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Celebrate the Century:
Search the Web for U.S. History of the 1950s

Search the Web to learn more about the stories behind the stamps issued by the U.S. Postal Service commemorating the people, places, events, and trends of the 1950s. Explore Web sites related to the polio vaccine, rock and roll, Brown v. the Board of Education, and I Love Lucy! Included: An Internet scavenger hunt for students!

Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat, television sitcom I Love Lucy, and undefeated boxing champ Rocky Marciano are among the 1950s icons that were honored on commemorative stamps issued May 26, 1999, in Springfield, Massachusetts.

They join stamp sets highlighting the other decades of the century, which are all part of the Postal Service's landmark Celebrate the Century stamp and education program.

"We are thrilled to host the 1950s stamps issuance in Springfield," said Jon Steele, USPS vice president, Northeast Area, in dedicating the stamps. "It's appropriate to honor Theodor Geisel's The Cat in the Hat in his hometown and also to honor Rocky Marciano, who hailed from Brockton, Massachusetts."

THE '50s

The 1950s were, for the most part, years of peace and prosperity. Millions of families moved to the suburbs. Americans liked Dwight D. Eisenhower, their kindly war-hero president. Television became popular; I Love Lucy and Gunsmoke were hits. Teenagers chose their own fashions and music. And Elvis Presley thrilled young people and shocked their elders.

The decade also had serious events. The Korean War took more than 50,000 American lives. The first hydrogen bomb was detonated. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court declared racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional. Three years later, President Eisenhower used the Arkansas National Guard and paratroopers to enforce integration at a Little Rock high school. In 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man.

In January 1959, Alaska was admitted as the 49th state, and in August, Hawaii became the 50th state. New words appearing in everyday vocabulary included brainwashing, ballpoint, and high-rise.


So sets the stage for the 15 stamps commemorating the 1950s. The activities that follow will engage students in exploring Web sites as they search for information related to ten of the 1950s stamps. For each stamp, a question is posed and a Web site URL is presented. Challenge students to use the listed Web sites to answer all ten questions. Click here for the answers to the questions.

Be sure to check out other stories in Education World's Celebrate the Century series:


Korean War Stamp

The Korean War (1950-1953), the first major United Nations military action, claimed the lives of more than 50,000 Americans. U.S. and other U.N. forces fought to oppose the invasion of South Korea by Communist troops.

Question 1:
In Washington, D.C., the Korean War Veterans Memorial includes a patrol of 19 stainless steel statues depicting ground troops in the war. The memorial was dedicated on July 27, 1995. Why was that date special to the men and women who fought in the Korean War?

The Web site:
To find the answer to that question, go to the
Korean War Veterans Memorial home page.


Satellite Stamp The first successful U.S. Earth satellite, Explorer 1, was launched January 31, 1958. The second, Vanguard 1, was launched March 17, 1958. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was formally established October 1, 1958.

Question 2:
Explorer 1 is among the many aircraft that are on display at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. That spacecraft provided evidence that supported "the first major scientific discovery of the Space Age." What was that discovery?

The Web site:
To find the answer to that question, go to the
Milestones of Flight Web page.


Vaccine Stamp

Polio epidemics peaked in the '50s, with almost 58,000 new cases in 1952 alone. A vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk and federally approved in April 1955 helped control the spread of the disease when it was administered nationwide.

Question 3:
Salk's vaccine was released in 1955. Twenty years later -- in 1974 -- how many cases of polio were diagnosed?

The Web site:
To find the answer to that question, go to the
Millennium Cards: Jonas Salk Web page.


Dr. Suess StampThe Cat in the Hat was written and illustrated in 1957 by Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel). This masterpiece uses repeated syllables, rhythmic verses, and fanciful drawings to teach children to read and to use their imagination.

Question 4:

Dr. Seuss wrote children's books before he wrote The Cat in the Hat. His first children's book was rejected by 43 publishers before a friend published the book for him. What was the title of that first book? The Web site:
To find the answer to that question, go to the
Hometown Delicatessen Biography Pages: Dr. Seuss Web page.


Car Stamp

Cars of the '50s were large and ornate. Automakers attracted buyers with annual style changes. Tail fins, dazzling grilles, chrome trim, and hardtop convertibles were popular, as were big V-8 engines and three-toned paint jobs.

Question 5:
Only 400 of the Cadillac Eldorado Broughams were built in 1957. That year, the average new Cadillac sold for $5,539. And you could buy a house for $10,000! How much did one of the limited-edition Broughams cost?

The Web site:
To find the answer to that question, go to the
Joyrides: A Gallery of Classics Web page. Click on the Gallery button and scroll down to the cars of "The Tailfin Era."


Desegregation Stamp With Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954), the U.S. Supreme Court declared racial separation in public education unconstitutional. The ruling initiated the beginning of mandatory integration of public schools.

Question 6:
Click on the Tour button on the Web site listed below and take the tour of downtown Topeka, site of the historic Brown v. Board. Write the number on the map that corresponds to each of the following historic locations:

_____ a. Sumner School -- the school nearest Linda Carol Brown's home, which she wasn't allowed to attend.

_____ b. Monroe School -- the school for African American children that Linda Carol Brown was forced to attend.

_____ c. The Brown family's home.

_____ d. The law offices of Scott, Scott, Scott, and Jackson -- the Brown family's lawyers.

_____ e. The Federal Court Building where the case was heard (now a post office).

The Web site:
To find the answer to that question, go to the
In Pursuit of Freedon & Equality: Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Web page.


Drive-In Stamp

With postwar prosperity, the blossoming of suburbia, and the national love for cars and movies, drive-in theaters were natural attractions for new American families. Teenage couples found privacy and sometimes watched the movie.

Question 7:
Drive-ins became popular in the 1950s, but the first drive-in was built on the East Coast of the United States in 1933. Where was that drive-in?

The Web site:
To find the answer to that question, go to the
The American Drive-In Movie Theater Web page and click on Take a Tour.


Stack Car Stamp

Races involving stock cars, modified versions of ordinary passenger cars, attracted drivers and fans alike. The 1950s witnessed a boom in stock car racing, and the first Daytona 500 was held in 1959.

Question 8:
In the history of the Daytona 500, one racer has one the race more than any other. He has won the race seven times. Who is that racer?

The Web site:
To find the answer to that question, go to the
CBS Sportsline: Daytona 500 Web page and click on History.


Rock-N-Roll Stamp

With roots in rhythm and blues, country and western, and gospel, rock 'n' roll crossed racial lines. Some adults found the rhythms rebellious and threatening, but the lyrics and loud music appealed directly to teenagers.

Question 9:
Since the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opened in Cleveland in 1986, more than 150 individuals and groups have been inducted. In 1999, ten new inductees were honored. Which one of the inductees below was not among those inducted in 1999?

  • Fleetwood Mac
  • Billy Joel
  • Paul McCartney
  • Dusty Springfield
  • Bruce Springsteen
  • the Staple Singers

The Web site:
To find the answer to that question, go to the
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Web page.


I Love Lucy Stamp

I Love Lucy (1951-1957) was one of the most popular shows in TV history. Lucille Ball starred as a zany homemaker trying to break into show business. Her real-life husband, Desi Arnaz, costarred as her bandleader husband.

Question 10:
In Episode 2 of I Love Lucy (October 10, 1951), Lucy and Ethel want to celebrate the Mertzes' wedding anniversary at a night club. Where do Ricky and Fred want to go?

The Web site:
To find the answer to that question, go to the
The Lucy Library Web page and check out the Episode Guide.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 1999 Education World

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