Vintage finds and retro handmade--a sweet mix I know you'll love.

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Vintage Flashback: Life Around 1950

Kitchens of the future, from the 1950 edition of the Betty Crocker Cookbook.
The other day, right before I turned the tv off and went to bed, the opening scene of an old Joan Crawford movie started up.  I didn't catch the name of the movie (I think it was made sometime in the late 40s), but this one line really stood out to me: "I don't pay you $2,000 a year for you to just sit there and do nothing!"

Yes, you read that right.  $2,000 a year.  Nowadays no one could truly survive on that amount of money, but if you adjusted for inflation, money was worth a good deal more back then than it is now.  According to one of the more interesting resources I found, a website named "The People History," money around this time (late 40s into the 50s), money was worth roughly eight times what it is these days.

This Folgers coffee ad is dated 1952.
I don't want to bore you with excessive statistics, since I found that estimates about the average salary around this time are quite varied on the web.  This $2,000 estimate does seem to be a pretty good salary for the era, though.  I found it more interesting to read the list of food prices on "The People History" for the 1950s.  According to that site, a ten-pound bag of potatoes sold for 35 cents in Kansas in 1953, chicken was 43 cents a pound in New Hampshire in 1950, and large eggs were 49 cents per dozen in New Hampshire in 1950.

Again, I know these lists are interesting, but pictures would be better, right?  I got out my great-grandmother's Betty Crocker Cookbook (1950 ed.), where the lead color picture in this post comes from.  I also found that my great-grandmother used newspaper clippings as bookmarks, so I've got a bunch from around 1950 that I thought you'd be interested to see.

State-of-the-art Cooking Range Ad.
One of the oldest-looking clippings seems to be this appliance ad from around 1950.  The company name was O'keefe and Merrit.  This oven has two sides, presumably so you can bake things at different temperatures at the same time, and it has what looks like a griddle for pancakes in the middle.  Very interesting!

The standard of living was going up in the 1950s, after almost two decades of recovery from the stock market crash of 1929. State-of-the-art was in!  I just love the style of the ad and the shape of the stove.  Gotta love that ruffled apron the model is wearing, as well.

Target audience: At home moms.
There's also this long clipping, with an advertisement for French's yellow mustard for school lunches.  It has several recipes but no price estimate (sorry about that), and next to it is an ad for two women's dress patterns, each for 25 cents, according to the text.  If you like the dress or the coat, you have to sew it yourself, of course.

One more resource you might want to check out is this article I found in my Twitter feed about the evolution of kitchens from 1946 to 1966.  It is mostly great color photos with some commentary about what was popular at the time, like metal kitchen cabinets and the brief patriotic red, white, and blue trend shortly after World War II.

I am constantly surrounded by vintage dishes, apparel, and books from this era, but this research has finally given me a peek into the actual lives of the people who first owned these things.  I think it's pretty fascinating.  How about you?

I, of course, have a few things from the era in my Artfire shop.  I wish the shop was searchable by decade, but at this moment the results from that kind of search are not complete.  Here are some of the flashier pieces from the 1950s, but you'll have to look around a bit more to find what I forgot to include:

This is a pair of Metlox Poppytrail (of California) salt and pepper shakers.  They are from the "Red Rooster" pattern, and are meant to resemble grain silos.  The plates had large rooster images in the center, and the other dishes also looked a bit like barns and such, in this tomato red and brown color scheme.  I think this "farm" pattern might have been a sort of holdover from the patriotic trend in kitchen decor in the late 1940s and early 50s.  It's kind of a "back to old-fashioned values" movement.

This is a vintage Rodney Kent hammered aluminum basket (the beautiful tulip engraving on the bottom of the basket is not easy to see in this photo).  In the 40s and 50s, aluminum became extremely popular as decor, for its durability and low-maintenance nature.  Kitchen efficiency and cleanliness were important to housewives of the era.  Aluminum looked a lot like silver, but didn't require hours of polishing and careful treatment.  It didn't cost as much as fine silver, either.

This Boonton divided bowl is made of melmac, in a sleek Art Deco design and a powder blue that was popular at that time (see the kitchen photo from 1950 at the start of this article).  Plastic was another new trend in that era, because it was extremely low-maintenance and easy to clean.  There were several new types of plastic on the market after the war, and I could speculate that metal shortages during the war had some effect on the popularity of plastic, as well.

Care to share any tidbits you know about life around 1950?  Just leave a comment below.  I'm interested!


  1. Great post! I was born in the 50s in Southern California and remember sub-divisions being built all over the farmland. Sown came the orchards and out went the cow pastures. My parents bought their new three bedroom home in Ontario California for $11,000. and, folks were buying cabins for vacation homes up in Big Bear, the mountain range just behind LA. I also got to go to Disneyland many times and my fondest memory was of the house of the future in the late 50s, it had so many neat gadgets, like a micro wave. Another fond memory is getting graham crackers and milk and taking naps in kindergarten. Still love those graham crackers and milk.

  2. Great memories! Thanks for sharing. :) I wish the "kitchen of the future" would come back. I think the appliances looked much more interesting than today's selections. Maybe the modern retro trend will bring some of that back.


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