How Did 1950's Communication Devices Make Life Different From Today?

Updated on October 20, 2019
Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul spent the 1950s living in a suburb of Milwaukee and also on a small dairy farm in southeastern Wisconsin.

Countryside Mailboxes

Source

1950 Communication Devices

Imagine a life with no cell phone, smartphone, email, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. I experienced this life growing up in the United States in the 1950s.

Up until 1957 when my family got its first telephone, most families relied on newspapers, mail, radio, television, and movies to receive information. Some people received personal messages by telegram. A lot of public information was posted on bulletin boards in stores, post offices, banks, community halls, libraries, and churches.

In this article, I recall each of the major communication devices used in the 1950s and how they made life different from today.

A Postcard

A postmarked postcard
A postmarked postcard | Source

Mail

Before the advent of the Internet and email, mail was the primary communication device for receiving written communication. After dad and mom moved to a rented farm in March 1954, our mail wasn't delivered to a mailbox near our farm. Instead, until July of 1954, mom had to walk to a small church one-half mile away to collect our personal mail. When the mail was finally delivered to our private mailbox, we still had to walk about 300 feet down a hill to a small road where the mailbox was situated.

I remember receiving a lot of mail from mom's relation in Marshfield, Wisconsin, about 200 miles away. Every December, our box would be full of Christmas cards and letters with all of the news from the year. It would usually take three days for a letter to get to us outside of Mukwonago from Marshfield.

While in high school in 1959, I must have had between five and ten penpal girls in the summer. Back then, there were no online social media sites where you could establish a friendship with a click of the mouse.

Newspaper

Source

Newspapers

In the 1950s, big city and local village and town newspapers kept us up to date on political, consumer, school, sports, and local, state, national, and international happenings. We subscribed to the Milwaukee Journal and it was delivered to our mailbox every day. The big Sunday paper was the most welcome and anticipated because it had multi-page sections for all categories of news. I can still remember dad, mom, and I fight for the colorful comic strips and sports section.

Our local paper, the Mukwonago Chief, was delivered once a week. It had mainly social news about the village of Mukwonago. Dad liked to read it for farming news and to see if there were any auctions being advertised.

Vintage Signs

Source

Posted Notices

Small Wisconsin town grocery store bulletin board.Picture taken in 2018.
Small Wisconsin town grocery store bulletin board.Picture taken in 2018. | Source

In addition to the advertising found in newspapers, posted notices were used very often for the dissemination of not only advertising but also for notification of community events. These posted notices could be found in the village and town grocery stores, post offices, schools, churches, and community halls. Dad had a posted notice advertising his farm auction appearing in all of the hardware and feed stores in our immediate vicinity. After moving to a farm near Honey Creek in 1957, we learned about a Four of July community picnic by reading a posted notice in our nearby grocery store.

Old Rotary Phone

Source

Telephone

I cannot remember dad and mom having a telephone when we lived in the city up until 1954. After moving to a farm in the countryside, my family was also without phone service until we bought a farm in March 1957.

Our first telephone leased from a telephone company was big, black and very heavy. It was hooked up to telephone wires on the road. When we were on a party line up until 1960, it was necessary first to make sure that no other party was on the line before rotary dialing "0" for the operator. We would tell her the number we wanted to call and then she would connect our call to a switchboard where she worked.

Around 1960, we were off a party line and able to direct-dial local numbers. Long-distance calls, however, had to go through an operator.

Unlike today, the quality of many calls was fair to poor. Static on the line was a frequent problem. When we were on a party-line, there was always the chance that a neighbor was listening in on our calls.

Back in the 1950s, there was no satellite communication. Overseas calls went by way of an undersea cable. It was necessary to book long-distance and international calls. Sometimes you would have to wait an hour for these calls to be connected.

Radios from the 1950s and 1960s

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Radio

Up until the mid-1950s, radio was the most popular way to receive news and entertainment other than newspapers. Dad and mom's first radio that I can remember from the early 1950s was part of a small entertainment console which also held a 12" black and white television and a small phonograph. I can still remember hearing updates about the Korean War in the early 50s and listening to the Lone Ranger every evening.

After dad started farming in 1954, we bought a medium-sized tube radio and put it in the barn. Our cows seemed to like it and I always had the radio tuned to a popular music and sports station in the late 1950s.

Around 1957, I had my first transistor radio and could carry and play it wherever I went on the farm. I remember listening to St. Louis Cardinal baseball games on KMOX in the evenings.

Although we did have a small television, I recall listening to the radio more than watching TV up until approximately 1957. We only received AM stations during those days.

Television

Source

Television

Our first television was black and white and only had a 12" screen. Therefore, it was always a treat visiting my uncle and being able to watch his heavy black and white TV with a 30" screen. In the 1950s, I don't remember seeing any portable televisions. Unlike today, there were only a handful of broadcasting channels to watch.

After moving to the farm in 1954, I used to always watch Superman and the Mickey Mouse Club after school. In 1956, my parents bought a bigger 21" screen and I can recall them watching the Democrat Party Convention in August.

By the late 1950s, television was giving us more local, national, international, sports, and weather news than the radio.

A Movie Theater

Source

Movies

During the early 1950s, a five-minute newsreel would usually precede all movies in theaters. Most of the news seemed to dwell on the Korean War and the aftermath of World War II. You could not rent or buy DVD movies like today but the price to see a movie was cheap and the Paradise Theater was right up the street where we lived in West Allis.

Telegram

A telegram was also an important communication device in the 1950s. This was mainly because many people did not have a personal phone. Messages were sent by Western Union and then hand-delivered to recipients. I can remember sending a telegram in Taiwan in February 1974 after my son was born. At that time both my wife's relatives and I did not have personal phones.

Summary

Many young people today don't realize how rapidly communication devices have improved over the past 60-70 years. I am sure quite a few persons would be lost today without email, smartphones, and access to social applications like Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and LINE which I could have only dreamed about when I was a young boy in the 1950s.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

  • What came before the fax/fax machine?

    The telegraph machine and telegrams came before the first fax and fax machine.

© 2018 Paul Richard Kuehn

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    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      41 hours ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Caroline, I enjoyed reading your stories and they brought back more memories for me. Thank you very much for commenting!

    • profile image

      Caroline60 

      2 days ago

      What a memory sparking article! I grew up in a teeny town in Iowa with a population of 102. We had party lines. Whenever I babysat I had to ask how many and what length the rings were so that if the phone rang, I knew whether to answer or not. I remember my dad trying to make a call several times with no luck. He would listen a few minutes, then tell me to run to the lumber yard because Sara had left the phone off the hook, or down to Richard's bar for the same reason. Our first tv was a 12 inch Admiral.

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      2 days ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      I listened to my transistor a lot in the late 50s. Music and baseball games were my favorite programs. Thanks for commenting!

    • profile image

      Thomas 

      3 days ago

      I often carry a smart phone in my shirt pocket, listening to "talk radio". It sure is a throw back to the 50's and 60's listening to my transistor radio.

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      4 days ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      I am pleased you liked my article, Jerry!

    • profile image

      Jerry V Di Trolio 

      5 days ago

      Great Website very in informative!

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      11 days ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Thank you very much for your great supportive comment. I miss the grand old days and I am thrilled you like my article!

    • profile image

      S K Das 

      12 days ago

      Great reading and many thanks for taking me to my childhood days and nostalgic journey. Very true description of various communication channels available in those times . But I must confess those were hard but thrilling days to be able to communicate to your loved and dear ones as compared to present day's easy access to Internet and smart phones. Thanks again for taking me to those grand old days.

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      13 days ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Thank you very much for your interesting stories. Those were the good old days. Thanks for commenting.

    • profile image

      WinDog 

      2 weeks ago

      Yeah man, it’s hard to believe that I look back on these times with nothing but nostalgia. I’ve become my father. I also remember coming across short story booklets, and discovering in the back pages girls my age looking for a pen pal. Oh boy could I could conjure up a looker, even at 12. I would write a long introduction, being absolutely sure that this 12 year old girl in Idaho, or Syracuse, or even London, England looked exactly like Laurie Partridge, and longed to meet a skinny Chicago kid with mild acne. I also remember my first attempt at communicating without a telephone ... Mark was my friend that lived in the house next door, and after reading a cartoon kids idea in the morning Tribune, he and I poked a single hole into the bottom of two tin cans, and fed a wire through each hole. We then stretched the wire from my bedroom window to his, shut the windows and spoke to each other through the can openings. Did it work? Not really, so we just opened the windows and talked, since they were only 12 feet apart.

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      2 weeks ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Thank you very much for your comments, Zafar. I am happy you found my article informative.

    • profile image

      Zafar A. Khan 

      2 weeks ago

      How are you sir. I am Zafar from Karachi - Pakistan. Your article is quite informational. It reminds of my old passed days. All the things you mentioned is true as I have also gone through these phases. Thank you. Be blessed.... Zafar

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      2 weeks ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      I am very glad you found this article enjoyable. Yes, I certainly remember all of the old vacuum tubes in TVs and radios.

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      2 weeks ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Mark.

    • profile image

      Lynsey 

      2 weeks ago

      Fun article that reminded me of all the 'tv parts' i.e. vacuum tubes that my grandfather (who was a tv repair man and built ham radios) had in the basement. It was like some weird sci-fi scene that a kid still in single digits could imagine all sorts of things. Thanks!

    • profile image

      Mark 

      2 weeks ago

      I grew up in rural Arkansas in the 70's, your story is similar to mine. I know that's not a question so I hope you can forgive me.

      Update- I should have kept reading, I would have found the comment section. Sorry about that. I did enjoy the article.

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      3 weeks ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      I am pleased that this article helped you remember your olden days.

    • profile image

      Kulkarni 

      3 weeks ago

      Remberered my oldendays.

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      3 weeks ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Thank you very much for your comments, Randy.

    • profile image

      Randy j 

      3 weeks ago

      We had good comm.tv and radio in early 1960...newspapers daily.nbc news.and old rotary.telephones..still good..not like 1930..we survived well.r

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      6 months ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      I am very happy that this article helped you with your homework.

    • profile image

      chloe 

      6 months ago

      thanks to you i can actully get my homework done early

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      13 months ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      I am happy this article helped you with your homework.

    • profile image

      Eskata Mastachen 

      13 months ago

      Thanks for this! I needed it for my homework! ;)

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      22 months ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Thank you for reading and commenting. When I was young, I dreamed of video calls. Now they are so common and useful.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      22 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      So much has changed and these bring back memories. The old techniques and how people spent their days. Interesting and a great title to think of such times.

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      22 months ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Thank you for your comment, Larry.

    • Paul Kuehn profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Richard Kuehn 

      22 months ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Peggy, I am happy to know that you can identify with my memories. Yes, I remember watching Rin Tin Tin and Lassie, too. Do you remember Buster Brown on Saturday mornings?

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      22 months ago from Oklahoma

      Interesting how the world changes and stays the same.

      Great read!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      22 months ago from Houston, Texas

      This surely brings me back to those good old days! I well remember the party line although it was only my parents that used the telephone back at that time. If there was an emergency people would simply break into any conversation and then the operator would direct the much needed call to where it needed to go. Of course everyone else on the line would know of it.

      My some of my favorite shows back then were the Mickey Mouse Club, Rin Tin Tin, The Lone Ranger, Lassie and others. Thanks for the memories!

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