The generation born between 1946 and 1964, known as “baby boomers” for the boom in births that followed World War II, has seen remarkable transformations in culture, technology, medicine, family structures, and moreover their lifetimes. The concept of a palm-sized computer that enables real-time video communication with anyone in the world was science fiction to the youth of the 1950s and 1960s. Just a few decades later, these devices have become virtually essential to daily life.
The advancements of the late 20th and early 21st centuries have inarguably streamlined the ways we live and work. Despite these improvements, it’s hard not to be a little nostalgic for a time before today’s fast-paced world. We see it in shows like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Mad Men, and with a return to classic fashion trends like high waisted pants, pencil skirts, and big sunglasses. A longing for a simpler time.
If you grew up in the ‘50s or ‘60s, you’ll remember the era wasn’t all good manners and 10¢ root beer floats. Being a part of the baby boomer generation meant a childhood of sharing one landline with two or three neighboring homes, no seatbelts, lead paint on everything, and breathing in clouds of cigarette smoke everywhere you went.
The ‘50s and ‘60s had its challenges, but growing up in a more carefree time had its advantages too. If you experienced the era firsthand, you’ll remember these classic throwbacks to the Golden Age.
The absence of video games, iPhones, and mass-produced toys inspired childhood innovation. One popular invention was the ‘analog motorbike,’ also known as clipping a baseball card to the spokes of your bike so it would purr as you sped down your block.
Before Netflix and Chill, date night meant hopping in your dad’s Ford Thunderbird and checking out 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea — under the stars. Can we bring back going steady?
Without the distractions of constantly available media and technology, kids filled their days biking, swimming, playing make-believe, and embarking on adventures that spanned the neighborhood.
Color television didn’t become widely available until the mid-1950s, and even then it was too pricey for most families to have one in their homes. But who needed it when you could bike to your best friend’s house?
But that didn’t mean the ‘50s and ‘60s didn’t turn out some great TV. Shows like American Bandstand became cultural staples with performances from artists like Sonny and Cher, Tina Turner, and more.
It also introduced viewers to dances like the Loco-Motion and Mashed Potato. For those of you born after 2005, it was kind of like Tik-Tok.
Everyone knows The Beatles, but not everyone can say they lived through ‘Beatlemania’ firsthand. Their American debut on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 propelled the band to international superstars, and changed music forever.
Actors like James Dean and Paul Newman remain unmatched. Kids today might only recognize Newman as the guy with the funny get-ups on those ranch dressing bottles, but in the ‘60s, he was a racecar driving movie star.
If you did have color TV, you could always watch Bonanza.
The thrilling, hugely popular wild west adventure series was one of the first shows to become available in color. Plus, the theme song is pretty darn catchy.
Before 24-hour broadcasting and the constant availability of internet news, TV channels used to actually sign off at the end of every night. Some would close programming by playing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Which meant you’d need to keep an entire set of books constantly updated, or just go without the answers to your burning questions. As if that weren’t enough of a throwback — encyclopedias were primarily sold by door-to-door salesmen!
This was the era that introduced mechanical calculators into the mainstream. They were a life-changing innovation for all those who had suffered through the tyranny of long division.
Touch tone, caller ID, and no sharing a single line between two or three neighbors!? Yup, a ‘party line’ isn’t nearly as fun as it sounds. Kids today don’t even know how good they have it.
For those who prefer texting to talking, the ‘50s and ‘60s would have been a nightmare. Baby boomers will remember dialing ‘0’ to reach a real-live person whose job it was to direct your call.
Maybe you still have ice cream carts in your neighborhood, always annoyingly ringing their bells when you’re trying to get some goddamn work done, but in the ’50s and ’60s, you had a specific ice cream man — the Good Humor Man.
Good Humor had a tighter grip on the mobile ice cream market than that one kid who dropped his cone face-down and was determined to never let it happen again had on every single cone he ever ordered for the rest of his life.
Named as they were because they sort of looked like the poofy balls of fur we for some reason shave into poodles, poodle skirts had a fitted waist and then poofed out. If you ever need to dress up as a person from the ’50s or ’60s for a costume party or anything, you can’t go wrong with a poodle skirt.
One of the more popular toys of the ’50s and ’60s, Zip the Money had a plastic face and wore people clothes. To look at a Zip doll today is, well, pretty unsettling.
His plastic face is frozen in one unsettling expression, and his attempt at dressing like a human being keeps me from being able to trust him. Just be a monkey, Zip. That’s enough.
I’d never heard these types of shoes called “saddle shoes” before, but I would have instead labeled them as “the kind of shoes nerds wore in the ’50s.”
As Happy Days taught us, all the cool kids in the ’50s wore leather boots, for better motorcycle riding.
The ’50s and ’60s were the peak of the Cold War, and kids had to practice for potential nuclear strikes by ducking under their desks and covering their heads with their hands. This is about as grim as it gets, folks.
If you wanted to keep up on US-Russia relations, you could either go buy a newspaper (even in the ’50s and ’60s people were scoffing at that outdated idea) or you could watch TV.
Unfortunately, to receive a television signal, you had to amplify the reception of your antenna, and tat meant wrapping those bunny ears in tin foil.
Baseball fans of this era got to watch two New York Yankees, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, chase Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs in a single season. Maris would eventually get the job done, hitting 61 home runs in 1961.
While bicycles have been popular since pretty much the beginning of time, banana bikes came out in 1963 and were the toast of the bicycle-riding town. There was a comfortable, long seat and high handlebars that made riders feel like they were on a motorcycle — a sweet ride if if there ever was one.
It was still expected that little girls would grow up not to be scientists or Army colonels but homemakers, and the toys of the time reflected that. The Easy Bake Oven was a fun way for little girls (and little girls only) to practice their one essential skill — preparing baked goods for everyone else to consume.
G.I. Joe toys made their debut in the ’50s, and they helped make up the other side of the “boys and girls should only play with toys that will influence their future careers” coin. What then could be better than having boys play soldiers?
Could the fluffernutter — a sandwich made up of peanut butter and marshmallow fluff on (usually Wonder brand) white bread — be the ’50s greatest addition to our culture? I’m just gonna say yes, because I am very hungry and marshmallow fluff sounds pretty great right now.
There were no seat belts in cars in those days! Even today, automobile accidents are the number one non-sickness-related killer of people across the world. And these maniacs didn’t even have seat belts?!
… Think again. Most cuts and scrapes were treated by Mercurochrome, a common antiseptic that literally everyone had in their homes back in the ’50s and ’60s. Then someone figured out that it was full of flippin’ mercury and decided that Mercurochrome had to be pulled off of store shelves.
Now here’s something ’50s and ’60s kids had that I do wish we could get here in 2020 — 3D comic books. You could pick up a copy of Detective Comics or Tales From The Crypt and find a pair of 3D specs inside that would make the illustrations come to life.
One more thing I wish we had today — go go boots. They just look so cool and seem so practical! You’d never have to worry about letting your ankle being exposed and getting cold!
Today, we have a million different celebrities and Instagram influencers and former Bachelor contestants telling us what’s hot, what’s poppin,’ what’s fashionable. In the ’60s, there was one person who could do that, and that was Twiggy. Everyone was able to simply look to Twiggy as a example of what to wear and how to look, and it was just taken as fact. Doesn’t that sound refreshingly uncomplicated?
Kids who weren’t allowed to have a dog were getting all hyped up on sea monkeys — the strange little sea creatures you could order out of catalogues.
To me, owning sea monkeys feels like the worst of both worlds — all the responsibility of making sure another creature survives without any pets or snuggles in return? No thanks, sea monkeys. You can stay in y’all’s catalogues.
This is another trend I’m sad has gone away — turtlenecks are very cool, and keep your neck from being cold! A lot of people have cold necks and ankles, okay?
Some families would even turn their basements into fallout shelters so they’d have somewhere to flee to in the event of a nuclear attack. And you just know that once the first family on the block got their shelter installed, the rest of the families decided to hold off, since, if things ever went sideways, they could just head over to the Johnsons’ shelter.
What could be cooler as you sit in your basement, waiting for word as to whether or not the world had survived, than watching a bunch of orbs float around in a diamond-shaped cylinder? I mean, a lot of things (i.e. Nintendo 64, doing push-ups, hearing news that the world had in fact survived), but lava lamps were still pretty cool!
Even though they are objectively ugly, Troll dolls took the nation by storm for the first time in the early 1960s, and kids everywhere loved combing their long hair and… well, I think that might be all you can do with a Troll doll.
Ooh baby, if you didn’t go to a sock hop with your favorite guy or gal and do the Twist, did you even exist in the early ’60s?
In the back half of the ’60s, kids went wild over the Spirograph, which let them stick a pencil in a plastic circle and spin it around, creating all sorts of interesting designs.
And you just know some of those crummy kids told their parents they drew their intricate spirals free-hand, those liars.
While the sweet, brightly-colored popcorn treat known as Yellow Zonkers was briefly the most popular snack in America, Cracker Jack would come roaring back. And how could it not? Cracker Jacks are mentioned in the freakin’ baseball song. They’re an institution.
You could buy a single for 69 cents, and a full record for 99 cents. And in an age where we simply type the name of literally any song in history into Spotify and listen to it instantly, doesn’t the idea of going to the store and coming back with just one song sound ludicrous?
The Flying Nun was huge.
A late-’60s sitcom starring Sally Field was about, no joke, a nun that could fly. I wonder if they talked about it the way we talk about Lost?
In the ’50s, the understanding was that once you were out from under your parents’ watchful eye, you got married and moved in and, ideally, started having children in exactly nine months.
If you were up late watching TV, you’d get yourself a nice little does of patriotism. God bless America, but more to the point, god bless late-night TV.
If you were cruising down a highway at 35 MPH or more, you’d see signs intermittently placed along the raod that tell a story. Usually they’d be about safety and buckling up, but then they’d end with a plug for Burma shaving cream?
There were only a few different phone centers, so you’d say the name of the call center you were trying to reach. Can’t you just picture a character in a Hitchcock movie making a call by speaking into the phone something like “Butterfield 4511”? I always just thought old people didn’t know how to use phones?
Forget about an automatic contact list or simple web search. If you wanted to reach a business or acquaintance, flipping through a thick stack of phone book pages was your best bet.
But that’s only because it didn’t exist yet. Early ‘50s babies will remember changing channels on the television by walking up to the device and turning a knob.
Remember TV antennas? Okay, now remember putting foil on those TV antennas for a stronger signal?
This portable listening device predated CD and cassette players by a few decades. According to The 100 Most Significant Events in American Business they are one of history’s most popular tools for electronic communication, with sales estimated in the billions.
A simple smudge or typo could ruin all your hard work in the blink of an eye, and meant restarting from the beginning of your page — or trying to save face with this new little invention known as ‘Liquid Paper.’
However, the advent of the Sears catalog did present the incredible new option of shopping for luxury items from your very own home.
Before department stores and malls, five-and-dime stores were one of the first one-stop shopping spots. Some are still around today, but unfortunately most of their items cost more than a dime now.
These coupons were distributed by the Sperry & Hutchinson company, and could be redeemed for a range of items from kitchen appliances to toys.
In the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, cigarette ads were everywhere, and smoking was even deemed healthy by medical professionals. In the decades since the act has been denounced as harmful, and even banned in many places. Goodbye, Marlboro man.
Even on airplanes. Now it’s illegal to smoke on most public streets — imagine lighting up in a confined coach class seat!
Before electronic messages replaced much of paper mail, we all relied on the post. It was sometimes delivered twice a day to accommodate the country’s communications!
Okay, so it wasn’t exactly like Postmates. But prior to the 1980s, milk deliveries were the most popular way for families to enjoy their dairy. In some regions, it was delivered by a horse-drawn cart.
As long as you liked peas, mashed potatoes, and frozen meat. Sure, Swanson TV dinners weren’t gourmet, but they did work in a pinch. What do you expect for 98¢?
Every decade seems to have a new idea about what constitutes ‘healthy eating.’ In the ‘50s and ‘60s, Jell-O was all the rage. Today we might recognize the flavored gelatin delight as a waist-conscious treat. But when it first hit the scene, Jell-O was getting paired with everything — fruit, cheese, lamb, salmon, eggs, and more.
That’s one vintage trend that doesn’t seem to be making a comeback.
While the neon orange, sickeningly sweet powdered beverage wasn’t the best on its own, it skyrocketed in popularity when astronaut John Glenn drank it during his famous trip around Earth in 1962.
“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” It’s now an unforgettable line, but the words Neil Armstrong spoke as he became the first man to walk across the surface of the moon in 1969 were heard in real-time by families crowded around their televisions for the life-changing event.
A legendary three-day concert that defined culture forever, Woodstock ’69 closed the Golden Age and Swinging Sixties with peace, love, and music.