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The Hobby Boom of the 1950s

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“Construction Kits by Revell,” Evening Star (Washington, DC), November 27, 1955.

In an era when suburbs held contests for beautiful houses and lawns, and home life was glorified, the art of crafting at home became an obsession for many. The great hobby boom that took place in the 1950s was filled with model planes, trains, and boats, as well as some other pastimes that you might not have thought of.

Hobby Kits

In 1955 the Wall Street Journal noted “Makers of the kits from which home hobbyists assemble planes, ships, trains, and autos are riding the crest of a still-swelling boom, and finding that grownups as well as school-boys are providing the sales steam” (“The Hobby Boom,” Wall Street Journal (New York, NY), March 10, 1955, p.1). It is easy to find advertisements for such kits in newspapers at the time, such as the one above.* “Sales of hobby goods manufacturers hit an estimated $100 million last year,” the article continues, “more than 10% from the preceding year; there’s near-unanimous agreement in the business that 1955 will top the 1954 record.”

For some people, hobby kits became more than a way to pass the time. For one young man, building model boats was just the beginning of his training! He eventually turned to building real boats in his basement. Then to continue his love of boats, 17 year-old Danny planned to join the Navy.

Collecting Hobbies

“Copper Kettles in the Copper Camp,” Montana Farmer-Stockman (Great Falls, MT), May 15, 1956.

Stamp collecting has been a popular hobby almost since stamps were invented. Hobbyists of the era went beyond stamp collecting, though, and collected almost anything they were passionate about. For one Montana woman, bright copper kettles were her favorite things. She started with a kettle passed down from her mother, handmade by her grandfather in Finland, and then continued to collect 106 more of every shape and size.

Hobby Shows

Hobby shows became popular all around the country as a way for people to show off what they had been doing. It also made an excellent place to look for new hobbies and even watch demonstrations by local crafters. The Montana Winter Hobby Show of 1952 included “ceramics and painting, a new hobby that has interested many ladies” as well as wood carving, bead and shell crafts, drawing, sculpture, glass etching, and more.

“Sharks’ Teeth Included in Show by Emergency Hospital Staff,” Evening Star (Washington, DC), October 29, 1953.

Emergency Hospital in Washington, D.C., even held its own hobby show to exhibit the crafts, collections, and skills of the staff. There were puppets made by a nurse, model boats made by a surgeon, and the prize winning orchids raised by an x-ray technician. “The hospital’s chief dietician admitted her only hobby was raising a cat. So Mrs. Helen Boyle entered Minnie, who judging from her appearance, gets the right cat food.”

Hobbies for Kids

“Youth is the time to start exploring the pastimes that can be worth a ‘fortune’ in health and happiness,” according to the Evening Star. It recommends collecting items that are easy to acquire such as animal figurines, items from nature such as shells or rocks, or travel souvenirs such as luggage labels or postcards.

The Detroit Tribune highlighted some of the hobbies enjoyed by local high school students in 1956, which included bowling, skating, making model planes, and collecting jazz albums.

“Turning Rocks into Jewelry,” Evening Star (Washington, DC), May 10, 1953.

Good Advice

“Your hobby need not make sense to anyone else,” noted the Montana Farmer-Stockman, “so long as it gives you a good feeling of individuality and relaxation.”

The Jackson Advocate recommended, “To give that ‘at-home’ vacation you’re planning some novelty, make it a hobby vacation.” Advice that might resonate with our readers right now, as many of us vacation at home. “Butterfly collecting is making a comeback. Perhaps the trend towards collecting and mounting colorful flying specimens can be traced to the increased interest in home decorating.”

“What Your Hobby Tells About You,” Evening Star (Washington, DC), February 6, 1955.

If you would like to know what your hobby says about you, the Evening Star provided a personality analysis of some popular hobbies. If you are one of those model-builders, for example, “You tend to be better adjusted than average, are apt to be pretty stable emotionally, and to have fewer personality conflicts than most people.” Whatever hobby you choose, “You’ll live longer if you actively ride a hobby.”

* The Chronicling America historic newspapers online collection is a product of the National Digital Newspaper Program and jointly sponsored by the Library and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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