50 ways America is different from 50 years ago
1968 marked one of the most historic, tumultuous years in U.S. history. America was locked in a space race to put the first human on the moon, civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, the Vietnam War was escalating, and the internet was only in its preliminary stages. Major legislation was also passed that year, including the Gun Control Act and the Fair Housing Act. And what’s more, the dawn of the television age allowed Americans to watch current events from the comfort of a living room couch.
To explore how life in America today is different from 50 years ago, Stacker explored research from scholars at History.com, data from government sources like the Center for Disease Control and U.S. Census Bureau, and news articles. What emerged reveals a world very different 50 years ago from the one we’re living in today.
The Vietnam War was escalating
The United States Department of State made a gruesome announcement Feb. 18, 1968. That date marked the highest American casualty toll of the Vietnam War in a single week, with 543 Americans killed in action and 2,547 wounded. Today, casualties have become greatly reduced in armed conflicts: In 2018, 18 U.S. soldiers were killed in the Iraq war, which began in 2003.
There were no ATMs
Fifty years ago, the only way to get cash out of your account was by go to your nearest bank branch and wait in line for a teller. That all changed in 1969, when the first automatic teller machine (ATM) made its public debut at the Chemical Bank in Rockville Center, N.Y. Fast-forward to 2018: There were more than 400,000 ATMs throughout the country.
A gallon of gas cost less than 50 cents
The average retail price for a gallon of gasoline in 1968 was 34 cents (the equivalent of $2.44 in 2017). Today, prices around the country average around $2.91 per gallon (the equivalent of 41 cents in 1968).
A woman needed a man with her to open a credit card account
Up until 1974, a woman unaccompanied by a man to the bank could be denied credit. It didn’t matter if she was married or not, her age, or how much money she made. Rep. Lindy Boggs is credited with making sure that gender and marital status were included in the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974, allowing anyone with decent credit to open an account.
No one had been to the moon
As of 1968, no one had stepped foot on the moon. The following year, on July 20, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin would do just that. President Richard Nixon—along with about 500 million people around the world—got to watch the whole thing happen on television. Today, NASA has expressed interest in getting people back to the moon; but the space administration has loftier, goals too—of taking people to Mars.
Creditors could impose different terms or conditions based on your race, sexual orientation, or religion
Creditors had the right in 1968 to charge a higher interest rate or bank fee for no other reason than a person’s race, religion, or sexual orientation. That wouldn’t change until the 1974 passage of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which made it illegal to impose the terms of a bank loan or credit card based on nonfinancial factors. The act stands to this day.
There were no cell phones
Remote communication in 1968 was limited to the postal service, landline, or pay phone. It wouldn’t be until the early 1970s when Motorola and Bell Labs would become locked in a race to bring the first portable phone to the market. In 1973 Motorola placed the first call on a prototype for what would in 1983 become the world’s first cell phone. Today, cell phones have all but replaced tethered lines.
People got married younger
The median age for first marriages in America was 23 in 1968, according to the U.S. Census. By 2017, that number had jumped: to 27.4 for women and 29.5 for men.
The country was in a lot less debt
There was no Memorial Day
Formally “Decoration Day,” the holiday to honor those who served in the military originated shortly after the final days of the Civil War. It was not recognized as an official federal holiday until 1971. The holiday continues today, and comes in just behind the Fourth of July for the most popular grilling day of the year.
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