More Stuff That Did Not Exist in the 1950’s

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A Brief History

On February 8, 1960, the Hollywood Walk of Fame was officially opened with the placement of the first 8 brass and terrazzo stars in the famous sidewalk.  The Walk of Fame would almost immediately become a tourist favorite and a treasured honor to have one’s name placed in the sidewalk at Hollywood Blvd. and Vine St. in Hollywood, California.  Thus starts our previous article on the subject, and today we take a look back at the marvelous things we have today that we did not have when this author was born.  Imagine living without some of these things!  Or that they seemingly have been around forever, but obviously have not.  In previous articles we discuss many of these items, clothing trends and practices, and in other articles we have discussed some specific categories that have changed over the past 6+ decades, including cars and communications (January 16, 2021 article).

Digging Deeper

Kmart, Walmart, Target, 1962

The big department store chains for the masses in the 1950’s were Sears, Montgomery Ward and JC Penny, and Kmart shook up that dynamic in a big way when Kresge’s, the dimestore company, started plopping their big box stores all over the country.  Along with Walmart and Target, general purpose stores went from local one-off stores and smaller chains to giant retailers that could leverage massive purchases of bulk items at cheaper prices than local stores, driving the local stores out of business, not to mention ruining sales for the slightly more upscale Sears, Ward’s and Penny’s.  With the massive grocery business currently done by Walmart, many grocery chains have either folded up or merged in order to stay alive.

Economy Cars with Luxury Features

Used to be, features such as power windows, power locks, power brakes, power steering and side view mirrors on both sides were NOT standard.  Obviously, neither was air conditioning or a car radio.  Nor were seat belts!  (Let alone air bags.)  Tires were not all-season and they were not radial, either, nor did they have steel or Kevlar belts.  Today, even many bottom line or near bottom line cars have all these features and then some.  Most cars did not come with an automatic transmission standard, either, hence calling a stick shift a “standard shift.”  Windows did not come tinted, either, and many cars had plate glass instead of laminated or safety glass.  Rear view cameras?  Parking sensors?  Maybe in science fiction movies or television, but not on your car!  (Even expensive luxury cars.)  Not only were there no LED lights that many cars today have, we did not even have Halogen lights (Italy 1962, US 1970’s), which are waaayyyy brighter than the old sealed beam headlights cars had before the 1970’s.  (Halogen lights of all types are in the process of being banned for environmental reasons).  Even carpeting was not standard!  Even economy cars today have most of these features and then some.  Automatic choke?  Back in the day, that was an option, if even available, and it would be a bi-metal contraption, not the electronic gizmo almost all cars have today.  Another item taken for granted today is the electronic fuel injection system almost all cars now have.  Back the 1950’s, the Corvette was the first American car to offer mechanical fuel injection, and even that primitive system was a rarity on American made cars until the 1970’s, although American Motors and Chrysler made early attempts at electronic fuel injection as early as 1958, but only on top end cars.  There were no “head rests” on top of the seats, either.  Seat were largely low-backed items that would guarantee severe spinal injury (whiplash) if you were struck from behind.

No Such Thing as “Light” Beer back Then! 1972

Sometime in the 1960’s some small brewers tried their hand at producing “light” or “diet” beer that had less alcohol and fewer calories than regular beer.  Not until Miller bought out Meister Brau in 1972 and started selling their “Lite” brand of beer did the new genre of brewski hit the mass market.  Today, the top selling beers (in order) in the US are Bud Light, Coors Light and Miller Lite.  Another 4 “light” varieties reign in the top 12 selling beers.  What we did have, was “3.2” beer, so called because it had only 3.2% alcohol content and could be purchased by 18 year-olds, whereas regular strength beer (5-7% alcohol) could only be purchased buyers aged 21 or more.

Right Guard Deodorant, 1960

Men, especially men, were kind of stinky back in the 1950’s.  Deodorant was available, but seldom used, though cologne and after shave would be liberally applied to cover up body odor.  Then Gillette came out with Right Guard, and by the late 1960’s things changed dramatically (for the better!) in the US as use of deodorant became mainstream, especially finally by men.  For those keeping score, the original product specifically sold as a deodorant was “Mum,” invented in Philadelphia by Edna Murphey in 1888, and anti-perspirant was invented by Jules Montenier of Chicago in 1903, while the roll-on type was invented by Helen Barnett Diserens in the 1940’s, sold as “Ban Roll-On” since 1952.  Deodorants were marketed to women until 1957 when men finally became the target commercial deodorant marketing.  Why it took so long, we have no idea.

Wine Coolers, 1980’s

Sure, people mixed wine with a variety of soft drinks, juices and mixers prior to the 1980’s, but not until that comparatively recent time were pre-mixed wine coolers commercially marketed.  Along with wine coolers and light beer, other drinks we did not have back then include “Hard” seltzers, flavored waters, diet soda (or “diet pop,” if you prefer), or Almond Milk (and other ersatz varieties of “milk”).

Ziploc Plastic Bags, 1968

Plastic sandwich bags existed in the 1950’s, but were more or less a luxury, as people of lesser means (meaning moi) were stuck with wax paper bags with no particularly good means of closure for their sandwiches in their lunch box/bag.  (My mother used a tiny piece of Scotch Tape to seal the bags, which almost always came open and, in any case, usually allowed the sandwich bread to get stale.)  Then the Glad brand came along with their “Ziploc” series of bags that allowed the sure sealing of plastic bags for lunches and storage, a simple yet enormous advance in food preservation.

Alkaline Flashlight Batteries, 1960

The concept of alkaline batteries (rather than acid based) had been around for many decades, but it took Lewis Urry, a Canadian working at the Union Carbide (Eveready) factory in Cleveland to develop the “dry” variety useful for applications such as flashlights.  The patent for alkaline batteries was awarded to the Union Carbide team of Urry, Karl Kordesch, and P.A. Marsal in 1960, based on their 1957 application.  Once these improved batteries hit the market, the old acid based Carbon-Zinc batteries were eventually relegated to second class status, as the alkaline types would last much longer, although it took a process of several years for alkaline batteries to really cut into the sales of the old type.  Not only do the alkaline batteries last longer in use, but they also boast a greatly improved shelf life as well.  In recent years efforts have been made to reduce the use of Mercury in the construction of the batteries.  The advent of alkaline batteries also has generated a fierce media war, especially between Eveready’s Energizer brand and the Duracell brand of batteries, featuring high production value television commercials.

LED Lights, 1968

Although invented in 1960, the Light Emitting Diode type of highly efficient light bulb we find everywhere today did not hit the commercial market until 1968. Slowly but surely the LED technology has crept into the mainstream, finding a home on all sorts of electronic devices, automobiles (including police car colored lights), airplanes, flashlights, and with the dawning of a global effort to mitigate climate change, LED’s are becoming a far better replacement for incandescent light bulbs for the home than the fluorescent bulbs ever could be.  Of course, the dramatic decrease in price is helping the spread of LED’s, as well as their reliability and ultra-long lifespan, often lasting for years.  That last feature is important to us homeowners getting on in years as climbing up on chairs or step ladders to change bulbs can be a dangerous and awkward task.  LED’s have also been adapted to provide improved television clarity and other innovative applications.

LCD, 1972

The idea of liquid crystal display goes back many decades before they finally were perfected to provide a commercially successful application such as in wristwatches and electronic calculators.  Later, LCD televisions took the lead from plasma type televisions in the lightweight flat-screen field, though LED’s pretty much replaced LCD television since then.  On the other hand, renewed development of LCD technology has enabled LCD television to rival the best LED types.

Handheld Electronic “Digital “Pocket” Calculators, 1970

We were taught to use slide rules in junior high school math class, and make no mistake, the slide rule is an amazing device and in trained hands can perform all sorts of mathematic functions rather quickly.  By 1970, a replacement in the form of handheld digital electronic calculators showed up in stores, and prices were high!  (Couple of hundred dollars and more.)  As the 1970’s progressed, the price went down dramatically and the capabilities rose to where the handheld calculator could perform all sorts of trigonometric functions as well as square roots and standard math.  These nifty devices also put the desk top electric calculator on notice that obsolescence was nigh.  For those interested in the trivia of calculators, the first models offered for sale in the US (1970) were from Busicom (a Japanese company) and Bowmar (first American made pocket sized item).  You may see reference to other brands of “handheld” calculators that may have preceded the 2 mentioned, but those items were not truly the “pocket” size we are familiar with and weighed over a pound!

NFL Playoffs, 1967

From the start of the National Football League in 1933 through 1966, there was only an NFL Championship Game held between the top 2 teams in the NFL based on regular season performance.  By 1959, the NFL had grown to a total of 12 teams, arranged in 2 conferences of 6 teams each, with the conference champs playing in the championship game.  In 1967, the league now boasted 16 teams that were arranged in 2 conferences consisting of 2 divisions each, each division with 4 teams.  Division winners played off for the opportunity to represent the conference in the championship game.  As the league continued to grow since, playoffs were expanded accordingly, including the use of “wild card” teams that were not division winners.

MLB Playoffs, 1969

Much like the NFL situation described above, Major League Baseball experienced a growth in the number of teams that made a playoff system a better way of determining which teams met in the World Series than merely both League pennant winners, especially since the Pennant race could well be determined long before the end of the season.  In 1959, both the American and National Leagues had only 8 teams in each league, with the regular season team that won the most games going to the World Series.  By 1969, MLB had grown to 24 teams, with each league claiming a dozen of those teams arranged into 2 divisions of 6 teams each.

No West Coast NBA or MLB teams, 1960/1958

Hard to imagine Los Angeles, our nation’s second most populous city, as not having an NBA or MLB team, but that was indeed the case until 1958, when the New York Giants moved to San Francisco and the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles.  Meanwhile, the NBA first got a toehold on the West Coast when the Minneapolis Lakers moved to Los Angeles in 1960 (in case you wondered how a Los Angeles team got a name like “Lakers!”)  The NHL came to the West Coast even later, not until 1967, though the NFL had been on the “Left” Coast since 1946.

Question for students (and subscribers): Look at our other lists before you think we forgot something important, but if you do and your pet item is not listed, please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Milford-Cottam, Daniel. Fashion in the 1950s.  Shire Publications, 2017.

Mort, Norm. American Trucks of the 1950s. Veloce Publishing, 2019.

The featured image in this article, a photograph by Neelix depicting Donald Trump’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, has been released this into the public domain worldwide by the copyright holder of this work.


About Author

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.