As this year of 2023 really gets rolling, it’s interesting to look back several years to see what was happening “back then.”
The magazine “Ore, Iron and Men,” published for Oliver Iron Mining Company employees and their families from 1950 to 1963, preserves for us so much enlightening and entertaining information about those years. Not only do details about mining at that time emerge from the magazine, but the stories about the everyday life of miners and their families can be found in the pages as well.
From the November 1958 issue comes a wonderful article which looks at the amazing ten years which were just wrapping up then—1948 to 1958. No author is listed for this article.
I will admit that I was initially drawn to reading this piece because within those years Joe and I were born, along with most of our siblings and classmates. And so many older friends of ours, though born earlier than 1948, were growing up with us as part of those years. I would guess that some of the readers of this page also have memories from those years!
Although the article primarily looks at major events that had worldwide effects, it is also clear that the Iron Range was going through important times then as well.
So let’s take a look back 75 to 65 years ago. It’s easy to see why this article was titled “What a Decade.”
When the clock struck midnight on December 31, 1948, about 149 million Americans went slightly crazy. And why not? The world was at peace, business was booming, everything looked rosy.
Milton Berle was keeping the nation (or that part of it that owned 10-inch television sets) in stitches. Everybody was humming the new Academy Award-winning song “Buttons and Bows.” A new craze, the Pyramid Club, was sweeping the country (you invested one dollar, raked in thousands in a few months—sometimes.)
People were still marveling over President Harry Truman’s amazing upset victory in November. Dwight D. Eisenhower was still getting used to the title “president of Columbia University,” a title he would have until 1953 when he would take on a new title, “President of the United States.” There was some talk about heavy-weight champion Joe Lewis retiring from the ring—but no one took the rumor seriously. Archeologist Mary Leakey made her first very important fossil discovery while digging on Rusinga Island in Kenya.
But if some pundit has predicted that in the next ten years there would be another war, an end to a major disease, jet passenger planes flying nonstop from New York to California, a baseball team called the Los Angeles Dodgers, satellites, a forty-ninth state, and quiz shows that gave away hundreds of thousands of dollars—well, people would have just ignored those predictions or laughed loudly.
Yet the next ten years saw all of those things take place, and many more. It seems that no ten-year period in human history witnessed so many thrilling promises for the future and also so many dire threats for the human race. In those ten years there was a great deal of laughter, tears, suspense, pleasure and pain.
In 1949, the Nuremberg war trials ended and nineteen Nazis, some sentenced to death, others to long prison terms, were punished, like the criminals they were, for “crimes against humanity.” The sentencing of at least these nineteen helped the feeling that the horror of war was over.
But no sooner had the nations of the world determined that war had been outmoded by the atomic bomb than North Korea invaded the Republic of South Korea. A stunned globe began following the shifting battle lines as a United Nations army, led by American troops, repelled the invader and served notice that aggression would henceforth be met with might. Even as New Yorkers began lining up for tickets to the new smash musical, “South Pacific,” set during World War II, people’s vocabularies began to include names such as Seoul, Heartbreak Ridge, Porkchop Hill, and the 38th Parallel.
In 1950, the city of New York faced a terrible drought and people there began to ration their water. In Boston, a shocking robbery crowded Korea off the headlines for a while. Nine men in Halloween masks held up a Brinks Armored Car and escaped with $1,000,000 in cash and $500,000 in checks—the largest cash robbery in American history up to that time.
Early in 1951, a novel titled “From Here to Eternity” zoomed to the top of all best seller lists. A debut from American author James Jones, it was condemned by some for its utter frankness, but was nevertheless hailed by the critics for its portrayal of peacetime army life. In 1953, the film version of the book would win the several awards, including Best Picture, despite scenes considered very shocking.
In 1953, Queen Elizabeth II was crowned while 20 million people around the world watched the coronation on television. This event cemented the importance of the new medium of TV as, for the first time in history, the TV audience surpassed the radio audience. Elizabeth’s youth, beauty, and young family contributed to the good feelings that an old world was passing away and a new one had arrived. When America elected a new President, one of the first things President Eisenhower did was create a new cabinet post, Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare. The first holder of that office was a woman, Mrs. Oveta Culp Hobby.
Josef Stalin died and the entire world hoped his successors would adopt new, peaceful ideas. The Korean War, officially called a “police action,” ended in an uneasy truce after more than 2.5 million people on all sides, including 37,000 American, had lost their lives. America breathed a sigh of relief and hoped that now, at last, wars were over for good.
1954 was a year when a fistful of new achievements occurred. The United States launched the world’s first atom-powered submarine, the Nautilus, at Groton, Connecticut. Dr. Roger Bannister, 25, ran the “miracle mile” in 3 minutes 58.8 seconds, at Vancouver, British Columbia. It was the first sub-4 minute mile ever recorded. Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals hit five home runs in a double header with the New York Giants, setting a new major league record. And a man with just one name, Liberace, packed Madison Square Garden with thousands who wanted to hear and see his flamboyant showmanship and piano playing.
In 1954, Dr. Jonas E. Salk, of the University of Pittsburgh, became the hero that people had been waiting for. His polio vaccine would prevent the devastating effects of this disease which killed and paralyzed. Within 6 months, over 2 million children in 44 states had received the vaccine.
In 1956, Albert Woolson of Duluth died and his death made headlines. He was 109 and the last survivor of the Grand Army of the Republic, the soldiers and sailors who fought for the Union in the Civil War. His death seemed to be another sign that the past, and its wars, was now gone forever.
But a new tension grew as President Nassar of Egypt announced that the Suez Canal was Egypt’s, and other countries who built it and ran it were no longer allowed. A gallant Hungarian Revolution electrified the world, but was mercilessly crushed in November 1956 by Soviet tanks and troops. The Soviet government was also preparing a satellite to circle the earth.
A new voice was suddenly heard on radios all over the country. Elvis Presley became the singer everyone wanted to hear and dance to—and see, with his swiveling hips! As 20,000,000 Americans watched, a perspiring English instructor named Charles Van Doren answered incredibly difficult questions on the TV quiz show “Twenty-One.” He won $129,000, an unbelievable sum for a quiz show.
It was October 4, 1957, when news broke that the Soviet Union had successfully set a satellite into orbit. A new word, sputnik, entered the world’s vocabulary and a new era, the Space Age, was born.
“Growth” seemed to be the word for 1958. For the first time since 1912, a new state was prepared to enter the American union—Alaska. Texans were grumbling that their state would now only be only the second largest. Hawaiians were preparing their state to join the Union in 1959. Paradoxically, a growing America also seemed to be shrinking as American Airlines announced the launching, late in 1958, of the first commercial jet service across the country. The Boeing 707 jetliner, with a speed of 600 miles an hour, was the plane used. The first nonstop trip from Los Angeles to New York took five hours and happened on January 25, 1959.
Through the years 1948 to 1958, America’s population passed the 170,000,000 mark. A new movement, Do-It-Yourself, had people sawing, hammering, and painting as they added on to their houses or finished “rec rooms.” Americans were moving to the growing suburbs, jamming highways with cars that Detroit turned out in record numbers. Popular rock-and-roll songs poured out of the car radios and record players. In reaction to television taking away moviegoers, movie screens grew in size. “The Bridge on the River Kwai” and “Peyton Place” were two of the films that people flocked to see on the new, larger screens.
All in all, it is enough to make people say as they raise their glasses, “Hold on to your hats! Look where we’ve been and where we are going!”
A little follow-up to some of the details in this article:
America’s current population is approximately 326.7 million.
Much larger cash robberies have occurred since the Brinks robbery in 1950 and virtually all of the robbers have eventually been apprehended.
The current men’s record holder for the outdoor mile is Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj (3.43.13) and current female record holder is Ethiopian-born, Dutch Sifan Hassan (4.12.33).
The Suez Canal is today owned by Egypt and operates by that nation’s authority. Under treaties, all nations’ ships are allowed to pass through the canal.
In 1989, Hungary ousted the Communist leadership and radically reformed its constitution to become a multi-party country. It became a member of the European Union in 2004.
In late 1959, Charles Van Doren admitted that he had been given questions and answers in advance of the “Twenty-One” broadcasts. This program was not the only one that had used deception and quiz shows quickly fell out of favor as more of the deceit was revealed. An excellent documentary in 1992, “The Quiz Show Scandal” was produced on PBS as part of their “American Experience” series. That documentary peaked interest in the scandals and in 1994 a major film “Quiz Show” was produced. It won many awards, although some people questioned if it was an honest depiction of Charles Van Doren.
America’s first successful satellite launch was January 31, 1958, when Explorer 1 orbited the Earth. It was a project of the U.S. Army as NASA did not yet exist. The last transmission from Explorer 1 was on May 21, 1958. It reentered Earth’s atmosphere and burned up on March 21, 1970.
In 1957, Erie Mining Company opened their taconite plant and a new era on the Iron Range began.
Where we’ve been! Where we’re going!
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