On September 27, 1989, the iconic song by Billy Joel,  We Didn’t Start the Fire hit the airwaves.  It was a history lesson set to music.  When you first heard the song, did you know or remember all the people places, things and events mentioned in the lyrics?  I sure didn’t.  Back in 1989 before the internet was something everyone had access to, my boyfriend (now husband) and I headed to the local public library and looked up all the historical references.  This month, for the A to Z Challenge, I am writing about that history.

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it
Billy Joel did not include any person, places, things or events that begin with the letter Y.  I was thinking about the structure of the song.  Billy started with the year of his birth, 1949 and includes items up through 1989, the year he wrote and released the song.  I came up with Y is for Years.  Using an online random number generator, I entered 1949 as the minimum and 1989 as the maximum and allow it to pick a year for me.  The random winner, 1955Did you ever go into a greeting card store and look through the rack that contains little booklets labeled with years.  You are supposed to spin the rack until you find the year you were born and purchase the history of the year you were born.  If you were born in 1955, this is for you.  For the rest of us, please enjoy this eventful year.


Consumerism: Fashions, and Toys  1955

How Much things cost in 1955:  Inflation Rate USA 0.28%; Average Cost of new house $10.950.00; Average Monthly Rent $87.00; Average Yearly Wages $4,130.00; Minimum Hourly Rate $1.00; Average Cost of a new car $1,900.00; Cost of a gallon of Gas 23 cents; Ladies Swim Suits $12.95; Black and White TV $99.95;
The sale of 7.9 million cars in the US resulted in 7 out of 10 families now owning a motor car.  This lead to a new law requiring seat belts to be installed on all new cars.
The first McDonalds was erected in 1955 and more fast foods and TV dinners are appearing on the market.
The first cans of Coca-Cola are sold up till then it had only been sold in bottles.
Young men’s fashion matches the times with pink shirts and charcoal grey suits.

Technology and Invention 1955

The New Synthetic Material Polyurethane used in more and more everyday goods
First pocket transistor radios available
The first Atomically generated power is used in the US
Inventions Invented by Inventors and Country ( or attributed to First Use ):  Atomic Clock England; Hovercraft England by Christopher Cockerell; Lego Gotfried Kirk Christiansen; Velcro Switzerland by George De Mestral.

Human Rights and Social Protests 1955

Rosa Parks, an African-American bus passenger, is arrested after refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama.
Emmett Till, a black fourteen year old teenager is murdered for not showing respect to a white woman in Money, Miss.

Medicine 1955

As I wrote in V is for Vaccine, Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine is declared safe and effective in April.

The vaccine for polio is privately tested by Jonas Salk.

Entertainment 1955

Rock and Roll music continues to grow in popularity with more idols:  Elvis Presley , Bill Haley and the Comets, Chuck Berry, The Platters and Fats Domino.

Elvis Presley signs with RCA Records on November 21, beginning his pop career.

“The Mickey Mouse Club” debuts on ABC.

The Broadway musical “Peter Pan” was broadcast live on television.

“The $64,000 Question” the popular US television game show starts. he show became extremely popular but the success was relatively short-lived and it ended in 1958 when it was revealed that several popular game shows had been rigged.

The popular Western show “Gunsmoke” debuts on television.

Disneyland opens in California on July 17th.

Disneyland opens on July 17, 1955 as Walt Disney’s first theme park.

The first Commercial TV Station with advertisements starts in London, England


James Dean’s stars in the movie East of Eden and then James Dean is killed in car accident near Cholame, California

James Dean achieves success with East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause, gets nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor, and dies in a car accident on September 30 at the age of 24.

Popular Films: Oklahoma; The Quatermass Xperiment; Rebel without a Cause; To Catch A Thief; The seven year itch


Books and Literature 1955

First Guinness Book of World Records Published.

World Politics and War 1955

The USS Nautilus becomes the first operational nuclear-powered submarine when it casts off on its first true voyage in January.

Middle Eastern nations and the United Kingdom form a cooperative pact similar to NATO.

West Germany Joins NATO

The Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc allies sign the Warsaw Pact on May 14th integrating the military, economic and cultural policy between the eight Communist nations.

The United States begins its involvement in the Vietnam War.

Vietnam War 1955-1975

The Military seizes control in Argentina forcing Juan Peron to flee

Clement Attlee who oversaw the creation of the British Welfare System resigns as leader of the Labour Party

US military intervention in Iran

Crime and Disaster 1955

Ruth Ellis, the last woman in England to be executed is hung at Holloway Prison in the United Kingdom.

77 Die in a disaster at 24hr Le Mans Race

Great Britain experienced the worst winter storms to date.  There were roads and rail problems and a shortage of food and medical supplies

United Airlines Flight 629 is blown up shortly after takeoff over Longmont, Colorado

Son plants bomb in mom’s suitcase, killing her and 43 others during flight

Hurricane Diane hits the northeast United States, killing 200 and causing over $1 billion in damage

Hurricane Diane, 1955

Great Britain declares State of Emergency due to National Rail Strike

Other 1955

The St. Lawrence Seaway opens to Ocean Vessels from Montreal to US ports on the Great Lakes

St. Lawrence Seaway opens

British Newspapers Not Printed for 1 month due to strike in Fleet Street By Maintenance Workers

Fleet Street Papers Return After Month Long Maintenance Workers’ Strike. This Day in History, 21/04/ 1955.


If you have the time for 9:26 minutes, here is a video that sums up 1955.  It has a lot from the Great Britain point of view but still has enough other.  Many of the events shown are listed in this post.

2 responses

  1. Liam says:

    Great way to tackle Y. Definitely a significant year!


  2. Birgit says:

    Wow….what a year! The Le Mans disaster is just horrific. James Dean dying in A horrible car crash only making 3 films but cementing his mythic status. My mom came over from Germany by boat landing in Montreal after going through the St. Lawrence Seaway