The 1950s were a prominent time in the history of the United States. The country’s postwar economy was booming, the space race had become a thing, the entertainment industry saw the rise of artists that have become some of the most influential to this date, and the civil rights movements began in full force. From Elvis Presley to Martin Luther King Jr., these iconic pictures couldn’t be more descriptive of the 1950s - check them out.
25 Famous Vintage Images That Perfectly Describe The 1950sPublished 2 months ago
Elvis Presley, aka the “King of Rock and Roll”, is probably one of the most significant cultural icons in history, but more so in the 20th century.
The combination of his provocative performances, the incomparable energy that was felt through his music and his presence on stage, and his controversial stances were probably some of the reasons why he became an utterly successful icon. This 1956 picture of Presley performing on stage is a perfect illustration of how the King of Rock and Roll was classy, influential, and charismatic.
Elizabeth Taylor was a British-American actress who began her career at a very young age. She began acting in the early 1940s when she was just a child and slowly gained prominence in classical Hollywood cinema.
By the 1950s, she was one of the most popular and highest-paid actresses in Hollywood. In fact, by the 1960s, she officially gained the title of the highest-paid actress of the time, with her fame and notoriety having lasted for the rest of her life. She was named the seventh-greatest female actress of Classic Hollywood cinema by the American Film Institute in 1999. In this photo taken in 1952, she is filming in the midst of the production of the movie The Girl Who Had Everything.
Here’s a historic mugshot of another important activist of the Civil Rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The mugshot was taken after Dr. King Jr. was arrested for being involved in the boycott of segregated buses in Montgomery in 1956.
The move was sparked by the arrest of Rosa Parks the year before, which had started a 13-month-wide protest that resulted in an important move by the Supreme Court. Segregation on public buses was finally ruled to be unconstitutional on November 13, 1956, after the mass protest showed the world just how powerful nonviolent protests could be.
This photo was taken during then-Senator John F. Kennedy and his fiancee Jacqueline Bouvier's vacation at the Kennedy compound in Massachusetts. The young couple was being interviewed by LIFE Magazine for an article that would be released in June 1953.
John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier would marry in September of that same year, at St. Mary’s Church in Newport, Rhode Island. They spent their honeymoon in Mexico, and in 1960, Kennedy would announce his candidacy for the presidency of the United States. He started a long campaign that required a ton of traveling all over the country, during which Jacqueline would accompany him quite often.
Laika was the first living creature to ever set foot in space. In this photograph, the pup was aboard the Soviet Sputnik II spacecraft, which was launched in 1957 from Kazakhstan.
While Laika has become the most famous animal to ever be lofted to space, sources say that two other dogs named Dezik and Tsygan were actually the first dogs sent to space in 1951. But Laika’s launch was backed by scientists' hope to understand the different aspects that characterized spaceflight, including microgravity and the launch itself. Sadly, Laika would die only a few hours after launch from both stress and overheating.
Joseph McCarthy was a politician and attorney who served as a Republican Senator in the US between 1947 and 1957. At the beginning of the 1950s, he was easily one of the most recognizable figures in the US, especially when tensions around the Cold War and fear of Communist subversion were prevalent in the country.
His fame was even more widespread when the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee investigated his charges of community infiltration in 1950. He had alleged that many Soviet sympathizers and spies had managed to infiltrate the US federal government, film industry, and universities. He is seen here fervently giving a speech during a convention.
Buddy Holly and the Crickets are seen posing for a photo together in 1958. The Crickets were a rock and roll band from Texas formed by three main members and led by singer-songwriter Buddy Holly. Their first big hit was named "That'll Be the Day," and was released in 1957.
Almost instantly after its release in May, the song hit the Billboard charts and made it to the Top 100 Chart in September of that same year. After Holly died in a plane crash in 1959, the band continued to record with different band members, even going on tours all over the world.
To this date, Rosa Parks is one of the most important names in the history of the civil rights movement. Parks became widely known for her boycott of segregation buses in Montgomery, Alabama, having played a pivotal role in the fight for racial and social justice in the United States.
In this picture, Parks can be seen posing for her mugshot, after she was arrested for civil disobedience. In December 1955, Parks refused to stand up from her seat in the “colored section” of a bus in favor of a white man, after he realized that the “white section” was full. Although she wasn’t the first person to make such a move, it was agreed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) that she was one of the best and most inspirational people to lead the movement.
Pablo Ruiz Picasso was one of the most consecrated painters, sculptors, ceramicists, and printmakers of all time. The artistic icon spent most part of his adult life in France, focusing on his works of art, which quickly became some of the most sought paintings worldwide.
Some of his most famous works include 1907’s proto-Cubist 'Les Demoiselles d'Avignon', and 1937’s 'Guernica'. To this date, the extraordinary artist is one of the most influential in history, though his prominence took place during the 20th century. He is seen here posing alongside his paintings at the comfort of his home in Cannes, France, in 1955.
In this iconic photo, Elizabeth Eckford is pictured ignoring the horrible stares and screams from her fellow students at Arkansas Central High School. Eckford was one of only nine African-American students studying in the supposedly “integrated” school after a federal court had ordered that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional.
But even with the ruling, many white people were utterly against the integration and were committed to doing everything they could to prevent it. Yelling at Eckford was 15-year-old Hazel Bryan, whose hatred and discriminatory actions resulted in her becoming one of the most infamous symbols of bigotry and racism at the time.
Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were two American citizens who became highly well-known after being accused of spying on behalf of the Soviet Union. They provided top-secret information about several classified things, including sonar, radar, and jer propulsion engines, in addition to top-secret nuclear weapon designs.
Back then, only the US had nuclear weapons, before other countries followed suit and designed their own. Ethel and Julius were both convicted of their crimes in 1951, and officially became the first American civilians to be executed for the charges they had received. Their execution took place in 1953 at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining.
In 1955, Marilyn Monroe wore her iconic white dress, designed by William Travilla. She wore it to film The Seven Year Itch, and since that day, the entire world has probably seen the unforgettable shot taken in New York City.
Monroe was stunningly posing when her skirt blew up from the gust of a subway, resulting in one of her most iconic images to date. Ironically, while the picture is cherished by many fans around the world, at the time, her husband, Joe DiMaggio was pretty infuriated with the moment, and the couple ended up divorcing a while after.
While it’s hard to know exactly when this picture was taken, the shot was taken at the brink of the Korean War. It shows American soldiers in action during one of the most devastating wars in history. The war started in 1950, and it was the first military operation of the Cold War. It all started when about 75,000 soldiers from the North Korean People’s Army spread across the 38th parallel.
The parallel was basically the borderline between the northern Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (backed by the Soviet Union), to the southern Republic of Korea (backed by the West). The war resulted in 5 million soldiers and civilians’ deaths.
To be very honest, this picture seems like something out of a sci-fi film. But in reality, this photo was taken for LIFE Magazine, showing one of the biggest advancements in cinematic history back in the 1950s.
This specific shot was taken in November 1952, during the opening night of the first-ever full-length American 3-D feature film in history. The movie was Bwana Devil and it was watched by a mostly American audience who was clearly fascinated with the latest advancement. While 3-D films had existed for a while by then, starting from 1915, this was really the first time that an audience was able to enjoy a full-length commercial feature film.
Brigitte Bardot is a French actress, animal rights activist, model, and singer. She gained notoriety for portraying an extremely emancipated sexual woman at the time, becoming one of the most celebrated sex symbols between the '50s and '60s.
Even though she decided to withdraw from the entertainment industry as early as 1973, she still remains a huge icon in pop culture today. The Paris-born actress was actually a ballerina when she was young, starting her acting career in 1952, at the age of 18. In this picture, she is posing during the 1957 film Une Parisienne.
Here’s another image that has probably been seen countless times by people from all over the world. In fact, when one thinks of the genius icon, this picture is probably one of the first that comes to mind.
Arthur Sasse was the lucky photographer who managed to capture the shot of one of the world’s most admired geniuses in a silly moment. The picture was taken during Einstein’s 72nd birthday party in 1951. Einstein was just leaving the Princeton Club and calling it a night, but luckily, this photographer was ready to take the shot of his life and it totally paid off.
John Wayne was an actor and filmmaker, also known as The Duke, who became widely known for his roles during Hollywood’s Golden Age. His genre was mostly along the lines of Western and war movies, which were utterly popular at the time.
The actor’s career began flourishing during the 1920s, with his talent gaining so much notoriety that his name was among top box-office draws for a whopping three decades. One of his most memorable roles was in John Ford's Stagecoach (1939), which easily became the film that made him a mainstream Hollywood star. He was photographed here stylishly posing on his horse in 1959.
Soviet leader and dictator Joseph Stalin gained prominence during World War II. He was known for being quite brutal with his policies and decisions, including before, during, and after WWII. The dictator rose to power after Vladimir Lenin’s death in 1924 and quickly became infamously known as a tyrant, and for his purges that resulted in an incomparable loss of life. After the war ended, he continued to pull off his brutal purges, and would basically kill anyone he deemed to be an opponent or enemy.
He triggered the start of the Cold War, which would last until 1989, long after his death. He would die in 1953 of natural causes after a stroke. This picture was taken as he laid in state in the hall of the Trade Union House in Moscow about a week after his death.
In 1959, author Truman Capote posed for a portrait that would be remembered for years to come. The novelist and screenwriter was the author of many short stories, plays, and novels that have become literary classics.
Among some of his most famous ones are the 1958 novella "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and of course, the 1966 true-crime novel In Cold Blood. More than 20 television dramas and films have been adapted from his famous pieces of writing. Believe it or not, the author discovered his love for writing when he was as young as eight years old.
This photograph portrays President Harry S. Truman seating at his desk at the White House, while he signed the historical proclamation that officially began the US involvement in the Korean War in December 1950. Truman was the 33rd President of the US, staying in power between 1945 and 1953.
He was President Roosevelt’s vice-president but only served for three months in 1945. He was named president after Roosevelt died. One of the first things he did while in power was to implement the Marshall Plan with the intent of rebuilding the economy of Western Europe. He also established NATO and the Truman Doctrine as a way of containing the expansion of communism around the world.
Fidel Castro is pictured here during his first visit to the United States in 1959. President Eisenhower famously refused to meet the communist revolutionary and Cuban leader. Castro had arrived in New York City with a Cuban delegation, which received a ton of indignation from different sectors of society in the US.
The Cuban revolutionary gave a memorable speech to the United Nations in September of that year, which gained some admiration from people from all over. But the American government wasn’t such a huge fan of Castro’s policies of nationalizing US investments and companies in Cuba, which, amongst other reasons, resulted in a strained relationship between the two countries.
Rock and roll musician Chuck Berry was a multifaceted singer, guitarist, and songwriter. He was one of the biggest pioneers of Rock n Roll in history, becoming an influential figure in the development and refining of rhythm and blues.
Some of his most distinctive songs include "Maybellene" (1955), "Roll Over Beethoven" (1956), "Johnny B. Goode" (1958), among others. His lyrics focused quite strongly on consumerism and the life of a teen, but perhaps one of his most recognizable styles was his guitar solos. He was iconically pictured posing with his guitar in this picture snapped in 1957.
In 1955, Ray Kroc opened the first-ever McDonald's franchise in Des Plaines, Illinois. While this was officially the ninth McDonald's to open, it was Kroc’s first franchise and the first restaurant of the franchise to open in the eastern part of the Mississippi River. Believe it or not, it only took four years for the franchise to open its 100th restaurant.
In order to get as much publicity for the restaurant as possible, Kroc made sure to advertise the franchise’s speedy service with lots of free parking in the Des Planes Journal. He also shared that the food was as cheap as 10 cents for sodas, 15 cents for hamburgers, and 20 cents for malt shakes.
In this picture, James Dean was photographed in California, posing alongside his famous silver Porsche 550 Spyder, also known as the “Little Bastard.” The picture was sadly taken just a few hours before the icon lost his life in a fatal crash on September 30, 1995. That day, Dean was driving his Porshe when he crashed into a Ford Tudor sedan driven by a 23-year-old California student named Donald Turnupseed.
Turnupseed survived the crash with almost no injuries, while Dean lost his life. Dean’s passenger, Rolf Wütherich, was quite badly injured, but also ended up managing to survive the accident. James Dean was known for being a huge lover of racing cars, but the hobby sadly resulted in him losing his life.
This perfectly timed picture was taken in July 1959, capturing the moment a US Army XM50 Honest John missile was fired from the White Sands missile range located in New Mexico. This would be the first nuclear-capable surface-to-surface rocket to be produced in the United States. It was initially designed as an Artillery Rocket XM31, which had its first unit tested in mid-1951.
The design was eventually changed after the first rounds of production were delivered in 1953. The rocket had the capability of carrying a high-explosive warhead that weighed as much as 1,500 pounds, the equivalent of 680 kg.
There’s something evocative about looking at old photographs with muted colors and grainy textures, transporting us back in time and reminding us of a bygone era. Fashion, hairstyles, and technology paint a picture of a different culture. Stay tuned for a series of vintage photographs from the 1970s that have a unique ability to evoke a sense of nostalgia and whimsical wonder. The celebrities and sights in these photographs, frozen in time, are a reminder of the beauty and nostalgia of the past, and they continue to captivate and inspire us to this day.
Muhammad Ali is widely regarded as one of the greatest boxers in the sport's history. Born Cassius Clay in 1942, he changed his name to Muhammad Ali after converting to Islam in 1964. Over the course of his career, Ali became known for his speed, agility, and powerful punching, as well as his charismatic personality and vocal opposition to the Vietnam War. Yet as this photograph shows, even a three-time heavyweight champ finds parenting exhausting!
In this photograph, a yawn escapes the legendary boxer as he babysits two of his daughter. Nine-month-old Veronica Porche and two-year-old Hana indulge in their father’s embrace at Grosvenor House in London. How sweet!
Rising oil prices seem to be a stressful issue that has appeared (and reappeared) throughout history. In 1977, America faced economic difficulty, and rising oil prices didn’t help the situation. Consider that prices escalated to more than $20 a barrel in response to increased demand!
And the demand was real! This photograph from a Mobil gas station in Suffolk County, Long Island in 1979 puts the issue into perspective. Community members lined up to buy gas cans as gasoline prices exceeded $1 a gallon for the first time in history. If only we could go back to those prices today!
In 1972, history was made when American President Richard Nixon became the first US president to visit China. At the time, political relations were tense and strained, and Richard Nixon’s decision to visit the rival country sent a ripple effect throughout the political world.
To prove that the event happened, this photograph exists, capturing President Nixon and Secretary of State William Rogers with Chinese Deputy Premier Li Xiannian during a visit to the Great Wall of China. Ultimately, the president had ulterior motives and hopped on a plane in hope of getting help to contain Vietnam during the war. Scratching one another’s backs, China appreciated the allied support in their tense relationship with the Soviet Union. So, would you consider it a win-win?
KISS is an American rock band known for their elaborate stage performances, which often include pyrotechnics and the band members wearing distinctive face paint. These band members include singer-guitarist Paul Stanely, bassist Gene Simmons, drummer Peter Crisis and guitarist Ace Frehley — all pictured here in this vintage photograph!
The moment was snapped in November 1974 as the iconic band prepared to perform at Alex Cooley’s Electric Ballroom in Atlanta, Georgia. Judging by their face paint, we’d say they are ready for action!
Since the 1970s, there have been countless technological developments that have completely transformed the way we live our lives. In the early 1970s, personal computers were first introduced, and since then, technology has advanced at an incredible rate.
Today, we have smartphones that can access the internet, connect to social media, and perform countless other tasks that were unimaginable just a few decades ago. The internet has revolutionized how we communicate, access information, and do business. Yet photographs like this one, of a woman in a knit dress sitting at an early Servus model desktop computer in the 1970s, reminds us of our humble beginnings.
Richard Nixon resigned as president in 1974 in the face of almost-certain impeachment over the Watergate scandal. The political scandal in the United States involved the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C., in 1972 and the subsequent cover-up of the administration's involvement in the break-in by Nixon and his top aides.
The scandal led to the resignation of Nixon in 1974 and the indictment and conviction of several of his top advisers. The Watergate scandal is widely considered a low point in American political history and has served as a cautionary tale about the abuse of power by those in government. In retaliation to this abuse of power, demonstrators held signs demanding justice on 9 August 1974, the day of Richard Nixon’s resignation, as pictured in this photograph.
At what point do you stop keeping score of your achievements? Since its founding in 1955, McDonald's has served over 300 billion hamburgers, but the cult franchise officially stopped counting in 1994 when the number became too immense to manage.
Yet this photograph of a McDonald’s fast food restaurant in 1970 shows simpler times when the count was still in the low billions. While a lot has changed since this photograph was taken — such as the cars, the signage, and the general landscape — the love for McDonald’s has prevailed.
Commercial flights in the 1970s were a vastly different experience than today. Flying was still a relatively luxurious and special occasion for many people, and serving champagne wasn’t an uncommon sight! Consider this photograph of a Pan Am air hostess serving champagne in the first-class cabin of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet as an example!
Airplanes were typically larger and more spacious, with fewer seats and more amenities. Leading up to the formal in-flight experience, passengers would dress up for the occasion and eat meals off of china dishes. Today, you’ll be lucky if you have enough legroom to avoid cramping up!
In the 1970s, the Bronx was a predominantly working-class and low-income neighborhood in New York City known for its high crime rates and urban decay. Things worsened when the South Bronx was hit by a wave of housing fires that resulted in the loss of 80% of the housing in the area and the displacement of 250,000 people.
Despite the widespread damage, the state pool insurance payout for the affected area was only 10 million dollars, equivalent to about 50 million dollars in today's currency. This photograph shares a glimpse of the devastation.
Steve Jobs is widely known for his iconic black turtleneck shirt and the lasting impact that he had on the tech industry, with his innovations and leadership at Apple helping to shape the modern world. Yet before his fame skyrocketed, Steve Jobs was just a young techie hoping to make it big.
In this portrait of the legendary engineer, Steve Jobs is barely recognizable in his youth (and fashion choices). The photograph was snapped in 1977 at the West Coast Computer Fair, where the Apple II computer made its grand debut in Brooks Hall, San Francisco. Needless to say, Apple has come a long way since!
The Rolling Stones are known for their iconic music and energetic live performances. Over the years, the legendary British rock band has enjoyed massive success and rewarded themselves with a lavish lifestyle, including using a private jet for their tours and travels.
In this photograph, Mick Jagger and his bandmates travel in style and comfort between concerts during their 1975 Tour of the Americas. Briefly breaking the stereotype of debauchery that comes with rock ‘n roll stars, Mick Jagger is captured reading the newspaper and staying up to date with current affairs!
In the 1970s, North Vietnam launched a military invasion of South Vietnam with the goal of reuniting the country under communist rule. The invasion was the culmination of years of tension and conflict between the two regions, which had been divided following the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 — in which the Americans were heavily involved.
This photograph from 1975 reveals a glance at the desperation experienced by South Vietnamese refugees as they approach a US warship in the South China Sea near Saigon. Around the same time, American involvement in the Vietnam War came to an end, but the impact of their participation echoed for decades.
Never mind the Three Musketeers; the Three Degrees are the real deal! The singing group rose to prominence in the 1970s with their smooth vocal harmonies and glamorous stage presence. The group, composed of Sheila Furguson, Valerie Holiday, and Fayette Pickney, was known for their stylish and fashionable outfits and soulful and upbeat music, combining pop, R&B, and disco.
In addition to their musical success, The Three Degrees also had a significant influence on society, helping to break down barriers and pave the way for other women of color in the entertainment industry. Here, the powerful trio poses for a photograph in a London street in 1974.
The Apollo 15 mission involved the fourth human landing on the moon and the first to use the Lunar Roving Vehicle. Astronaut David Scott was right in the middle of the action, commanding the mission.
During the ambitious mission, David Scott and his crewmates spent over three days on the lunar surface, conducting experiments and gathering data to help pave the way for future missions to the moon. After retiring from NASA in 1975, Scott continued to work in the aerospace industry and remains a respected and admired figure in the world of space exploration.
In 1975, Brazilian football superstar Pele paid a visit to the White House, where he had the opportunity to meet with President Gerald Ford and demonstrate his skills on the field. The meeting between Pele and Ford occurred on the grounds of the White House, where the two men were seen jostling for the ball and playing a friendly game of soccer.
The encounter was captured by photographers and became an iconic image of the meeting between the Brazilian athlete and the American president. Pele, who is widely considered one of the greatest footballers of all time, was in the United States at the time to promote the sport and help raise awareness of the upcoming World Cup, which was set to take place in Brazil the following year.
Dolly Parton is an American singer, songwriter, and actress known for her iconic blonde hair, voluptuous figure, and unique style. Throughout her long and successful career, Dolly Parton has been the subject of numerous photographs, many of which have become iconic images of the country music legend.
One of the most famous sets of photographs featuring Parton is the Dolly Parton file. These photographs are considered some of the most famous images of the blonde bombshell and have been widely reproduced and admired by fans worldwide.
Studio 54 was a famous New York City nightclub known for its celebrity clientele, lavish parties, and hedonistic atmosphere. As drinks flowed and celebrities brushed shoulders with one another, Studio 54 became the site of many scandals!
In this photograph, captured in 1979, Jerry Hall, Andy Warhol, Debbie Harry, Truman Capote, and Paloma Picasso indulge in revelry at the Interview party at Studio 54. The occasion was a fashionable and exclusive event attended by many of the club's celebrity guests. What we would have paid to be a fly on the wall!
Billy Joel found fame as an American singer-songwriter who achieved widespread success and critical acclaim over the course of his long and illustrious career. Born in 1949 on Long Island, New York, Billy Joel began playing the piano at a young age and started his professional music career in the 1960s as a member of various bands. By the 1970s, Joel had established himself as a solo artist and had begun to release a string of successful albums, including The Stranger and 52nd Street.
In the process, the singer earned multiple Grammy Awards and solidified his position as one of the leading lights of the American music scene. As proof of his esteemed success, this photograph was taken of the legendary artist at his home in New York City in January 1978, surrounded by some of his gold records, which serve as a testament to his many achievements.
The history of Hollywood is filled with power couples, scandalous affairs, and rumored romances. Added to the (long) list is Anjelica Huston and Jack Nicholson's romantic relationship, which spanned several years in the 1970s and 1980s. The couple met on the set of The Last Detail in 1973, and it wasn't long before sparks began to fly.
Over the years, Anjelica and Jack appeared together in several films, as well as several photographs. This is one of the iconic images of the couple, snapped as they were sighting in New York in 1975. Despite their professional success, the couple's relationship was tumultuous, and they eventually split in 1989.