Change was everywhere as the fifties turned nifty

Echoes of our past
William Wangemann • for The Review

Do you remember when telephones had cords and cars from Chevy’s to Cadillac’s had tail fins? How about gasoline from 28 cents a gallon and price wars between independent gas stations which drove prices as low as 18 cents per gallon? The only one who ever won a price war was the consumer who hoped the price war would go on forever.

A new three bedroom home sold for $15,900. That would be close to $150,000 in today’s money. Television sets, black and white of course, began appearing on the market in great quantity. Sears, for instance, offered a really big 21 inch TV for $200.00. In those days all TV sets were made in the US.

Brands such as Admiral, GE, Motorola, Magnavox and many other brands, none of which can not be found on the market today. It seemed that everywhere you looked spindly TV antennas began to appear on almost every rooftop in the block.

Of course with the new TV sets came a host of television shows. Some of the new shows were carry over’s from the glory days of radio programs such as the Jack Benny Show, Amos and Andy and many others. These shows were extremely popular but none were more popular than the TV Westerns. Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, The Lone Ranger, Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Cisco Kid, Broken Arrow and Wagon Train and don’t forget Rin Tin Tin.

But then there were others such as the forgettable Nine Lives of Elfego, Baca, and Whiplash. Sunday night was Prime Time for such programs as Ed Sullivan, who’s variety show introduced us to such new talent as a young guitar playing singer from the south with the strange sounding name of Elvis (Who was only shown from the waist up due to what was considered indecent gyrations of his hips).

Then a little later on Mr. Sullivan introduced us to a young group of male singers from England with shocking long hair called, The Beatles. The Beatles appeared on the Sullivan show several times and whenever they did the audience, comprised of a mass of screaming, hysterical young girls, who successfully drowned out the music. Christmas time was a special time on early television. Who will ever forget the shows of Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Perry Como and many others.

But then there were the game shows. Truth or Consequences, which was a carryover from radio, Beat the Clock, and Concentration were just a few of the 30 or 40 game shows that aired in the 50’s. But humor was not forgotten in these early television days. Remember George Gobel, Car 54 Where Are You, Ozzie and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver, and Dobie Gillis?

And who can ever forget Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy? In October of 1952 we experienced a new form of television, the TV documentary with the now legendary World War II epic, Victory at Sea. NBC news had sent crews around the world gathering actual combat footage from not only our allies but from German, Japanese and Italian sources and combined them into 26 half hour spellbinding documentaries. To this day Victory at Sea is still recognized as one of the finest documentaries ever made.

A new form of programming aimed specifically at teenagers aired for the first time on October 7, 1957 and was named American Bandstand. The show was hosted by a young man named Dick Clark who in later years was known as the perpetual teenager! He was the only host the show had until it went off the air on September 8, 1987. The show specialized in show casing hit songs of the 50’s while teenagers danced the latest dances.

With the advent of television it was predicted that the movie industry would go out of business because movies were now being run on TV which people could watch free of charge. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

In the early 50’s the big three networks, NBC, ABC and CBS all had daily news broadcasts with filmed footage from events around the world. The Korean War which began in 1950 was covered by newsmen and their film coverage could be seen in our living room within just a few days. Again people predicted that radio would pass from the scene and today more people own radios than at the height of what was considered the golden era of radio.

In the 50’s here in Sheboygan we were introduced to a new way of eating. For the first time our grocer’s freezer case had a complete dinner we could buy that was just waiting to be heated. This miracle was known as the “TV DINNER”! Once our dinner was heated we could carry it into the living room and not miss one minute of our favorite TV program.

But television was not the only thing in the 50’s that made great changes in our lives. Sheboygan was growing. After WWII hundreds of veteran s returned home and many, due to veteran’s benefits were able to build new homes for their young families. It seemed that houses on Sheboygan’s south side seemed almost to sprout from the ground as whole new subdivisions were created.

The auto industry after four years of war production was booming as automobiles, many with wing like fins on their back fenders, were selling like hot cakes. With the increase in automobile traffic a new form of consumer service appeared, the Drive Thru. There was Drive- in banking, Drive- in theaters and the Drive- in restaurants with “car hops” attending to your every need.

Well known old line companies such as A & W root beer embraced the new idea with Drive-In Restaurants across the country, including Sheboygan. At about this time a new business was built on Calumet Dr on Sheboygan’s north side that sported two Golden Arches and sold their hamburgers for .15 cents, MacDonalds had arrived!!!

Change was in the air, it was everywhere. One of the most notable changes was to our American Flag when its 48 stars became 50 with the addition of Alaska and Hawaii to the United States. Alaska was the 49th and Hawaii the 50th State.

I hope you enjoyed this small glance at the nifty fifty’s. It’s almost dinner time now so I think I’ll go into the kitchen heat up my TV Dinner and watch TV.


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