1950s Theme Party (Decade Timeline and 12 Ideas)


Vintage Television

America rebounded after World War II, and the 1950s were mostly a time of prosperity.  Civil rights were a focus and tremendous progress was made with our forefathers’ penmanship “that all men are created equal”.

The economy helped people have the means to move to the Suburbs, buy homes, cars and start families.

Television was invented and became a staple in millions of homes.

People of all ages loved to dance, listen to music and just have fun.

This is not to say there weren’t tensions in the United States.  We struggled with other foreign nations, notably Russia, which kept the USA testing and creating new weapons like the Hydrogen Bomb, or remaining ultra-competitive in the Race to Space.

But, the 50s were so much more. Let’s review Month over Month, Year over Year for a more well-rounded approach of what this decade was all about.

1950 Timeline

MonthYearEvent, Invention or Historical Significance
February1950The Diner’s Club begins – a small cardboard card for the business elite in New York City which paved the way for multipurpose credit cards by the next decade.
February1950Disney’s Cinderella premiers and quickly becomes one of the highest-grossing movies of the year.  
February1950Your Show of Shows was broadcast and ran until 1954.
July1950Arrrrrg!  The modern-day “pirate accent” we know comes from Robert Newton’s portrayal of Long John Silver in Disney’s Treasure Island. Before that, there was no universal”pirate accent”.
October1950The comic strip Peanuts, by Charles M. Schulz, is first published.  17,897 comic strips were published in total.
N/A1950The first remote control, called Lazy Bones, intended to control a television was created.  It was required to be plugged into the TV set (wired).
N/A1950The Magic 8-Ball, fictitious fortune-telling or advice seeking gadget, was invented.  Users ask a yes-no question and then turn the ball over to reveal the answer written on the small window of the ball.

1951 Timeline

February1951US presidents became officially limited to two terms upon ratification of the 22nd Amendment.
March1951Dennis the Menace, originally a comic strip, was created by Hank Ketcham at first a comic strip.  It’s still in circulation today.
June1951In 1951, color TV was introduced, bringing life-like shows into American homes.
July1951Alice in Wonderland was released (but considered a flop).  Disney aired the film on television and became a hit which led to a re-release in theatres. 
September1951The first live transcontinental television broadcast takes place in San Francisco, California from the Japanese Peace Treaty Conference. 
October1951I Love Lucy aired.  The first season reached 10 million viewers.
N/A1951The videotape recorder was invented in 1951.  The first one sold in 1956 for $50,000.

1952 Timeline

February1952Britain’s Princess Elizabeth became queen at age 25 after the death of her father, King George VI.
April1952Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head were first manufactured and distributed (invented in 1949).  The first models were, for all intents and purposes, not very pretty.  The evolution of this toy from the 50s to today is quite remarkable.  We think the 80s and 90s versions are the best.
August1952The first issue of the comedy-driven MAD Magazine is published.
October1952The first barcode symbology was patented by Bernard Silver and Norman Joseph Woodland.
November1952The USA successfully denoted the world’s first hydrogen bomb.

1953 Timeline

February1953DNA was discovered.
February1953Peter Pan, Disney’s 14th animated film hits the box office.
April1953The first James Bond novel, “Casino Royale,” is published by British author Ian Fleming.
May1953Tenzing Norgay, a Nepalese Sherpa mountaineer, is the first person to reach the summit of Mount Everest.
December1953Playboy magazine made its debut.
December1953Commercial color television broadcasting began.
N/A1953Matchbox Cars, at first a popular British toy brand, was introduced.  The brand was given its name because the boxes they were sold in were similar to that of matches.

1954 Timeline

May1954Roger Bannister becomes the first recorded man to run a mile in under four minutes.
May1954Racial segregation in public schools is declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in Brown vs. the Board of Education. 
July1954J.R.R. Tolkien publishes the Lord of the Rings.
September1954The Miss America Pageant is broadcast on television for the first time on September 11, with Lee Ann Meriwether (Miss California) winning the crown. 
September1954Lassie, the tv series, began it’s 20-year run.
November1954Godzilla was released in Japan.  Godzilla, King of Monsters! was released in the United States in 1956 (after heavy edits to tailor to the American audience).
N/A1954The first transistor radio was unveiled in 1954.
N/A1954The first human trials for oral contraceptives, aka the pill began on 50 women in Massachusetts.  They weren’t approved until 1960.

1955 Timeline

McDonalds
April1955Ray Kroc opens a McDonald’s fast-food restaurant and, after purchasing the franchise from its original owners, oversees its national (and later, worldwide) expansion.
May1955Kermit the Frog makes his earliest debut on “Sam and Friends,” Jim Henson’s live-action/puppet show that aired on WRC-TV in Washington, D.C.
June1955Lady and the Tramp, a musical romance film, debuted was Disney’s 15th animated feature film.  
July1955Rock and roll music enters the mainstream, with “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets becoming the first record to top the Billboard pop charts. Elvis Presley also begins his rise to fame around this time.
September1955Gunsmoke began it’s 20-year run and is recognized as TV Guide’s 40th greatest TV show all time.
October1955The popular children’s television show “The Mickey Mouse Club” premieres. The Disneyland theme park in California also opened during this year.
October1955Rebel Without a Cause was released.  James Dean passed one month before the release.
N/A1955The first wireless television remote control, the Flashmatic, was invented.
N/A1955General Electric was first in the industry to bring bright, bold color options to appliances.
N/A 1955Play-Doh was accidentally invented by Joseph and Noah McVicker while trying to make a wallpaper cleaner.  The recipe remains a secret. 
N/A1955Gumby, an animated children’s TV series, is created and the first pilot is a “Go” from NBC.  Characters were built from clay.

1956 Timeline

July1956The United States requires “In God We Trust” appear on American currency and adopted as National motto.
October1956Don Larsen pitches the first no-hitter, a perfect game, in post-season baseball history when his New York Yankees beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 5th game of the 1956 World Series.
N/A1956Yahtzee, the board game, was marketed by the E.S. Lowe Company (purchased by the Milton Bradley Company and later Hasbro)

1957 Timeline

January1957The Frisbee was invented by Wham-O Toy Company (the same company that produced the Hula Hoop).
March1957Dr. Seuss published the children’s classic “The Cat in the Hat”.
September1957Nine African-American students enroll at Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas and are met with resistance by protesters and the state’s governor. Federal troops end up escorting the students into the school at the command of President Eisenhower.
October1957Soviets launch Sputnik; “space race” begins.
N/A1957The “Baby Boom” peaks during this year.
N/A1957Risk, the board game, was invented by French filmmaker, Albert Lamorisse.
N/A1957The Corn Popper was invented and is one of the most popular toys for young children in history.  More or less, it’s a two-wheel vacuum with colored balls that “pop” like popcorn when you move across the floor.

1958 Timeline

January1958Bobby Fischer, a fourteen-year-old boy, wins the U.S. Chess Championship.  He is the youngest to ever do so.
July1958NASA formed as the U.S. begins ramping up efforts to explore space.
N/A1958Hula Hoops took the world of kids by storm, selling 25 million in the first four months.
N/A1958After being discovered two times before, Superglue finally enters the market, the first brand was called Eastman #910.

1959 Timeline

January1959Alaska became the 49th state in the USA. 
March1959Barbie was first introduced to the world at the International Toy Fair.
August1959Hawaii became the 50th state in the USA.
November1959The legendary “Sound of Music” opened on Broadway.
December1959Sleeping Beauty, Disney’s 16th animated feature film, was released.
N/A1959Fisher-Price first introduced its Little People by way of the “Safety School Bus”.  The toy line is still popular today.

Using the timeline of historical, political and cultural events (above), plus the significant inventions brought forth during the time, we thought of 12 different theme party ideas you could consider throwing to honor the 1950s.


1. Baby Boomer Bash

Over 40.5 million babies were born from 1950-1960, with the peak of the Baby Boomer generation hitting in 1957.

YearBirths
19503,632,000
19513,820,000
19523,909,000
19533,959,000
19544,071,000
19554,097,000
19564,210,000
19574,300,000
19584,246,000
19594,286,000
Total40,530,000

(Source – CDC.gov)

Here is a brief list of major icons that were born in the 1950s:

Notable PeopleYear Born
Bill Murray 1950
Jay Leno1950
Mark Hamill 1950
Richard Branson 1950
Steve Wozniak1950
Stevie Wonder1950
Tom Petty 1950
Dale Earnhardt 1951
Lou Ferrigno 1951
Robin Williams 1951
Sting1951
Suzie Orman 1951
Tommy Hilfiger 1951
Liam Neeson 1952
Mr. T 1952
Patrick Swayze 1952
Steven Seagal 1952
Cyndi Lauper 1953
Hulk Hogan 1953
Kim Basinger1953
Pat Benatar 1953
Denzel Washington 1954
Howard Stern 1954
Jerry Seinfeld 1954
Oprah Winfrey 1954
Notable PeopleYear Born
Bill Gates 1955
Billy Idol 1955
Bruce Willis 1955
Kevin Cosner 1955
Kris Jenner1955
Steve Jobs 1955
Whoopi Goldberg 1955
Carrie Fisher 1956
Larry Bird 1956
Mel Gibson 1956
Tom Hanks 1956
Gloria Estefan 1957
Spike Lee 1957
Ellen DeGeneres 1958
Kevin Bacon 1958
Madonna 1958
Mark Cuban 1958
Michael Jackson 1958
Michelle Pfeiffer 1958
Prince 1958
Sharon Stone 1958
Erving Johnson 1959
Robert Smith 1959
Simon Cowell 1959
Val Kilmer 1959

Thank you 1950s, because if these people were never conceived, we’d sure be taking a step back from what society looked like in different decades and certainly what it looks like today. 

Perhaps no…

  • Good Will Hunting (and so much more, we miss you Robin Williams), SNL, Caddyshack, SiriusXM Radio and Howard 100, or Seinfeld
  • Star Wars, Braveheart, Forrest Gump, Tremors (the best Kevin Bacon film ever made), A Field of Dreams, 6th Sense, Basic Instinct, Training Day
  • “Superstition”, “Free Falling”, “Heartbreaker”, “Rebel Yell”, “Girls Just Want To Have Fun”

We couldn’t fathom not having:

  • The King of Pop, Thriller – the greatest album of all-time, “Beat It”, “Billie Jean”, the Jackson 5, or the Moonwalk
  • Purple Rain
  • The Police
  • The Queen of Pop, the best selling female artist of all-time, “Like a Virgin”, and “Like a Prayer”

Don’t even think about…

  • The personal computer and most recognized brand in the world, iPod – iPad – iPhone – iWatch – AppleTV – ApplePay – Airpods and who knows what else is to come!
  • Software as it exists today, X-Box, the Office Suite – Word, Access, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, Teams, Cloud Computing
  • Virgin Records, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Galatic and everything in between (Media, Hotel, Healthcare)

And, regrettably no…

  • WWE, Hulkamania or “Brother”
  • The rise and popularity of NASCAR
  • LA Lakers vs. Boston Celtics Rivalry, Magic vs. Bird
  • American Idol, Shark Tank, The Tonight Show
  • Keeping up with the Kardashians (or even Kim, Kourtney, Khloe, Rob, Kendall, or Kylie for that matter) 

Certainly, some of these accomplishments would have eventually happened, but they just wouldn’t be the same. 

So you see, hosting a “Baby Boomers Bash” could go many different directions and is fairly unique.  Consider dressing up as one of these memorable icons at the peak of their career to celebrate the decades most accomplished babies. 


2. Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives

1950s Diner

We hope to make Guy Fieri proud with this one.

Motor city was busier than ever during the 1950s, and some of the most special cars were invented and produced.

Notable classic cars were the Chevy Corvette, Chevy Bel Air, Ford Thunderbird, Cadillac Coupe de Ville, Plymouth Fury, and the Chrysler New Yorker.  People spent a lot of time in their car.

One idea revolving around cars as the centerpiece to a party would be to rent out an entire drive-in movie theatre just for you and your guests.  If you prefer, you can showcase one of the more popular movies of the decade, or find a more modern flick that resembled the time, like Grease.

After the movie, don’t forget to hit up a local diner for some grub to celebrate, or enjoy a sundae or milkshake, like old times. Finding one with a jukebox would be an added bonus.  Make it a trivia night and pair all Q&A from the 1950s. 


3. Toy Thrasher and Game Gala

Bored? 

This type of event requires a special host and even “specialar” guests, but board games and toys can be fun, exhilarating and intense all at the same time, especially if the crowd is competitive. 

The 1950s birthed many iconic board and card games, that it would be a unique and cool idea to showcase them at your party, perhaps in different rooms, where everyone dressed up as a specific character or toy-related to the time.

Family time was important back then (shouldn’t this always be the case) and families spent time together playing with toys and games to bide the time. 

From Risk and Yahtzee to Hula Hoops and Slinkies.  

Barbies and Mr. Potato Head, to Careers and Name that Tune.

There was no shortage of great games and toys to keep you occupied.  Consider this theme for an informal get together with competitive friends.  Here’s your chance to gain ultimate bragging rights.


4. New York Yankees

New York Yankees

You either love em’ or hate em’, but you have to at least respect them, especially during the 50s. 

The “Evil Empire” dominated baseball in the 1950s, winning eight pennants and six World Series over the decade.  Championship years were 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1956 and 1958.

Baseball never saw a dynasty like this and it’s likely we won’t see it again in our lifetime.

While MLB attendance started to decline with the birth of television in the 50s, the Bronx Bombers fan base remained strong.  Nationally televised games, or at least the World Series, brought stardom to the franchise and Mickey Mantle, who pretty much became the poster boy for baseball during this time.

Throwing a baseball themed party, revolving around the Yanks, would be fun and interesting.  Be sure to scratch the Red Sox fans from your guest list.

Baseball is America’s pastime and there would be no shortage of decor and costume ideas. 

From pinstripe jerseys of your favorite players equipped with a glove, mitt and bat props, to the concession stand food/drink vendors, umpires, broadcasters, and even mascots; your guests are sure to have a wonderful time.

Here are some of the more memorable Yankees during the 50s:

Joe DiMaggio 
Yogi Berra
Hank Bauer
Mickey Mantle
Whitey Ford
Billy Martin
Don Larsen
Casey Stengel
Phil Rizzuto
Elston Howard
Gil McDougald
Bill Skowron

Don’t forget to play Frank Sinatra’s cover version of “New York, New York” as your guests leave, which is still a Yankees tradition after a “win”.


5. Elvis Theme Party

The King” has so many different options to choose from.  To spare you the details, check out our post on How to Throw a Elvis Theme Party (8 Unique Ideas)

Rock N’ Roll is synonymous with Elvis but he wasn’t really the founder of this genre of music.  There were others before him. 

Your guest list should include the following musicians involved in the Rock N’ Roll trend during this time period:

Fats Domino
Chuck Berry
Buddy Holly
Little Richard
Every Brothers
Bill Haley and The Comets
Bo Diddly
Jerry Lee Lewis
Gene Vincent
Johnny Cash


6. All About America

US Flag

There were so many positive (but at the time extremely difficult and unimaginable) events that occurred during the 50s that helped shape America to what it is today. 

That is, more accepting and embracing of what our founding fathers wrote in the Constitution, that “we the people” and “all men are created equal.” 

The civil rights movement began with the brutal murder and open-casket funeral of Emmett Till for flirting with a white woman, the refusal by Rosa Parks to give up her seat on the bus to a white man, and the subsequent Montgomery Bus Boycott which led to the rise of a young paster named Martin Luther King Jr.

In addition, the landmark court case, Brown vs. Board of Education, acknowledged the 14th Amendment was being violated and ruled to ban racial segregation in public schools.

Aside from the civil rights movement, we the people restricted the power of the President by limiting service to only 2-terms.

Hawaii and Alaska became the 49th and 50th states of the Union.

“In God We Trust” was adopted as our Nation’s motto and was printed on all our currency.

Finally, the Miss America Pageant was showcased on National TV.

Celebrating America and what transpired during the 1950s is a great idea.

Give a different take on a Retro 50s Party and be proud to wear red, white and blue.  ‘Merica!


7. Sock Hop Splash

Rent out a local gym, kick off those saddle shoes, iron your poodle skirts, turn on the jukebox and get to dancing! 

Pennsylvania State Universities THON, a childhood cancer fundraising event, comes to mind with this theme idea.  A non-stop dance party in 50s attire sounds like a blast!

Feel free to hire an instructor for the evening to teach your guests the most popular dances of the time period.  It’s predominantly all variations of Swing dancing. The movements are challenging and fast so be sure you do ample stretching in advance. 

  • The Bop
  • The Boogie Woogie
  • The Bunny Hop
  • The Cha-Cha
  • The Jitterbug
  • The Jive
  • The Stroll
  • The Twist

8. Disney Darty

Mickey Mouse

Walt Disney took it to another level in the 1950s, doubling their 1940s output (14) by producing 29 major motion pictures, 5 of which were the animated films that really put them on the map (Source).

The 5 animated films were Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp and Sleeping Beauty.  These are classics that will stand the test of time for generations to come.

Everyone can relate to these movies and there is no shortage of party ideas from character costumes, decor, entertainment (movies, soundtracks), or unique settings for the venue with whatever you movie you choose.  We prefer the compilation of all of them.

Outside of the animated films, other notable movies include Treasure Island, Robin Hood and His Merrie Men, 20,00 Leagues Under the Sea, Davy Crockett, Old Yeller, The Shaggy Dog and Zorro the Avenger.

Disney became so popular and successful, they were able to construct a theme park in their name, Disneyland, which opened their gates in 1955.

We titled this “Disney Darty”, so you can make this a day-time party and include the kids! 


9. Telly Turnt Up

I Love Lucy

Cars, music, and diners were super popular, but nothing beats the phenomenon of Television during this decade.  Think about how Revolutionary this was.  It’s very similar to what a cell phone was like in the mid-90s, or what virtual reality is like now.

Color TV was introduced in the middle of 1951 and I Love Lucy aired towards the end of the year.  The show reached 10 million viewers in its first season. 

The tube only progressed as the 50s went along, hitting commercial color television broadcasting in 1953 and creating a wireless remote by 1955 to make it even easier to become a couch potato and consume more content.

Outside of I Love Lucy, other popular broadcasts included Your Show of Shows, Leave it to Beaver, Gunsmoke, Dennis the Menace, The Mickey Mouse Club, and Lassie.

Consider a visit to the pawn or consignment shop to see if you can find some old school television sets for your decor.  Most screens should be boxed in by a wooden frame and have three to four peg legs.

Flea markets may also be the go-to for finding these vintage pieces.  We have a feeling vintage television sets will make a comeback so grab them now while you still can, at least for home decor and long-term value.

For some television inspired party favors, check out our blog by clicking here.


10. Health and Science Shindig

DNA

DNA, the Polio vaccine, oral contraceptives, cigarettes cause cancer and organ transplants.  It was a great decade for health and science-related discoveries that have saved so many lives over the last 60-70 years.

To all the medical professionals out there, now is your time to let loose and fully unleash your inner weirdness (sorry – no one goes to school for 10 years unless they are little quirky deep down) with this theme party.

As with all of the ideas so far, there should be no shortage of venue options, outfit choices, decor, props or favors. 

From doctors, nurses, labcoat scientists, hospital rooms, to double helix strands, syringes, stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs, temperature gauges, medical record files, chemistry beakers, and Bunsen burners – you can have a field day.


11. The Race To Space

Race to Space

Russia’s Sputnik I, the world’s first artificial satellite was launched in late 1957 and orbited the earth in about an hour and a half.

The Race to Space was on.  Russia vs. the USA.

Technically, the Soviet Union (U.S.S.R.) won.  But, orbiting the earth is different than landing on the moon.

Almost a year later, the USA formed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), in October 1958, and their first major program was Project Mercury, with the goal of learning if humans could survive in space.  Project Gemini quickly followed, and the goal was for humans to survive a trip to the moon. This was accomplished about 11 years after NASA was formed.

Dressing up in astronaut outfits, with space backgrounds, hanging satellite and rocket ships would be a fun, weird and unique way to honor the 50s.

Who were some of the first people in space?  Well, that didn’t occur until 1961 but for you trivia connoisseurs out there, the first person in space was Yuri Gagarin from the Soviet Union on April 12, 1961.  Alan Shepard was the first American who visited space about 1 month after Gagarin, May 5, 1961, in the Freedom 7 spacecraft.

Russia 2, USA 0.  Till the next decade!


12. Grease Lightning

The movie was released in 1978, but everything was based on the high school lifestyle in the summer of 1958.  

Grease was a movie that hit the world by storm and quickly became one of the most popular musicals of the time. The movie continues to be a hit even today, with more and more young women falling in love with Danny and wanting to be the next Sandy.

If you’re a lover of all things Grease, consider throwing a themed party around the movie and what it stood for.

The Pink Ladies and T-Bird Grease cliques with all things 50s including sock hops and the hand jive would be expected.

For a more thorough guide, check out our post on How to Throw A Grease Theme Party here.

Mark Plevyak

Thanks for reading! Throwing events can be overwhelming but to me one of the most thrilling and rewarding experiences. Since we all grew up in different decades, we can't always relate to iconic time periods of the past. There is so much to celebrate so if you are thinking of planning an event, plan a Retro one. And, if you're attending a party, ensure you relive it to the fullest. Party Unique!

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