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The 1950′S Essay, Research Paper
Another element that was present in the 1950’s was automobiles. Automobiles were
something that everyone once dreamed of owning. Now after the war. they could finally own
one. Automobiles of the 1940’s were dull and very plain. This was because designers were too
busy designing tanks, planes, etc… for the ongoing war. The major event that took place that
changed the way cars looked and how they performed happened on October 14, 1947. This was
when Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier. From this point on everyone wanted to go faster.
People wanted automobiles with larger displacement engines. They also wanted sleek and
aerodynamic cars. This prompted General Motors Corporation to hold Motorama in 1949. This
was a giant exposition of concept cars that had an emphasis on power, style, convenience, and
features. These for features would be what many cars of the 1950’s would be based on.
One car that was a design evolution was the Chevrolet Corvette. The first Corvette was
built on June 30th, 1953 at the Flint, Michigan plant and continues to be produced today. In 1953
it featured an all fiberglass body with a chromed grill. The car had no side windows and no
outside door handles. Each 1953 Corvette was virtually hand built and all 1953 models were
white and had red interiors. This may have not been the most technologically advanced car but it
would pave the way for the true performance and sports car.
Concept cars also played a part in the 1950’s. They were designed to attract the publics
eye, introduce and gauge the publics reaction to new styling and engineering ideas, help attract
the public to the auto dealerships where they were displayed at, and to drive car crazy kids nuts.
The 1955 Lincoln Futura featured a plexiglass bubble top and a 300 horsepower V-8. In the
1960’s this car was sold to a car customizer in California and was converted into the first ever
Batmobile. The 1958 GM Firebird III was the most radical concept car of the 1950’s. It was
powered not by the normal combustion engine but by a gas turbine engine. It also featured a dual
cockpit design and was controlled by joystick controller instead of the normal steering wheel.
Another element that was seen in the 1950’s were the tail-fins present on most Cadillacs. The
first Cadillac that had the tail fin was introduced in October, 1947. These fins were supposed to
give cars a look of high-speed stability. The fins were inspired the P-38 war plane. The caddy tail
fins continued to grow until they reached there height in 1959 when they were almost as tail as
the car itself.
As the number of automobiles increased so did the number of road trips that people were
going on. All of the traveling motorists needed places to stay. This brought about the
development of the motel. Motel combines the words “motorist” and “hotel”. By the mid 1950’s
the smaller quaint motor lodges of the 30’s and 40’s no longer could compete with rising motel
corporations like Howard Johnson or Best Western. These corporations designed their motels to
be comfortable and practical for those staying in them. They also built them with a standard
design. The catchy facades of the older motels were no longer attracting the customers. Motels
also started franchising and referral chains. A referral chain would consist of several motels that
form a union and refer customers to the other hotels in the union. Some large franchises that
started in the 1950’s were Super 8 and Holiday Inn. These franchises soon spread out all over the
country and put the smaller “mom and pop” motels out of business. With the number of road
trips increasing the destinations that they were traveling to were also bringing in more people.
These destinations included national parks, family camps, wilderness areas such as the beach and
the mountains, and to large cities such as Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Remote national parks
were finally able to be traveled to because of newly constructed interstate systems. All of the
destinations that were traveled to had activities for both the young and the old. These were and
escape from the everyday rigors of suburban and city life.
The need for gas stations also increased as the number of automobiles and road trips
increased. Back in the 30’s and early 40’s before the dramatic rise in the number of automobiles,
gas stations would be designed in ways to attract customers. These designs often included very
unusual facades. They attracted customers when there were low number of cars on the roads.
But as the roadways expanded scenic gas stations eventually phased out because they no longer
attracted the eye of the public. Also the majority of gas stations in the 1950’s were full-service
unlike the gas stations of today. They would try to make the customer as comfortable as possible
when filling up.
Places to eat on the road also sprang up. Diners were an important fixture on the road in
the 1950’s. However food was not always served as fast as the customer would like it to be at
these diners. This lead to the development of fast food restaurants like McDonald’s, White
Castle, and Burger King. These would allows families to eat on the road and get to their
destination more quickly. Diners may have provided better tasting and quality food but drivers on
the road liked the fact that they could get their food quickly from a drive thru window.
Eventually the small diners died out somewhat and the larger fast food franchises took over.
Another aspect of the 1950’s American dream was the space race. The space race was a
race to see who could put a man on the moon first. It was mainly between the US and the Soviet
Union. Although the majority of the space race took place in the 60’s it began in the late 1950’s
with the launch of Sputnik by the Soviet Union. Sputnik was launched on October 4, 1957. It
was a very basic satellite and let out beeps every few seconds. This was very surprising to the
US. They did not think that the Soviets had the knowledge of anything as complicated as a
satellite. As a result of the launch of Sputnik the US began to put greater emphasis on science
and engineering in education. They also began to try extra hard to develop space technology.
Thus the space race had begun.
The American Dream of the 1950’s involved achieving and expanding upon the success of
previous generations. This is shown in all of the things mentioned. Cars for example show how
much of a success previous generations were at creating machines. In the 50’s however people
made these cars better and equipped them with newly developed technology. This was the
progressive spirit that the 1950’s had. People had the spirit to expand to new areas. The
introduction of the interstate system allowed for easy expansion and growth. People began to
move away from the norms that the 30’s and 40’s had set. They began to live the ways that they
wanted and they would not let things such as technology restrict them. This is how the 1950’s
played out the American Dream.
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