When did the fifties metaphorically begin?

Chronologically, the debate is between January 1, 1950 and January 1, 1951. But we’re talking the metaphorical decade not the chronological one.

The Thirties began on October 29, 1929.
The Forties began on September 1, 1939.
The Sixties began on November 22, 1963.
The Seventies began on June 17, 1972 although few people noticed at the time.
The Eighties began on January 20, 1981.
And, of course, our current decade began on September 11, 2001.

But the Fifties are harder to pin down. It was the post-war decade, so an argument can be made for September 2, 1945 when Japan surrendered. But I feel that the next few years were more of an epilogue to the war years rather than the start of a new period. I feel the defining event of the fifties was the Cold War, so you could argue the start of the Berlin Blockade on June 24, 1948; or the formation of NATO on April 4, 1949; or Joseph McCarthy’s Wheeling speech on February 9, 1950; or the invasion of South Korea on June 25, 1950; or even go back to the first atomic bomb explosion on July 16, 1945.

I also feel there’s a question about the nineties. In this case, I think the signature of the decade isn’t clear yet. If the Eighties were the Reagan Years then you could say they ended on January 20, 1993 when Bush left office. If the end of the Cold War was the defining event, then it ended on August 21, 1991 when the Soviet coup collapsed. But those definitions are looking back - a major defining event of the future was the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990.

And these dates have an American slant. People in other countries might have different dates for when their metaphorical decades began and ended.

The fifties began on April 15th, 1947, when Jackie Robinson made his debut.

The nineties began on March 31, 1989 when Heathers was released. :wink:

Or on January 17th, 1991, when the Gulf War began. Take your pick.

Bill Haley’s Rock Around the Clock? (1954)

February 9, 1950, almost right on schedule.

I think the 90s began with Lollapalooza in '91.

I think the 50’s began on October 15, 1951.

Also, I’d say the 90’s began on November 9, 1989.

I like that for the 90s better than the start of the Gulf War.

That seems just a little too early to me. I’d say the beginning of the 70’s (or the end of the 60’s if you will) was probably closer to 1974. The important cultural markers were: (1) The OPEC oil embargo, which signaled the end of 60’s prosperity and the beginning of double-digit inflation. (2). Nixon’s resignation, not the original Watergate break-in. And (3) The Fall of Saigon.

I define the seventies as the decade when the public mood went from idealistic to apathetic. And Watergate I feel was the thread that began the whole unraveling.

And as I’ve said I have a bias for beginning a decade with an event that signals the theme of the arriving decade rather than one that signals the end of the departing decade’s theme.

zeno, I can’t think about “Rock Around the Clock” without thinking of the movie it was in. That too was a milestone: Blackboard Jungle.

But I nominate August 29, 1949. The Soviet Union tested their first atomic bomb. We weren’t the only ones to have it anymore. I was six years old and I remember that it freaked the adults out in our country.

We had to build a bigger bomb. And we did. The nuclear arms race began in earnest. Soon we would start to see a Communist behind every tree. Everyone looked suspicious. The Red Scare heated up too.

Since I was there for the start of the 50’s, no matter when it did begin metaphorically, I can contribute a few points in time when what may be seen as seminal events took place, or were started. The Post-War Period is an obvious marker, but I feel a year or two needs to have elapsed before the War Years fade into that era. Therefore, some time after 1945.

Candidate starting points:

  1. 1947 – Chuck Yeager (and perhaps George Welch before him) broke the sound barrier

  2. late 40’s – TV becomes a common household item

  3. whenever in the late 40’s or early 50’s – Hollywood responds to TV by introducing CinemaScope and other widescreen doodads

  4. whenever in the late 40’s or early 50’s – the Beatniks gain a name and some recognition

  5. Eisenhower’s presidency (the dawning of Richard Nixon)

  6. Juvenile delinquency causes enough concern to start the portrayals in film and TV

  7. Cars begin to look less boxy

  8. Appliances manufacturers race to see who can reduce the workload for the housewife to practically a finger snap

  9. Hank Williams puts Country Music on the map for the entire country

No doubt many other such events and trends could be selected as the sign that the hard times of the Depression and WWII were things of the past and that Prosperity was here to stay. Any one of them would be a symptom of the change that was being felt. It takes all of them to help put a label on the time period.

As I see it in my memory, most of these things passed by me unnoticed and it was my own personal process of moving from childhood to adolescence that I tend to remember and reflect on. I wager that any others in my age bracket view it essentially the same way. And labeling our generation is a job for people who either weren’t there or who were there but had done their own passage into adulthood under much rougher circumstances. The label of Happy Days is a joke by younger or older people than I am.

Whenever I see movies that are set in The Fifties I notice how hair styles, clothing, gadgets, appliances, cars, even color schemes are used to evoke the era. None of those things can really capture the feel of the times for me, though. They help, I’ll give them that, but more often than not the “spirit” of the times is either disregarded or just plain missed.

In case you’re asking, I’d return there quicker than any other time in my past. But I suspect the main reason I would is that then was when I was as innocent as I have ever been, and that’s a good thing.

The Forties didn’t get started until after the war, in 1945.

The fifties went on and on, not ending until 1967, really. A few folks missed it entirely until 1969. This was somewhat due to the fact that a lot more people were stoned by then.

The Seventies began with the introduction and popularization of the double knit leisure suit, which by unspoken popular agreement became extinct when in 1980 everyone said, “Why the hell am I wearing this?”

I personally believe that the eighties continued until the end of the millennium. To be replaced by the Age of Fear, in 1999.


Huh? Do you mean the 50’s?

4th July 1954. The end of rationing in the U.K.

I guess I’m the only one who knows the correct answer. The 'fifties began on October 5, 1954, the day I was born. Next question? :cool:

The eighties ended September 24, 1991 . It was killed by some unhappy punks from Seattle.



The very date I was thinking of.

Good call, Zoe.

I think the 70’s started on May 4, 1970. Nothing to save you from cynicism after that.

50’s? I’ve wondered that myself. Is there really a huge difference between the 40’s HUAC hearings and 50’s McCarthyism? About the biggest difference I can see between 1946 and 1963 besides an incremental increase in technology (which you can’t really pin a starting point on,) is rock n roll, and I’m not sure that it is important enough to overshadow the similarities between the late chronological 40’s and 50’s. (Whereas IMO in 1963 rock DID become important enough to usher in that decade.)

And it nicely brackets it with 9/11/2001 as the period between one global menace and another.

I think you mean October 8th, 1991.