Life Magazines from the 1950's
By the 1950s, Life Magazine had made a name for itself as the country’s leading news magazine. LIFE photographers were and are respected as some of the best photojournalists in history. Their tenacity and talent for getting the best story helped them show America coming to terms with its new role as leader of the free world.
The atomic bomb placed America at the forefront of scientific advancement. LIFE Magazine ran multi-issue features on the nature of the universe, the origins of man, the growth of civilization, and even new advancements in medicine. During a time when outer space captured the national imagination, LIFE ran stories about the legitimacy of flying saucer sightings (“Have We Visitors from Space?” from April 7, 1952) and America’s first astronauts (1959). Even after the USSR launched the first man-made satellite, Sputnik, before American scientists could launch their own, LIFE Magazine spent pages and pages extolling the virtues of America’s space program.
Movies we call classics today, including musicals like “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Guys and Dolls” (which LIFE Magazine featured on the cover of the April 21, 1955 issue), can be found in reviews and advertisements in LIFE Magazine issues throughout the 1950s. Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe, both featured on LIFE Magazine covers throughout the decade, illustrate the two faces of sex appeal during the 1950s – the free, sensual bombshell and the demure, classic beauty. Even handsome, young politician John F. Kennedy and his beautiful wife would capture American imaginations from LIFE Magazine’s pages.
Other stories captured the essence of a nation coming to understand a new definition of morality, and LIFE Magazine had no problem exploring any controversy that arose. A heart-wrenching account of Anne Frank’s life after her capture was first given in the pages of LIFE Magazine in August of 1958, reminding the American public of the dangers of discrimination. The epic Brown vs. Board of Education decision on the desegregation of schools prompted a 5-issue series on segregation in America that highlighted both sides of the issue, ending with a poignant plea to end segregation on Biblical grounds authored by a young Billy Graham.
In 1959, America began its involvement in Vietnam, a move that would dictate the political and social climate of the country for decades to come. A whole generation of young people who learned to rebel with rock ‘n roll and civil rights marches were about to change the world in a very real and sometimes violent way, and LIFE Magazine would follow them into the turbulent 1960s.