The 1950s
In 1945, American troops returned home, many starting new lives and families. Between 1946 and 1964, 76.4 million baby boomers were born. Over 13 million homes went up from 1948 to 1958. Most were affordable, cookie-cutter houses fashioned after the phenomenally successful Levittown, Long Island. William J. Levitt had pioneered the suburb by building neighborhoods of nearly identical, quickly built housing. America's movement to the suburbs spurred the growth of shopping malls, drive-ins, and supermarkets. Many saw the 1950's as a return to prosperity and social "normality."

President TrumanThe prosperity and social normality was tinged with a "Red" hysteria, however. Americans saw communism on the march everywhere. By the end of the 1940's, Americans had seen the Soviets try to cut off Berlin from the West, Mao's Communist Party come to power in China, and the Soviet Union explode its first atomic bomb. In 1947, President Truman had outlined what became known as the Truman Doctrine: "I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures." A State Department official, George Kennan, later fleshed out the Truman Doctrine, introducing the policy of "containment," which meant the United States would contain the Soviet Union's influence anywhere in the world. The "containment of the Communist threat" colored U.S. foreign policy decisions for decades to come.

At home, politicians found it politically expedient to be hard on communism. A former Communist Party member charged former Roosevelt advisor, Alger Hiss, with being a Communist spy. Hiss denied the charges before the House Un-American Activities Committee, which investigated alleged communist subversion in the U.S. government. The statute of limitations protected Hiss from espionage charges, but he was later found guilty of perjury. At the same time, Americans learned that respected Los Alamos scientist Klaus Fuchs had been passing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. Other conspirators testified that they had passed the secrets to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The Rosenbergs were convicted and executed as spies. Their defenders--then and now--claimed the Rosenbergs were framed, convicted, and executed in an anti-Semitic and anti-Communist frenzy.
TimelineJanuary 1950President Truman
President Truman orders the Atomic Energy Commission to develop the hydrogen bomb (H-bomb).
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TimelineFebruary 1950
Senator Joseph McCarthy launches a crusade to rout out communism in America. "McCarthyism" is born.
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TimelineJune 1950
The Korean War begins as North Korean forces invade South Korea.
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TimelineDecember 1951
The first usable electricity from nuclear fission is produced at the National Reactor Station, later called the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory.
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TimelineOctober 1952
Operations begin at the Savannah River Plant in Aiken, South Carolina, with the startup of the heavy water plant.
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TimelineDecember 1953
In his Atoms for Peace speech, President Eisenhower proposes joint international cooperation to develop peaceful applications of nuclear energy.
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TimelineJanuary 1954
U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles announces U.S. policy of massive retaliation, that the United States would respond to any Communist aggression.

The first nuclear submarine, U.S.S. Nautilus, is launched.
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TimelineApril 1954Senator Joseph McCarthy
The Army-McCarthy hearings aired on television for five weeks. Senator Joseph McCarthy, chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, charged that the Secretary of the Army, Robert T. Stevens, and Army Counsel, John G. Adams, were hampering the committee's attempts to uncover communists in the military. McCarthy failed to prove his charges. The hearings, given broad television and newspaper coverage, helped to end the anti-Communist witch hunt. By the end, Senator McCarthy was publicly disgraced. The Senate condemned McCarthy.

TimelineAugust 1954
The Atomic Energy Act of 1954 was passed to promote the peaceful uses of nuclear energy through private enterprise and to implement President Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace Program. The Act allowed the Atomic Energy Commission to license private companies to use nuclear materials and build and operate nuclear power plants. This act amended the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, which had placed complete power of atomic energy development in the hands of the Atomic Energy Commission.

TimelineJuly 1955
On July 17, 1955, Arco, Idaho became the first U.S. town to be powered by nuclear energy. The demonstration lasted for one hour in the 1,350-person community. The National Reactor Testing Station, now called the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, supplied the power from its Borax-III reactor. It was part of the Atomic Energy Commission's (AEC) Five-Year Reactor Development Program in the mid-1950's. The AEC tested five types of experimental reactors. The Borax-III was an early prototype of a boiling water reactor, a type of reactor which still produces electricity for utilities today.
Khrushchev & Stalin
TimelineOctober 1956
In February 1956, Soviet Premier Khrushchev denounced his predecessor, Josef Stalin, and his intolerance for other brands of communism. This gave hope to many in Eastern Europe who soon began demanding that their countries be able to determine their own fates. A labor dispute in Poland grew into national riots in mid-1956. The Soviets used force to stop the riots, but later compromised with the Polish by letting them choose the chairman of the Polish Communist Party. Meanwhile, Hungary's new government, backed by local revolutionary councils throughout Hungary, announced that it was pulling out of the Warsaw Pact and becoming neutral. The Warsaw Pact was a military alliance between the Soviet Union and Eastern bloc countries established in May 1955. In October 1956, Soviet troops moved in to crush the revolt. Hungarians appealed to the United States for help, but the United States was not able to do anything in Eastern Europe, short of all out war.

TimelineNovember 1956
Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev tells the West, "History is on our side. We will bury you."
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TimelineJuly 1957
On July 12, 1957, the Sodium Reactor Experiment in Santa Susana, California generated the first power from a civilian nuclear reactor. Southern California Edison bought the electricity generated by the sodium-graphite reactor. It was part of the Atomic Energy Commission's (AEC) Five-Year Reactor Development Program in the mid-1950's. The AEC tested five types of experimental reactors. This reactor used sodium rather than water as a coolant. The reactor provided power until 1966.

TimelineSeptember 1957
The United States set off the first underground nuclear test, code-named Rainier, in a mountain tunnel in the remote desert 100 miles from Las Vegas on September 19, 1957. Rainier was part of a series, known as Operation Plumbob, conducted at the Nevada Test Site to test warheads scheduled for production. Seismic waves from Rainier were detected 2,300 miles away in Alaska.  -Nuclear Test gallery

TimelineOctober 1957
Radiation is released when the graphite core of the Windscale Nuclear Reactor in England catches fire.
The Soviet Union launches Sputnik, the first spacecraft.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is formed to promote the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and to provide international safeguards and an inspection system to ensure nuclear materials aren't diverted from peaceful to military uses.
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TimelineDecember 1957
The first U.S. large-scale nuclear powerplant begins operating in Shippingport, Pennsylvania.
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TimelineOctober 1959
The Dresden-1 Nuclear Power Station in Illinois achieves a self-sustaining nuclear reaction. It's the first U.S. nuclear powerplant built entirely without government funding. Commonwealth Edison operated Dresden-1.

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