In the following section, a few facets of mid-20th century Americana are discussed. This has been done so that readers might better understand the baby boom era, in which the shopping mall was born. 


Until the late 1970s, it was -in essence- illegal to physically own your phone. All hardware was provided, and possessed, by the respective phone company (there was but a single, major one back then). Everyone was charged a "rental fee" on their monthly bill for their standard, wall or "Princess" model.

The Princess Phone, marketed to the ladies, was introduced in 1959. On the left is the standard, rotary-dialing model. A more modern version, utilizing touch-tone telephony, is seen on the right.
Photo from Wikipedia / Mcheath"

The phone you would have rented at your local shopping mall "Ma Bell" store would have utilized analogue, "rotary-dialing". "Touch Tone" telephony did not appear until 1963, and did not become commonplace until the mid-1970s. Moreover, answering machines didn't come into prominence until the late 1970s.

Oh yes, no one had a cellular phone until the mid-1980s, and these were rather large, clunky things...nothing like the super-miniaturized models of today.


First off, back in the vacuum tube-based days of electronics, tvs, radios and record players did not come on instantly after the "on" button was clicked. There would be a pause of a minute or two, while the set "warmed up".

The "instant on" feature was something to "ooo" and "ahh" over, when the first "solid-state" (transistorized) televisions became common in the early 1970s. By the mid-1970s, tube sets, and vacuum tube electronics in general, had become a thing of the past.

The self-service "Tube Tester", a common fixture in the shopping mall Alpha-Beta, Food Fair, or A & P. Back in the days, when the family set went on the blink, dad might open up the back and check for any tubes that looked too black. These would be removed and taken to the local grocery to analyse...and (possibly) replace.
Photo from

It might be hard to fathom now, but -back in the days- a woman could not say the word "lover" on broadcast TV. Men or women, either one, could not utter the words "toilet paper" or "pregnant". Moreover, the typical, tv mom and pop usually slept in single beds.

In the pre-cable and satellite TV era, analogue -over the air- reception was all there was. After the mid-1950s, there were only three TV networks and -basically- just three programming choices at a time. Keep in mind, as well, that a station usually signed off the air at around midnight, to return to broadcasting at 5 am or so. There would have been nothing to watch, but a test pattern, during the wee hours of the morning.


The CBS network, in a consortium with the Crosley Company, had developed a mechanically-operated format for color television, with the first color broadcast taking place in June 1951. However, there were only twenty-five associated television sets in existence.

A circa-1951 set using the experimental CBS-Crosley Company "field sequential" color television format. This was a mechanical method of colorcasting using a series of rotating "color wheels". It was eventually bested by a fully-electronic format color television system perfected by NBC-RCA.

Photo from 

The drawback with the CBS-Crosley system was that it was completely incompatible with the existing black and white broadcast medium. At the same time, NBC and co-company RCA had been working on their own color television format, which was electronic in format and "backwards compatible" with black and white broadcasting.

The two systems duked it out until December 1953, when the NBC system was officially sanctioned as the National Television System Committee (NTSC) standard by the Federal Communications Commission. The first large network, coast-to-coast "colorcast" was done in January 1954, with NBC's coverage of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade.

The Pre-Peacock NBC "Color Chimes" logo, which was in use between 1954 and 1957.
Graphic from

In the late '50s and early '60s, a "living color" program was quite a big event, usually reserved for specials and "spectaculars". If you went to someone's home and saw that they had a color were duly impressed!

For many years, the price of a new color television, at the shopping mall May Company, Gimbels or Foley's, was quite prohibitive. The first sets to roll off the assembly line in 1954 went for a whopping $1,000 each! The price tag of a "big screen" 21-inch color set in 1956 had come down to $795....and $695 by 1962. By 1966, a 25-inch color set could be acquired for only $450.

RCA's earliest mass-production color television receiver, the CT-100. It was first marketed in April 1954 and carried a hefty price tag of $1,000!
Photo from


It took a while to truly perfect the medium, and there was also a bit of resistance from the buying public. As an example, we might mention an urban legend that circulated in the early '60s which said that, after buying one of the new-fangled color sets, a family would need to reserve a bedroom in their home for the trusty tv repairman.

Through all the high prices and pitfalls, color tv finally began to catch on. "Bonanza", NBC's western-themed soap opera, became the first major, regularly-scheduled, in-color TV series on September 12, 1959. For the next three years, NBC was the only network to sporadically "colorcast" television programs.

ABC added a few color shows to their prime time line up in September 1962. CBS, who had been the most reluctant to adopt the NBC-developed "compatible color" system, finally gave in and began to colorcast a few prime time shows in September 1965. In September 1966, the three networks began colorcasting their entire prime-time schedules.  

In the days before the iconic NBC Peacock, color programming on the network was preceded by this panel. Unfortunately, due to the technological limitations of the 1950s, multi-hued recordings of the early color shows could not be made. All that remain are black and white (kinescope) recordings on film.
Still photo from The Dinah Shore Chevy Show

In May 1956, the NBC Peacock made its debut. At first, it was simply a still frame shot. This progressed to a fully-animated version in September 1957.
Graphic from the National Broadcasting Company (See Media Fair Use Rationale at end of article)

By 1968, the three networks had converted all prime time and daytime content to color. However, some commercials would still be in black and white. Below is a link to You Tube, where 1960s, "In Living Color" announcements, used by ABC, CBS and NBC, may be seen.

The first successful television remote control, the Zenith "Space Command", was introduced in 1956. Primitive by today's standards, it used ultrasonic sound, from a tuning fork, to automatically turn the set on or off, change the channel or adjust the volume.

These remote controls did not require one to point directly at a particular spot on the television set in order to work. In fact, one could click a button on the trusty Space Command device as far away as another room in the house and it would still work. Moreover, "clicker" remote controls did not require batteries.

The first practical (sans cable) television remote control, similar to the one on the left, came on the market in 1956. A later color tv "clicker" is seen on the right.
Photo 1 from
Photo 2 from Wikipedia / Jim Rees

By 1965, Zenith had perfected a "Space Command" for color sets that would also adjust the picture's hue. These analogue-type controllers were made obsolete by the introduction of infrared remotes, in the early 1980s.


Until 1966, a stringent "Production Code" dictated what could (and could not) be shown in a Hollywood motion picture. Kisses on film were timed and a commode, for example, could not be shown.

A film, such as Warner Brothers' "Baby Doll", rather tame by today's standards, was considered "dirty" in December 1956 and was banned to such a degree that it was shown in very few cinematic venues...let alone at the local shopping center movie house.

The code began to crack in the late 1950s. In 1968, as films became more explicit, a rating system was assembled by the Motion Picture Association of America; G - All ages admitted, M - Parental discretion advised, R - Those under 17 not admitted without parent or adult guardian and X - Those under 17 not admitted.

This system was revised in 1970, when the M rating was altered to GP. Unfortunately, GP was widely regarded to indicate "general public". It was revised again, in 1972, to read PG (parental guidance suggested).


In the "early period" mid-century years, the standard "Top 40" AM station (FM was still a novelty) would play a variety of music. Things were not like today, when every song and artist is categorized, homogenized and pigeon-holed into a specific genre...with radio stations also being highly genre-specific.

Back then, you would have the standard pop vocal tunes by Al Martino or Kay Starr. Instrumentals were quite in vogue. Tunes such as "The Poor People of Paris" (Les Baxter-1956), "Wonderland By Night" (Bert Kaempfert-1961) or "Love Is Blue" (Paul Mauriat ["mary-aht"]-1968) hit the Billboard number one spot.

DJ's would also throw in a cross-over Country and Western song now and then, such as "Ring of Fire" (Johnny Cash-1963) or "Harper Valley PTA" (Jeannie C. Riley-1968)...and even a jazz tune or two, such as "Take 5" (Dave Brubek Quartet-1961) or "Desafinado" ["day-zaf-uh-nah-doh"] (Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd-1962).

Before the advent of "Rock and Roll" in 1955, there were the various girl and guy groups; i.e., The Andrews Sisters, Four Lads, McGuire Sisters and Ames Brothers, to name a few. Rock and roll changed things a lot in the late '50s and early '60s.

Things changed more when the "Fab Four" came along, from Liverpool, in January 1964...and changed even more when the recording industry experienced its largest growth period ever, in the late 1960s. This was due to the record buying habits of the emerging baby boom generation.

Those too young to remember would probably not believe the media hoopla that surrounded the American introduction of Great Britain's Beatles, in early 1964. Nicknamed "The Fab Four" they would go on to help revolutionize rock music in a way that no single artist or group has done before or since.
Photo from Library of Congress


The technological advance from the antiquated, low fidelity 78 rpm record had been delayed by the Great Depression and World War II. Immediately following the end of the global conflict, two new phonographic mediums were introduced.

Columbia Records debuted its sonically superior 33 & 1/3 "Long Playing" "microgroove" disc on June 21, 1948. Originally available in 10 and 12 inch formats, the 12 inch "LP" would be the standard for prerecorded music until the advent of the digital compact disc in the 1980s.

Competitor RCA Victor countered with the introduction of its 7 inch 45 rpm disc, on March 1, 1949. At first, the 33 & 1/3 and 45 formats vied for market prominence. Eventually, both would prevail.

In this photo we have the label of the first mass-marketed 12 inch 33 & 1/3 "Long Playing" vinyl disc. Columbia Records' number ML4001, the "Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E Minor" recorded by Nathan Milstein with Bruno Walter conducting the Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra of New York. It hit music stores in June 1948.

Photo from

Here we see the label of the very first mass-marketed 45 rpm disc. RCA Victor's number 48-0001-A, "Texarkana Baby" by Eddy Arnold, was released in March 1949.
Photo from

The first stereo discs available to the general public were released in the United States by Audio Fidelity Records, in March, 1958. The four titles were "Johnny Puleo & His Harmonica Gang Volume 1" (AFSD 5830), "Railroad - Sounds of a Vanishing Era" (AFSD 5843), "Lionel - Lionel Hampton & His Orchestra" (AFSD 5849) and "Marching Along with the Dukes of Dixieland Volume 3" (AFSD 5851).

In 1962, the Muntz StereoPak 4-track CARtridge tape format was introduced. It made the first car audio possible. This was proceeded by the stereo 8-track format, developed by a consortium of Ampex, Lear Jet and RCA Victor. In September 1965, the Ford Motor Company introduced the factory-installed 8-track player for autos. By 1968, 8-track was established as the prerecorded tape standard. 2 years later, the 4-track format was discontinued.

In June 1969, things advanced to four channels, or "quadraphonic" sound, with the first 4-channel, prerecorded reel-to-reel tapes. These were followed, in September 1970, by RCA's introduction of the quadraphonic 8-track tape, which was known as Quad-8 or Q8.

Another obsolete vestige of America's mid-century, the Quad-8 cartridge. These made their first appearance in late 1970. Unlike Stereo-8 format tapes, that had arrived on the scene 5 years earlier, Quad-8s only switched tracks once..instead of three times. Oh yes, the two formats were not compatible. If you played a Quad-8 on a Stereo-8 system, you would hear only half of the song at one time.
Photo from

In 1971, the first "matrix quadraphonic" LPs appeared, utilizing the ABC-Sansui QS system. Columbia-Sony countered with SQ matrix LPs in 1972. These were followed by RCA-JVC's "discrete" quad format, known as CD-4 or Quadradisc. Unlike the Quad-8 tape format, all three American-made Quadraphonic vinyl LP formats were stereo-compatible.

The Quad Revolution moved ever onward with the release of the first six 4-channel LP's, in March 1971. These Command Quadraphonic discs were produced by ABC Records. To hear a QS disc reproduced properly, one would have to own a Sansui system, with a QS Vario Matrix Decoder. Back in the days, Quadraphonic record albums could have been purchased at just about any Camelot Music, Record Bar or Sam Goody shopping mall store.
Image and logo from ABC Records and Sansui Electronics (see media fair use rationale at end of article)

The first Columbia-Sony SQ LPs were released in April 1972. Similar to the ABC-Sansui system, SQ Full Logic created the illusion of four separate sound tracks by "encoding" each of the two rear channels into the two in front. It worked pretty well. In fact, SQ quad recordings -such as Santana's "Abraxas" album, Pink Floyd's "Atom Heart Mother" album (a British import) and Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein" song- demonstrated some neat, moving-around-the-room effects.
Image and logo from CBS Records and Sony Electronics (see media fair use rationale at end of article)

In February 1973, JVC-RCA's CD-4 or Quadradisc LP  format made its debut. CD-4 used an ultrasonic "carrier wave", which instructed a CD-4 Demodulator to divide the audio into four separate sound channels.
Image and logo from RCA Records and JVC Electronics (see media fair use rationale at end of article)

To convert from stereo to quad, one would need to either scrap everything and buy an entirely new sound system or else acquire an additional stereo amp, two more speakers and the appropriate decoder(s). For CD-4, one would also have to have the CD-4 demodulator, a new turntable and a phono cartridge that could accommodate the additional frequency range of the carrier wave.

The sonic separation of CD-4 LPs was superior to that of the two matrix systems...however, there was also a great deal of distortion with the CD-4 system that was not present with QS or SQ quadraphonic reproduction.

The three competing -and totally non-compatible- systems vied for prominence through the remainder of the 1970s, with none emerging victorious. Quad sound was gone and nearly forgotten by the advent of the digital compact disc, in 1983.

An electric or gas range was essentially the same in 1947 and 1997. The first microwave oven appeared in 1947, but this appliance did not become a standard fixture in the home until the 1980s.

The typical electric refrigerator was quite a bit different in the mid-century than it is today. Although "frost-free" models became available in 1950, they were something of a novelty for years thereafter.

Back in the days, mom would have to spend hours "defrosting" the conventional, non-frost-free 'fridge. All food in the freezer compartment would have to be removed. The task of getting rid of several inches of ice that had accumulated on the inside walls of the freezer was a tedious, messy chore.

This was done (carefully) with an ice pick or (haphazardly) with several splashes of warm water onto the affected parts. Of course, the thawing, dripping mess would need to be mopped up several times during the defrosting ordeal...which had to be done every couple of months.

A circa-1950 refrigerator. Its tiny freezer compartment might accommodate a box of ice cream, a few "tv dinners" and a couple ice cube trays...if it was not frozen over due to not having been "defrosted" in the recent past. Refrigerators of this era define the term "clunky". Walls, using substandard insulating materials of the time, were incredibly thick, taking up much interior space. Doors opened and shut tight with latches. Sometimes, a child would get trapped inside an old, abandoned model...providing a tv program or two subject matter for -yet- another harrowing episode.

By 1960, more modern refrigerators were on the market. Technology had provided greatly-efficient insulating materials, making slimmer walls -and additional interior space- possible. The latch-operated  doors of yesteryear had been replaced with better -and potentially safer- closings.

With a few exceptions, until the early 1950s, the only color offered for a new home appliance was a standard white finish. Then, seven pastel shades were introduced; stratford yellow, sherwood green, cadet blue, turquoise, woodtone brown, petal pink and canary yellow. By 1960, three of these shades -canary yellow, turquoise and petal pink- had been established as the standard finishes. This meant that one could have a color-coordinated kitchen, for an extra fee. Of course, you could still get a white washer, dryer, dishwasher, stove or refrigerator and not have to pay extra.

By the early 1970s, the original pastel home appliance colors had been phased out. The latest home appliances -on sale at the local shopping mall Sears, Penney's or Ward's- would be available in the colors seen above. The Coppertone finish, in stores by 1961, was the first of the new 1960s colors. Avocado Green and Harvest Gold followed, in 1965. These three shades remained in vogue until new appliance colors -such as almond and onyx- were introduced in 1977.