Five Alive in 1955
For some mysterious reason, five has always been my favorite number. Not necessarily my lucky number, but definitely my favorite. I’m keen on anything that has a five attached. Especially keen with anything that has a double or a triple five.
I love pop culture, and in my way of thinking, it was only natural that one day, fives and pop culture would merge. This column is where it is happening. Right now!
In 1955, several iconic pieces of Americana came to life that changed America’s cultural landscape. It was an amazingly fertile year that lives in infamy.
It was the year when Disneyland, Waffle House restaurants, and McDonald’s restaurants all began their successful runs into the heart of nearly everyone who has lived since.
According to amusement park historian Jim Futrell, 1955 was a year in which “the industry was evolving in ways that were reflected well beyond Disneyland.” It was a year that represented the evolution of the industry, thanks in part to postwar prosperity that presented the need for more family entertainment options.
Disneyland was one of at least 17 parks that opened in 1955 in the U.S. and Canada, including kiddielands, Santa’s parks, and storybook parks. Fulfillment of family entertainment went way beyond Disney. It helped define eating, travel, and everyday life in the postwar, prosperous times of the middle-class American.
I remember well the first time I visited Disneyland (1968), the first time I gobbled down a McDonald’s
hamburger (1962), and the first breakfast I ever ate at a Waffle House (1959). We didn’t get our first McDonald’s in Columbus, Ohio, until the early 1960s, and it took mom and me quite a while to convince dad to visit. (He later became hooked on McDonald’s burgers.) When we ate out, it was either at McDonald’s or Howard Johnson’s on Friday nights for its clam strip dinners.
Speaking of seafood, I discovered fish fingers in 1955. Birds Eye added a fish fingers TV dinner to its lineup, and I remember eating plenty of them over the course of my childhood. Up to then, no one even realized that fish had fingers. Each night after school, I rushed home and tuned the TV to watch “The Mickey Mouse Club,” which premiered in 1955, on ABC. My first crush was on Annette Funicello, and I remember eating fish fingers as I watched the joyful group of Mouseketeers sing and dance around wearing mouse ears. Jim Henson introduced Kermit the Frog on a local TV show in May of that year, and Elvis made his first appearance on a local TV station as well.
I’ve written often about my love affair with early rock ’n’ roll, which I can trace back to the day I got my first transistor radio, which was introduced in 1955. AM radio was amazing to me, and it opened the window to the world of music. I could hear new music from radio stations far away at night, as I huddled in my bed, under the covers of darkness. It was just me, my little three-transistor radio, and the screams from the roller coaster at Buckeye Lake Park, just across the lake from our house.
Of course, there are other significant years in Americana, but 1955 stands above all others. I was only 8, but the icons introduced that year still excite me—especially Disney and fish fingers.
Tim O’Brien is a veteran outdoor entertainment journalist and is a longtime Funworld contributor. He has authored many books chronicling the industry’s attractions and personalities and is the only journalist in the IAAPA Hall of Fame.