These Unique Photos From The 1950s Are A Time Capsule To The Past

By: Lilli Keeve | Published: Oct 25, 2023

When people think of the 1950s, houses with white picket fences, poodle skirts, and drive-in movies are some of the things that may come to mind. Life back then was much more simple and authentic. Today, with all of our phones and the technology that we have infinite access to, we often miss out on some of the most important and smaller pleasures in life. 

In this article, we jump into the past with these nostalgic and rare vintage photos from the ‘50s where people actually used to go outside! What a revelation. 

The Pink Range And Stove Top Of A Housewife’s Dreams

After World War II, many women who used to have regular jobs pre-war were relegated to returning to their duties as housewives. The husbands were the breadwinners and the wives stayed home, took care of the kids, and other essential (although, sometimes menial) household tasks, including cooking.  


Source: GraphicaArtis/ Getty Images

A perfect wife in the 1950s would have been thrilled to cook meals for her family, especially if it was with a pink range and cooktop. Look –  there was already a pumpkin pie baking in the oven! Some women were content with fulfilling their roles as traditional housewives, while others desired personal and career fulfillment elsewhere. 


Toys Like Robots Got Kids Excited

Without a doubt, the ‘50s were a more simplistic snapshot in time. There were no fancy devices or intricate toys, and nothing existed that was overly technologically advanced (at least, not by today’s standards). Kids had wholesome fun with their toys, just like this little boy is with his toy robot.      


Source: Bettmann/Contributor via Getty Images

Wearing futuristic space goggles and a cool helmet, the boy in this photo is playing with Robert the Robot, a toy manufactured in 1959 by the Ideal Toy Corp. Robert could walk, talk, and its eyes lit up with the click of a button. It also was only six dollars to purchase which was ridiculously cheap back then. Toys nowadays easily cost $40 or more. 

Greasers Were Rebellious In Their Own Way (Both Fashion And Attitude-Wise)

Movies such as The Outsiders and Rebel Without A Cause brought the concept of a “greaser” to notoriety. Greasers were classified as leather-wearing, cigarette smoking teenagers with a rebellious and cool attitude. Often, young greaser men hung out in parking lots, like the group presented in the photo that was taken in San Francisco.


Source: Underwood Archives/ Getty Images

Greasers listened to rockabilly, rock-and-roll, and doo-wop music. They were characterized not only by their rebellious attitude, but also their attire (white t-shirts, denim jeans, and boots). Greasers commonly greased their hair back with petroleum jelly, styling it in different shapes such as the pompadour. There were also female greasers who donned leather jackets and skintight, cropped pants like capris and pedal pushers. 

TVs Became All The Rage

The stereotypical 1950s families spent a lot of time together, often watching television like this family did in 1957. There was a host of famous television shows that families tuned into every week. Some of the most popular shows in the ‘50s were: Leave It To Beaver, I Love Lucy, and Gunsmoke. 


Source: Lambert/ Getty Images

There was a massive TV boom in the mid-fifties, and about two-thirds of all households in America owned televisions. Some TV programs presented the dads as overworking husbands, housewives who were nicely dressed and wearing pearls, obedient daughters, and, of course, the old-fashioned, all-American sons. Obviously, most families were not like that in reality.

Teens Went On Double Dates Before “Going Steady”

Innocence is probably the first word that comes to mind when we think of the 1950s. For instance, this photo shows two teenagers out on a date sharing an ice cream soda with two straws. While the photo is somewhat intimate with the boy’s hand placed on the girl’s hand, it’s also very sweet. 

Source: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/ Getty Images

In those days it was normal for teenagers to go out on double dates before they made it official, or what was known as “going steady.” For those extra shy teens, double dating helped ease their nerves by going in a group. When teens went steady, the boys often gave their girlfriends a letterman jacket, class ring, or an ID bracelet.  


Two-Piece Swimsuits Grew In Popularity, But They Couldn’t Show The Navel

In the 1950s, women wore two-piece swimsuits which were often made from nylon, taffeta, and cotton fabrics. The swimsuits were designed to hug a woman’s curves and were more about making women appear more attractive than anything relating to their swimming abilities. 

Source: Bettmann/Contributor via Getty Images

The common two-piece patterns consisted of bright and tropical themes. Although most females preferred one-piece swimsuits, the popularity of bikinis was on the rise, which still didn’t expose too much skin. The bottom half typically came up slightly past the waist, not revealing the navel. The types of tops were either strapless, tube tops, bra-like tops, or a halter top. 


Typing Pools Were Popular For Females

This photo was taken at the Unilever company in 1955 of a typing pool. If a woman was not taking care of things at home, an extremely popular job was as a secretary or typing assistant. Before the digital revolution, men often hired women with shorthand or typing experience.  

Source: Bert Hardy/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/ Getty Images

Typists who worked with shorthand usually took dictation and typed documents and letters, working in a pool alongside other female typists. The secretaries were tasked with answering phones, sorting files, and doing anything their boss asked of them. Positions today are very similar to the ones in the ‘50s, except they’re often referred to as office administrators and personal assistants. 


Traditional Nuclear Families Had A Mom, Dad, Two Kids, and A Dog

The ideal nuclear families in the 1950s usually consisted of a mom, dad, at least two kids, and, obviously, a really cute dog. The mom stayed at home, the dad was the hardworking breadwinner, the kids were jubilant, and the dog was a necessary companion. Many television shows of the time were presented as being picture-perfect examples of how amazing life was for those families. 

Source: Tom Kelley/ Getty Images

This image taken in 1959 shows us a “happy” nuclear family, but how happy they really were can be up for debate. 


Records Were A Necessity For Music-Loving Teens

The image shows a teenage couple in the ‘50s laying on the floor with a batch of records spread out. It’s an understatement to say that records and music were the lifeblood of many teenagers in that era, and owning a record player was a necessity. 

Source: Debrocke/ClassicStock/ Getty Images

The smaller records, 45s, were introduced to the public in 1949, with the genres being: folk, country, blues, rhythm, pop, classical, and international.  Iconic musicians came out of the ‘50s, such as Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, Chuck Berry, Nina Simone, Johnny Cash, and Harry Belafonte. In these current times, records have become popular for those who geek out over vinyl. Despite this popularity, a majority of people either listen to the radio or stream music directly from their phones.  


This Is What Kids Did For Fun

Roller skating, the limbo, and hula hooping were all popular pastimes for kids in the 1950s. In this photo, two little girls are sitting on a curb putting on their rollerskates. Pay attention to how they easily attached the metal skates to the bottom of their shoes, which required a key to tighten them to the skates. Roller skates didn’t turn into rollerblades until 1979.   

Source: Hulton Archive/ Getty Images

What else did kids do for fun? Well, they participated in a variety of different contests:   a bubble-gum blowing contest, hula-hoop contest, and limbo contest. Pin the Tail on the Donkey was another popular game that kids played.  


Fashion Was A Statement

This vintage color photo is of a stylish woman in the parking lot of a Food Fair Market strip mall. She’s wearing a black skirt, baby blue blouse, yellow scarf, and white sunglasses on a red and white motor scooter.  

Source: Found Image Holdings/Corbis via Getty Images

In the 1950s, women often wore accessories such as gloves, a waist-cinching belt, chiffon scarf, and applied red lipstick. Kitten and stiletto heels were popular, as were poodle skirts and Peter Pan collar blouses. Women made bold statements with their wardrobe and accessories. 


It Was Normal For Women To Get Married At Around 20-Years-Old

A teenage bride in a wedding gown is pictured here among other wedding guests smoking and drinking. In 1950, on average, men were 22 and women were about 20, respectively, when they got married. Divorce wasn’t as common back then because of social stigma. Whether they were happy or not, couples were expected to remain together. 

Source: Mike McKeown/Express/ Getty Images

In modern society, the average age to get married is 26 for women and 28 for men. Divorce is way more common, with around 50% of marriages failing. Due to their financial and economic status in the ‘50s, women were more hesitant to get divorced.


Fast Food Was Astronomically Cheap

The first big fast food restaurant, called McDonalds, started in 1940, but its iconic golden arches logo wasn’t introduced until 1953 at a Phoenix, Arizona location. This photo was snapped circa 1955 of a McDonalds in Des Plaines, Illinois where hamburgers were only 15 cents.   

Source: Hulton Archive/ Getty Images

In 1950, a gallon of gas was 18 cents and 25 cents by the end of the decade. A new car cost approximately $2,200 dollars in 1959. A one-carat diamond ring was only $399 and a woman could purchase a basic dress for $3.29. Wow, they sure had it good. 


NASCAR Blew Up In America

The year of 1959 was host to the 500 mile inaugural Daytona 500 race. Here’s the notorious Richard Petty (who lost the race because of engine failure) pictured next to his 1957 Oldsmobile at the first ever race in Daytona Beach, Florida. Petty ended up winning the NASCAR championship seven times over the course of his long career. 

Source: ISC Archives via Getty Images

The Daytona 500 has garnered the status as the most top and crucial race in the NASCAR world. NASCAR has its roots in bootlegging, which probably slipped many peoples’ minds! 


America’s Most Muscular Man

Originally hailing from Montreal, Quebec, Canada, bodybuilder Leo Robert gained his reputation as the most muscular man in America in the ‘50s. Here, he is photographed in 1955 posing and looking at himself in the mirror. Robert was the holder of the Mr. Universe title that same year.

Source: Alan Oxley/BIPs/ Getty Images

Robert and other bodybuilders began to gain popularity, as did the sport of bodybuilding. Steve Reeves played Hercules in a 1950s film which made people more aware of bodybuilding. In Santa Monica, California, Muscle Beach was a well-known area for men wanting to build muscle naturally, without the influence of drugs. 


Air Travel Was An Expensive Luxury

Going on airplanes back in the ‘50s was quite sophisticated, as were the outfits that men and women wore. They usually wore nice dresses and suits and also smoked (when that was actually allowed on planes). Nobody can smoke on airplanes anymore!  

Source: Bettmann/Contributor via Getty Images

Notice how this older couple in the photo was elegantly dressed and well put together. The meals looked fancy on this Boeing 707 Stratoliner plane, which offered all the newest luxuries such as reading lights, flight attendant call buttons, and emergency oxygen masks. 


Drive-Ins Exploded In Popularity

Although drive-ins were first revealed in the 1930s, they became even more popular in the 1950s specifically for teenagers and families. The number of drive-ins skyrocketed in 1958 to over 4,000. 

Source: Hulton Archive/ Getty Images

Drive-ins offered an array of entertainment and B movies. People had the freedom to smoke in their cars, or bring their kids. They were more appealing than indoor movie theaters because of the flexibility and not as many restrictions. However, drive-ins could only show one movie at night, while indoor theaters often showed five or six.


1955 Was The Year That Gunsmoke First Aired

Gunsmoke began as a radio series in 1952 and went on until 1961. Due to its immense popularity, a television show of the same name was put into development. The first episode aired in 1955 and continued for 20 seasons until its end in 1975. By the end of its lengthy run, there were 635 episodes in total!

Source: Bettmann/ Getty Images

The pulp Western show was truly the stuff of legends and people still talk about it to this very day. Something so iconic could never be forgotten. 


Paper Routes And Bicycles Were Really Popular For Kids

If you were a kid in the ‘50s, chances are you probably had a bike and paper route. Between 1949 and 1950, one of the most sought after bikes was the Schwinn Black Phantom. The Black Phantom had a leather saddle, fender lights, brake light, and a luggage rack. 

Source: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/ Getty Images

Kids rode bikes on their paper routes, but if you had the Phantom it wasn’t just for transportation, more so for impressing other kids. Apparently, it was the most swell bike you could buy at the time and it would make you look extra cool. Unfortunately, kids in the 21st century spend a lot of their time indoors and playing games. 


The 1950s Saw The Invention Of The Credit Card

It was a miraculous day when Franklin’s National Bank issued the first ever charge card in 1951. The New York institution issued cards in order to loan customers, which, at the time, was only readily available for Franklin’s account holders. It was similar to charge-it cards that came before it. 

Source: Jochen Blume/ullstein bild via Getty Images

In 1955, the U.S.’s first patent (2,717, 049) was granted with the phrase “credit card,” which was granted by a trio who invented the first gas pump that could actually accept the card.


Home Buying Was Fairly Easy

Unlike today, buying a home didn’t pose too many challenges, and moving your family into one wasn’t completely out of the question for most people. Compared to back then when the average home cost only $14,000, today they’re worth years or even decades worth of saving for one.   

Source: H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/ Getty Images

It was expected that most families would own a home in the 1950s. Not only could they afford a house, but they could also pay off the mortgage early enough and not be completely broke afterwards. If only they knew what homes were worth now…!


The Rise Of TV Dinners

People these days may look at TV dinners less than fondly, but in the ‘50s they were a huge hit. A majority of people will resort to fast food for a quick hunger fix, yet TV dinners were the equivalent back then.   

Source: William Gottlieb/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

In 1953, the term “TV dinner” was first a part of a brand packaging of meals developed by C.A. Swanson & Sons. Its full name was TV Brand Frozen Dinner. Typically, the dinners came frozen in an aluminum tray that was then heated in the oven. TV dinners usually consisted of meat, vegetables, mashed potatoes, and a desert.  


Merciless Beauty Companies

Although some advertisements for modern beauty companies bash other companies, it probably wasn’t as merciless as the beauty companies were in the ‘50s. Companies weren’t afraid to endorse fear to sell their products or throw companies under a bus to gain more customers.  

Source: Apic/Getty Images

Horribly, some beauty companies would go as far to suggest that husbands would leave their wives if they didn’t use their products. Did that tactic even work? It seems pretty harsh and inhumane. 


Smoking Was Happening Everywhere At Anytime

Smoking was a symbol of cool and glamor in the 1950s and was as natural as breathing. Famous people were usually never seen without a cigarette in their mouths or in their fingers. By the late 1950s, about half of the industrialized nations smoked since it was cheap, legal, and socially acceptable. 

Source: Bert Hardy Advertising Archive/ Getty Images

It’s baffling that cigarette companies back in those days endorsed that smoking was good for people. Decades later, would the ugly truths about nicotine addiction and its health hazards surface. 


The Meals Were Different From How They Are Today

Post WWII, food, and the access to it, changed quite drastically. This change led to cookbooks being packed with recipes including ingredients such as canned fruit, vegetables, jello, boxed cereal, and cake mixes. There was no such thing as “foodies” in those days. 

Source: Camerique Archive/ Getty Images

A usual family night would involve sitting down at the table and enjoying a meal for dinner that consisted of meat, vegetables, homemade desserts, and other food that was in season. No meal was too complex nor unhealthy, but very simple. 


Interior Decorating Was Important

The 1950s were a time of relative peace in the UnitedA Decade Full Of Unique Slang States, so many individuals turned to interior home decor to ensure their comfortability. A trend on the importance of home decorating was spreading and some of the typical styles included a vibrant space with a focus on space, utilization of technology, and cleanliness.

Source: Hulton Archive/ Getty Images

Most homes looked as if they were right out of a magazine and most women focused their time and energy on making their homes look tidy, neat, and clean. 


A Decade Full Of Unique Slang

Along with many other incredible inventions, the ‘50s witnessed the creation of a slew of slang and phrases. Back then, it was a lot more innocent than some of what exists today, some of which still is heard and used now.

Source: FPG/ Getty Images

However, a lot of the phrases in those days are so far removed from the culture today that it would most likely confuse people. If you wanted to convey that you were mad in the 1950s, you would say that you’re “frosted.” That’s an interesting term a majority of people have likely never heard of before. 


Fallout Shelters And Fear Of Nuclear War

Even though WWII was over, it wouldn’t be long until the U.S. would be engaged in the Cold War. An elevated and anxious fear of the Soviet Union and the use of atomic and hydrogen bombs was rampant. Towards the end of the 1940s, families all over the nation would create fallout shelters in case there was a nuclear attack. 

Source: Pictorial Parade/ Getty Images

Fallout shelters would begin to get advertised and turned into a fear market for those who imagined the worst. Even the government announced that the shelters would be the best idea for suburban families to survive in case of an attack. 


Education Was More Accessible Thanks To The G.I. Bill

It’s accurate that the more you are educated and have a degree, the more your bank account should increase. While not everybody may agree with that statement, it was the case in the ‘50s. Sadly, not everybody can afford college, but access to the G.I. Bill changed that.

Source: Lawrence D. Thornton/Archive Photos/ Getty Images

From 1944 to 1956, the bill raised a lot of funds to enable returning servicemen an opportunity to enroll in classes. Around 7.8 million veterans were able to enjoy the perks of being educated and hopefully witnessed impressive results.