Historical Museum Exhibit Spotlight: Snoqualmie Valley Life in the 1950s

[Guest Post by Kaitlyn Murray, Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum staff member]

Following the conclusion of World War 2, America was ushered into an era of innovation, prosperity, and growth. The economy was flourishing, growing families spread into suburbs, and new consumer goods changed how people lived. These national changes heavily impacted the way people worked, socialized, and spent leisure time in the Snoqualmie Valley.

Soldiers were eager to return to their careers, and many women continued working the new jobs they took on during the war. Rising consumer demand and a successful economy created an influx of new jobs. The logging, farming, and service industries were prominent employers in the Snoqualmie Valley.

Dairy farming was the primary agricultural activity in the Snoqualmie Valley, with over 100 dairy farms in operation. The largest dairy farm was Carnation Farms, which gained great notoriety across America for its evaporated milk. Weyerhaeuser celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1950 and was the Valley’s largest employer, with around 1,100 employees.

Menus from 1950’s Snoqualmie Valley diners.
Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum: 1950’s Snoqualmie Valley Exhibit
Photograph taken by Ken Shipley

In 1956, President Eisenhower signed legislation to fund the construction of the interstate highway system. Increased interest in traveling and new highways led to many tourists stopping in town to grab a bite to eat during their road trips. This prompted the development of 24-hour diners like the Gateway Café and drive-in restaurants like Roge’s Drive-In Café. The development of new businesses created an abundance of service industry jobs for Snoqualmie Valley residents.

Outdoor recreation, such as skiing and camping, became increasingly accessible to both residents and visitors. The thriving economy provided more opportunities for people to engage in recreational activities. Fishing, swimming, and picnicking were the top-rated activities for locals.

A 1950’s television, a magazine featuring an actress raised in the Snoqualmie Valley, and a Yogi Bear figurine.
Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum: 1950’s Snoqualmie Valley Exhibit
Photograph taken by Ken Shipley

Televisions became a staple in the average home. Viewers were influenced by captivating commercials and interesting new consumer items featured in television shows, which contributed to a rise in consumerism and conformity. Wartime ration restrictions limited what people were able to purchase in the 1940s. During the booming economy of the 1950s, people were eager to shop for consumer goods and clothes.

Fashion trends became directed towards formal clothing to express the change from hard times to abundance. During this time period, many people felt that they needed to keep up a perfect appearance to be accepted by their peers. McCarthyism produced paranoias and fears of being socially ostracized. Community involvement became vital for families wanting to keep up the appearance of a perfect all-American nuclear family.

Popular community events included the Fireman’s Carnival, Meadowbrook Days, and the Fishing Derby. Residents enjoyed dancing, with teenagers ranking dancing as their top weekend activity. Community buildings, including Si View and the Snoqualmie Falls YMCA, offered events and programs that taught new skills and provided opportunities for residents to socialize.

A typical mid-century style dress was worn by women in the 1950s for dances and events.
Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum: 1950’s Snoqualmie Valley Exhibit
Photograph taken by Ken Shipley

In a time before the ease of internet resources, people relied greatly on their local communities. Many Snoqualmie Valley residents belonged to social clubs and attended community gatherings. Through social organizations, people learned new skills, found job opportunities, and became acquainted with fellow community members. There were over sixty community organizations in the Snoqualmie Valley, such as Ladies Aid, Kiwanis, and Masons. These organizations provided social capital, which aided people in obtaining resources, information, and opportunities.

The 1950s was an exciting and hopeful time after decades of economic depression and war. Widespread availability of new innovations improved standards of living, and the prospering economy created more opportunities for leisure. Although this was a time of optimism and growth, many people during this time period also experienced discrimination, cold war fears, and societal pressures.

Household kitchen items from the 1950’s, including a Ladies Aid recipe book.
Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum: 1950’s Snoqualmie Valley Exhibit
Photograph taken by Ken Shipley

The Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum’s annual exhibit centers around what life was like for people living in the Snoqualmie Valley during the 1950s. Drawing information from the Snoqualmie Community Survey of 1955 and the Recreation Committee Report of 1956, the exhibit features first-hand accounts from Valley residents about daily life during this decade.

Educational panels delve into themes of major employment industries, population statistics, recreation activities, social organizations, and community events. Displayed historical items immerse visitors in mid-century life by showing common household items, labor tools, clothing, and more. Stop by the Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum to explore this decade of major sociocultural shifts, new innovations, and economic prosperity.

[Featured Image: A sewing class at the Snoqualmie YMCA. Photograph taken in October 1952. Harold Keller Collection

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