Back in the 1950s, most families owned only one car and that saved on insurance, gas, and maintenance. There was no central air conditioning, internet, or cable bills. TV, if you owned one was free, and many families didn’t own a television; they listened to the radio in the evenings. There were no dishwashers and even in homes that had a washer there was no dryer. People hung clothes outside to dry and in bad weather clothes were hung on racks or clotheslines indoors.
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Eating out? It was rare and fast food was not “normal.” A lot of people grew gardens and some even canned fruits and vegetables. Few had freezers. My father used to buy hamburger, roasts and steaks and they were stored in a rented freezer room at a place called Mack’s. Women did the ironing and the cleaning and the cooking. If you got sick you went to the doctor, but if you got really sick, you died.
The American dream of owning a home began in the 1950s. There were 16 million returning WWII veterans looking to buy homes and the GI Bill offered them liberal home loans. Home builders began applying assembly-line methodology by using panel construction and drywall rather than wet plaster creating lookalike cookie cutter tract housing and giving birth to suburbs.
The average size of a new single-family home in 1950 was only 983 square feet. Compare that to the average new home built in 2004...2,349 square feet. In those days people thought it was normal for 2-3 kids to share a bedroom. The median home price in the United States in 1950 was $7,354 ($71,360 in today's dollars), compared to 2015 when it was $281,500.
The standard was to have just one car. At the beginning of the decade, the average sticker price for a new car was $1,510 ($14,650 in today's dollars). Modern new car prices average $33,560 in 2015.
On the downside, cars of the 1950s had shorter lifespans and required a great deal more maintenance than modern cars do. You had to adjust ignition points and timing, which started going south the moment you drove it.
And they rusted. Many people owned cars with holes rusted through the floor which is why my father always paid extra for undercoating. Cars typically lasted no more than 60,000 to 80,000 miles.
TV sets were expensive...around $200 in the 1950s ($1,600-$1,950 in modern dollars). TV shows from the 1950s often depicted people living in homes that were atypical for most Americans and it caused people to yearn for their own homes to look like those seen on TV.
Advertising agencies realized that teens were a lucrative group to target since they had leisure time and spending power, unlike previous generations of adolescents. So television commercials were geared toward the new demographic, teenagers. Television created a desire for houses, cars, and anything else advertised, not just for teens but for adults.
Best 1950's vintage TV commercial ads