25 Major Scientific Achievements of the 1950s: Can We Top Them?

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Scientific breakthroughs in the 1950s at a time when the U.S. actively pursued and funded R&D technology

We're on the cusp of a major push in scientific research. Much like the 1950s, our government is determined to pour more money and more resources into science so we can push ahead. This time, we're not in a Space race, but a race to mitigate Global Warming. Anybody who tells you different is fibbing. The only way to get out of this mess (or at least alleviate some of it) is to rely on science to invent the technologies that can help us.

Recently, President Obama promised the nation's scientists he would step up governmental and private funding for new Research and Development (R&D) projects, reversing its critical decline over the past 25 years. Citing America's lagging role as a global leader in science and technology; the President said, we are dangerously close to following seriously behind other countries like India and China.

Pointing to the 1950s as America's "high-water mark" in funding science research, the President promised to spend more than $21.5 billion on Science from the 2009 Stimulus Package - particularly for projects addressing renewable energy.

He said another goal was to make research and experiment tax credits permanent in the 2010 budget. While it is clear that President Obama strongly believes in the promise and potential of science, it is less clear whether Congress and the public supports a larger funding initiative for R&D. 

In the 1950s, shortly after WWII, and the public awareness of the role science played in ending the War, it was a different story. In 1958, (thanks to both public and private sources) the U.S spent $10 billion on science technology (far more than $21.5 billion in today's dollars). There was widespread public enthusiasm and support for Science - especially as the U.S. raced into space, determined to put the first man on the moon (which took until the 1960s).

In case you've forgotten the major science breakthroughs in the 1950s (or maybe never even knew), here's a list of some of the important scientific achievements, (listed in chronological order; some more vitally important than others). These achievements are a representative sampling of some of the successful technology and science discovered; many of these discoveries have had a major impact on our lives.


1. First electric power from U.S. reactor.

2. First U.S. thermonuclear explosion.

3. Introduction of Coast-to-coast TV.

4. Large electronic computer delivered to the Bureau of Census.

5. Automation of the auto industry begins.

6. Bubble chamber for tracking atomic particles created.

7. Discovery of the brain's arousal system.

8. Heart-lung machine first used on a human.


9. Proposed structure of DNA announced.

10. Solar batteries unveiled.

11. Tranquilizers introduced.

12. Introduction of both color and wide-screen TVs.

13. Nike missile revealed.

14. First supersonic flight by a military aircraft.

15. Discovery of reward center in the brain.


16. vertical take-off and landing of jet aircraft.

17. Experimental use of oral contraceptives.

18. Mass use of Salk polio vaccine.

19. All-transistor radios introduced.

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20. Transatlantic telephone cable introduced.

21. Nuclear-powered submarines unveiled.


22. Discovery of cold fusion.

23. Synthetic diamonds produced.

24, First U.S. satellites and ICBM unveiled.

25. Stereo record technology developed.

After WWII, a good deal of the money spent on scientific research went to the military, but the military's discoveries carried over to civilian life and to other branches of science.  Military funding for science, in fact, helped develop computer engineering and technologies leading to digital computing. Because it was the military complex's scientific research that created the computing culture, some say it retains its "Cold War military perspective."

Regardless of that philosophy, computer science had a "profound, earth-shaking effect" on day-to-day living, business, psychology, cognitive science and neuroscience, to name a few. The funding of military scientific research also found its way into earth sciences: geodesy, oceanography and seismology (much of this now contributing to our understanding of Global Warming).

Biological sciences also grew under military funding, but less directly than other sciences that might have military (defense) applications. Private foundation funding was an important source of R&D in biological and medical research in the 1950-60s. Although military-driven and funded science is still creating and producing high-tech products (take the pilot-less drones, for example and the huge advances in development of prosthetics for amputees, as well as newly funded, ongoing research to enable communication via brain wave technology), the emphasis now may be less on military-funded research and more on scientists working to mitigate or reverse the devastating effects of Global Warming.

Psychic Analysis: The new Science race is on - just like the 1950s - but this time, the prize is not to conquer space, but to conquer pollution, carbon emissions, drought and the rapid extinction of many of life's animal species. Every time we see more wild fires spreading across the world; every time another glacier melts; every time another species is determined endangered or nearly extinct, we are hearing a drum beating. There are still far too many people for whom this drum beat is inaudible.

The woes of the troubled economy and the troubled climate are intertwined. One solution is this:  work on fixing one, and you help fix the other. Putting the economy first, however, is putting the cart before the horse. It doesn't take a psychic to see the horse is stumbling and in danger of falling and tipping over the cart, unless we radically change our priorities and literally yell and stomp our feet, demanding more funding for scientific research. Time is of the essence. With thanks to Fortune Magazine, January, 1959, AFP, and multiple related histories researched from the internet.


Mark Cruz
Posted on Mar 21, 2012
Sy Kravitz
Posted on Feb 3, 2012
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Sy Kravitz
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Mukhia Gideon
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