THE DECADE FOR CHANGE

By Bill Grosboll
August 13, 2007

The Fifty’s, that’s the 1950’s, for you young readers. Yes, this was the period of the greatest changes to our society, our home furnishings, transportation, and manufacturing. Not all the changes were good, mind you, as we are having to deal with some of those changes yet today. I became a teenager in 1954 and what a great time it was to be at that age. Being a boy, the only things of interest were cars and girls; cars being the priority because without one, no girls! Since the automobile was of primary concern to me, I will discuss its changes first.

The 1950 autos were the first to be “streamlined” and the boxy look of the 40’s was forever gone. As the years progressed, the autos began mimicking the airplanes of the day, which was the advancement of the use of jet planes. Auto designers just had to incorporate the look of the jets into the cars of the period. Some of the earlier cars of the fifties had designs based on the older piston driven aircraft such as the fake chrome exhaust ports on the Buicks. It was the 1957 models that really saw the radical designs take off and this continued until the early sixties. There was about four years that each auto maker had to have bigger and fancier “wings” on the rear of their models. The tail lights and brake lights were designed to look like jet exhausts. Some of them were borderline ridiculous. Fortunately the “wing war” was over in about four years or possibly we would have needed to build larger garages just to keep them in. There were many features of those older autos that I would love to see come back, such as bench seats. You young readers have no idea how nice it was to be able to get in on one side of the car and go out the other without being a gymnast. I know I’m going to be in big trouble for making this next statement but you readers my age will appreciate what I am about to say. We didn’t have bucket seats and no auto of that time had seat belts. That meant the young lady who was your date could sit beside you, rather than on the other side of the car. Now, the importance of that was to determine how your date felt about you. If she sat on her side of the car rather than next to you, it was going to be a long night.

The fifties saw a great improvement in transportation which meant that we youngsters of that period were the first really truly mobile generation. Gasoline was less than twenty-five cents a gallon, so for a dollar we could drive to Springfield and “cruise” the North Grand Icy, Russell’s Drive-In on the old Route 66 Bypass, and Don’s Drive-In on South MacArthur Boulevard. We also had a choice of two drive-in theaters which were great for a carload of guys to just kick back and enjoy a beverage of their choice and watch the movie (and the girls as they walked to the refreshment stand). The drive-in theaters were also a great way to get to know your date. You could always tell if someone was really enjoying the movie by whether their car windows were steamed up or not. If the windows were steamed up, they weren’t watching the movie!

So as not to bore you lady readers, I won’t go into a great deal of detail about the mechanical changes in the auto, so I will just list some of the changes. They were: Automatic transmissions, power steering, power brakes, AM-FM radios with rear seat speakers, two door and four door hardtops, electric operated convertibles (known as “floppy tops”), air conditioning, automatic turn signals (automatic meaning they turned off when the steering wheel was returned to a straight position), and tubeless tires. For you youngsters, before turn signals, we were required to use hand signals which meant rolling down the window, no matter what the weather, and using your arm to let the other drivers know what your intentions were. This rule was not obeyed 50% of the time and was cause for the drivers following to increase their vocabulary. Modern conveniences abounded around the house. Before I get started, I want to apologize to those of you who pre-date me and say “We already had that!”. You must remember that I grew up on the farm and some of the changes I saw didn’t happen as quickly as you city folk experienced.

Once again I will just list the changes I saw and possibly elaborate on a few items. Formica counter tops with built-in sink, electric stoves, washing machines with spin cycle rather than the old roll wringers, steam irons (great invention since perma-press didn’t exist yet), deep freezers, florescent lighting, the three-way light bulb, television, Hi-Fi record players, the 45 rpm and 33 1/3 rpm records (78 rpm was the old standard), non-breakable records, recliner chairs, electric clocks, and dial phones. I’m sure if I put my mind to it or talked to someone who grew up in the fifties, this list would be lengthened considerably. Attire changed drastically also. Levi’s became the standard for high school boys along with bold colored slacks (green, red, yellow, white, and blue). My favorites were green, yellow and red and of course they had to be “Ivy League” which meant they had a strap with a buckle above the back pockets and below the belt. Served no purpose, just a necessary decoration. We also had Ivy League shirts which had a strap and buckle on the back just below the collar. Of course, what each teenager wore depended on whether they preferred Rock and Roll or Country music. There was one craze among the girls that I detested and that was the Can-Can skirt. This skirt required the girls to wear some type of crepe slip or slips underneath. This caused the skirt of flare out to a ridiculous extent. The hem of the skirt would get to where she was going ten minutes before she got there. The worse part was that when she sat down, with the slips being of some type of stiff material, the skirt just pushed up in front of her. When she sat down in the car, the driver wouldn’t be able to see out the passenger side window. Man, how I hated that skirt! One must remember that hem lengths were considerably lower in those days. Below the knees and about mid calf. Girls also wore white ankle socks which is where the term “Bobby Socks” was derived. I know that some of you women out there are cracking up at my descriptions and terminology but you must remember that is not my expertise. I didn’t understand you ladies then and I still don’t! Let’s be honest, you enjoy us guys not understanding you.

Getting back to the fifties, with the advent of television, the whole country was about to undergo great changes to our society. Everyone was kept abreast of what was happening throughout the country and was being informed immediately. I’m not so sure that this was a good thing. It influenced peoples thinking in ways never before encountered. We saw the arrival of the “Beatniks” and to this day I’m not sure what they were all about. I just know that they were, socially, very different from how I and the other young people of Petersburg were raised. They were the precursor of the “Flower Children” of the sixties. Looking back, it seems that many of the young people of that era began questioning the judgement of their elders and it escalated into the demonstrations seen during the sixties. We seem to have lost some of the family and community structure that was the accepted norm for those who lived prior to the advancements in communications. No longer would life move along at a nice leisurely rate. A change not for the good!  

 

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