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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

Health and Fitness

Like many people, I do my best to keep myself healthy and reasonably fit – for a woman in her 60s! Everyone I know – younger than me, older than me or the same age – does some sort of exercise. The choices these days are endless. There are gyms to join, walking groups, Pilates classes, yoga – the choice is endless. There are the things which don’t need to be done in a group or class like running, walking, cycling. Then there are the sports. Football, rugby, tennis, cricket, badminton – you name it!

What occurred to me the other day was that back in the 1950s, mums and dads, grannies and grandads didn’t exercise. They were probably more active physically in their day-to-day life than we are (fewer cars, no labour-saving devices etc.) but I knew no adults who played sport, ran or walked for exercise. There were hardly any gyms, exercise classes or fitness groups – certainly not where I lived. Perhaps it was different in the cities?

My memory is that, back then, many people enjoyed sport as youngsters when they were in school and maybe beyond that in college or in the forces. Some carried on playing football, cricket, or tennis for local clubs. Then when they got married and had children, they gave it all up. That was more to do with team games and a social life than for the health benefits. Similarly, many people enjoyed a walk in the country at weekends or on holiday but for the pleasure of enjoying the surroundings and the wildlife rather with fitness as the purpose. Walking groups are massive now. What I’m looking back at and realising is that people didn’t exercise simply for the sake of health and fitness.

Cycling has, in recent years, had a massive rise in popularity. The bikes are sophisticated pieces of machinery, clothing and accessories are scientifically developed. Cycling clubs have mushroomed and at the weekends our roads are alive with two-wheeled exercisers. Back in the 50’s, bikes were everywhere. The difference is that people cycled to get somewhere. It was the early days of motoring and many people still didn’t own cars. Men and women cycled to work, children cycled to school, vicars visited their parishioners on bikes, policemen went on the beat on bikes. A man cycling to work in an office would be wearing a tweed suit and a trilby, a workman would be in overalls with a cap on and his bag of tools over his shoulder or in a saddle bag. The bikes were sensible, solid and practical. They were not built for speed or rough terrain.

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Sturdy, reliable, hardwearing – the  bikes of the 1950s

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1950   People cycling to work in Oxford.

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My supremely fit son-in-law on his recent Alpine adventure. A very different sort of cycling!

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The following two quotes are taken from the Buchanan report ‘Traffic in Towns’ published by engineer and planner Colin Buchanan in 1963.

“There [should be] an allocation of movements to pedal cycles,but it must be admitted that it is a moot point how many cyclists there  will be in 2010.”

“Cyclists should not be admitted to primary networks, for obvious reasons of safety and the free flow of vehicular traffic. It would make the design of these roads far too complicated to build ‘cycle tracks’ into them … It would be very expensive, and probably impracticable, to build a completely separate system of tracks for cyclists.”

He had based his opinions on the fact that sales of new cycles had been dropping since the 1950s and reached an all-time low of less than 200,000 by the end of the 1960s (today, 2.5m bicycles are sold each year). This influential report, which guided road building in Britain for decades, effectively squeezed bikes out of our towns.

The next two quotes are from a study carried out based on the cities of Manchester and Glasgow by Colin Pooley and Jean Turnbull

“Use of the bicycle to travel to work between about 1920 and 1950 was particularly notable in smaller settlements,with commuting by bicycle the single most important means of travelling to work in such towns in the 1940s.” (Pooley and Turnbull 2000: 14)

“From the 1950s cycling rapidly declined in popularity.” (Pooley and Turnbull 2000: 19)

One thing I do remember is my mum listening to a lady called Eileen Fowler on the radio. She did a short programme where she talked the listener through various bends and stretches. Since starting this post I have looked her up and she was a fitness instructor from the 1930s so she was definitely ahead of her time. In keeping with the times, the likes of Eileen Fowler focused mainly on improving your shape and looking ‘younger’ rather than exercise for health as we now know it.

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I know that there were swimming pools in all towns even then and that people have always enjoyed swimming for pleasure. The popularity of swimming pools in British towns goes back to when most houses didn’t have bathrooms and the swimming local pool (often known as swimming baths) were used as a means of keeping clean. Indeed, many of them had cubicles containing individual baths where you could have a proper warm, soapy soak. We lived nowhere near any swimming pools so I had no experience of that apart from sometimes when we were away on holiday. Even so, I know that the difference now is that many more people take up swimming to get fit which wasn’t really a consideration back in the 1950s when it was looked on mainly as pleasurable and sociable.

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As usual, my disclaimer is this. I lived miles from anywhere so my memories will be very different from those of people who grew up in towns and cities. Also, I was a child and I’m talking about my view of the world of adults as I saw it then. These are my impressions and opinions only.

The images were sourced on the internet, as were the quotes. Anyone unhappy with anything I have used please approach me and I will remove the offending item.