The Years of Billy Joel's 'We Didn't Start The Fire' - 1950 Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

The Years of Billy Joel's 'We Didn't Start The Fire' - 1950

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Title Page | 1949 | 1950 | 1951 | 1952 | 1953 | 1954 | 1955 | 1956 | 1957 | 1958 | 1959 | 1960 | 1961 | 1962 | 1963 | 1964-1989 (Part 1) | 1964-1989 (Part 2) | 1964-1989 (Part 3)
Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon
Studebaker, Television
North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe

Harry S Truman survived an assassination attempt, Charles Schultz published his first 'Peanuts' cartoon, and the Communist Party won 99.7% of the vote in East Germany. All events that were sadly shadowed by the Korean War, which clearly occupied Billy Joel's thoughts from 1950...

Joe McCarthy

US Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy was one of the most controversial figures of the 1950s. His charges that the US State Department had been infiltrated by Communists were never substantiated, but his widespread popularity caused many government officials to avoid challenging him. After televised hearings in 1954 where he accused the US Army of coddling Communists, he lost popular support and was censured by the Senate for methods he used in his investigations.

Before Notoriety

McCarthy was born in Grand Chute, Wisconsin in 1908 and educated at Marquette University. He practised law in Wisconsin until 1939, when he was elected circuit-court judge. During World War II he served in the U.S. Marine Corps, attaining the rank of captain during service in the Pacific. In 1946 he was elected on the Republican ticket to the American Senate and was re-elected in 1952.

The First Accusations - 1950

In February 1950, McCarthy made a public charge that 205 Communists had infiltrated the State Department. In a nation traumatised by the Cold War, McCarthy's claims were bound to receive widespread attention. He testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations later that year and depspite being unable to name a single card-carrying Communist in any government department, he gained increasing support for his campaign of accusations.

'Are you, or have you ever been...?'

McCarthy proceeded to instigate a nationwide anti-Communist campaign. He appeared as a dedicated patriot and guardian of Americanism to his supporters. His detractors considered him irresponsible and self-seeking, undermining the nation's traditions of civil liberties.

In 1952 he became Chairman of the Government Committee on Operations of the Senate and its permanent sub-committee on investigations. In this position, McCarthy interviewed a great many people and asked them:

Are you, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?

A particularly vicious witch-hunt occurred in Hollywood and even President Eisenhower didn't escape scrutiny. Whilst there was rarely any evidence to back up McCarthy's claims, many careers were damaged or ended by the investigations. This persecution of innocent people on the charge of being Communists became known as McCarthyism.

McCarthy's influence waned after 1954 when he accused U.S. Army officers of subversion in televised hearings. For the first time, the American people were able to see the brutal and truculent tactics that he used in the hearings. The tide of public opinion turned against him. He descended into alcoholism and died of liver failure in 1957, aged 47.

Richard Nixon

'Tricky Dick' began his political career with election to the Senate in 1950. Little did the world know what was to follow. See this Entry for further details.


Although the Studebaker Corporation went out of business in 1966 after years of financial difficulties, the company enjoyed a long and proud 114-year history as a manufacturer of vehicles. Brothers Henry and Clement Studebaker opened their blacksmith shop in South Bend, Indiana, in 1852. In 1868, with the help of brother John Mohler Studebaker, the company became the Studebaker Manufacturing Company.

They produced wagons through the late 1800s, filling orders for the US Army during the American Civil War and going on to become the world's largest wagon manufacturer by the mid 1880s.

When the 'horseless carriage' was introduced, Studebaker became the only manufacturer to successfully switch from horse-drawn to gasoline-powered vehicles. They introduced an electric car in 1902, of which the second one made was purchased by inventor Thomas Edison. In 1904 they produced their first gasoline-powered car. After creating a presence in the automotive market Studebaker continued to make wagons until 1920.

A merger with Detroit firm Everitt-Metzker-Flanders in 1911 created the Studebaker Corporation which produced cars branded EMF or Flanders before changing the brand to Studebaker for the 1914 model year. In the 1930s design was given over to Raymond Loewy Associates who were responsible for many of Studebaker's innovative styles through the 50s. During World War II the company was contracted by the government to manufacture B-17 Flying Fortress engines as well as engines for other vehicles including the M29C 'Weasel'1 and military trucks.

After the war came Studebaker's golden age. When many automotive companies went back to producing new versions of the same models they sold before the war, Studebaker introduced entirely new models with major styling changes. A wrap-around rear window was a feature of the 1949 Starlight Coupe. The distinctive 'bullet-nose' front-end styling was an innovation for several 1950 models. 1951 saw the first Studebaker V8 engine.

In the midst of financial difficulties Studebaker Corporation merged with similarly ailing Packard in 1954, but the partnership couldn't save Packard which went out of business in 1958. Studebaker struggled on, but finally had to close its South Bend, Indiana, manufacturing facility in 1963. The last Studebaker ever made came off the Ontario, Canada, production line in 1966.

After closing its doors for good the Studebaker Corporation donated its entire private collection to the city of South Bend. The brothers had started their collection shortly after they started their business. By the time it was donated it contained several choice items including the final cars off the Indiana and Ontario production lines as well as Abraham Lincoln's Presidential wagon among others. The collection is the basis of the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend which, fittingly, is housed in an old Studebaker dealership.


In the 1950s families and friends began to gather around a flickering blue-lit box. The broadcast for the day would be heralded by a still test-pattern that would give the head of the household a chance to tune his2 television receiver for the clearest signal. This would involve adjusting the 'rabbit ears' antenna and twisting knobs for vertical and horizontal picture stability, brightness and contrast. This process would be repeated several times during the next few hours whenever conditions changed. If you were fortunate enough to have more than one active broadcast channel the entire process would have to be repeated for each. Because of this many families would limit their viewing schedule to a single station for the entire evening. The end of the broadcast day would be marked by inspirational remarks from a religious leader and the national anthem. A brief reappearance of the test pattern would follow until the signal was shut down.

Early Development

The credit for inventing television is a hotly debated topic. Thomas A. Edison's 'Telephonoscope' transmitted picture and sound via wire as early as 1884, but it was a long way from modern television. Early broadcasts began in the 1920s in several countries around the world, including the UK, US, France, Germany and Japan. The idea of home television was first introduced at the 1939 World's Fair in New York City, US. World War II saw a pause in television development. The UK had settled on a broadcast standard of 405 lines on the screen while the US standard was set at 525 lines. The major radio broadcasters began to start their own television networks.

Post War Boom

When the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II was carried live on television in 1953 it was estimated that over 20 million people watched the programme. Although most of these people watched on sets outside their own homes the desire for private ownership had been born. Television licences in the UK had gone from 360,000 in 1950 to over 3 million in 1954. US television ownership had swelled from under 1 million in 1948 to over 25 million by 1953.


Early television programming was, for the most part, produced live on camera. Even though film production was quite advanced at the time, it was considered too expensive for regular programming. The most common method of recording television shows was the Kinescope, which copied live broadcasts from a television monitor. Unfortunately the quality of these films are too poor for broadcast today, although with computer enhancement we may be able to restore some of them someday. One of the first programmes to be produced on film in the US was I Love Lucy because the stars insisted on staying in California, while the television networks were located in New York City. An early version of Kinescope was offered by the BBC in the 1950s for home use. With advances in video tape technology pre-recorded programming became more common.


While the BBC was funded by licence fees, US networks depended on private sponsorship from large corporations, who were allowed to have so many commercials per program. In 1955 the Independent Television network (ITV) introduced commercial broadcasting to Britain. Many US programs, such as Milton Berle's 'Texaco Star Theater' used their corporate name throughout the show, and the show's stars would be often seen using the sponsor's product on screen. Television news programming became a mix of the live style used in radio and film clips similar to the news-reels that were shown at cinemas. Most of the popular entertainment shows came from the stars of Vaudeville, rather than film due to the live programming. Children's programming became quite popular with shows such as 'Howdy Doody' in the US and Blue Peter in the UK. Saturday morning cartoons, also borrowed from the cinema, became a favorite pastime. Some stations would even have someone read the Sunday comics from the newspaper, showing the illustrations to the camera.


With advances in technology, such as colour, improved recording methods and self-adjusting receivers the old days of television are just a distant memory.

North Korea, South Korea

You fell victim to one of the classic blunders, the most famous of which is, 'Never get involved in a land war in Asia'
- The Princess Bride

Korea's history dates from 2333 BC, when the legendary King Tan-gun established the kingdom of Choson3. From that time, Korea was ruled by representatives of the 'Chosen Dynasty' and maintained its independence from other Asian kingdoms and empires, including the Mongols, Khitans and Manchus.

This lasted until 1910, when Korea was annexed by Japan, who placed the country under colonial rule and ended the Chosen Dynasty. The occupation of Korea lasted until Japan's defeat at the end of the Second World War. In the aftermath, Korea was partitioned by a line known as the '38th parallel', with Soviet forces occupying the north and US forces in the south. Korea was initially placed under the joint control of the USSR, the USA, Britain and China as a first step to unification, but the splitting of the country only hindered effects to create a single government. Eventually, two separate and idealogically disparate countries were formed: the communist North Korea and democratic South Korea. The Soviet and US forces withdrew, although the superpowers maintained close relationships with their 'halves' of the new country.

I was born in '49
A Cold War kid in McCarthy time
Stop 'em at the 38th Parallel
Blast those yellow reds to hell

'Leningrad' - Billy Joel

On 25 June, 1950, North Korean troops crossed over the 38th Parallel and into South Korea. The USA immediately responded to this action by deploying military and naval forces. Initially, the US forces, supported by the United Nations, pushed the North Koreans troops back towards their own country. However, the Chinese government were not prepared to watch UN forces fighting a war so close to their borders. After South Korean troops crossed into North Korea, the Chinese foreign minister, Chou En-lai, declared that China would defend North Korea if US troops crossed the 38th Parallel.

With UN approval, the US and allied forces crossed into North Korea. As promised, Chinese troops entered Korea and pushed the US back into South Korea and, in January 1951, captured the South Korean capital, Seoul. For the next 6 months, offensive followed counter-offensive, until eventually the US forces retook Seoul, and the Chinese and North Korean troops were forced back to the regions where the fighting had started a year ago.

By July 1951, the fighting had stablised, with neither side making any advances. A first round of ceasefire talks was proposed by the USA and accepted by North Korea. A 'neutral sector' was created around Kaesong but was found by the US delegation to be full of North Korean troops. The peace talks stalled more than once over the following months until, in October, 1951, they were moved to Panmumjom.

Marilyn Monroe

Goodbye Norma Jean...

Born Norma Jean Mortensen June 1 1926 in Los Angeles General Hospital, Marilyn Monroe lived rather a sad life, for she was married 3 times, divorced 3 times, never knew her father4 and was placed in a foster home with Albert and Ida Bolender for most of her childhood life as her mother was seen as mentally unstable. Finally dying at home at the young age of 36 left the world in mourning.

It was Grace McKee's5 love of the screen star Jean Harlow that first drew Norma into the world of Hollywood and all its glamour. From an early age she practised using make up and was keen to learn all about the world of stardom. She lived with Grace McKee for a year before being placed in an orphanage when Grace went off and married a guy.

Norma's first husband Dougherty joined the merchant marines in 1943 and by 1944 he was sent overseas, finally granting a divorce in the fall of 1946. By 1949 Norma had found herself in love with Johnny Hyde, but by 1952 it was to end as she met Joe DiMaggio and a romance sparked up with him, turning into marriage on 14 January, 1954. However yet again she was met with a divorce in October 27 1954 due this time to a 'conflict in careers'. 1956 brought Norma and Arthur Miller together and on June 29th they were married; this marriage was also to come to an end, doing so on 20 January, 1961.

Stardom, on the other hand, was the one thing that Norma had to hold on to. Her first claim to fame came when she worked on the assembly line inspecting parachutes and photographers wanted to take pictures of women at work on the assembly line. By 1945 she was viewed as the 'photographers' dream' and was splashed across the covers of 33 National magazines. The big screen was quick to follow in July 23 1946 as she signed a contract with Twentieth Century Fox Studios. Taking on her mother's family name Monroe and earning $125 per week. Her first serious acting job was 'The Asphalt Jungle' followed closely by 'Clash by Night' amongst others.

1The 'Weasel' was an aquatic vehicle that could travel on land as well as in water.2Or occasionally her, although not as often as today.3Literally meaning, 'Land of the Morning Calm'.4He wasn't recorded on the birth certificate.5Her mother's friend.

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