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Thursday, January 7, 2010

TechnoGranny Show, Christmas Technology of the Fifties

Techno Granny, Joanne Quinn-Smith and Nanno Granny, JoAnn Forrester were at it again on December 21, 2009, talking about the Christmas Technology of the Fifties.  You can listen to the archive at: or on TechnoGranny's Pittsburgh Internet Radio Channel at:

"Hey don't knock this picture, it's us really in the State Department at a reception during National Small Business Week in 2009.  Proof:  White House ID tags around our necks."

(Christmas Eve would find mommies and daddies assembling bicycles and placing angels atop trees) The men from the Russian Orthodox Church started caroling and visiting houses and having cookies and whiskey or beer on December 34 even though their Christmas Eve was not until January 5th. The little town that I lived in saw the Catholic Youth Organization out caroling and collecting money for the Pagan Babies. What a name, I didn’t make it up, I just liked to sing and get frost bite on my nose and cuddle up with the basketball team because they always felt bad that the girls were cold. They were also too proud to admit they were cold themselves. But Chritmas was not determined by the cold outside but the warmth inside and technology was much warming feeling in the fifties than it is now. Of course, I only remember the late fifties having been born in 1949. I myself was a sixties teenager. If I was a fifties teenager my memories might have been quite different.

Your Hit Parade - Christmas Eve Show 1955

An episode of "Your Hit Parade" from the 24th December 1955. This NBC series presented the cast performing covers of pop chart hits. This episode has excellent production values and one of the worst commercials of all time. Also one of the few episodes of this series with an actual guest star. Main Singers are Dorothy Collins, Snooky Lanson, Russell Arms, and Gisele MacKenzie.

The Liberace Show - 1954 Christmas episode

A Christmas episode of "The Liberace Show" from 1954. This series featured piano player Liberace. The episode contains him mostly playing the piano with a handful of singing moments.

The very first commercially available transistor radio was produced by Regency Electronics. They made the Regency TR-1 and was on the shelves for Christmas in 1954. Raytheon came out with one in 1955. 1956 is a common year stated for the manufacture of the Regency TR-1G, the successor to the Regency TR-1. ( source: )

As with any new technology, the price was very high for this new radio. Within a few years, the prices of transistor radios had fallen and the market began to explode. In 1956 Regency Electronics began to offer transistor radios in black, white, red, and gray. Later new colors were introduced and some were offered at a higher price simply because of their unique colors.

Early transistor radios were detailed and painstakingly decorated. A technique known as reverse painting was used, especially by the Japanese companies. The plastic components for the case of the radio were often made with a base of clear plastic which was then engraved on the inside and painted. This technique insured that the markings would not be rubbed off and the radio’s decoration would remain intact indefinitely.

Holiday songs are an essential part of the season's magic. It's impossible to imagine the Christmas holidays without Frosty the Snowman. Perry Como's folksy It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, There's No Christmas Like a Home Christmas and (There's No Place Like) Home for the Holidays conjure up fond Norman Rockwell style images. Jingle Bells and Winter Wonderland recall images of a cold starry night.

Most prolific of post-war Christmas-song writers was Johnny Marks. He collaborated with his brother-in-law to create Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and went on to write Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, and Holly, Jolly Christmas.

The best selling record of all time, White Christmas, first topped the charts in 1942. Bing Crosby introduced it in the film 'Holiday Inn.' His recording was so popular that it reappeared on the charts every December for twenty years. Its popularity was renewed when Bing Crosby, along with Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen reprised it in the 1955 musical 'White Christmas.'

Here are my ten favorite Christmas songs recorded during the 1950s and I've added four bonus Christmas Carols written in the 50s. (See also 10 best songs from the 1940s and the 1960s)

10 Best EASY-POP Christmas Recordings of the 1950s

#1 Silver Bells

Recorded by Bing Crosby and Carol Richards in 1953. Music and lyrics by Jay Livingston and Raymond Evans

#2 (There's No Place Like) Home for the Holidays

Recorded by Perry Como in 1955. Music by Robert Allen, lyrics by Al Stillman

Well known for writing ballads like Chances Are for Johnny Mathis and Moments to Remember for the Four Lads, Al Stillman and Robert Allen turned their attention to Christmas for this Perry Como hit. You can't beat home for the holidays.

#3 Frosty the Snowman

Recorded by Gene Autry in 1950. Music and lyrics by Steven Nelson and Jack Rollins

These songwriters had already created the Easter character Peter Cottontail before they imagined Frosty's hat, corncob pipe, and button nose. Nat King Cole, Jimmy Durante, and others recorded versions, but cowboy movie star Gene Autry's was the million-seller.

#4The Christmas Waltz

Recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1957. Music and lyrics by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne

Frank Sinatra approached the successful songwriting team of Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne to write a song for his Christmas album with Gordon Jenkins Orchestra. Although reluctant to create another holiday song they imagined a gliding waltz of 'frosted window panes' and 'gleaming candles' in ¾ time. Doris Day also recorded a memorable version.

#5It's Beginning to Look Like Christmas

Recorded by Perry Como and the Fontane Sisters in 1952. Music and lyrics by Meredith Willson

Meredith Willson is better know as the composer of the 1957 Broadway hit 'The Music Man.' Before that, however, he wrote the warmly melodic song It's Beginning to Look Like Christmas, with toys in stores, candy canes, and holly on doors.

There's No Christmas Like a Home Christmas

Recorded by Perry Como in 1950 and again in 1968. Music and lyrics by Carl Sigman and Mickey J. Addy

Carl Sigman, who wrote the lyrics for Marshmallow World, describes the Yuletide spirit—Christmas bells ringing and roads leading home when you've been away. The record was the 'B' side of Perry Como's It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas with the Fontane Sisters. He re-recorded it in 1968, backed by the Ray Charles Singers.

#9Winter Wonderland

Recorded by Johnny Mathis in 1958. Music and lyrics by Felix Bernard and Richard B. Smith

Regarded as a Christmas song due to its seasonal theme, the holiday itself is never mentioned in the lyrics written in 1934 when parsons often traveled to small towns to perform wedding ceremonies. Guy Lombardo and Johnny Mercer also had hit records.

The 50's had its ups and downs, and indicative of that was the yo-yo. The centuries-old toy was popular throughout the 50's and still has millions of fans today. Besides, it doesn't need batteries, assembly instructions or a parental warning (even though this toy could be dangerous in the hands of tots lacking the proper hand/eye coordination).

Also in the "could be hazardous to your health" category were roller skates. Popular with almost all children, the designs of the 50's even included styles that were basically frames with wheels that could be attached to most ordinary shoes. Later in the decade (as if wheels on shoes were not a big enough risk to life and limb), a spin-off (pun intended) toy called the skateboard was introduced and soon became all the rage.

Less complicated than most of today's toys, juvenile diversions of the 50's were often brilliant in their simplicity. One of the prime examples of this was Lincoln Logs.

Invented in 1916 by John Lloyd Wright (son of legendary architect Frank), the interlocking wooden building blocks still maintained their appeal throughout the 50's and beyond. More creative junior builders could even use Lincoln Logs to construct splints and walkers for less-coordinated siblings who had received skates and skateboards for Christmas.

Not as dangerous (but far more fashionable) was a trendy bit of headwear often worn by young boys in the 50's. Inspired by television's Davy Crockett, the coonskin cap was on children's Christmas lists for years. The only drawback to this particular trend in fashion was the possibility of being mistaken for an incredibly short Fess Parker.

Other boys who wanted to take cowboy role playing to a higher level of realism would of course ask Santa for the ever-popular BB gun. More commonly referred to as the "you'll put your eye out toy", this now politically incorrect item eventually came to be considered one of the most dangerous and one of the most fun Christmas gifts ever marketed.

Unlike today, most little girls had little or no interest in "boys' toys". They would have been more likely to wish for gifts involving doll houses, doll clothes or maybe just a doll. But not just any doll. It had to be Betsy Wetsy, Tiny Tears or maybe even a glamorous doll named Barbie (introduced in 1959). Each little girl hoped that special doll would be waiting for them on December 25th.

In the fifties, kids spent hours pouring over the Sears Christmas catalog making their wish lists. Back then, young boys were hoping to get such things as BB guns, Lincoln logs, erector sets, train sets, Robby the robot, bicycles and Radio Flyer wagons. For years, one of the most wanted gifts by boys was a coonskin cap. They dreamed of looking just like Fess Parker who starred on Davy Crocket TV show.

Young girls were hoping Santa would bring them one of the glamorous dolls featured in the Sears catalog. The most desired dolls in the fifties were Tiny Tears and Betsy Wetsy. Christmas of 1959 found many little girls hoping they would get the new doll Barbie which was introduced that year. Other gifts that were on many young girls lists were doll houses, doll clothes, and paper dolls. Older girls were hoping to get clothes, portable 45 RPM record players and records.

Roller skates were a popular Christmas gift in the fifties. Kids like us who lived in Nebraska were thrilled if Santa brought them ice skates or sleds. Remember how much fun we had with Slinkys and yo-yos - we could entertain ourselves for hours. Kids of today might not believe the toys we received brought us so much joy.

Chances are some of the Christmas gifts we received were purchased with S & H Green Stamps. Those stamps were issued at supermarkets, gas stations, drug stores and even some department stores. How many of you remember licking those little green stamps and sticking them into the saver books? Some of our moms only shopped at stores that offered S & H Green Stamps. Any of you remember browsing through a Sperry & Hutchinson catalog or visiting a Green Stamps store?

The decorations in the fifties were often sticky coloured paper that was looped together to make a brightly coloured paper chain. We also had fluffy tissue paper decorations which opened up into a fat Santa or Christmas bell. These were usually kept for years but the paper chains were replaced each year. This meant that someone had the chore of sticking all of these links of paper together. As kids though we loved it. To complete the decorations a sprig oh Holly and one or two of Mistletoe would be strategically placed around our home.

However as small children we had a stocking which was actually one of my Dad's huge, knee length working socks. This would have layers of small gifts and treats. The knobbly bottom of the sock would be due to an orange or tangerine, an apple and some large shelled nuts. We would barter these with each other. As a child I did not eat nuts, for example.

In here there would be small gifts such as skipping ropes, balls, yo-yos, a kaleidoscope, water pistols, penny whistles a toy harmonica, doll's clothes, colouring books, crayons and more. It could take ages to fully empty this sock. We then went onto the gifts that Santa had brought.

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