In many ways, 1957 was a transformative year in American history. Major cultural shifts, fueled by unprecedented post-war economic prosperity led to a fundamental redefinition of what it was to be an American. For most, there was a very real sense of optimism and exuberance reflected in everything from large car tailfins to a new, youth-led music movement known as rock and roll. For others, a sense of hope for a better future began to take root with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 along with the courage displayed by the Little Rock Nine in challenging then-prevalent school segregation.
In year of troubles and triumphs on Earth itself, people around the world gazed towards the night sky in October of this year to catch a glimpse of Sputnik. This tiny satellite was the first man-made object to orbit Earth and served as the inspiration for generations of scientists, engineers, and thinkers of all sorts. Few people in 1957 would have guessed that just twelve short years later, humans would set foot on the moon as a result of an unparalleled period of aggressive scientific discovery provoked by this miniscule Soviet spacecraft.
In the world of real estate, suburban living was becoming a way of life for a huge number of Americans. With the construction of Levittown on Long Island just ten years earlier, Americans began moving to suburbs in record numbers in the post-war period. Single-family homes were the order of the day, complete with garages for the cars and lush backyards for Baby Boomers to enjoy. With the average home going for just over $12,000, more Americans than ever could afford their own home rather than paying rent.
Reasonable as that average home price sounds, a 22-year old Elvis Presley purchased his now famous Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tennessee for more than ten times that amount in 1957. It remained his home for his entire life and remains one of the most popular tourist attractions in the state. Across the ocean at a church picnic in July, a young Paul McCartney met John Lennon for the first time. Lennon was playing in a skiffle band called The Quarrymen that later became The Beatles (you may have heard of them). That same year The Cavern Club opened its doors at 10 Matthew Street in Liverpool as a jazz club. Four years later in that very club, Brian Epstein would witness a Beatles show and almost immediately take over their management, arguably propelling them to heights not achieved by any band before or since.
In the world of publishing, beat writer Jack Kerouac would first release On The Road. Misunderstood by many reviewers at the time, the book would go on to become a classic of American literature and one of the most important documents of an artistic era. On stage, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s West Side Story debuted on Broadway to rave reviews, eventually winning six Tonys and later being adapted into an Academy Award-winning movie in 1961.
For fans of film and stage, 1957 is also a vital year for actors and actresses. Legendary actor Daniel Day-Lewis was born in London that year. Fans of Coen Brothers films may be surprised to learn that Frances McDormand, John Turturro, and Steve Buscemi all share 1957 as the year of their births. Television personality Steve Harvey and his infectious smile also came into the world this year along with legendary The Simpsons voice actors Dan Castellaneta (Homer) and Nancy Cartwright (Bart).
1957 was indeed a watershed year. A changing culture, led primarily by youth who were shaped by post-war prosperity, was opening up promising and exciting new means of self-expression and self-determination to millions of people who, a generation prior, may not have had such opportunity. Americans, born of a pioneer spirit, were building new cities and homes in the suburbs, transforming the landscape of the country. Technology was advancing at a breakneck pace towards the space age, with the best and brightest minds producing inventions and innovations that were the stuff of dreams only a decade before. So, with that, here’s to you, 1957 – we wouldn’t be the same without you!