Wessels Living History Farm - York Nebraska Farming in the 1950s-60s
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World Events During the 1950s & 60s

1950

  • North Korea invades South Korea and captures Seoul in the first weeks of the conflict. At the United Nations, the Soviet Union is boycotting proceedings, so the U.S. is able to push through a resolution to fight back against North Korea. The Korean "Conflict" begins with U.S. General Douglas MacArthur as commander of U.N. troops. He is able to stop the Communist advance, land troops at Inchon and push the North Koreans almost to the Chinese border. In November 1950, the Chinese invade and push UN troops half way back down the peninsula.
  • Nationalist China leader Chiang Kai-shek establishes an anticommunist government on the island of Taiwan (Formosa) after being defeated on the mainland.
  • The Soviet Union begins putting nuclear missiles on submarines.
  • U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin tells President Truman that the State Department is infiltrated with communists and communist sympathizers. This initiates a period of witchhunts and blacklists.
  • Former U.S. State Department official Hiss is convicted of perjury and sentenced to five years in prison. He was accused of being a Soviet spy in 1948.
  • Israel's new "Law of Return" grants automatic citizenship to any immigrant Jews from around the world. Iraq's Jewish community migrates to Israel, as do many others. The Arab League institutes an economic boycott of Israel.
  • Palestinian refugee camps are set up overseen by the UN Relief and Works Agency. They are given a budget of just $27 per person.
  • The postwar baby boom dramatically increases birthrates in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia.
  • There are 1.5 million television sets in the U.S. this year. By 1951, there are 15 million – ten times as many in one year. By 1960, Americans own 85 million TV sets. In 1950, CBS broadcasts the first TV program in color.
  • The Diner's Club card is introduced and becomes the first "credit card" accepted at multiple retail establishments.

1951

  • General Douglas MacArthur is relieved of his command by President Truman after the General criticized Truman's policy of limiting the war to the Korean Peninsula. A stalemate in the Korean Conflict begins to take shape.
  • The 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is passed, limiting the president to a maximum of two terms in office. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected to four terms beginning in 1932. He died within months of beginning his fourth term. He was the first and only president to be elected to more than two terms.
  • The UNIVAC is inroduced as the first commercial computer. It's sold by Reminton Rand, a typewriter maker. It gains fame by crunching the numbers that allow pollsters to predict the winner of the 1952 presidential election.
  • Electric poweris produced from the first atomic power reactor in Arcon, Idaho. The U.S. tests nuclear weapons in Nevada and the South Pacific throughout the 50s.
  • Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are sentenced to death for espionage against the U.S. for selling classified information about the atomic bomb to the Russians. They are executed in 1953.
  • Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed coins the term "rock-and-roll."

1952

  • Dwight D. Eisenhower is elected president of the United States, the first Republican president in 20 years. Richard Nixon is his Vice-President.
  • King George VI of England dies, and he is succeeded by his young daughter, Queen Elizabeth II.
  • Japan regains official independence, ending over six years of American occupation. Japan and the U.S. put into effect a security treaty that makes these former enemies into allies.
  • Israel and Germany agree on restitution for damages done to Jews by the Nazis before and during World War II.
  • Mother Teresa opens the Home for Dying Destitutes in Calcutta, India.

1953

  • The Korean War ends after three years of inconclusive fighting. An armistice is signed and the boundary between North and South Korea is drawn at the 38th parallel.
  • Nikita Khrushchev is appointed First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party after Joseph Stalin dies. He will rule the Soviet Union through the most turbulent years of the Cold War. He was succeeded by Leonid Brezhnev in October 1964.
  • The Soviet Union detonates its first hydrogen bomb with much more power than the atomic bomb.
  • Cambodia gains independence from France. Next door, the French fight to hold onto Vietnam.
  • Heavy flooding in Holland kills 2,000 people.
  • The Shah of Iran is returned to power in a coup that is supported by the U.S. and Great Britain. The former prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, had taken over western-owned oil companies and was becoming a Soviet ally.
  • Cigarette smoking is reported to cause lung cancer for the first time.
  • British physicist Francis Crick and American biologist James Watson publish their famous paper on the double-helix structure of DNA, the material in chromosomes that control heredity.
  • Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay become the first humans to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the world's talles mountain.

1954

  • U.S. President Eisenhower formulates the domino theory that says that once one country falls to a communist regime others in the region will be vulnerable, too. It is this theory that will be involked by President Lyndon Johnson to esculate the war in Vietnam.
  • The Brown v. Board of Education decision is handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court saying that "separate but equal" school systems are unconstitutional. An era of desegregation of schools is instituted.
  • A rebellion against French colonial rule begins in Algeria. It will last for eight years before Algeria wins independence.
  • Vietnamese communists take Dien Bien Phu and occupy Hanoi, forcing a complete French withdrawal from Indochina. In July, at a conference in Geneva, the country is divided into North and South Vietnam along the 17th parallel.
  • The U.S. enters into the SEATO Treaty, the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization, to oppose communism in Asia. The mutual defense organization included Australia, Thailand, the Philippines, New Zealand, Pakistan, France, England and the U.S. The treaty was disbanded in 1977.
  • China's Yangtze River overflows, killing 40,000 and forcing 10 million people to evacuate.
  • First human trials of "the pill" oral contraceptive for women.
  • RCA introduces the first color TV sets, and NBC begins regular broadcasts in color.
  • The U.S. launches the first nuclear powered submarine, the Nautilus.

1955

  • Winston Churchill resigns as Prime Minister in England and is defeated for re-election.
  • The Soviet Union and its satellite communist regimes in Eastern Europe ratify the Warsaw Pact. Later, Churchill calls this act the equivalent of forming an "Iron Curtain" across Europe. The Cold War deepens.
  • Rosa Parks, an African American womaan, is arrested after refusing to give up her bus seat to a white person in Montgomery, Alabama. Her arrest sparks a bus boycott led by local minister Martin Luther King, Jr., and sets the American civil rights movement in motion.
  • Sony – then known as Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering – produces the first pocket-size transistor radio. Before that, all radios had to have tubes and were large, heavy machines.

1956

  • Dwight Eisenhower reelected as President of the United States. That same year, he signs the Interstate highway into law.
  • Nikita Khrushchev tells Western ambassadors, "We will bury you." He also begins "de-Stalinization," releasing millions of political prisoners and liberalizing Soviet politics. Still, Soviet troops invade Hungary to crush an uprising against the Communist government there.
  • The second Arab-Israeli war is fought after Egypt seizes the Suez Canal from the British. Israeli invades Egyptian territory east of the Canal with British and French help. However, eventually the UN declares the canal Egyptian property.
  • Pakistan becomes an Islamic republic.
  • Former colonies gain independence – Sudan from England, and Tunisia and Morocco from France.

1957

  • North Vietnam, through the Viet Cong, begins a guerilla war against South Vietnam.
  • Ghana gains independence from Great Britain.

1958

  • The U.S. and Canada develop NORAD, a radar system close to the North Pole to detect and provide the U.S. with an early warning of a Soviet missile attack.
  • In Cuba, Fidel Castro launches a revolution against the Batista government. Batista flees in 1959, and Castro becomes premier of Cuba.
  • The European Economic Community – also called the Common Market – is begun to give Europe the same economic leverage as the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
  • Iraq's King Faisal is assassinated by the army. Iraq becomes a republic, withdraws from the Baghdad Pact and allies itself with the Soviets.

1959

1960

1961

1962

1963

1964

1965

1966

1967

1968

1969

Written by Bill Ganzel, the Ganzel Group. First published in 2007. A partial bibliography of sources is here.


 

Living through a Cold War & Two Hot Ones

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