History and Popular Culture in 1959
· Politics and Social Movements
- Our Elected Leaders – In their famed duet, Vice President Richard Nixon plays the piano while Jack Benny accompanies him on violin. But a not so accommodating Nixon travels to Russia to spar with Khrushchev in what was known as the “Kitchen Debate”. Rockefeller withdraws from the presidential race, giving Nixon a clear field. Earl K. Long, Governor of Louisiana, is committed to a state mental hospital; he responds by having the hospital's director fired and replaced with a crony who proceeds to proclaim him perfectly sane.
- The Cold War –In May, Soviet forces are stationed in Afghanistan, setting the stage for their invasion 20 years later. Iran & U.S. sign economic treaty while Iraq and the USSR sign an economic/technical treaty. Russia seems to have a head–start on intercontinental missile systems. The Berlin crisis eases after Khrushchev and Eisenhower meet at Camp David. But still, Khrushchev is barred from visiting Disneyland. Eastern Europe remains firmly under Russian control.
- Civil Rights – The Supreme Court rules that Louisiana’s law prohibiting black–white boxing is unconstitutional. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. becomes the first black gen–major in USAF. Raisin in the Sun is the first Broadway play by a black woman, Lorraine Hansberry. Citizens of Deerfield Ill block building of interracial housing. Japanese–Americans who renounced their citizenship in 1942 when they were placed in American prison camps regain full citizenship, but receive no compensation. Hiram Fong is sworn in as 1st Chinese–American Senator while Daniel Inouye is sworn in as 1st Japanese–American Congressman (Both from Hawaii).
- Statehood –Alaska is admitted in February, followed by Hawaii in August.
- The Americas – Fidel Castro gains control of Cuba; former dictator Fulgencio Batista flees to the Dominican Republic. The U.S. recognizes Fidel Castro's Cuban government, but the relationship sours when Cuba encourages communism in Central and South America and then invades Panama.
- Africa – Patrice Lumumba is arrested in the Belgian Congo. Belgian’s King Boudouin promises Belgian Congo independence. South Africa decides not to introduce any television. The decision will stand for 16 years.
- Far East – The Dalai Lama flees Tibet for India. China dissolves Tibet's government and installs the Panchen Lama. After 13 years as a colony of Britain, Singapore becomes a self–governing republic. Sukarno dissolves the Indonesian Parliament and assumes dictatorial power.
- Europe – Swiss males deny voting rights for women. The four post-WWII world powers agree to German reunification. Macmillan wins another 5–year term as Britain’s Prime Minister.
- Religion – A Vatican edict forbids Roman Catholics to vote for communists. The Presbyterian Church votes to accept women preachers. Pope John XXIII proclaims 2nd Vatican council.
- Military – The US has its first successful test fire of the Titan ICBM and for the first time, a submarine is equipped with ballistic missiles. In July, the first Americans are killed in South Vietnam. If only they had been the last.
- For shame – The American Nazi Party (Neo-Nazi) is founded by retired U.S. Navy Commander George Lincoln Rockwell.
· The Economy
- Gross National Product – $503.5 billion (a 7.5% increase over 1958); Federal spending – $92.1 billion; Federal debt – $287.5 billion, an increase of $8 billion over 1958.
- Wages and Prices – Average income – $5,016 (up almost 8%); Minimum wage – $1/hour; Cost of average home – still $30,000; gas – 25¢ a gal.; loaf of bread – 20¢; Postage stamp – still 4¢; pound coffee – 77¢; Cadillac Eldorado convertible – $7,401; Kellogg’s Corn Flakes – 22¢; a glass of coke 5¢; Ladies Full Length Cashmere Coat – $59; Cost of a day in the hospital – $16; Cost of a date – $0.00; since you (read I) couldn’t get a date at 14 years of age. Inflation is a tame 1.01%.
- Unemployment – Still relatively high – 5.5%. To partially address the problem, Congress passes a bill authorizing food stamps for poor Americans.
- The Stock Market – The Dow Jones ends the year at 679.36, up 15.7%.
- Autos – Ford announces that it is cancelling production of the Edsel; new American cars include Studebaker’s Lark, the Ford Falcon and the American Motors’ Rambler. Buick introduces the Le Sabre, the Invicta and the Electra. GM introduces the Corvair, which would be lambasted by Ralph Nader as “unsafe at any speed”. Ford outsells Chevy, only the second time in the prior twenty-five years.
- Imports – Over 600,000 imported cars are sold (10% of the market), not surprising, given the lineup for American cars. Volkswagen launches their “Think Small” campaign resulting in sales of 120,000 cars in the U.S. Honda opens its first overseas subsidiary in the US portending the coming surge in foreign cars.
- Air Travel – American Airlines launches the first transcontinental commercial jet service, LA to NY for $301. Pan Am begins regular flights around World.
- Labor Unrest – A massive steel strike lasts almost four months and leads to a vast increase in the importation of foreign steel, devastating the domestic steel industry.
- Shipping - The St. Lawrence Seaway opens, providing a link between Atlantic and the Great Lakes.
- Sales – One billionth can of Spam sold.
· Fashion and Dating
- Guide for Teenage girls – On Becoming a Woman is published, instructing teenager girls to remember to include a “navy blue sheath” as a fundamental part of their wardrobe; never ever call a boy; expect a natural progression from going steady to marriage, never to forget to be passive and make sure you please the boy. It is silent on what the boy would do for the girl. But in those days, the boy asked, the boy paid for the date and the boy provided the transportation.
- Advice from Seventeen Magazine – Seventeen magazine explains how to “Turn Your Dreams into Dates”. In their issues, girls are instructed “in dating, like dancing, boys like to take the lead; a girl’s role traditionally is to follow.” There was an article on “how to be demure”. Sex? Boys will only respect you if you say “no.”
- Popular Joke – “He kissed me, and then a cloud came over everything and then I was pregnant.” Nevertheless, the birth rate for unmarried teenagers is 21.9 per thousand, about the same as in 2007.
- Teen Fashion – This may be the last year that girls wore poodle skirts, bobby sox and saddle shoes. Radical teenage girls and boys sometimes wear jeans, boots, and leather jackets; for the rest of us, dressing up is chinos and corduroy jackets for boys and printed dresses, or a cardigan with a simple skirt and a beaded necklace for girls. Life Magazine features a teenage girl “shrieking with delight” over a set of matched luggage. Really!
- Hair –Ponytails are still cute for girls. It would take 30 years before they are acceptable for boys.
- Birthday Corsage – this is the year most class of ’62 girls turned 14, earning a “Dog Biscuit” corsage.
· Arts and entertainment
- Music – Top songs: 1. What'd I Say – Ray Charles; 2. I Only Have Eyes For You – Flamingos; 3. Mack The Knife – Bobby Darin; 4. There Goes My Baby – Drifters; 5. Shout – Isley Brothers; 6. Kansas City – Wilbert Harrison; 7. Poison Ivy – Coasters; 8. Money – Barrett Strong; 9. Love Potion No. 9 – Clovers; 10. You're So Fine – Falcons
- New Books: Lady Chatterley's Lover – D. H. Lawrence; Life Studies – Robert Lowell; Advertisements for Myself – Norman Mailer; Hawaii – James A. Michener; The Little Disturbances of Man – Grace Paley; Doctor Zhivago – Boris Pasternak; Goodbye Columbus and Five Short Stories – Philip Roth; and The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White, which remains the “bible” for writing skills. Postmaster General bans D H Lawrence's book, Lady Chatterley's Lover (overruled by US Court of Appeals in 1960). Almost 15,000 new titles are published.
- Best Sellers – Exodus – Leon Uris; Doctor Zhivago – Boris Pasternak; Hawaii – James A. Michener; Advise and Consent – Allen Drury; Lady Chatterley's Lover – D.H. Lawrence; The Ugly American – Eugene L. Burdick; Dear and Glorious Physician – Taylor Caldwell; Lolita – Vladmir Nabokov; Mrs. Arris Goes to Paris – Paul Gallico; Poor No More – Robert Ruark.
- Prizes for Literature – The Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting is awarded to Howard Van Smith of The Miami News for articles focusing on the deplorable conditions in a Florida migrant labor camp. The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction is awarded to The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters – Robert Lewis Taylor. The Bollingen Prize for poetry awarded to Theodore Roethke.
- Fine arts – The Guggenheim opens in October 21, six months after Frank Lloyd Wright’s death. Immediately there is a controversy between the breathtaking architecture and the art. Some say it is “less a museum than it is a monument to Frank Lloyd Wright.” Highlights include works by American Abstract Expressionists such as Pollock and Franz Kline, as well as those by European artists exploring similar ideas. The Museum of Modern Art features Frank Stella’s enamel on canvas 7' 6" x 11' Marriage of Reason and Squalor, depicting faint geometric lines on a black background. Salvador Dalí paints The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus.
- TV debuts – Rawhide, Bozo the Clown, Many Loves Of Dobie Gillis, Philip Marlowe, The Untouchables, Twilight Zone, Bonanza, Twilight Zone, Arthur Godfrey and Friends, Rocky & His Friends.
- Premieres – The Sound of Music opens at the Lunt Fontanne Theater. It will run for 1,443 performances. Gypsy opens at Broadway Theater and will run for 702 performances. Tennessee Williams' Sweet Bird of Youth opens and plays for 375 performances. Popular movies include; Some Like it Hot with Marilyn Monroe & Jack Lemmon, Destry Rides Again, Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty and on Jul 2nd, Plan 9 From Outer Space, premieres, one of the worse films ever.
- Teen Movies – Teenage beach movies replaced the rock movies. There was an emphasis on music, partying, and very mild sexual content, as in Gidget.
- Oscars – Best Picture – Ben–Hur, Best Actor – Charlton Heston in Ben–Hur, Best Actress – Simone Signoret in Room at the Top.
- Grammy Award – Record of the Year – Bobby Darin’s Mack the Knife; Song of the Year – Jimmy Driftwood’s The Battle of New Orleans; Best Artist of 1959 – Bobby Darin .
- Celebrity Marriages – Liz Taylor recites her vows for the 4th time; this time, it’s Eddie Fisher.
- Teen Books – Pat Boone’s Twixt, Twelve and Twenty tops the non-fiction best seller’s list. We probably read this while watching Dick Clark’s American Bandstand.
- Elvis is in the army, stationed in Germany. Elvis photos
- Scandals – WABC fires Alan Freed over payola scandal. Charles Van Doren confesses that the TV quiz show 21 was fixed.
- Last Goodbyes – Lou Costello, Cecil B. De Mille, Mel Ott, and Frank Lloyd Wright. Teens are shocked on February 3, 1959, when a plane crash kills singers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper). Billie Holiday dies of a drug overdose at 44 years of age.
o Track and Field – The 63rd Boston Marathon is won by Eino Oksanen of Finland in 2:22:42.
o Baseball – The Los Angeles Dodgers defeat the Chicago White Sox to win the World Series. The San Francisco Giants rename their stadium Candlestick Park. On May 20th the Yanks sink to last place, the first time since May 25, 1940. Yankee catcher Yogi Berra's errorless streak of 148 games ends. Sandy Koufax breaks Dizzy Dean's National League mark of 18 strikeouts in a game.
o Golf – Billy Casper wins the US Open. Art Wall Jr. wins the Masters. Gary Player wins the British Open.
o Tennis – The US Tennis open is won by Australian Neale Fraser who defeats USA’s Alex Olmedo.
o Football - Vince Lombardi signs on to coach Green Bay Packers, a job he will hold until 1968. The Baltimore Colts defeat the New York Giants 31–16 for the NFL championship.
o Bicycling – Federico Bahamontes of Spain wins the Tour de France.
o Basketball - The Boston Celtics win their second NBA championship, sweeping the Minneapolis Lakers 4–0, starting their streak of eight consecutive NBA championships. Boston Celtic Bob Cousy sets an NBA record with 28 assists. Boston Celtic's Bill Sharman begins record of 56 straight free–throws. California beats West Virginia 71–70 in the 21st NCAA Men's Basketball Championship. Soviet Union wins 62–37 for first international basketball loss by US.
o Figure Skating – The US Female Figure Skating championship is won by Carol Heiss. The US Male Figure Skating championship is won by David Jenkins.
o Auto Racing – The first Daytona 500 auto race is won by Lee Petty, averaging 135.521 MPH.
o Boxing – Ingemar Johansson TKO’s Floyd Patterson in the third round to win the world heavyweight title. Max Baer, former heavyweight boxing champ (1934), dies at 49.
o Horse Racing – Bill Shoemaker aboard Tomy Lee wins the Kentucky Derby. The Preakness is won by William Harmatz aboard Royal Orbit.
o Swimming – Esther Williams gets her own Wheaties box.
· Technology and Medicine
- Space - Space monkeys Able and Baker boldly go where no monkey (or human) has gone before, 300 miles into space on top of a Jupiter missile. NASA selects the 7 Mercury Astronauts, the guys with the “right stuff.”
- Archeology – Anthropologist Mary Leakey discovers bone and tool fragments in the Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, Africa. These suggest that Australopithecine Man lived more than 1.75 million years ago.
- USA Space Launches – Vanguard, Discover, Mercury, and Pioneer series launches. There are several mission failures; Pioneer IV misses the moon and becomes the world’s 2nd artificial planet.
- USSR Space Launches – Luna 1 (Mechta) achieves the world’s first solar orbit, Luna 2 is the first spacecraft to impact on the moon, Luna 3 sends back the first photos of the moon's far side. For many, the Russians are winning the space race.
- World Science - Twelve nations sign a treaty for scientific peaceful use of Antarctica .
- Patents – The internal pacemaker is invented by Wilson Greatbatch.
- Electronics - The microchip is invented by Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce. Texas Instruments requests a patent for the integrated circuit.
- Nobel Prizes - Severo Ochoa and Arthur Kornberg win the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their discovery of the mechanisms in the biological synthesis of ribonucleic acid and deoxyribonucleic acid. Emilio Gino Segrè and Owen Chamberlain win the Nobel Prize in physics for their discovery of the antiproton.
· Product Introductions
- Barbie, the popular girls' doll, debuted; eventually over 800 million are sold.
- Haagen-Dazs Ice Cream – Yum!
- The first transistor TV, the Philco Safari, which is a 2" Projection TV.
- CAD. IBM and General Motors develop the Design Augmented by Computers-1 (DAC-1) system
- Kraft’s Tang orange drink.
- Pantyhose, introduced by Glen Raven Mills of North Carolina and invented by Allen Gant.
- Xerox’s first commercial copier.
- Aluminum beer can by Coors of Golden, Colorado.
- The Nikon F 35–mm. single–lens reflex camera.
- Jiffy Pop popcorn.
- The BIC ballpoint pen, along with the slogan “writes every time.”
- Metrecal by Mead Johnson Company of Evansville, Ind. This is a forerunner of dietary products such as SlimFast.
Attributions – The New York Times, http://en.wikipedia.org/
, Twentieth Century Teen Culture By The Decades
– Lucy Rollin, Datapedia of the United States: American History in Numbers
– George Thomas Kurian and Barbara A. Chernow, Famous first Facts
– Joseph Nathan Kane, Steven Anzovin and Janet Podell