Missiles, Space and the Rock-N-Roll Era: Let’s talk about 1958 and 1959!

Posted by on February 25, 2009

With today’s continuing bad economic news, it’s easy to look back through American history and experience a hint of nostalgia, especially looking at the Fifties and early Sixties.  Yet, it would be a mistake to think of those decades as a placid, rock-n-roll good time era, Elvis Presley and American Grafitti aside.  The actual facts are that the decade was just as turbulent as today’s years.

Major developments both in American society and the world were beginning to take place.  New nations were forming, the threat of nuclear conflict was rising and America itself was changing.  In this series of posts, we will be taking an in-depth look at the years 1958 and 1959. 

Here is a preview of some of the things we will be talking about….

1958 saw the fall of the game-changing Soviet Sputnik from orbit around the earth and in March, Elvis Presley was inducted into the U.S. Army.  In the Academy Awards, Bridge On the River Kwai grabbed best picture while in Tampa Florida, the first McDonalds restaurant opened up.  Said the Tribune:

“…a small restaurant that featured a limited menu but quick service opened at 3515 S. Dale Mabry Highway, joining Bern’s Steak House, which had opened two years earlier, and the Columbia, which even then had 53 years under its black-beans-and-rice belt….”
(Source: Tribune)


It was also good years for Detroit as evidenced by the film American Look:


1959 saw a continuation of much of the same of 1958, however, with some notable exceptions.  Foreign relations took center stage with the Eisenhower Administration in 1959 as foreign aid to Spain was expanded to a billion plus dollars and various farm surplus agreements were signed to nations such as Yugoslavia, Poland, and others.

The US military expanded the missile race as well, with ICBM technology heating up conflict with the Soviets. This would result in the “missile gap” as it became famously known. Agreements were signed both with Great Britain and West Germany as the shipping of nuclear weapons into Europe expanded.  Operation Argus took place, testing various methods of missile deployment.  Here is a short glimpse from March of 1959, with missile production facilities in Detroit:


On the domestic front, various US satellites were launched into space as the space program began in earnest. July of 1959 saw NASA signed into existence by Eisenhower.




Well, that’s about all the space we have today to kick off our Fabulous Fifties series. Plan on stopping by in the days to come as we talk more about the popular culture, news and the Cold War!

Have a great day!


Detroit: 1959 (Internet Archive)

History of the NASA logo

NASA History Division

Airline Travel 1958! (Internet Archive)

The American Look!


(1)The American Look!

(2)Detroit: 1959 (Internet Archive)

(2) NASA Seal

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