. Affluence and Its Anxieties
The economy really sprouted during the 50s, and the invention of the transistor exploded the
electronics field, especially in computers, helping such companies as International Business Machines
(IBM) expand and prosper.
Aerospace industries progressed, as the Boeing company made the first passenger-jet airplane
(adapted from the superbombers of the Strategic Air Command), the 707.
In 1956, “white-collar” workers outnumbered “blue collar” workers for the first time, meaning that
the industrial era was passing on.
As this occurred, labor unions peaked in 1954 then started a steady decline.
Women appeared more and more in the workplace, despite the stereotypical role of women as
housewives that was being portrayed on TV shows such as “Ozzie and Harriet” and “Leave It to
More than 40 million new jobs were created.
Women’s expansion into the workplace shocked some, but really wasn’t surprising if one observed
the trends in history, and now, they were both housewives and workers.
’s 1963 book
The Feminine Mystique
was a best-seller and a classic of modern
feminine protest literature. She’s the godmother of the feminist movement.
II. Consumer Culture in the Fifties
The fifties saw the first Diner’s Club cards, the opening of McDonald’s, the debut of Disneyland,
and an explosion in the number of television stations in the country.
Advertisers used television to sell products while “
” like Billy Graham, Oral Roberts,
and Fulton J. Sheen used TV to preach the gospel and encourage religion.
Sports shifted west, as the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants moved to Los Angeles and San
Francisco, respectively, in 1958.
Elvis Presley, a white singer of the new “rock and roll” who made girls swoon with his fleshy face,
pointing lips, and antic, sexually suggestive gyrations, that redefined popular music.
Elvis died from drugs in 1977, at age 42.
Traditionalists were shocked by Elvis’s shockingly open sexuality, and Marilyn Monroe (in
magazine spread) continued in the redefinition of the new sensuous sexuality.
Critics, such as David Riesman in
The Lonely Crowd
, William H. Whyte, Jr. in
, and Sloan Wilson in
The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit
, lamented this new consumerist style.
John Kenneth Galbraith
questioned the relation between private wealth and
public good in
The Affluent Society
Daniel Bell found further such paradoxes, as did C. Wright Mills.
III. The Advent of Eisenhower
In 1952, the Democrats chose
Adlai E. Stevenson
, the witty governor of Illinois, while Republicans
rejected isolationist Robert A. Taft and instead chose World War II hero
Dwight D. Eisenhower
to run for
president and anticommunist
Richard M. Nixon
to be his running mate.