The 1950s were a time of prosperity in America, a decade during which consumer values defined society and a vibrant economy meant that people had more leisure time and income. Despite an undercurrent of rebellion from an emerging youth culture and dissatisfaction in the civil rights movement, an economically confident public enthusiastically bought new items such as disposable diapers, introduced in 1950; skateboards, which debuted in 1958; and Scotchguard, which hit stores in 1956.
To keep pace with consumer growth, more efficient and convenient ways to shop and pay for goods became popular in the 1950s. In 1951, Frank McNamara and Ralph Schneider produced the first all-purpose credit card, called the Diners' Card. A year later, Southdale Mall, the first enclosed mall in the U.S., opened in Minnesota. Credit was already available via charge cards in individual stores, but the Diners' Card was the first cash substitute widely used by Americans in shops, restaurants and other public facilities.
This pivotal computer technology decade got off to a flying start when Jay W. Forrester made the first memory store — or random access memory (RAM) — for digital computers in 1951. While television cemented its position as the dominant media in American society, engineers were working behind the scenes developing computer technology and in 1958, Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce made the first integrated circuit, paving the way for the computers of the future. In 1952, American mathematician Grace Murray Hopper made the first computer compiler — a program that translated computer instructions from English to machine language.
For The Home
Colored kitchen appliances from General Electric became available for purchase in 1954 and were a hit with the owners of the sparkling suburban homes associated with the decade. By the end of the 1950s, entire kitchens could be any color the homeowner wanted, from the oven front to the backsplash and work surfaces. Microwave technology was developed and used during World War II but its ability to cook food wasn't discovered until some years later; the first microwave oven was finally marketed in 1954. In 1950 the "Lazy Bones" television remote control was invented but was initially made with a cable connecting it to the TV set. Robert Adler's 1956 invention of a wireless version surpassed the original and sold more than 9 million units.
Toys and Games
Some of America's most beloved playthings were made in the 1950s, including Etch-a-Sketch and Barbie in 1959, the Frisbee in 1950 and the Hula Hoop in 1958. George Lerner created Mr. Potato Head in 1952. Initially, the toy consisted of pieces to put into a real potato rather than the plastic head sold today. In 1954, the soft modeling clay Play-Doh was launched in one color, a dirty off-white. The first video game, a tennis game for two, was a 1958 invention. Wily Higginbotham created it to entertain business visitors to his government laboratory.