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.

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Christmas Then and Now


A busy couple of months means that I’ve been neglecting my blog. Apologies and Happy New Year!

I’m going to get back into it by doing a very simple point-by-point comparison of Christmas now and the way I remember it. I have done posts on Christmas before so I hope not to be too repetitive!

Santa Claus. As a child, I knew him as Father Christmas. I never heard the name Santa or Santa Claus mentioned apart from in songs or books. Everyone I knew called him Father Christmas. The name is now seldom heard. Children I know now only know him as Santa.

Since beginning this post I have looked up Santa Claus and Father Christmas only to find that they are completely different characters in origin who, at some point, became merged into one. I do learn a lot researching my facts for this blog!

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A traditional image of Father Christmas.
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Santa Claus.

The Christmas Pudding. This tradition probably doesn’t extend outside Britain. The traditional Christmas pudding (a rich, spiced, boiled fruit pudding – I know, sounds gross but isn’t!) is made several weeks in advance, usually late October. It’s supposed to get better with age, hence the early cooking date. My mum always kept with the old tradition which was that as the mixture is being stirred everyone in the household takes a turn at stirring and makes a wish at the same time. This all seemed so exciting to me as a child. Partly because making a wish is always exciting when you’re little and partly because it was the first sign of the Christmas to come. The other pudding tradition was that a silver sixpenny piece was hidden in the mixture. My mum was scrupulous about boiling and scrubbing them first! It was said to bring good luck to whoever found the sixpence in their portion on Christmas Day. With three children to keep happy, my mum was very fair (or maybe wanted to avoid any arguments!) and used to put three coins in the pudding. She then used to dish up carefully so that we got one each.

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A Victorian illustration.
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Advent Calendars. These were made of card with twenty-four little windows to open one day at a time. And there the resemblance ends. There were pictures behind ours – and NO chocolates! And  people actually reused them. We had the same one for years and we loved it. The excitement we felt when opening the last and biggest window on Christmas Eve and seeing the beautiful picture of the manger with baby Jesus lying in it is still with me when I think about it.

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Ours was a bit like this one.
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What children expect now.

Church.  When I was growing up, everyone in the village went either to church or to chapel. The Nine Lessons and Carols service on Christmas Eve was particularly exciting and it was an honour to be one of the children chosen to read a lesson. It was always really well attended as was the morning service on Christmas Day. It was lovely to walk to church all excited after opening our stockings and to see everyone we knew. Of course, it was probably often raining. I grew up in a particularly wet valley in Wales, after all. But in my memory we always walked to church on a crisp, cold, sunny day!

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The church we attended as a family.

Television.  We didn’t have a television until I was 12. Daytime TV was non-existent back then apart from a short children’s programme each day just after lunchtime and sport on a Saturday afternoon. But on Christmas Day there was always a circus on TV in the afternoon. The whole family would sit and watch it – with the curtains drawn as you couldn’t see the picture in the daytime. The image projected by TVs then was a lot weaker than today.

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A 1950s family watching television.

Christmas Stockings.
My grandmother who lived with us in the late 50s and 60s was a great one for telling stories from her childhood, many of them very funny as she had a great sense of humour. She was born in 1892 and it occurred to me years later when I was an adult that the stories we heard from Nana were first-hand Victorian tales. She used to tell us that as children (she had sixteen sixteen siblings!) they used to hang up stockings. Inside, on Christmas morning, there was always an apple, an orange and a shiny, newly minted penny. There was nothing else in Nana’s stocking and she always knew what was going to be in it but Christmas morning was as exciting then for children as it is now.
To this day, children here often find and an apple and an orange and some gold-covered chocolate coins in the toe of the stocking. Our stockings were brown hand-knitted knee-high woollen socks which had been knitted by an elderly relative years earlier for my dad to wear under his Wellington boots when he was out working in the forests. He had never actually worn them as they were coarse and prickly.

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This is one of the stockings my children used to hang up in the 1980s and early 90s.

Most of the images I have used are freely available on the Internet. As usual if anyone objects to my use of any photograph, please contact me and I will remove it.