Growing up in the 1950’s

iStock_000010351306SmallI was born in 1948 so my early childhood was spent in the 1950’s. I remember it as a simpler time, but a less convenient and more labor intensive era. My standard of living (and most other people’s as well) is much better now that we have all of the conveniences from the past 60 years available.

Growing up in the fifties made me everlastingly grateful for a number of things, such as hot running water, central air conditioning, automatic dishwashers, TV remote control, the internet, personal computers (typewriters really sucked – no backspacing!), riding lawn mowers, garage door openers and many, many more things we take for granted today.

So, if you are my age, welcome to a trip down nostalgia lane. If you are younger, imagine your life back then!


The average home size in America was around 1100 square feet. Ours was smaller (about 700 square feet) – 2 bedrooms (my brother and I shared one and my parents the other), a kitchen and a living room, No basement or garage.

Most of us did not have air conditioned homes. People opened their windows and used attic fans or sat in metal lawn chairs outside to cool off.

Most of us did not have clothes dryers, we dried the clothes on a line outside.

Some of us did not have central heat. Our home was heated with a coal stove.

Kids could roam the neighborhood by themselves safely. On Christmas eve, gangs of kids caroled from house to house. On Halloween we did a trick for our treat inside of a neighbors house, without our parents around and got homemade goodies to eat as a treat.

Neighbors knew each other.

Kids addressed adult neighbors as Mr or Mrs so and so, not by first name.

Thank you notes were hand written and sent via USPS, before we got to use the gift. You had to ask to be excused from the dinner table. You didn’t start eating until everyone was served and seated. Men opened doors for women, women said thank you to them.

Christmas was a one week event – between Dec 25 and Jan. 1; not a month long marathon. Most city folks bought their tree at a lot, Christmas tree farms weren’t open to individuals.

Christmas gifts were precious, opened one at a time taking turns, and then examined by everyone present before the next guy got to open theirs.

Kids did chores and not all of them were ‘safe’. My brother mowed the lawn with a homemade electric lawnmower.

There were no bicycle helmets. Heck, there were barely chain guards!

There were lots of kids to play with (we were the baby boom after all).

Kids walked to school. Alone or with a friend.

School started after Labor Day and ended after Memorial Day.

Schools did not have air conditioning.

Schools usually only had one or two TVs available for the entire school.

There was no need for a ‘zero tolerance’ policy.

There were no day care centers – women stayed home and raised the kids.

Working from home usually meant selling stuff door to door.

Toni home perms were prevalent.

Hair cuts were done at home by a family member.

The cold war colored our life. People built bomb shelters in their back yards.

There were no ‘yellow’ or ‘orange’ or ‘red’ air days.

There was no ‘comfort index’, just the actual temperature.


There was no internet.

There were no personal computers.

There were no cell phones.

There were no remote controls.

There were no automatically adjusting thermostats.

There were no garage door openers.

There were no dishwashers (other than us kids!).

There were no online saving or bill paying services.

There were no discount brokers.

There was no CNBC with constant market and news.

Cameras had to have actual film and pictures had to be developed after the whole roll of film was ‘exposed’.

Research was done at a library using the Dewey decimal system, not a search engine.

There were no morning traffic reports (mainly because there weren’t traffic jams around us).

Weather prediction was terrible.

News reports on TV happened once a day.

Most telephones were on a party line (and yes the parties did ease drop on each other, but they also let us do ‘conference’ calls).

On the other hand…. there were no drones, stoplight cameras, computer virus problems, identity theft, angst over credit ratings, amber alerts, full body scanners to enter an airport and etc.


People cooked and ate at home.

Lots of people had back yard gardens.

Fast food was rare. There weren’t any McDonald’s but there were Steak and Shake and White Castle’s here and there.

There wasn’t a restaurant on every corner and people didn’t eat out much.

Most people were thin.

Most food at the grocery store came from the USA.

Out of season produce, if available at all, was super expensive. We got oranges in our Christmas stockings as a special treat.

The only discount store was the 5 and dime aka ‘the dime store’. It did not sell food (except 1 penny candies).

People went downtown to do their big shopping. There were no shopping malls. There were no strip malls.

Stores like Sears and JC Penney sent out free merchandise catalogs 3 inches thick and people ordered their stuff from those if they couldn’t find it in a store.

Coupons were in the newspaper. The Sunday newspaper was the best source to get them.

You physically went from store to store (or called on the phone) to compare prices and products. Many things we have in 2014 weren’t available in all locations. For instance, you can go to eBay now and find civil war era items for sale. In most places you wouldn’t have been able to find anything authentic from the civil war in the 1950’s.

Cheap (not just inexpensive, I mean cheap – easy to break) toys came from post-war Japan.


There was no polyester clothing.

Clothing had to be ironed to look good.

People dressed up. Girls and women wore dresses or skirts. Men and boys wore slacks and button up the front shirts. Girls could not wear pants or shorts to school. Women wore ‘house dresses’ to clean house and all the time at home. They used aprons over them when they cooked.

No, I didn’t wear a poodle skirt! I wasn’t that cool. But I did wear saddle shoes and bobby socks.

Women wore hats and gloves to church on Sunday. Men wore suits and hats.


Gasoline stations did not serve food, have coffee or provide bath rooms. Young men ran out to fill your tank, check your oil, try your tire pressure and wipe your windshield when you stopped for gas.

Cars did not have bucket seats. Mom and Dad used to change drivers while driving slowly down an empty street by sliding across the bench seat in front.

Most families had only one car.

Cars did not have safety belts.

Cars did not park themselves.

Cars had ash trays and cigarette lighters.

Heating in cars was optional as an add on expense.

Most cars did not have radios, non had any other kind of electronics.

Speedometers went up only to about 70 mph.

There was only one interstate highway.

People didn’t show road rage back then.

You boarded an airplane from the ground, outside, using roll up steps.

There was, of course, no space travel nor any satellites (at least until Sputnik in 1957).

Not very many people could afford to fly (or needed to fly for that matter).

Planes were allowed to break the sound barrier over major metro areas (like St. Louis).

There were passenger trains other than Amtrak.

You researched in the library and wrote to the state’s to get information to plan a trip.

Motels were mostly individually owned – you never knew what you were going to get.


People listened to the radio, watched TV, went to the local (one screen) movie house or entertained themselves.

All TV was free.

TV’s had to warm up – when you turned them on, before the picture would come in.  You had to adjust the horizontal and vertical to get the picture to clear up.  The color was very primitive.

TV shows stopped at midnight.

Popular TV shows didn’t involve police, shooting, vampires or aliens. There were shows like: Davy Crockett; Mr Rogers; Walter Cronkite nightly news; Gunsmoke, I Love Lucy, The Twilight Zone, The Lone Ranger; Leave it to Beaver; Wonderful World of Disney.

My radio was AM only. Dad used a ham radio to talk to other ham operators.

People read newspapers, magazines and books for entertainment.

I guess you are tired of reading this by now, please add in the comments what your 1950’s era was like or what surprised you about what I said above.


Growing up in the 1950’s — 12 Comments

  1. My mom grew up in the 50’s in kansas (she was born in 42). She told me she had some fond and not so fond memories of party lines. They had a three bedroom house and at that time she had 6 younger brothers, as the girl she got her own room! She said she wore a mix of pants and dresses to school as their was no rule that girls had to wear only skirts (although shorts was a no-no for both genders). My grandfather worked and my grandmother stayed home with her kids for the most part, although at one point she had a a little restaurant she owned (she was an awesome cook).I always love hearing her stories from growing up- it was definitely a simpler time but I don’t think she misses not having all the conveniences that we have now.

  2. I was born in the 80’s so I have no idea, but my mom always tells me how there were no seat belts in cars. And how she people just sat their babies in the front seat!

  3. This is awesome…I’m an 80’s baby like Holly, so I never experienced these times. I’d love to live in a world where the Zero-Tolerance policies in schools was not needed though. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I was born in 1959 and remember many of these things. Party line, no cable we didn’t even have a colour TV until the early 70’s, I think. I was thinking about the no cable thing the other day because we are in the process of cutting our cable and installing a digital antenna, just like the good ‘ole days only more sophisticated!

  5. This is great! I look back and wonder if we weren’t better off back then without all the technology of today. I use it, but too often I use it too much.

    I knew a lady that grew up with no A/C so she never had it once it was popular and she was fine with it. I think we think our wants are our needs way too much!

    Great article! I loved it! 🙂

  6. I grew up in the 80/90s and had some elements of this in my childhood. I think it’s because my parents grew up in the 50s and tried to instill some of their experiences with us.

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