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18 Rare Vintage Photos of What Life Was Like in the 1950s

These photos, including some never-published shots taken for Look Magazine, transport you back in time. Was life easier, harder, or the same for families in the 1950s, compared to today?

Playtime, card houseUnderwood Archives/UIG/Shutterstock


"Nobody bump the table!" In this image from 1950, a dedicated young architect finishes up an impressive card tower that must have taken hours to make! His little siblings watch as he stacks the final cards. Here are some more vintage photos of what playtime was like for kids before technology.

Afternoon baseball gameNara Archives/Shutterstock

Afternoon game

Boys at a summer camp outside Washington D.C. play an afternoon game of baseball. A fun outdoor activity for all teammates.

New WheelsShutterstock

New set of wheels

In Detroit, this family of three smiles in front of their home with their state-of-the-art 1951 Ford Custom Fordor Sedan. Check out these ads for vintage cars you'll wish you could own today.

Douglas Jones/Look Magazine

Cheering from the sidelines

The photographers of Look Magazine could never resist the chance to take a picture of a woman in a swimsuit—the one here was probably taking part in Miami's Orange Bowl parade, which was held from 1936-2001.

The Forgotten Fifties/Look Magazine

Saying goodbye as husbands left for war

Women did not serve in combat, but this soldier was on his way to fight in the Korean War, which lasted from mid-1950 through mid-1953. Check out this in-depth look at what it was like to be a woman in the 1920s.

Charlotte Brooks/Look Magazine

Even stars had to be good mothers

This photo, taken a year after I Love Lucy aired (the series ended in the fall of 1957), shows the enormously successful TV star Lucille Ball in a more domestic setting. Avidly covered by magazines and newspapers, Ball appeared on the cover of TV Guide 45 times, more than any other celebrity.

Vintage CityNara Archives/Shutterstock

Vintage city

A group of young girls entertains themselves playing on the streets of Harlem in New York City. 

The Forgotten Fifties/Look Magazine

Protecting children

The year before this photo was taken, there was a polio epidemic in the United States with 58,000 cases identified in that year alone. In 1952 the polio vaccine was developed, and during its testing period, until it was licensed in 1955, women waited in line for hours to try to get the trial vaccine for their kids (as seen here). The word miracle is overused, but this vaccine and a later oral vaccine were just that, virtually eliminating the disease. In 2012, there were only 223 polio cases in the entire world.

Philip Harrington/Look Magazine

Following the trends

Dance crazes were especially popular during the 1950s and 60s, with names like The Twist and The Mashed Potato. One of the earlier fads was The Bunny Hop, a conga-line formation which originated among students at San Francisco's Balboa High School in 1952. Speaking of trends, find out what the most popular toy was the year you were born.

The Forgotten Fifties/Look Magazine

Making do with what you had

Today, in Park Forest, Illinois, you can find an Aqua Center with a 367,000-gallon pool with four slides. But back then, hot homeowners found relief on a much smaller scale.

View Slides 11-19
Originally Published in Reader's Digest