Fads of the '50s: What Was Popular in the '50s?
The 1950s were a cherished unforgettable period of my life. During this period I grew from a short, chubby young boy to a strong well-conditioned football player. There were other changes. I moved from the city to the countryside in 1954 and started to experience farm life. Very much was happening around me. In this article, I recollect popular fads around me as I was growing up.
1950s Fads: 1954-1956
After moving to a farm, my parents put me into a Catholic School in Mukwonago, a small village about four miles away. Every day my younger sister and I walked a quarter of a mile to the main road to catch our school bus. From fourth through the seventh grade, I can still remember the following fads as popular culture of the day:
1. The Red Scare And Civil Defense Drills
There was a big "Red Scare" all over the country, because the United States' chief adversary, the Soviet Union, now had nuclear weapons as of 1949. This meant that nuclear war could break out at any time. As a fourth or fifth grader, I can recall practicing civil defense drills in the classroom. I remember hearing Sister say that when we heard the loud sirens, we were to duck and cover under our desks. From time to time we also saw movies about the evil tentacles of the Soviet Union slowing grasping all countries of the world and making its way to North America.
2. Goiter Pills
Occasionally also while I was in the fourth or fifth grade, everyone in my class had to take a goiter pill. At the time, many people had been developing goiter problems or swelling of the thyroid gland due to iodine deficiency. This was one way of making sure all kids got their iodine if they didn't get it in iodized salt at home.
3. Holy Hours
Every Thursday afternoon for three years while I attended Saint James School, all students had to spend an hour in church kneeling and saying a lot of prayers during a Holy Hour. In Roman Catholic tradition, a Holy Hour entails engaging in adoration of God who is present in the Blessed Sacrament or Eucharist for one hour.
4. Polio Epidemics
Until polio vaccines developed by Drs. Salk and Sabin were distributed to the population, poliomyelitis or infantile paralysis hit the country hard usually every summer. In the summer of either 1955 or 1956 polio hit my school and one of my classmates died. I remember having to serve Mass for him on the day after he died.
5. The Mickey Mouse Club and Mouseketeers
The Mickey Mouse Club, a variety show for kids produced by Walt Disney, ran on national TV during the years 1955-1957. Every day after school I can recall watching the Mouseketeers, as the kids on the show were called. This show was hosted by Jimmie Dodd, and each program had an opening march followed by musical and dance performances by the Mouseketeers. Annette Funicello, Cubby O'Brien, and Karen Pendleton were my favorite Mouseketeers. I will always remember the ending of each show where Karen and Cubby would first jointly sing, "Now it's time to say goodbye to all our company," and then everyone would sing, "M-I-C-K-E-Y," followed by Jimmie Dodd saying, "Y (Why), because we like you." And then the ending would follow by everyone singing, "M-O-U-S-E."
6. Davy Crockett And Coonskin Cap
In 1954 Walt Disney produced a miniseries about the American folk hero and frontiersman, Davy Crockett. We all had to tune into this show about the adventures of Davy Crockett played by Fess Parker. I memorized the song from the miniseries which went as follows: "Born on a mountaintop in Tennessee, greenest state in the land of the free. Raised in the woods till he knew every tree. Killed him a bear when he was only three. Davy, Davy Crockett. King of the wild frontier." Davy Crockett lived during the early 19th century and was well-known for his coonskin cap.
7. Elvis Presley and Rockabilly
I will never forget when I first heard Elvis Presley sing on the radio in January of 1956. He was belting out tunes like "Heartbreak Hotel" and "Love Me" which I quickly took a liking to and often tried to sing. Elvis was one of the pioneers of rockabilly, a combination of country music and rhythm and blues music. He was also famous for greased- back hair and sideburns. When he swayed his hips while singing, he really got the girls screaming.
Civil Defense Drill - Duck and Cover (1951)
1950s Fads: 1957-1959
During the years 1957-1959 my folks bought a farm and moved from the Mukwonago to the Burlington area of Wisconsin. I was now attending a new Catholic school and getting ready to start the eighth grade. New trends were continuing to develop in music, dance, and other areas of popular culture. I recall the following from this period of my life:
8. American Bandstand And The Jitterbug Dance
American Bandstand produced by the legendary Dick Clark had its initial showing on national TV in 1957. On this daily show hosted by Dick Clark, teenagers would dance to the top 40 hits of the day. The most popular dance in the beginning years of the show was the jitterbug or swing which had its origins in the 30s. Kids would dance this way to the rockabilly of Presley and other popular singers like Buddy Holly and the Everley Brothers. At a Halloween party with eighth-grade classmates in 1957, I failed miserably and almost broke a girl's arm while trying to do the jitterbug.
9. Hula Hoop
The hula hoop fad started in America in July of 1958. According to Wikipedia, Carlton Products Corporation was the first manufacturer of hula hoops. 25 million were sold in less than four months. At our freshman class initiation party in the fall of 1958, hula hoops could be seen everywhere. I can still see many of my classmates masterfully swinging the hoops around their waists.
10. Sox (Sock) Hops
In the late 1950s, informal high school dances were often held in the school gym or cafeteria. Students would all take off their shoes and dance in their socks to the pop music played by a jukebox.
11. Poodle Skirts And Bobby Socks
Poodle skirts and bobby socks were popularly worn by girls in the late 50s. The bobby socks were short and white. The poodle skirt which came down to the knees could sway while dancing. There was no such thing as a miniskirt.
12. Diners and Jukeboxes
McDonald's restaurant had just been founded in 1953, but it wasn't that popular. Teenagers, instead, preferred to go to small diners or greasy spoons where there were jukeboxes and soda fountains. On an eighth grade trip to Washington D.C. in 1958, a number of my classmates and I sought out the first diner we could find in the vicinity of our hotel. Most of us had hamburgers and listened to Elvis tunes on the jukebox.
13. Drive-in Movies
Drive-in movies were really a hit during the late 50s. Teenagers liked cruising with their wheels and also taking in movies. A drive-in movie was one way to do both. A lot of the guys took their girls to the drive-in not for the movie, but for smooching and making out.
14. Panty Raids And Telephone Booth Stuffing
Panty raids and telephone booth stuffing were two fads popular on college campuses in the late 50s. In panty raids, a group of college men would storm a woman's dormitory and demand panties from the coeds who would willingly oblige. For telephone booth stuffing, students would try to set the record for the number of people who could fit inside a public phone booth.
Fads in the 1950s are not forgotten. It was really an interesting time while I was growing up, and I had some memorable experiences. I have undoubtedly not touched on every popular fad, but only note the ones I clearly remember.
1950s Sock Hop - Poodle Skirt Girl
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© 2012 Paul Richard Kuehn