Fizrin, Hot Rods, and Erma Bombeck?

Posted by on March 29, 2009

As we forge ahead on our profile of the years 1958 and 1959, it’s too easy to concentrate on the “big” issues such as space and politics.  However, like most Americans, our predecessors in the Fifties were busy living life, having kids and worrying about their jobs. In today’s post, the consumer lives as we hit the culture of the times and take a quick look at what is there.



While earlier in the decade, we were urged to use Hertz for our rental services and pop a Lifesaver, which were still 5 cents and proclaimed as the “Holesome-est sweets in town”, 1958 and 1959 showcases to us the high point of consumer culture during this decade.

While we all know about Alka-Seltzer and it’s prolific mascot Speedy, have you ever heard of FIZRIN? A powder instead of tablets, the ad asks you, “Why wait for slow dissolving tablets?” It was the Age of Advertising  and titles such as The Hidden Persuaders promised to reveal the advertising industry’s manipulation of ordinary people as well as how marketer’s secrets increased sales.

Unlike today, General Motors in 1958 had a lot less problems even though 1958 was not exactly a banner year for automobile sales.  Celebrating fifty years of business, ads for Pontiac that year proclaimed the “Sound Barrier” body by Fisher with the Life-Span build for the chrome bedecked and wind-spear enhanced 1958 Bonneville.  The automobile was king as evidenced by the following video from the Internet Archive in which “hot-rods” and their meanings are discussed:

But beyond cars and fizzy medicines, the consumer culture that permeated America during this time was changing other ways of life. After all, these were the years of the men in the gray-flannel suits, a way of living that many today would long for, at least at first, before beginning to chafe under the mantle of corporate life and the constant change that had started to become the norm. Said LIFE:

“This has produced a new American phenomenon, the migration of hundreds of thousand of families of men who have found that the way to move up in corporate life it to keep moving around…” (LIFE pg 85 Americans on the Move to New Jobs, New Places” Feb 3rd 1958.)

Mentioned in the article was the rise of the IBM punch card-equipment to help ease the transition around the country. Computers were beginning to transition themselves from the military labs of the Second World War to the average everyday American life. No other American company was positioned quite so well for this as IBM.



Lastly, and setting the stage for the revelations that were to come in the Sixties, the housewife in 1958, forced from the factories following the war, became the commander of the home, the ruler of Levittown and the infamous (or famous) tract housing known as the subdivision. Where else can we hear and know about these times than from Erma Bombeck. Although many of her writings are from later, they can still give you the viewpoint of the culture of the Fifties and the average person.  Be sure to check the links below for more information.

Well, that about wraps it up for this post, stay tuned for the next installment, in which we’ll talk about the changing face of American race in 1958-59.

Have a great day!


Family: The Ties that Bind… (Erma Bombeck)

The Mob Takes Over Halloween (Erma Bombeck)

Erma Bombeck: St. Petersburg Times Interview

IBM Supplies Division (Historical)


(1) Duke University Libraries (Vintage)

(2) Internet Archive

(3) IBM Archives (Vintage)

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