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The Atomic Age of Technology

The 1950s was a time of technological revolution in the face of the post-war nuclear threats of the world.

By WordPublished 8 years ago 5 min read

Fallout 4 is one of my favourite video games of all time for one obviously-giant reason, its set in the 1950s, which is conveniently my favourite era of humanity. Without recognising the disgusting oppression of females and ethnic minorities that plagues the decade, everything was ‘perfect’. Of course, whilst these two subjugations are arguably what fuelled the perfect ‘American Way’, the Civil Rights movement made incredible steps towards equality and fairness – whilst there’s still issues to iron out, most of the ‘old ways’ are gone.

Suburbs were established with communities at their core, technology was making great strides and a ‘friendly’ atmosphere was beyond commonplace. It was the days of leaving your door open, never mind unlocked, and of having no fear at all of your children leaving to play outside. Crime rates were low and infrequent, and communal spirits were high. On a face-value, everything was perfect. Aptly named the ‘Atomic Age’ because of the growing nuclear tensions in the height of the Cold War, 1950s America stood strong in the face of complete uncertainty and the looming sense of death unparalleled in history – even the recent World War 2. Despite these growing fears, largely perpetuated by the increasing paranoia of the “communist uprising”, or “Red Scare”, amazing technological advancements were made.

The Television Box Boom

Firstly, the television made an unbelievable impact on consumerist markets. Whilst facing hundreds of thousands of critics around the world, the little television box proved almost everyone wrong. In the year 1946, only 0.5% of American households owned a television set. Just 8 years later in 1954, this increased to 55.7%, and then 8 years after that during the year 1962, around 90% of every house in America had a T.V. That’s an increase of 89.5% in only 16 years. The T.V revolution was quite literally sweeping the nation, usually attributed to the introduction of the coloured television box set. However, a new theory has emerged in hindsight; during post-war US, economies were booming as a result of factory efficiency. Businesses capitalised on this and focused this efficient production towards capitalist consumerist goods, such as T.V.s. As a result, prices fell and ownership rose. Coupled with the influence of social consensus and the “Out-Do Your Neighbour” ideology, the television was a must-have for any American in the Atomic Age looking to fulfil the American Dream.

Key events that were broadcast during the television boom included the British Queen’s coronation in 1953, which saw almost every television set across the world tune in. ‘Voice of America’ and ‘BBC World Service’ also launched, offering global narrative on many international situations – from the growing Cold War to the mounting tension in preparation for the Vietnam War, to smaller issues such as the Cambridge Boat Races in Britain and even football (or soccer) matches in Europe.

Air Flight Revolution

Another major technological advancement was the passenger jet. Whilst American Airlines veered from the norms of the world and sided with the ‘Comet’ airplane, Canadian, British and other European companies chose to trust their faith in the Boeing 707. Of course, as we can see today, Boeing took off (pun fully intended) and gripped the airplane market, becoming the single most successful of the early manufacturers. Prior to the 1950s, air travel was incredibly limited and usually only for those that could charter private jets – which themselves were pretty crappy. However, during the acquisition of aircraft such as Boeing models, air travel not only became cheaper and more efficient, it became comfortable and easy to do so. From being able to transport 6 people across the state, to lugging 200+ across an ocean, a revolution in modern travel technology was underway. On the downside, safety was pretty low. In fact, 26 ‘famous’ people, including leading politicians in the war effort, national sports stars and actors and play-writers died in aviation accidents during the 1950s. The number of ordinary civilians who sadly passed away in such a unique way for the decade shot through the roof – so much so that no clear official figures can be found for the total across the world, never mind America alone. One ‘good’ thing did come from this, however, and that’s the consequential invention of the airplane ‘black box’ recorder.

In addition to commercial advancements such as the heavy-duty passenger jets above, jet-powered military planes were well under development around the world, also largely due to the fears of the Cold War. Investment sky-rocketed in jet engines, stealth technology and speed which ultimately led to an advanced understanding of aerodynamics and defensive stealth used today.

The next, but by no means last great invention of the Atomic Age was the satellite – namely the good old ‘Sputnik’, the first artificial satellite to be placed in the orbit of the Earth by the Soviet Union. Sputnik was both a push in the dark for space exploration and challenges, but also a spit-in-the-face to the United States who continued toeing the space-race line. Released in 1957, the little orb weighed 83.6kg (about 184lb – roughly an adult male) and measured at just 58cm (two normal length rulers placed end-to-end). Even though it was relatively small, the shiny metallic body allowed it to be seen from Earth, giving Soviet scientists invaluable data about the planet – ionosphere, low-orbit drag and effects on radio-transmission were just some of the findings explored upon, which during the Cold War really frightened the US – sparking the true Space Race battle to begin.

After effects of this include the launching of multiple further satellites, un-manned rockets, and eventually the revolutionary Apollo 11 mission that landed, for the very first time in human history, humans on the surface of the moon. Whilst the space-race did relatively die down following from this, it has reignited with the push to land humans on Mars, and the recent fly-over of Jupiter which gripped the world of social media and ignited tens of thousands of young people’s adoration of space exploration.

The little Sputnik ended up travelling over 70 million km around the Earth before falling into the planet and burning up on re-entry. It spent 3 months circling our orb, travelling at an average 18,000 mph and its signals could be picked up even by amateur radio operators around the world. The trusty Sputnik also inspired the annoyingly-cool ‘Eye-bot’ in the Fallout game series, a floating antenna-bearing orb with orbits a playable area, which rounds off this article pretty nicely and totally conveniently.


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