Notable Firsts in the 1950s and 60s

All decades see changes, inventions, introductions and significant firsts. This post explores some of the things which were new, exciting or important during the 50s and 60s when I was growing up.

The 1950s

Recently, I heard the name Roger Bannister referred to and it brought back a memory from the 1950s of the much-talked-about 4-minute mile.

Image result for roger bannister

More than 60 years ago, back on a cinder track at Oxford University’s Iffley Road Stadium in 1954, Bannister completed four laps in 3:59.4, a record-breaking performance that many believed was not humanly possible. The image of the exhausted Bannister with his eyes closed and mouth agape appeared on the front page of newspapers around the world, a testament to what humankind could achieve.

Researching for this post, I realised that I couldn’t possibly remember the actual event as I was not even three years old. This quote from Bannister himself explains just why ‘the four-minute mile’ was such a well known expression when I was a child.

“It became a symbol of attempting a challenge in the physical world of something hitherto thought impossible,” Bannister said as the 50th anniversary of the run approached, according to the AP. “I’d like to see it as a metaphor not only for sport, but for life and seeking challenges.”

Laika was a Soviet space dog who became one of the first animals in space, and the first animal to orbit the Earth. A stray mongrel from the streets of Moscow, she was selected to be the occupant of the Soviet spacecraft Sputnik 2 which was launched into outer space on 3 November 1957. This really used to upset me whenever I heard about it on the news or heard adults talking about it. The thought of a tiny helpless dog being sent up into space seemed so unkind to me. I still don’t like to think about it.

After a week in orbit she was fed poisoned food, “in order to keep her from suffering a slow agony.” When the moment came, Russian scientists reassured the public that Laika had been comfortable, if stressed, for much of her flight, that she had died painlessly, and that she had made invaluable contributions to space science. So sad!

Image result for laika dog

Here is a list of some of the other notable firsts, creations and inventions from the 1950s.

Synchromesh gear changes  Invented in the 1920s but not used in cars until the 1950s. Before this invention, changing gear involved a process called double de-clutching where you went into neutral between each gear position.

Car seat belts. These arrived on the scene in the 1950s and were made a legal requirement in 1968.

Hula hoop These were invented in the 1950s and soon became a huge craze. I spent hours and hours hula-hooping. I loved it – and can still do it.

Organ transplant. This must be one of the most important firsts in medical history.

Pacemaker (internal).  Another amazing medical breakthrough. Before the 1950s there were pacemakers being used but they were external devices.

Not forgetting – Barbie, Colour TV, Tape recorder, Velcro, the Hydrogen bomb,  the Hovercraft, NASA.

The 1960s

And so to the 1960s. After the Soviet space dogs of the 50s (and, it seems there were dozens), the next step was to send a person into space. This time the plan was for him to return alive! I was in Primary school and was ten years old when the first human travelled into space. Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin was a Soviet pilot and cosmonaut. He became the first human to journey into outer space when his Vostok spacecraft completed one orbit of the Earth on 12 April 1961. Mr Lewis, the headteacher of my tiny school (approx 30 children ages 4 – 11), decided to buy the school its first TV in time for us to watch the launch live. It must have been a weekday between 9.00 am and 4 pm UK time and during a school term for this to happen. Given that many home didn’t have TVs in 1961 where I lived, you can imagine how exciting this was for us!

Image result for yuri gagarin

Eight years later, in 1968, Apollo 11 was the spaceflight that landed the first two people on the Moon. Commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin, both American, landed the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle on July 20, 1969, and Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the surface of the moon.

Image result for first moonwalk 1969

The Beatles were my first love in pop music. “Love Me Do” was their debut single backed by “P.S. I Love You”. When the single was originally released in the United Kingdom on 5 October 1962, it peaked at number 17.

Image result for the beatles    Image result for the beatles love me do vinyl single

My sister and I absolutely adored the Beatles. We knew the heights, eye colour, birthdates, likes and dislikes of all four of them We had Beatles magazines, Beatles jigsaws, Beatles badges and my sister even had a really dreadful Beatles wig. Made of moulded plastic it hurt her and forced her forehead into a frown – but she loved it!

Heart transplant. I remember this being massive news when it happened.  On 3 December 1967, Dr Christian Barnard transplanted the heart of accident-victim Denise Darvall into the chest of 54-year-old Louis Washkansky, with Washkansky regaining full consciousness and being able to easily talk with his wife, before dying 18 days later of pneumonia.


Christiaan Barnard 1969.jpg

First supermarkets in Britain.  In 1951, ex-US Navy sailor Patrick Galvani, son-in-law of Express Dairies chairman, made a pitch to the board to open a chain of supermarkets across the country. The UK’s first supermarket under the new Premier Supermarkets brand opened in Streatham, South London, taking ten times as much per week as the average British general store of the time.

Image result for premier supermarkets 1950s

Then there were these – Coco Pops, the audio cassette, the laser, the ring pull and Star Trek.

I’m sure readers of a similar age to me can think of many more!



Facts and statistics from my memory and from Wikipedia. Photos all sourced from the Internet. Anyone with any issues regarding my use of any photograph should contact me directly so that I can remove the offending item.

18 thoughts on “Notable Firsts in the 1950s and 60s

  1. Wow, Meryl – so much to comment on. Will do my best…!

    I remember the dog. That was so sad – I thought so at the time and still do. Terrible thing to do to an animal.

    I hated it when car seat belts were introduced as it meant I could no longer sleep lying down on the back seat of my dad’s car!

    I had a hula hoop but so did my sister and hers was better than mine, so I used to use that and somehow, one day, I managed to break it… (I can’t imagine she loved me very much that day!) I was good at it, but not anymore. My husband got me one a few years ago and I just couldn’t do it.

    Didn’t Sindy come before Barbie? I had a Sindy doll. Do you remember them?

    I can’t remember velcro arriving til much, much later.

    I’ve only a very vague memory of Gagarin. Must’ve watched it on TV, I suppose. Do remember seeing the Moon landing years later.

    The Beatles, oh yeah! (I was also addicted to them.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Although most of what I wrote is stuff I remember, I got Velcro and Barbie by googling ‘notable first in the 50s and 60s’. Yes, I do remember Sindy. Was she Britain’s answer to Barbie? Now you mention it I was more familiar with Sindy than Barbie. Also one called Tressy. Do you remember her? Her hair was meant to ‘grow’. I think she was short-lived. Thanks for sharing your memories. Meryl

      Liked by 2 people

      • Yes, I think Sindy was Britain’s answer to Barbie, though Barbie did hit these shores. I don’t think I had a Tressy, but I do remember her. Something I’ve been trying to track down for ages is a pair of dolls bought for me (after much nagging) when I was a small child. They were ‘twin’ baby dolls that came complete with clothing and feeding bottles, etc, and I adored them.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Mine were small (about 6″ or 8″ I think, but I don’t know if they had gender as such! Probably two girls.

        Do you remember when the faces of dolls changed? I thought ours, while not lifelike, were pleasant and then suddenly there were all these really odd looking dolls being brought out!

        Liked by 2 people

      • My pottery baby doll which I got for Christmas when I was about eight – and still have! – had a face that to me looked absolutely beautiful! To anyone seeing her now she would look a bit painted as her hair and lips were coloured, the rest was biscuit coloured pottery. The ones I’m not keen on these days are the ones which are meant to look like newborns and actually look like cross old men.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Your pottery dolls sounds lovely. You should put some photos of your own things in your blog, sometimes. It’d lend a personal touch and would be so nice to see. 🙂

        I know what you mean about the ‘newborns’. And have you seen the OOAK (one of a kind) ‘reborns’ which are either adapted and repainted or are made from scratch from polymer clay? I’m rarely creeped-out by dolls, but those really do my head in!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I hadn’t heard of them but I’ve just looked them up and I see what you mean!
        I agree, I don’t show much of myself in my blog – family photos etc. A few years back one of my very early posts (called Toys and Games, I think. I’ll check) had a photograph of my baby doll in it.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. The two events I remember the most clearly are the first heart transplant and the moon landing. Oh, I also remember the invention of the first Texas Instrument calculator. It was a huge deal for those of the slide rule persuasion. When the price came down several years later, my parents bought my brother his first TI calculator. It was a red-letter day for a physics major!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. In the early 1960s I remember going to a trade fair and seeing a strange oven that could cook things very quickly by radiation. It seemed miraculous, and though I went to subsequent trade fairs I was disappointed not to see another. It wasn’t until microwave ovens became an affordable household item that I realised that what I’d seen must have been an early version and still in development.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. That’s so interesting! I didn’t see one until the early 70s and it wasn’t a domestic one, it was in a cafe. I’ve just looked up the history of the microwave as I’m intrigued. The idea was developed just after World War II from radar technology and the first ones were built in the early 60s but were not readily available and affordable until the 70s. You certainly had a glimpse of the future at that trade fair!

    Liked by 1 person

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