The image of the 1950s for many people is characterized by the TV sitcom "Happy Days." Clean cut, all-American boys and girls living life in the suburbs without a worry in the world.

For many who lived through the 50s, they were "Happy Days." The young people of "Happy Days" were the first rock and roll generation. Tract homes built in Levittown, Long Island, spawned suburbia and made owning a home affordable to millions. The nation's interstate highway system was built, helping to spread suburbia and creating a national obsession for the automobile. The first McDonald's restaurant opened in Des Plaines, Illinois, beginning the fast-food craze.

"What I most think about (during the 50s) is the suburbanization of society," said Richard Abrams, a professor of U.S. history at the University of California at Berkeley. "It seemed like a perpetual summertime."

Many people were "self-absorbed" and yearned for the quiet life the suburbs offered after going through the depression years and maelstrom of World War II, Abrams said. "These people don't want trouble. They don't want to make waves."

But in "Happy Days" there were no African American characters to represent those unable to pursue the American dream into the suburbs. America began to face up to its racist history during the 50s. Events like Rosa Park's refusal to give up her bus seat to a white rider sparked the civil rights movement that would bring an end to segregation. The social fabric of the nation began to change during the 50s.

Television as a medium came into its and own overtook radio as the dominant form of mass communication. Rock and roll wasn't the only form of expression. The Beat Generation of writers such as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Lawrence Ferlinghetti came of age in the 50s. In Chicago, Hugh Hefner published the first issue of Playboy magazine, featuring a centerfold of actress Marilyn Monroe.

There were advances in medicine, science and technology. The first photo copy machine was built by Haloid Corp., which would later become Xerox. NASA was formed to explore space and America launches its first satellite. The first polio vaccine was developed, and Francis Crick and James Watson discovered the structure of DNA, the building blocks of life on the planet.

The Cold War with the Soviet Union heated up during the 50s, and the Korean War put U.S. troops on foreign soil five years after the end of World War II. All this created the right climate for Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-Communist witch hunt.

The 50s provided transition period for people to recover from the chaos of World War II before the social and political transformations that would become the 1960s.