Today, we have a realistic attitude about the technological wonders that surround us. We take it for granted that scientists will probably eventually invent everything there is to invent. But we also know that we're not going to be driving around in Jetsons-style bubble cars anytime soon. The future no longer captivates us as it once did.
Now, time-warp back to the 1950s....
World War II was the turning point for 20th century technology. So many new and exciting things were invented or improved for the war effort. When the war was over, this technology was thrust onto the general public all at once, and it must have seemed as though every scientific marvel under the sun was just around the corner.
The pictures to the right are from a General Electric ad from the late 1950s. They illustrate just how far technology had come since the early 1940s. It's amazing, really. So much, so quickly...it's no wonder people believed anything was possible!
This obsession with the future gave birth to the phenomenon known as the house of the future. No state fair or expo was complete without one of these little prefab beauties. Shown above is the Monsanto House Of The Future, which was at Disneyland from 1957 to 1967.
Radios didn't require vacuum tubes anymore, which allowed them to be made in a variety of sizes. Often, they were combined with clocks to form clock-radios, or with phonographs to form console hi-fi systems. Commercial FM radio began in 1941, and by 1950 nearly 600 FM stations were in operation. Although the popularity of FM still couldn't compare to AM, most manufacturers were producing FM radios.
Magnetic tape-recording machines were developed in Germany during the 1930s. They were improved and made available to the American public in the late 1940s, and were embraced by performers like Bing Crosby and Jerry Lewis. By the 1950s, making home recordings or buying prerecorded music tapes was common.
Television made gigantic strides in the 1950s. The beginning of the decade saw old-fashioned units with mahogany cabinets and folding doors. By 1959, TV sets had adopted a design that would go more or less unchanged for the next 20 years. Although most people didn't own color sets, some TV stations had begun to broadcast a few shows in color.
Zenith introduced the wired remote-control in 1950, and the wireless remote-control in 1955. These features would not become standard until the late 1970s.
Many manufacturers came out with special radios featuring short wave, weather, emergency and Civil Defense bands.
Admiral Zenith Magnavox Westinghouse
Philco Arvin Crosley Motorola
Before the 1950s, people listened to 78 rpm records that were 10 inches wide and made of shellac. In the late 1940s, two new speeds and sizes were introduced: 45 rpm records that were 7 inches wide, and 33 1/3 rpm long playing records (LPs) that were 12 inches wide. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, manufacturers sold record players that could play all three speeds and sizes.
Record companies continued to make 78 rpm records throughout the 1950s, but the war of the record speeds was essentially over. 78 rpm records were gradually phased out, and the new 45s and LPs took over. Stereo recording and high-fidelity sound made listening to music more enjoyable than ever.
Radios were smaller and lighter than ever, thanks to tubeless technology. Transistors were first put in radios in 1954. That year, Sony sold the first transistor radio for $49.95.
Microwaves were developed during World War II, and their ability to cook food extremely quickly was discovered quite by accident. In 1954, Raytheon introduced the first microwave oven: the 1161 Radarange, which was so big it could only be used for railroads, restaurants and ocean liners. A home version wouldn't be available until 1967.
Computers were developed during World War II, and were designed to perform the detailed calculations normally done by engineers. This included decoding enemy messages and determining missile trajectories. The most famous of these computers was the ENIAC at the University of Pennsylvania.
After the war, computer technology began the transition to the business world. In 1951, the UNIVAC was unveiled. This was the first "mass produced" computer available to the civilian market. It was the size of a garage and had so many vacuum tubes that it required its own cooling system. 46 were built, with the first machine going to the U.S. Census Bureau.
After the UNIVAC came the ILLIAC, at the University Of Illinois in 1952. My dad, who is both an engineer and a professional musician, attended the U of I in the 1950s, and still recalls the thrill of hearing the ILLIAC demonstrate the world's first computerized music.
The 1959 Philco Transac...first in all-transistorized data processing!
Data and programs were fed into the machines on punched paper tape and punch cards.
By the end of the decade, transistors began to replace those big, hot vacuum tubes, and computers gradually became smaller and more efficient.
Before the advent of computer technology, office machines were strictly electro-mechanical. Data was entered from a keyboard or fed on punch cards, and the calculating and record keeping were done mechanically, like an old-fashioned cash register.
Computers changed all that. Punch cards and keyboards were still used for input, but now office machines were using vacuum tubes and complex wiring to get the answers electronically.
Now the world of office technology revolved around the almighty vacuum tube, as shown in this IBM ad.
Did you know? --The first National Secretaries Week was held in 1952
When we think of married women in the 1950s, we picture June Cleaver, don't we? Cooking dinner and cleaning house in her apron and pearls... But, in actuality, 24 percent of married women held a job outside the home in 1950, and this figure rose to 36 percent by 1959.
dictation In 1947, the Dictaphone Company stopped using wax cylinders as the recording medium and began using embossed plastic belts....the Dictabelt.
Machines using plastic discs as the recording medium were very popular. In the 1950s, disc models included the Edison Voicewriter, Gray Audograph, Recordio, Tru-Kut, Soundscriber, Memovox and Portable Soundscriber.
The use of magnetic tape was becoming common in the 1950s. During this decade, the Minifon used miniature reels of tape, and in 1957 the Dictaphone Dictet used the first tape cassettes.
answering the phone Before 1949, AT&T didn't allow the use of recording machines on their public phone lines. Businesses that needed around-the-clock phone monitoring had to rely on answering services, where live operators answered forwarded calls and took messages.
After the ban was lifted, the phone companies discovered that renting out answering machines could be very profitable. During the 1950s, answering machines were expensive. They were generally only used by certain types of businesses, where the volume of calls or the need for privacy made using a machine practical. Machines in use during this decade included the Electronic Secretary (wire recorder), Gray Peatrophone (disc) and the Code-a-Phone (cassette tape).