The 1950s gave the world the Korean War, the Cuban Revolution and the beginning of a conflict in Vietnam. Through the use of radio and the still-young medium of television, people experienced both the rise of Elvis Presley and the launch of the first Sputnik satellite. The decade was also shaped by inventions that remain widespread more than 60 years later.
1950s medicine was defined by Jonas Salk's polio vaccine, announced publicly on April 12, 1955. Due to large-scale immunisation efforts, the number of polio cases reported in the United States fell from 58,000 in 1952 to just 65 in 1965. Salk's vaccine paved the way for an almost polio-free world.
Games and Toys
Two toys that came about in the '50s have been staples ever since. Mr. Potato Head, introduced in 1952, has been found in children's bedrooms -- and animated films -- ever since. The first version of George Lerner's toy was simply a set of body parts that children could stick into any fruit or vegetable. Decades later, the set now comes with its own plastic potato body. The Barbie doll, introduced in 1959, has had a hold on young girls for decades. The Barbie doll has responded to cultural movements over time. Barbie now has cousins, male counterparts and numerous knock-offs, but the original remains as popular as ever.
No 1950s product is more popular today than Ray Kroc's fast-food franchise, McDonald's. Though the McDonald brothers opened their original restaurant in 1940, the true franchise didn't begin until Kroc signed onto the operation and opened his first restaurant in Des Plaines, Illinois, in 1955. Ten years later, there were 700 McDonald's in the country. As of the time of publication, more than 1.7 million employees work at 32,000 McDonald's restaurants in 117 countries around the world.
The '50s were a hotbed for technological innovation, and one of the most popular items to emerge from the era was the hard disk drive, used to store digital information. The first drive was made by IBM and shipped in 1956. The device stored 5 megabytes of data at a cost of £6,500 per megabyte and was the size of two refrigerators. At the time of publication, a 2 terabyte drive costs roughly £65. The device stores more than 400,000 times the data of the one from the '50s at a cost far less than 1 cent per megabyte and is smaller than a book.
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