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The 1950s

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The 1950s at Home

Living Room in 1950s ExhibitThis was the era of the "baby boom," as the birth rate set records between 1946 and 1964. In Michigan, more than one million houses were built between 1954 and 1960. You can see a typical 1950s living room, kitchen and bathroom in this gallery.

1950s Home GalleryThe consumer shopped for convenience products and items made from new, colorful materials. The gallery features Eames chairs of molded plywood, pink appliances and Michigan food products. Visitors can watch clips from Detroit Red Wings, Lions and Tigers games; I Love Lucy; and other 1950s broadcasts on the living room's built-in TV.

Foods Made in MichiganSavings from the World War II years and television advertising fueled the economy. Michigan's Gerber Products Company relied on supermarkets—"Mothers' baby food cupboards"—to make baby foods universally acceptable during this decade. The Kellogg's Company declared its leadership in the "presweetened" cereal field, introducing Sugar Pops (1951), Sugar Frosted Flakes (1952) and [Sugar] Smacks (1953). Specially commissioned paintings—"Kids" by Norman Rockwell—appeared on Kellogg's packages in 1954 and 1955.

Many families moved to the suburbs, bought a second car—often a station wagon—and began commuting on newly built highways. In 1955, the J. L. Hudson Corporation developed Northland, one of the nation's first shopping malls, in Southfield.

S&H Green Stamp Store Exhibit A trading stamp craze swept the nation. People got the stamps when they bought groceries, gasoline and other products. They pasted the stamps into books, took the books to redemption centers and exchanged the books for more products such as those shown in the S&H Green Stamp Store exhibit here. S&H Green stamps, Top Value, King Korn, Triple S, Gold Bell and Plaid were popular trading stamps. (Thomas Sperry of Jackson, Michigan, and Shelly Hutchinson of Baltimore, Maryland, founded S&H. They issued their first trading stamps in Jackson, Michigan, in 1896.)

Underneath the prosperity of the 1950s were undercurrents that would surface in the next decade. Mortgage lenders, realtors and insurance firms "redlined" parts of cities to keep Blacks and others from purchasing homes in certain areas. This meant that although a family had enough money to buy a home, it still could not buy the home it wanted.

The United States and its allies pitted their beliefs and economies against those of Communist nations. Fear that this "Cold War" would become a nuclear war led some people to build bomb shelters. Cities, such as the "critical target areas" of Detroit, Flint, Lansing and Grand Rapids created evacuation plans to be used in case of nuclear attack.

Acting on the prevailing fear of Communism, the state legislature passed the Michigan Communist Control Law in 1952. The law required that members of the Communist Party register with the State Police. The State Police Commissioner created a secret "Red Squad" that collected information about people suspected of being communists. Detroit Police Commissioner Harry S. Toy established a similar squad in Detroit. (During the next decade the two squads collected information about Civil Rights activists and those opposed to the Viet Nam War.)


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