Anyone who remembers life in the 1950s knows how homes began to change rapidly during that time — and how we began to change our lifestyles to fit with new kitchen appliances, clothes washers, tools, air conditioning and newly available grocery stores, foods and restaurants.
My family lived in a two-bedroom home in Oklahoma City during those years. We still had an old wringer washing machine, and I helped mother hang our clothes outside to dry. Our first air conditioner was basically a fan blowing air from a window through a rolling barrel of water.
“The 1950s amounted to a watershed decade in the history of life in Oklahoma,” said Bob Blackburn, Oklahoma Historical Society executive director.
Changes in daily life in those years are showcased in exhibits at Historical Society museums and historic homes and buildings across the state, he said.
“The Pink Kitchen exhibit at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City provides a remarkable view of how home life changed during the 1950s, including the history of stoves, washing and drying clothes, newly developed foods and new supermarkets and restaurants.”
Other major 1950s exhibits include changes in music, cars and roadside fast food places at the Route 66 Museum in Clinton; the efforts to preserve Oklahoma City's Gold Dome, the 1956 art and architecture of the 19-story Price Tower in Bartlesville, the role of women in the 1950s at the Pioneer Woman Museum in Ponca City, and the innovative efforts of Ed Malzahn and his Ditch Witch in Perry.
“Kitchen stoves manufactured during the 1950s included double ovens, high backsplashes and fingertip controls,” said Sherry Massey, Oklahoma Historical Society senior registrar, describing the Pink Kitchen exhibit. “The self-cleaning stove was introduced in 1963.”
Maytag built its first electric washer in 1907. Sales of automatic washers, which could wring water out of clothes internally, surpassed wringer models for the first time in 1953, said Massey.
Although electric clothes dryers appeared as early as 1915, most housewives still used “sunshine and wind” to dry clothing in the 1950s, said Massey. Electric dryers became a household standard in the 1960s.
“Route 66 reached its golden age as the Main Street of America during the 1950s,” said Pat Smith, director of the Oklahoma Historical Society's Route 66 Museum. “The Route 66 Museum features a 1950s gallery that tells the story of the Mother Road with neon signs, the inside of a diner complete with a soda station, stools and a booth for seating plus artifacts from local and regional fast food ventures.”
The Top Hat root beer stand in Shawnee was expanded by Troy Smith into a drive-in with slanted parking, an intercom for placing orders for hamburgers and hot dogs and carhops delivering food and drinks. By 1959, Top Hat was renamed Sonic Drive-In.