Top, L-R: U.S. Marines engaged in street fighting during the Korean War, circa late September 1950; The first polio vaccine is developed by Jonas Salk.
Centre, L-R: US tests its first thermonuclear bomb with code name Ivy Mike in 1952. A 1954 thermonuclear test, code named Castle Romeo, is shown here.; In 1959, Fidel Castro overthrows Fulgencio Batista in the Cuban Revolution, which results in the creation of the first communist government in the Western hemisphere; Elvis Presley becomes the leading figure of the newly popular music genre of rock and roll in the mid-1950s.
Bottom, L-R: Smoke rises from oil tanks on Port Said following the invasion of Egypt by Israel, United Kingdom and France as part of the Suez Crisis in late 1956; French paratroopers march in Algiers in the beginning of the Algerian War, 1957; The Soviet Union launches Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite to orbit the earth, in October 1957.
Millennium:2nd millennium

The 1950s (pronounced nineteen-fifties; commonly abbreviated as the '50s or Fifties) was a decade of the Gregorian calendar that began on January 1, 1950, and ended on December 31, 1959.

By its end, the world had largely recovered from World War II and the Cold War developed from its modest beginning in the late-1940s to a hot competition between the United States and the Soviet Union by the early-1960s.

Clashes between communism and capitalism dominated the decade, especially in the Northern Hemisphere. The conflicts included the Korean War in the beginnings of the decade and the beginning of the Space Race with the launch of Sputnik 1. Along with increased testing of nuclear weapons (such as RDS-37 and Upshot–Knothole), this created a politically conservative climate. In the United States, the Second Red Scare caused Congressional hearings by both houses in Congress and anti-communism was the prevailing sentiment in the United States throughout the decade. The beginning of decolonization in Africa and Asia took place in this decade and accelerated in the following decade.

Politics and wars


  • Cold War conflicts involving the influence of the rival superpowers of the Soviet Union and the United States
    • Korean War (1950–1953) – The war, which lasted from June 25, 1950, until the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement on July 27, 1953, started as a civil war between North Korea and the Republic of Korea (South Korea). When it began, North and South Korea existed as provisional governments competing for control over the Korean peninsula, due to the division of Korea by outside powers. While originally a civil war, it quickly escalated into a war between the Western powers under the United Nations Command led by the United States and its allies and the communist powers of the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union.
      On September 15, General Douglas MacArthur conducted Operation Chromite, an amphibious landing at the city of Inchon (Song Do port). The North Korean army collapsed, and within a few days, MacArthur's army retook Seoul (South Korea's capital). He then pushed north, capturing Pyongyang in October. Chinese intervention the following month drove UN forces south again. MacArthur then planned for a full-scale invasion of China, but this was against the wishes of President Truman and others who wanted a limited war. He was dismissed and replaced by General Matthew Ridgeway. The war then became a bloody stalemate for the next two and a half years while peace negotiations dragged on.
      The war left 33,742 American soldiers dead, 92,134 wounded, and 80,000 missing in action (MIA) or prisoner of war (POW). Estimates place Korean and Chinese casualties at 1,000,000–1,400,000 dead or wounded, and 140,000 MIA or POW.
    • The Vietnam War began in 1955. Diệm instituted a policy of death penalty against any communist activity in 1956. The Viet Minh began an assassination campaign in early 1957. An article by French scholar Bernard Fall published in July 1958 concluded that a new war had begun. The first official large unit military action was on September 26, 1959, when the Viet Cong ambushed two ARVN companies.[1]
  • Arab–Israeli conflict (from the early 20th century)
Israeli troops preparing for combat in the Sinai peninsula during the Suez Crisis.
    • Suez Crisis (1956) – The Suez Crisis was a war fought on Egyptian territory in 1956. Following the nationalisation of the Suez Canal in 1956 by Gamal Abdel Nasser, the United Kingdom, France and Israel subsequently invaded. The operation was a military success, but after the United States and Soviet Union united in opposition to the invasion, the invaders were forced to withdraw. This was seen as a major humiliation, especially for the two Western European countries, and symbolizes the beginning of the end of colonialism and the weakening of European global importance, specifically the collapse of the British Empire.
  • Algerian War (1954–1962) – An important decolonization war, it was a complex conflict characterized by guerrilla warfare, maquis fighting, terrorism against civilians, use of torture on both sides and counter-terrorism operations by the French Army. The war eventually led to the independence of Algeria from France.

Internal conflicts

Fidel Castro becomes the leader of Cuba as a result of the Cuban Revolution
  • Cuban Revolution (1953–1959) – The 1959 overthrow of Fulgencio Batista by Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and other forces resulted in the creation of the first communist government in the Western hemisphere.
  • The Mau Mau began retaliating against the British in Kenya. This led to concentration camps in Kenya, a British military victory, and the election of moderate nationalist Jomo Kenyatta as leader of Kenya.
  • The wind of destruction began in Rwanda in 1959 following the assault of Hutu politician Dominique Mbonyumutwa by Tutsi forces. This was the beginning of decades of ethnic violence in the country, which culminated in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.
  • Hungarian Revolution of 1956 – A massive, spontaneous popular uprising in the Soviet satellite state of Hungary against that country's Soviet-backed Marxist-Leninist regime, inspired by political changes in Poland and the Soviet Union. The uprising, fought primarily by students and workers, managed to fight the invading Soviet Army to a standstill, and a new, pro-reform government took power. While the top Soviet leaders even considered withdrawing from Hungary entirely, they soon crushed the Revolution with a massive second invasion, killing thousands of Hungarians and sending hundreds of thousands more into exile. This was the largest act of internal dissent in the history of the Soviet Bloc, and its violent suppression served to further discredit the Soviet Union even among its erstwhile supporters.

Decolonization and Independence

Prominent political events

  • Establishment of the Non-aligned Movement, consisting of nations not formally aligned with or against any major power bloc.
The maximum territorial extent of countries in the world under Soviet influence, after the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and before the official Sino-Soviet split of 1961


  • The U.S. ended its occupation of Japan, which became fully independent. Japan held democratic elections and recovered economically.
  • Within a year of its establishment, the People's Republic of China had reclaimed Tibet and intervened in the Korean War, causing years of hostility and estrangement from the United States. Mao admired Stalin and rejected the changes in Moscow after Stalin's death in 1953, leading to growing tension with the Soviet Union.
  • In 1950–1953 France tried to contain a growing communist insurgency led by Ho Chi Minh. After their defeat in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954 France granted independence to the nations of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. At the Geneva Conference of 1954 France and the Communists agreed to divide Vietnam and hold elections in 1956. The U.S. and South Vietnam rejected the Geneva accords and the division became permanent.
  • The Chinese Civil War, which had started officially in 1927 and continued until the Second World War had ended on May 7, 1950. It resulted in the previous incumbent government in China, the Republic of China, retreating to the islands of Taiwan and Hainan until the Landing Operation on Hainan Island.


  • Africa experienced the beginning of large-scale top-down economic interventions in the 1950s that failed to cause improvement and led to charitable exhaustion by the West as the century went on. The widespread corruption was not dealt with and war, disease, and famine continued to be constant problems in the region.
  • Egyptian general Gamel Abdel Nasser overthrew the Egyptian monarchy, establishing himself as President of Egypt. Nasser became an influential leader in the Middle East in the 1950s, leading Arab states into war with Israel, becoming a major leader of the Non-Aligned Movement and promoting pan-Arab unification.
  • In 1957, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, after a series of negotiations with the then British empire, secured the independence of Ghana. Ghana was hitherto referred to as Gold Coast, a colony of the British Empire.


  • In the 1950s, America was the center of covert and overt conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States. Their varying collusion with national, populist, and elitist interests destabilized the region. The United States CIA orchestrated the overthrow of the Guatemalan government in 1954. In 1958, the military dictatorship of Venezuela was overthrown. This continued a pattern of regional revolution and warfare making extensive use of ground forces.
  • In 1957, Dr. François Duvalier came to power in an election in Haiti. He later declared himself president for life, and ruled until his death in 1971.
  • In 1959, Alaska (3 January) and Hawaii (21 August) became the 49th and 50th states respectively of the United States.
  • In 1959, Fidel Castro overthrew the regime of Fulgencio Batista in Cuba, establishing a communist government in the country. Although Castro initially sought aid from the US, he was rebuffed and later turned to the Soviet Union.
  • NORAD signed in 1959 by Canada and the United States creating a unified North American air defense system.
  • Brasília was built in 41 months, from 1956, and on April 21, 1960, became the capital of Brazil


  • With the help of the Marshall Plan, post-war reconstruction succeeded, with some countries (including West Germany) adopting free market capitalism while others adopted Keynesian-policy welfare states. Europe continued to be divided into Western and Soviet bloc countries. The geographical point of this division came to be called the Iron Curtain.
  • Because previous attempts for a unified state failed, Germany remained divided into two states: the capitalist Federal Republic of Germany in the west and the socialist German Democratic Republic in the east. The Federal Republic identified itself as the legal successor to the fascist dictatorship and was obliged in paying war reparations. The GDR, however, denounced the fascist past completely and did not recognize itself as responsible for paying reparations on behalf of the Nazi regime. The GDR's more harsh attitude in suppressing anti-communist and Russophobic sentiment lingering in the post-Nazi society resulted in increased emigration to the west.
  • While the United States military maintained its bases in western Europe, the Soviet Union maintained its bases in the east. In 1953, Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, died. This led to the rise of Nikita Khrushchev, who denounced Stalin and pursued a more liberal domestic and foreign policy, stressing peaceful competition with the West rather than overt hostility. There were anti-Stalinist uprisings in East Germany and Poland in 1953 and Hungary in 1956.
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