1950s: Map


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The 1950s was the decade that ran from January 1, 1950, to December 31, 1959. During the early 1950s in the United States manufacturing and home construction was on the rise as the American economy was on the upswing. The Korean War and the beginning of the Cold War created a politically conservative climate. The Cold War between the Soviet Unionmarker and the United States played out through the entire decade. Fear of Communism caused public Congressional hearings by both houses in Congress and Anti-Communism was the prevailing sentiment in the United States throughout the decade. Conformity and conservatism characterized the social mores of the time. The 1950s in the developed western world are generally considered both socially conservative and highly materialistic in nature. The beginning of decolonization in Africa and Asia occurred in this decade and accelerated in the following decade of the 1960s.

Korean War

The war, which lasted from June 25, 1950 until a cease-fire on July 27, 1953 (as of 2009, there has been no peace treaty signed), started as a civil war between North Koreamarker and the Republic of South Korea. When it began, North and South Korea existed as provisional governments competing for control over the Korean peninsula, due to the division of Korea by outside powers. While originally a civil war, it quickly escalated into a proxy war between the western powers led by the United States and its allies and the communist powers of the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Unionmarker.

On September 15, General Douglas MacArthur conducted an amphibious landing at the city of Inchonmarker (Song Do port). The North Korean army collapsed, and within a few days, MacArthur's army retook Seoulmarker (South Korea's capital). He then pushed north, capturing Pyongyang in October. Chinese intervention the following month drove UN forces south again. MacArthur then planned for a full-scale invasion of China, but this was against the wishes of President Truman and others who wanted a limited war. He was dismissed and replaced by General Matthew Ridgeway. The war then became a bloody stalemate for the next two and a half years while peace negotiations dragged on.

A cease-fire was finally agreed to by both sides on July 27, 1953. The war left 33,742 American soldiers dead, 92,134 wounded, and 80,000 MIA or POW. Estimates place Korean and Chinese casualties at 1,000,000–1,400,000 dead or wounded, and 140,000 MIA or POW.

Suez Crisis

Israeli conquest of Sinai during the Suez Crisis

The Suez Crisis was a war fought on Egyptianmarker territory in 1956. Following the nationalisation of the Suez Canal in 1956 by Gamal Abdel Nasser, the United Kingdom, France and Israelmarker subsequently invaded. The operation was a military success, but after the United States and Soviet Unionmarker united in opposition to the invasion, the invaders were forced to withdraw. This was seen as a major humiliation, especially for the two Western European countries, and symbolizes the beginning of the end of colonialism and the weakening of European global importance, specifically the collapse of the British Empire.

European Common Market

The European Community (or Common Market), the precursor of the European Union, was established with the Treaty of Rome in 1957.

Cuban Revolution

The overthrow of Fulgencio Batista by Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and other forces in 1959 resulted in the creation of the first communist government in the western hemisphere.


European cinema experienced a renaissance in the '50s following the deprivations of World War II. Italian director Federico Fellini won the first foreign language film Academy Award with La strada and garnered another Academy Award with Nights of Cabiria. In 1955, Swedish director Ingmar Bergman earned a Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festivalmarker with Smiles of a Summer Night and followed the film with masterpieces The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries. Jean Cocteau's Orphée, a film central to his Orphic Trilogy, starred Jean Marais and was released in 1950. French director Claude Chabrol's Le Beau Serge is now widely considered the first film of the French New Wave. Notable European film stars of the period include Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, Max von Sydow, and Jean-Paul Belmondo. Japanese cinema reached its zenith with films from director Akira Kurosawa including Rashomon, Ikiru, Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, and The Hidden Fortress. Other distinguished Japanese directors of the period were Yasujiro Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi. Russian fantasy director Aleksandr Ptushko's mythological epics Sadko, Ilya Muromets, and Sampo were internationally acclaimed as was Ballad of a Soldier, a 1959 Soviet film directed by Grigori Chukhrai.


Art Movements

In the early 1950s Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning were enormously influential. However by the late 1950s Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko's paintings became more in focus to the next generation.

Pop art used the iconography of television, photography, comics, cinema and advertising. With its roots in dadaism, it started to take form towards the end of the 1950s when some European artists started to make the symbols and products of the world of advertising and propaganda the main subject of their artistic work. This return of figurative art, in opposition to the abstract expressionism that dominated the aesthetic scene since the end of World War II was dominated by Great Britain until the early 1960s when Andy Warhol, the most known artist of this movement began to show Pop Art in galleries in the United States.

Nobel Prizes

Albert Schweitzer is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952. In 1953 Sir Winston Churchill is given the Nobel Prize for literature. In 1955 Halldór Laxness is awarded the Nobel Prize for literature for his work with Icelandicmarker literature. Other notable Nobel laureates of the 1950s include Ernest Hemingway, Boris Pasternak,Pär Lagerkvist, Albert Camus, Linus Pauling, Bertrand Russell, and Ralph Bunche among others.



FIFA World Cups

International issues

  • Cold War and proxy wars involving the influence of the rival superpowers of the Soviet Unionmarker and the United States.
  • Decolonization of former European empires. French rule ends in Algeriamarker in 1958, and France leaves Vietnammarker in 1954. Elsewhere the Belgian Congo and other African nations gain their independence from France, Belgium and Great Britain.
  • Establishment of the Non-aligned Movement, consisting of nations not formally aligned with or against any major power bloc.


  • Large-scale decolonization in Africa first began in the 1950s. In 1951, Libyamarker became the first African country to gain independence in the decade, and in 1954 the Algerian Civil War began. 1956 saw Sudanmarker, Moroccomarker, and Tunisiamarker become independent, and the next year Ghanamarker became the first sub-saharan African nation to gain independence.
  • The Mau Mau began retaliating against the British in Kenya. This led to concentration camps in Kenya, the retreat of the British, and the election of Jomo Kenyatta as leader of Kenya.
  • Africa experienced the beginning of large-scale top-down economic interventions in the 1950s that failed to cause improvement and led to charitable exhaustion by the West as the century went on. The widespread corruption was not dealt with and war, disease, and famine continued to be constant problems in the region.
  • Egyptian general Gamel Abdel Nasser overthrows the Egyptian monarchy, establishing himself as President of Egyptmarker. Nasser becomes an influential leader in the Middle East in the 1950s, leads Arab states into war with Israelmarker, is a major leader of the Non-Aligned Movement and promotes pan-Arab unification.


  • In the 1950s Latin America was the center of covert and overt conflict between the Soviet Unionmarker and the United States. Their varying collusion with national, populist, and elitist interests destabilized the region. The United States CIA orchestrated the overthrow of the Guatemalan government in 1952. In 1957 the military dictatorship of Venezuela was overthrown. This continued a pattern of regional revolution and warfare making extensive use of ground forces.
  • In 1957, Dr. François Duvalier came to power in an election in Haitimarker. He later declared himself president for life, and ruled until his death in 1971.
  • In 1959 Fidel Castro overthrew the regime of Fulgencio Batista in Cubamarker, establishing a communist government in the country. Although Castro initially sought aid from the US, he was rebuffed and later turned to the Soviet Union.
  • NORADmarker signed in 1959 by Canada and the United States creating a unified North American aerial defense system.


  • Reconstruction continues in Japan in the 1950s, funded by the United States, which ended its occupation of the country in 1951. Social changes took place, including democratic elections and universal suffrage.
  • Korean War from 1950 to 1953. Communist forces in North Koreamarker were supported by the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Unionmarker while South Korea was supported by the United States and other western countries. This war resulted in a permanent division between the north and south of Korea.
  • Within a year of its establishment, the People's Republic of China had invaded Tibet and intervened in the Korean War, causing years of hostility and estrangement from the United States. The Chinese allied with the Soviet Union, which then provided considerable technical and economic aid. Although relations between the two communist giants remained friendly throughout the 1950s, cracks were forming in their alliance by the end of the decade. The Great Leap Forward in 1958–1960 was an attempt by Mao Zedong to rush the country's economic development with the creation of huge rural communes. It failed ignominiously, and combined with a series of natural disasters triggered an enormous famine in which several million people died.
  • In 1953 the French colonial rulers of Indochina tried to contain a growing communist insurgency against their rule led by Ho Chi Minh. After their defeat at Dien Bien Phumarker in 1954 they were forced to cede independence to the nations of Cambodiamarker, Laosmarker and Vietnammarker. The Geneva Conference of 1954 separated French supporters and communist nationalists for the purposes of the ceasefire, and mandated nationwide elections by 1956; Ngo Dinh Diem established a government in the south and refused to hold elections. Conflict then resumed between the communist north and American-supported south.


With the help of the Marshall Plan, post-war reconstruction succeeded, with some countries (including West Germany) preferring free market capitalism while others preferred Keynesian-policy welfare states. Europe continued to be divided into Western and Soviet bloc countries. The geographical point of this division came to be called the Iron Curtain. It divided Germany into Eastmarker and West Germany. In 1955 West Germany joined NATOmarker.

The Soviet Unionmarker continued its domination of eastern Europe. In 1953 Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, died. This led to the rise of Nikita Khrushchev, who denounced Stalin and pursued a more liberal domestic and foreign policy, stressing peaceful competition with the West rather than overt hostility. There were anti-Soviet uprisings in East Germany in 1953.



Lucille Ball, Jack Benny, Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Clay Cole, Tony Curtis, Peter Cushing, Dorothy Dandridge, James Dean, Sandra Dee, Troy Donahue, Diana Dors, Kirk Douglas, William Frawley, Ava Gardner, John Gregson, Tony Hancock, Audrey Hepburn, Charlton Heston, William Holden, Bob Hope, Rock Hudson, Van Johnson, Grace Kelly, Jerry Lewis, Sophia Loren, Jayne Mansfield, Dean Martin, Jerry Mathers, Sal Mineo, Hayley Mills, Marilyn Monroe, Paul Newman, Kim Novak, Gregory Peck, Jon Provost, Debbie Reynolds, George Reeves, Steve Reeves, Vivian Vance, Jack Webb

Paul Anka, Chuck Berry, Maria Callas, Johnny Cash, John Coltrane, Perry Como, Dalida, Miles Davis, Bo Diddley, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Lionel Hampton, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Patti Page, Charlie Parker, Art Pepper, Carl Perkins, Buddy Rich, Little Richard, Jimmie Rodgers, Joan Sutherland, Elvis Presley, and Andy Williams

Musicians and actors Desi Arnaz, Pat Boone, June Carter Cash and Gale Storm; publisher Hugh Hefner; film directors Jacques Tati and Raj Kapoor; comics Ernie Kovacs and Steve Allen; television personalities Jack Paar, Dave Garroway, Gary Moore, and Johnny Carson; stage and film actor Yul Brynner

World leaders

See also


  1. In 1958, Russian-born Boris Pasternak, under pressure from the government of the Soviet Union, was forced to decline the Nobel Prize in Literature.

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