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Technology in the 50s and 60s

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

Old Rotary Telephone


Technology in the 50s and 60s

Whenever I remember my life in Wisconsin in the late 1950s and early 1960s, I can't help but get very nostalgic. These were my formative years where I spent a lot of time in junior and senior high school. Life was much different back then than it is today. It was a lot simpler and much less technologically advanced. We didn't have computers, i-Pads, iPhones, or video games. Just the same, I remember being very happy with what we had. In this article, I will share with you what I recall being specifically different from what we have today.

Different Way of Life in the Late 50s and early 60s

1. Telephone:

The telephone during my youth was much different than it is today. It was large, located on a desk or wall in the house, and used only for making calls. Being solely a rotary-type phone, you had to dial all numbers. The biggest thing I remember is that our family's rural phone was on a party line shared with 2-3 neighbors. We had one old neighbor lady who was always gabbing on the phone when any of us picked up the receiver. My sister loved eavesdropping on her calls. Because we were on a party line, we always had to go through an operator when making a long-distance call. Our telephone number was 29J1. Telephones and telephone service today with cell phones that can connect to the Internet, take pictures, and play music are a far cry from what we had.

2. Slide Rule:

I learned how to use the slide rule when I was a high school junior (11th grade.) It was a necessary tool for all math and science students because the hand-held calculator had not yet been developed. With the slide rule or slip-stick as we called it, you could do all the basic mathematical operations, take square and cube roots, do trigonometric functions, and process logarithms.

3. Phonograph Records and Players:

When we wanted to listen to our music, we had to have a record player and records. Single hits on each side of a record were on 7-inch 45 RPMs, while hits on albums were on the 12-inch long play (LP) 33 1/3 RPMs. I remember buying a lot of Elvis Presley 45 hits such as "Love Me Tender" and "Jail House Rock." The problem with the records was that they tended to scratch easily, and if they got warped, the needle would skip all around the record. Today young people listen to all of their music on CDs, MP3s, or on the Internet.

4. Juke Boxes:

I will never forget the jukeboxes from my youth. you could find them in cafes, bars, and even outside the gym at my senior high school. By dropping a quarter into the slot, you could select three songs. I can still hear the song, "You Talk Too Much, You Worry Me to Death," by Joe Jones blaring from outside the gym in 1960.

5. Letters and Pen Pals:

Letter writing was a popular means of long-distance communication 50 years ago. I enjoyed writing letters very much and receiving them even more. When I was a senior in high school, I had many female pen pals. There is so much a letter has that an email cannot duplicate. When I received letters from my pen pals, it excited almost all of my senses, especially if the letter was perfumed and powdered. Besides seeing the handwriting, I could smell the perfume and feel the powder. No email could have done that.

6. Film Projectors:

If you wanted to watch a film in the late 50s, you had to either go to a movie theater or watch it on a film projector in your home. My junior high friend had a film projector in his room. I remember watching his homemade movies that were projected onto the wall in his bedroom. Later, I recall viewing movies in college with 35 mm projectors that were projected on screens on campus every Friday evening. A frequent problem then was the film getting stuck in the projector. Today, of course, people can watch movies on DVD players or the Internet if they decide not to go to the cinema.

7. Transistor Radios:

I remember getting my first transistor radio when I was in the eighth grade. Being so small, I could hold it in my hand, and it would even fit into my pocket. It could play both AM and FM stations, and it was my constant companion wherever I went. Today, most kids have boom boxes, MP3 players, or I pod to listen to music.

8. Drive-in Movies:

Drive-in movies were a special place for young people 50 years ago. Besides going to see a movie outside in the evening in the privacy of their car, young lovers had a great place where they could make out while watching a movie.

9. A&W Root Beer Stands:

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A trip to an A&W Root Beer stand during a hot summer evening was always a happy event for the family. Without getting out of your car, you could order root beers and burgers and have them delivered directly to you. No, you wouldn't drive away after your order was delivered. Instead, you would roll down your window, and a waitress would attach a tray with your order on it. In today's high-paced world, it is rare to find this service.

10. Pin Ball Machines:

I am not much a fan of electronic games today; however, I do vividly remember the Palooka pinball machine from the early 60s. My college buddies and I used to play it a lot. We would have contests to see who could get the highest score or turn over the machine. The game was really exciting with its flippers, targets, and the constant cling clanging of the machine while the score increased. In my opinion, no electronic game of today can compete with it.

Life today will never be like it was in 1960. Everyone appreciates and loves the technological improvements and conveniences of today. Hopefully, we can learn from the past, and incorporate some of its good qualities into our lives today.

Transistor Radio


Using the Sliderule



Movie Projector


Technology in the 50s and 60s

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Paul Richard Kuehn


Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on February 23, 2015:

Celebrates, I am very happy that you enjoyed reading this hub. Yes, I do remember the frosty A&W root beer which was delivered to cars on a tray and hung on the rolled down window. That has to be the best root beer I have every had in my life.

Celebrates on February 22, 2015:

I always thought A&W Root Beer stands were a local phenomenon. That root beer used to come out, delivered at sub zero temperatures. It was ice cold, and the mug had frost. Those were the days. Thanks for the memories.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on October 11, 2012:


Thanks for reading and your great comments. Yes, I certainly remember the fire alarm boxes on the street.

Remember on October 10, 2012:

Half dollars, quarters & dimes were made of 90% silver. Pennies were of 95% copper. There were telephone booths. There were fire alarm boxes on the street to summon the fire department.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on July 02, 2012:

Thanks for reading and your comments. It's amazing how we all got along without cell phones years ago!

Michelle Dee from Charlotte, NC on July 01, 2012:

Wow I can remember all of these and the rotary phones hanging on the wall except everybody had their own phone, and I'm not 50 yet but you know how time flies! I still remember playing my records on a record player.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on March 25, 2012:

Yes, I remember Johnny Horton! Didn't he sing "North to Alaska' in the late 1950s? Thanks for the good comments.

Hugh Centerville on March 25, 2012:

A really nice post - when I was a kid growing up, my dad owned a country bar and we lived upstairs and every night we'd go to sleep to the sound of the jukebox downstairs - Patsy Cline, Elvis, Johnny Horton (remember him?) Thanks for reminding me!

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on November 18, 2011:

Thanks for the comments, MsDora. I remember the first farm my dad rented in 1954. It didn't have indoor plumbing and we had to use an outhouse. Thankfully we only lived there for three years.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on November 18, 2011:

Thanks for the memories! I still remember my first transistor radio. Mine was also the family radio; there was no electricity in the house. The juke box is also a pleasant memory.

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