Travel & Nightlife in the 1950s
When it came to choosing a vacation destination in the 1950s, the sky was the limit.....literally. Thanks to cars and jetliners, we could go almost anywhere. The new interstate highways made it easy for families to drive to amusement parks and tourist areas like Wisconsin Dells and Wildwood, New Jersey. Newlyweds honeymooned in the Poconos, and many Jewish families from New York City spent their summers in the Catskills.
For those who could afford it, jet travel was considered quite glamorous, and the destinations were glamorous, too: Miami....Paris....Hawaii....Rome....Havana....
Warm-weather climates, especially Florida, saw a boost in tourism thanks to jet travel and the increased use of air-conditioning.
Wildwood, New Jersey
Cypress Gardens, Florida
Santa Catalina Island
A 1950s version of the "great outdoors"
In the 1950s, new forms of entertainment were attracting our attention, and the old parks started to look worn and dated. Coney Island was approaching the end of its glory days, and it looked like the same thing was happening at Cedar Point....but don't count on it!
After Disneyland made the theme park concept popular, various Santa Claus- and fairy tale-themed parks opened all across the country. The baby boom created a whole new generation of parks aimed at children, known as kiddielands.
When Disneyland opened in 1955, it gave us something totally new....the artificial, kid-friendly world of the theme park. The rides, buildings and land formations were designed to create different "theme areas" throughout the park. This idea would shape the amusement park industry for the next 50 years.
Old Disneyland Pictures
Sophisticated jet-setters usually traveled to large cities or resort areas, and first-class hotels were there to greet them.
In the old days, these hotels featured nightclubs and ballrooms. Now that we had television to entertain us, these establishments began to focus more on relaxation and recreation by providing swimming pools, beaches, small lounges, tennis courts, spas and golf courses.
Click here for more places to spend the night!
Motels & Cabins
On long car trips, most people stayed in simple one-story motels. The tourist cabins that had sprung up back in the 1920s were still around, too.
What was missing was something in between....a motel that was more modern than a tourist cabin, but not as pricey as a big hotel. Answering this need, Holiday Inn (1952) and Howard Johnson's Motor Lodge (1954) joined TraveLodge (1939) to become the first modern motel chains.
Motels Of The Southwest
Sleep In A Wigwam!
Holiday Inn History
Howard Johnson's History
American Motel Postcards
Arizona's Wigwam Motel
on Route 66
Traveling by car became very popular in the 1950s. It gave us a sense of freedom that we couldn't get from a train or bus, and the postwar economy finally made it possible for most people to own a car.
The first super highways were the tollways, or turnpikes, that were built in the eastern portion of the United States in the 1940s and early 1950s. The granddaddy of them all was the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which opened in 1940. The convenience of being able to drive 70 MPH without stopping was irresistible. Driving would never be the same again.
In 1956, Congress approved the construction of 42,000 miles of freeways and interstate highways. These limited-access, multi-lane roads were the brainchild of President Eisenhower. While serving in Germany during World War II, Eisenhower was impressed with their high-speed autobahn, and sought to create something similar in this country.
National safety and security were of primary importance. A system of direct, multi-lane highways would make transporting troops and evacuating citizens much easier in the event of a national emergency, which was a hot topic in the Cold War days of the 1950s.
The myth that "one mile in every five must be perfectly straight so that it could be used as an airstrip in times of war" is just that...a myth. During the 1940s, it was suggested that airstrips be built along the nation's major highways for easier access during emergencies, but this idea never saw the light of day. The Eisenhower plan never made a provision for airstrips.
One Mile In Five: Debunking The Myth
Creating The Eisenhower Interstate System
The Pennsylvania Turnpike
Before the creation of the interstate highway system, motorists traveled across the country on winding two-lane roads like Route 66. The interstates were certainly faster and easier, but they also bypassed the quaint, interesting roadside attractions that depended on the old roads for their existence. As the 1950s became the 1960s, these privately owned diners, motels and gas stations began to disappear.
Historic Route 66
Postcards From The Road
National Historic Route 66 Federation
Service stations still provided service in the 1950s...fill your tank, clean your windshield and check your oil. They also offered free road maps and trading stamps.
Old Gas Station Collectibles
Billboards and Burma-Shave signs were a common sight on 1950s road trips.
Up until now, air travelers flew in piston-driven stratocruisers. While they had a certain amount of charm, the flights were extremely long, noisy and turbulent. Jetliners, which were developed during World War II, could make the trip in half the time and carry twice as many passengers.
Two events in the 1950s signaled the beginning of the jet age....the maiden flight of Britain's Comet in 1952 and the launch of Boeing's 707 in 1958. Airplanes became the preferred method of long-distance travel, surpassing both trains and ocean liners.
Chasing The Sun: Air Travel In The 50s
The glory days of train travel ended in the 1950s, as car and plane travel became more popular. Streamlined sleeper cars, dining cars and lounge cars were pulled by diesel locomotives, and multi-level domeliner and pleasure dome cars were added in the early 1950s.
Between the late 1930s and the early 1970s, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad operated both the Super Chief and the El Capitan trains between Los Angeles and Chicago.
For those who chose to ride the rails, the menus and train names were just as glamorous as ever, but ridership was declining.
California Zephyr Virtual Museum
History Of Dome Cars
El Capitan Hi-Level Cars
1958 A,T&SF Guide & Timetable
Vintage Train Menus
Railroad Timetables & Ads
Santa Fe Super Chief
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