50 Interesting Facts From the 1950s

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1Ronald McNair

In 1959, police were called to a segregated library in South Carolina when a 9-year-old black boy named Ronald McNair refused to leave. He later got a Ph.D. in Physics from MIT and died in 1986, one of the astronauts aboard the space shuttle Challenger. The library that refused to lend him books is now named after him.


2. In the 1950s, donut shops were some of the first food businesses commonly open late at night. They became hot spots for police working the night shift since it gave them a place to grab a snack, fill out paperwork, or even just take a break. This is why donuts became associated with cops.


3. In 1958, a white girl kissed two African American boys aged 9 and 7 on the cheeks. The two boys were arrested, detained for 6 days without access to their parents or legal counsel, and were severely beaten by the police. The boys were detained for a total of 3 months.


4. In 1957, an airplane crashed onto Rikers Island. 57 inmates ran to help the survivors. Most of the prisoners who helped were either set free or received reduced sentences.


5. In 1951, Natalie Carbone Mangini became the first female scientist at Westinghouse. They meant to hire a man but they misread her resume and gave her an interview when she showed up. As a radiochemist, she worked on the world's first full-scale atomic reactor and the first nuclear submarine.


6Project Mars

In 1952, Wernher von Braun wrote a book called "Project Mars" which imagined that human colonists on Mars would be led by a person called "Elon."


7. During the 1956 Olympic torch relay, a veterinary student named Barry Larkin tricked onlookers by carrying a fake torch made of a chair leg, a pudding can, and flaming underpants. He managed to hand it over to the mayor of Sydney who gave a speech without realizing it was a hoax.


8. In 1955, someone dropped a 600-year-old plaster Buddha Statue only to discover the plaster was covering a solid gold statue beneath.


9. In 1950, four students from Glasgow stole the Stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey and smuggled it back to Scotland in a Ford Anglia. The stone, also called the Coronation Stone, is the stone upon which British royalty is crowned, and was taken by the English from Scotland in 1296.


10. In 1952, at the age of 18, Donnie Dunagan became the Marine's youngest-ever drill instructor. He served 3 tours in Vietnam and was wounded several times, earning 3 purple hearts. He also kept a secret for over 50 years that he was a child actor and the voice of young Bambi.


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11P. C. Sorcar

In 1956, a magician named P. C. Sorcar was performing the "cut a person in half" trick using his assistant for a televised performance. Immediately after she was divided, the host ended the show. People were horrified, thinking she had been killed, but time had just run out on the broadcast.


12. In 1954, Soviet prisoners overthrew their guards and, for 40 days, established a gulag republic with a democratically elected provisional government, marriages between male and female prisoners, indigenous religious ceremonies, and a general flowering of art and culture.


13. In 1951, Thelma Howard was hired as a maid for Walt & Lillian Disney. Walt would gift her shares of Disney stock every X-mas for the next 30 years. She died in 1994. That's when it was discovered that she still had all 192,000 shares valued at $9 million. It went to disadvantaged kids and her disabled son.


14. During a 1957 Phillies game, Richie Ashburn hit a fan named Alice Roth, the wife of Philadelphia Bulletin sports editor Earl Roth with a foul ball, breaking her nose. When play resumed he hit her again with another foul ball as she was being taken out on a stretcher.


15. In 1952, a double-decker bus was crossing London's Tower Bridge when the process to close the gates failed. Driver Albert Gunter made a split-second decision to accelerate the bus, clearing a six-foot drop onto the other side. The passengers received only minor injuries and Gunter won a £10 bonus.


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16Patricia and Barbara

In 1956, two young girls named Patricia and Barbara who were obsessed with Elvis Presley went missing after going to see "Love Me Tender" for the 15th time. Elvis was so concerned that he issued a public appeal over the radio pleading with them to be “good Presley fans and go home and ease their mother's worries."


17. In 1954, famous rhythm-and-blues singer Johnny Ace died after jokingly pointing a gun toward himself and accidentally shooting himself with it. His last words were "It’s okay! Gun’s not loaded… see?"


18. In 1952, a nuclear reactor in Canada had a partial meltdown. American and Canadian service personnel disassembled the reactor a few minutes at a time to limit radioactive exposure. Jimmy Carter was one of the Americans. His experience led him to cease the development of the neutron bomb as POTUS.


19. In 1953, Swanson had 260 tons of leftover turkey from Thanksgiving and didn't know how to get rid of it. They asked their workers for ideas, and one man thought they should package it in individual trays with sides and freeze it. The TV dinner was born.


20. In 1954, an archaeologist named Kamal el-Mallakh discovered 1,224 intact pieces of wood from 2500 B.C. under the Great Pyramid of Giza. A boatbuilder then spent 14 years figuring out how they fit together and un-warping them to assemble the "Khufu ship", visible in a museum today.


21Vilyam Fisher

In 1953, a paperboy acquired a hollowed-out nickel-containing a ciphered message while collecting for his deliveries. He told the daughter of an NYPD officer and the news got to the FBI, eventually leading to the arrest and conviction of KGB agent Vilyam Fisher four years later.


22. In 1952, Albert Einstein was offered the Presidency of the State of Israel. He declined, saying that as a scientist trained to deal with objective facts, he lacked the aptitude and experience to deal with people.


23. In 1953, a North Korean fighter pilot named No Kum-sok defected to South Korea with his MiG-15 and was rewarded $100,000 from the United States.


24. In the 1950s, during the height of the Red Scare, Einstein offered to appear as a character witness in defense of W.E.B. Du Bois who was being indicted by the feds for failing to register as a "foreign agent." Einstein's offer made the judge drop the case.


25. In 1952-54, Felisa Rincón de Gautier, the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico had snow delivered by plane to the city so that the children who had never seen or played in the snow, would be able to do so.

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