa, Japan, killing all 129 on board.
  • On January 10, 1954, BOAC Flight 781, a new de Havilland Comet jetliner, disintegrated in mid-air due to structural failure and crashed off the Italian coast, killing all 35 on board.
  • On June 30, 1956, a United Airlines Douglas DC-7 and a Trans World Airlines Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation collided above the Grand Canyon in Arizona, killing all 128 people on board both aircraft.
  • On July 25, 1956, the Italian ocean liner SS Andrea Doria collided with the Swedish ocean liner MS Stockholm off the Nantucket, Massachusetts, coastline. 51 people were killed and the Andrea Doria sank the next morning.
  • On February 6, 1958, British European Airways Flight 609 crashed on its third attempt to take off from a slush-covered runway at Munich-Riem Airport in Munich, West Germany. 23 people on board were killed (including 8 players of the Manchester United F.C. soccer team).
  • On April 21, 1958, a mid-air collision between United Airlines Flight 736 and a USAF fighter jet killed 49 people.
  • On August 14, 1958, a KLM Lockheed Constellation crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Ireland, killing all 99 people aboard.


  • The United States was the most influential economic power in the world after World War II under the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Assassinations and attempts

Prominent assassinations, targeted killings, and assassination attempts include:

Date Description
1 November 1950 Harry S. Truman, 33rd President of the United States, survives an assassination attempt when two Puerto Rican independence activists open fire while he was staying at Blair House. One White House Police officer would be killed in the ensuing firefight.
16 July 1951 Riad Al Solh, former Prime Minister of Lebanon, is shot to death by three gunmen at Marka Airport in Amman.
20 July 1951 Abdullah I of Jordan is assassinated while attending friday prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
2 January 1955 José Antonio Remón Cantera, 16th President of Panama, is assassinated in Panama City. His successor, José Ramón Guizado, would be convicted for his involvement in the murder.
29 September 1956 Anastasio Somoza García, President of Nicaragua, is shot to death in León.
25 September 1959 S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, 4th Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, is shot to death by a disgruntled Buddhist priest at his private residence in Colombo.

Science and technology


MOSFET Structure
The MOSFET (MOS transistor) was invented by Mohamed Atalla and Dawon Kahng at Bell Labs in November 1959. It is central to the Digital Revolution, and the most widely manufactured device in history.
Sputnik asm
In 1957, the Soviet Union launches to space Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite

The recently invented bipolar transistor, though initially quite feeble, had clear potential and was rapidly improved and developed at the beginning of the 1950s by companies such as GE, RCA, and Philco. The first commercial transistor production started at the Western Electric plant in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in October, 1951 with the point contact germanium transistor. It wasn't until around 1954 that transistor products began to achieve real commercial success with small portable radios.

A breakthrough in semiconductor technology came with the invention of the MOSFET (metal–oxide–semiconductor field-effect transistor), also known as the MOS transistor, by Mohamed Atalla and Dawon Kahng at Bell Labs, in November 1959. It revolutionized the electronics industry, and became the fundamental building block of the Digital Revolution. The MOSFET went on to become the most widely manufactured device in history.

Television, which first reached the marketplace in the 1940s, attained maturity during the 1950s and by the end of the decade, most American households owned a TV set. A rush to produce larger screens than the tiny ones found on 1940s models occurred during 1950–52. In 1954, RCA intro Bell Telephone Labs produced the first Solar battery. In 1954, a yard of contact paper could be purchased for only 59 cents. Polypropylene was invented in 1954. In 1955, Jonas Salk invented a polio vaccine which was given to more than seven million American students. In 1956, a solar powered wrist watch was invented.

A surprise came in 1957: a 184-pound (83 kg) satellite named Sputnik 1 was launched by the Soviets. The space race began 4 months later as the United States launched a smaller satellite.

Castle Bravo (black and white)
Castle Bravo: A 15 megaton hydrogen bomb experiment conducted by the United States in 1954. Photographed 78 miles (125 kilometers) from the explosion epicenter.


Francis Crick and James Watson discover the spiral structure of DNA
  • Francis Crick and James Watson discover the double-helix structure of DNA. Rosalind Franklin contributed to the discovery of the double-helix structure.
  • An immunization vaccine is produced for polio.
  • The first successful ultrasound test of the heart activity.
  • CERN is established.
  • The world's first nuclear power plant is opened in Obninsk near Moscow.
  • NASA is organized.
  • The first human cervical cancer cells were cultured outside a body in 1951, from Henrietta Lacks. The cells are known as HeLa cells and are the first and most commonly used immortalised cell line.
  • First transistor computer, built at the University of Manchester in November 1953.

Popular culture

The most prominent events and trends in popular culture of the decade (particularly in the Anglosphere) include:


Elvis Presley (left) and Chuck Berry were two of the best-selling musical artists of the decade, each considered some of the most globally popular and culturally significant rock and roll and rockabilly artists of the 1950s, both pictured here in 1957.

Popular music in the early 1950s was essentially a continuation of the crooner sound of the previous decade, with less emphasis on the jazz-influenced big band style and more emphasis on a conservative, operatic, symphonic style of music. Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Frankie Laine, Patti Page, Judy Garland, Johnnie Ray, Kay Starr, Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Dean Martin, Georgia Gibbs, Eddie Fisher, Teresa Brewer, Dinah Shore, Kitty Kallen, Joni James, Peggy Lee, Julie London, Toni Arden, June Valli, Doris Day, Arthur Godfrey, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Guy Mitchell, Nat King Cole, and vocal groups like the Mills Brothers, The Ink Spots, The Four Lads, The Four Aces, The Chordettes, The Fontane Sisters, The Hilltoppers and the Ames Brothers. Jo Stafford's "You Belong To Me" was the #1 song of 1952 on the Billboard Top 100 chart.

The middle of the decade saw a change in the popular music landscape as classic pop was swept off the charts by rock-and-roll. Crooners such as Eddie Fisher, Perry Como, and Patti Page, who had dominated the first half of the decade, found their access to the pop charts significantly curtailed by the decade's end. doo-wop entered the pop charts in the 1950s. Its popularity soon spawns the parody "Who Put the Bomp".

Rock-n-roll emerged in the mid-1950s with Sam Cooke, Elvis Presley, Jackie Wilson, Gene Vincent, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Little Richard, James Brown, Bo Diddley, Buddy Holly, Bobby Darin, Ritchie Valens, Duane Eddy, Eddie Cochran, Brenda Lee, Bobby Vee, Connie Francis, Johnny Mathis, Neil Sedaka, Pat Boone and Ricky Nelson being notable exponents. In the mid-1950s, Elvis Presley became the leading figure of the newly popular sound of rock and roll with a series of network television appearances and chart-topping records. Chuck Berry, with "Maybellene" (1955), "Roll Over Beethoven" (1956), "Rock and Roll Music" (1957) and "Johnny B. Goode" (1958), refined and developed the major elements that made rock and roll distinctive, focusing on teen life and introducing guitar solos and showmanship that would be a major influence on subsequent rock music. Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Everly Brothers, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty, Johnny Horton, and Marty Robbins were Rockabilly musicians. Doo-wop was another popular genre at the time. Popular Doo Wop and Rock-n-Roll bands of the mid to late 1950s include The Platters, The Flamingos, The Dells, The Silhouettes, Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers, Little Anthony and The Imperials, Danny & the Juniors, The Coasters, The Drifters, The Del-Vikings and Dion and the Belmonts.

Harry Belafonte singing 1954
Harry Belafonte in 1954, whose breakthrough album Calypso (1956) was the first million-selling LP by a single artist.

The new music differed from previous styles in that it was primarily targeted at the teenager market, which became a distinct entity for the first time in the 1950s as growing prosperity meant that young people did not have to grow up as quickly or be expected to support a family. Rock-and-roll proved to be a difficult phenomenon for older Americans to accept and there were widespread accusations of it being a communist-orchestrated scheme to corrupt the youth, although rock and roll was extremely market based and capitalistic.

Jazz stars in the 1950s who came into prominence in their genres called bebop, hard bop, cool jazz and the blues, at this time included Lester Young, Ben Webster, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Art Tatum, Bill Evans, Ahmad Jamal, Oscar Peterson, Gil Evans, Jerry Mulligan, Cannonball Adderley, Stan Getz, Chet Baker, Dave Brubeck, Art Blakey, Max Roach, the Miles Davis Quintet, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Nina Simone, and Billie Holiday.

The American folk music revival became a phenomenon in the United States in the 1950s to mid-1960s with the initial success of The Weavers who popularized the genre. Their sound, and their broad repertoire of traditional folk material and topical songs inspired other groups such as the Kingston Trio, the Chad Mitchell Trio, The New Christy Minstrels, and the "collegiate folk" groups such as The Brothers Four, The Four Freshmen, The Four Preps, and The Highwaymen. All featured tight vocal harmonies and a repertoire at least initially rooted in folk music and topical songs.

On 3 February 1959, a chartered plane transporting the three American rock and roll musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson goes down in foggy conditions near Clear Lake, Iowa, killing all four occupants on board, including pilot Roger Peterson. The tragedy is later termed "The Day the Music Died", popularized in Don McLean's 1972 song "American Pie". This event, combined with the conscription of Elvis Presley into the US Army, is often taken to mark the point where the era of 1950s rock-and-roll ended.


Family watching television 1958
An American family watching television together in 1958.

The 1950s are known as the Golden Age of Television by some people. Sales of TV sets rose tremendously in the 1950s and by 1950 4.4 million families in America had a television set. Americans devoted most of their free time to watching television broadcasts. People spent so much time watching TV, that movie attendance dropped and so did the number of radio listeners. Television revolutionized the way Americans see themselves and the world around them. TV affects all aspects of American culture. "Television affects what we wear, the music we listen to, what we eat, and the news we receive."


North by Northwest movie trailer screenshot (6)
Cary Grant as Roger O. Thornhill in North by Northwest (1959)

European cinema experienced a renaissance in the 1950s following the deprivations of World War II. Italian director Federico Fellini won the first foreign language film Academy Award with La Strada and garnered another Academy Award with Nights of Cabiria. In 1955, Swedish director Ingmar Bergman earned a Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival with Smiles of a Summer Night and followed the film with masterpieces The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries. Jean Cocteau's Orphée, a film central to his Orphic Trilogy, starred Jean Marais and was released in 1950. French director Claude Chabrol's Le Beau Serge is now widely considered the first film of the French New Wave. Notable European film stars of the period include Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, Max von Sydow, and Jean-Paul Belmondo.

Japanese cinema reached its zenith with films from director Akira Kurosawa including Rashomon, Ikiru, Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, and The Hidden Fortress. Other distinguished Japanese directors of the period were Yasujirō Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi. Russian fantasy director Aleksandr Ptushko's mythological epics Sadko, Ilya Muromets, and Sampo were internationally acclaimed as was Ballad of a Soldier, a 1959 Soviet film directed by Grigory Chukhray.

In Hollywood, the epic Ben-Hur grabbed a record 11 Academy Awards in 1959 and its success gave a new lease of life to motion picture studio MGM.

Beginning in 1953, with Shane and The Robe, widescreen motion pictures became the norm.

The "Golden Era" of 3D cinematography transpired during the 1950s.

Animated films in the 1950s presented by Walt Disney included Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and Lady and the Tramp, followed by Sleeping Beauty.

Art movements

In the early 1950s abstract expressionism and artists Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning were enormously influential. However, by the late 1950s Color Field painting and Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko's paintings became more in focus to the next generation.

Pop art used the iconography of television, photography, comics, cinema and advertising. With its roots in dadaism, it started to take form towards the end of the 1950s when some European artists started to make the symbols and products of the world of advertising and propaganda the main subject of their artistic work. This return of figurative art, in opposition to the abstract expressionism that dominated the aesthetic scene since the end of World War II was dominated by Great Britain until the early 1960s when Andy Warhol, the most known artist of this movement began to show Pop Art in galleries in the United States.


Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell at Chinese Theater
Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in 1953, showing American fashions of the era
Teenage girl 1958
Short hair was very popular for young women in the 1950s, as seen in this photograph in 1958
Elizabeth Taylor, late 1950s
Liz Taylor in the 1950s, a fashion icon of the era

The 1950s saw the birth of the teenager and with it rock n roll and youth fashion dominating the fashion industry. In the UK the Teddy boy became both style icons and anti-authoritarian figures. While in America Greasers had a similar social position. Previously teenagers dressed similarly to their parents but now a rebellious and different youth style was being developed. Men wore tight trousers, leather jackets and emphasis was on slicked, greasy hair.

New ideas meant new designers who had a concept of what was fashion. Fashion started gaining a voice and style when Christian Dior created “The New Look” collection. The 1950s was not only about spending on luxurious brands but also the idea of being comfortable was created. It was a time where resources were available and it was a new type of fashion. Designers were creating collections with different materials such as: taffeta, nylon, rayon, wool and leather that allowed different colors and patterns. People started wearing artificial fibers because it was easier to take care of and it was price effective. It was a time where shopping was part of a lifestyle.

Different designers emerged or made a comeback on the 1950s because as mention before it was a time for fashion and ideas. The most important designers from the time were:

Christian Dior: everything started in 1947 after World War II was over. Christian Dior found that there were a lot of resources in the market. He created the famous and inspirational collection named “The New Look.” This consisted on the idea of creating voluminous dresses that would not only represent wealth but also show power on women. This collection was the first collection to use 80 yards of fabric. He introduced the idea of the hourglass shape for women; wide shoulders, tight waistline and then voluminous full skirts. Dior was a revolutionary and he was the major influence for the next collections. He is known for always developing new ideas and designs, which led to a rapid expansion and becoming worldwide known. He had pressure to create innovative designs for each collection and Dior did manage to provide that to the consumers. He not only made the hourglass shape very famous but he also developed the H-line as well as the A and Y-Lines. Dior was a very important designer, he changed the way fashion was looked on the world but most importantly he reestablished Paris as a fashion capital.

Cristobal Balenciaga: Cristobal Balenciaga a Spanish designer who opened his first couture house in 1915. In 1936, he went to Paris in order to avoid the Spanish Civil War, there he had inspiration for his fashion collections. His designs were an inspiration for emerging designers of the time. His legacy is as important as the one from Dior, revolutionaries. He was known for creating sack dresses, heavy volumes and balloon skirts. For him everything started when he worked for Marquesa de Casa Torre who became his patron and main source of inspiration. Marquesa de Casa Torre helped Balenciaga enter the world of couture. His first suit was very dramatic. The suit consisted on cutout and cut-ins the waist over a slim skirt, something not seen before. Balenciaga was a revolutionary designer who was not afraid to cut and let loose because he had everything under control. In the 1950s and 1960s his designs were well known for attention to color and texture. He was creating different silhouettes for women, in 1955 he created the tunic, 1957 the sack dress and 1958 the Empire styles. He was known for moving from tailored designs to shapeless allowing him to show portion and balance on the bodies. Showing that his designs evolved with time and maintained his ideologies.

Coco Chanel: Her style was well known over the world and her idea of having functional luxurious clothing influenced other designers from the era. Chanel believed that luxurious should come from being comfortable that is why her designers were so unique and different from the time period, she also achieved her looks by adding accessories such as pearl necklaces. Chanel believed that even though Dior designs were revolutionary for the time period they did not managed to represent the women of the time. She believed women had to wear something to represent their survival to another war and their active roles in society. Coming back from a closed house of fashion was not easy for Chanel and competing against younger designers. The Chanel suit was known as a status symbol for wealthy and powerful women. Chanel influenced over the years and her brand is still one of the most influential brands for fashion.


Olympiatuli 1952
Paavo Nurmi and the Olympic flame in the opening ceremony of the 1952 Summer Olympics


FIFA World Cups

The 1958 World Cup is notable for marking the debut on the world stage of a then largely unknown 17-year-old Pelé.



  • Aleksey Innokentevich Antonov, Chief of General Staff of the Unified Armed Forces Warsaw Treaty Organization
  • Eugene R. Black, President World Bank
  • William Sterling Cole, Director-general International Atomic Energy Agency
  • Manuel Fraga Iribarne, Secretary-general Latin Union
  • André François-Poncet, Chairman of the Standing Commission International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement
  • Louis Goffin, Secretary-general Western European Union
  • Walter Hallstein, President of the European Commission
  • Fritz Hess, Director Universal Postal Union
  • Ivan Stepanovich Konev, Commander-in-chief of the Unified Armed Forces Warsaw Treaty Organization
  • Henri St. Leger, Secretary-general International Organization for Standardization
  • Robert C. Lonati, Secretary-general World Tourism Organization
  • David A. Morse, Director-general International Labour Organization
  • Arnold Duncan McNair, Baron McNair, President of the European Court of Human Rights
  • Ove Nielsen, Secretary-general International Maritime Organization
  • Maurice Pate, Executive Director United Nations Children's Fund
  • Robert Schuman, President of the European Parliamentary Assembly
  • Gustav Swoboda, Chief of the Secretariat World Meteorological Organization
  • José Guillermo Trabanino Guerrero, Secretary-general Organization of Central American States
  • Eric Wyndham White, Executive Secretary World Trade Organization

Actors and entertainers




  • The Accents
  • Jay & The Americans
  • The Ames Brothers
  • The Andrews Sisters
  • Dave Appell & the Applejacks
  • The Bell Notes
  • The Belmonts
  • Dion & The Belmonts
  • Travis & Bob
  • The Bobbettes
  • The Bonnie Sisters
  • The Bosstones
  • The Buchanan Brothers
  • The Cadets
  • The Cadillacs
  • The Capris
  • The Cardinals
  • The Castells
  • The Champs
  • The Chantels
  • The Charioteers
  • Otis Williams and the Charms
  • The Chimes
  • The Chips
  • The Chordettes
  • The Cleftones
  • The Clovers
  • The Coasters
  • The Collegians
  • Bill Haley and the Comets
  • The Corsairs
  • The Counts
  • The Crew Cuts
  • The Crescendos
  • The Crests
  • The Crows
  • Danny & the Juniors
  • Jan & Dean
  • The Dells
  • The Del-Satins
  • The Delta Rhythm Boys
  • The Del-Vikings
  • Deep River Boys
  • The Dovells
  • The Dubs
  • The Duprees
  • The Diamonds
  • The Drifters
  • The Earls
  • The Echoes
  • The Edsels
  • The El Dorados
  • The Elegants
  • The Emotions
  • The Escorts
  • The Everly Brothers
  • The Fairfield Four
  • The Falcons
  • The Flamingos
  • The Flairs
  • The Fleetwoods
  • The Fiestas
  • The Five Satins
  • The Five Discs
  • The Five Keys
  • The Five Sharps
  • The Fontane Sisters
  • The Four Aces
  • The Four Buddies
  • The Four Freshmen
  • The Four Knights
  • The Four Lads
  • The Four Lovers
  • The Four Preps
  • The Four Seasons
  • The Four Tunes
  • The Gaylords
  • The G-Clefs
  • The Golden Gate Quartet
  • The Harptones
  • The Hearts
  • The Heathertones
  • The Hilltoppers
  • The Hollywood Flames
  • Johnny & The Hurricanes
  • The Impalas
  • Little Anthony and the Imperials
  • The Ink Spots
  • The Isley Brothers
  • The Jewels
  • The Jesters
  • The Jive Bombers
  • The Jive Five
  • Marvin & Johnny
  • Robert & Johnny
  • Don & Juan
  • The Jubalaires
  • The Jordanaires
  • The Kingston Trio
  • The Knockouts
  • The Larks
  • The Lettermen
  • Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers
  • The McGuire Sisters
  • The Medallions
  • The Mello-Kings
  • The Mello-Moods
  • The Mills Brothers
  • The Midnighters
  • The Monotones
  • The Moonglows
  • The Mystics
  • The Nutmegs
  • The Oak Ridge Boys
  • The Orioles
  • The Paragons
  • The Penguins
  • The Pied Pipers
  • The Platters
  • The Pony-Tails
  • The Quarrymen
  • The Quotations
  • Randy & The Rainbows
  • The Ravens
  • The Rays
  • The Regents
  • The Righteous Brothers
  • Norman Fox & The Rob-Roys
  • The Robins
  • The Rock-A-Teens
  • The Sensations
  • The Shadows
  • The Shepherd Sisters
  • The Silhouettes
  • The Solitaires
  • Sons of The Pioneers
  • The Spaniels
  • The Sparkletones
  • The Spiders
  • The Spinners
  • Joey Dee & The Starliters
  • The Stereos
  • The Swallows
  • Mickey & Sylvia
  • Tátrai Quartet
  • The Teenagers
  • The Teen Queens
  • The Tokens
  • The Tornados
  • The Turbans
  • The Tymes
  • The Valentines
  • The Ventures
  • The Virtues
  • The Volumes
  • Billy Ward & The Dominoes
  • The Wrens
  • Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs
  • Windsbacher Knabenchor

Sports figures


The following articles contain brief timelines which list the most prominent events of the decade:


See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Años 1950 para niños

Black History Month on Kiddle
Famous African-American Activists:
William L. Dawson
Claudette Colvin
W. E. B. Du Bois
Anna J. Cooper
kids search engine
1950s Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.