How Did 1950's Communication Devices Make Life Different From Today?
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.
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. During 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 n the summer. Back then, there were no online social media sites where you could establish a friendship with a click of the mouse.
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.
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
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
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.
Although we did have the small television, I recall listening to the radio more than watching TV up until approximately 1957. We only received AM stations during those days.
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
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 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.
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.
Many young people today don't realize how greatly 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.
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© 2018 Paul Richard Kuehn