There’s a place in New Jersey where you can step back in time into a midcentury living room.
“These are iconic pieces from the time period. They really scream out the 1950s,” said Middlesex County Office of Arts and History Division Head Mark Nonestied.
It’s part of “Midcentury New Jersey: the Garden State in the 1950s,” a new exhibit at the Cornelius Low House Middlesex County Museum.
“There were a lot of great changes that took place during that period both in transportation, in society, in the landscape with the rise of suburbia — so many changes and so much of that is a part of our landscape in the state today,” Nonestied said.
“We had just come out of the second World War and I think we were feeling very confident and there was a kind of swagger to how we approached the world as a world power. And I think you see that in the ingenuity and what was going on culturally,” said Gordon Bond, guest curator for the Cornelius Low House.
Bond says an economic boom led to disposable income, which meant more people were buying cars. Mahwah was home to a Ford Motor vehicle assembly plant, the largest in the country at the time. During the decade the Garden State Parkway was completed, making those day trips down the shore part of the weekend plans.
“There’s a theory, and some people argue the point, that rock ‘n’ roll got its start in the Wildwoods with Bill Haley and the Comets, with ‘Rock Around the Clock’. That this was the first time that it was performed live anywhere,” Bond said.
Bond says the midcentury was also the golden era for drive-in movie theaters. One Wall Township theater even added parking for small airplanes. In New Jersey there were more than 40 drive-ins in the 1950s and 60s.
The exhibit also explores discrimination and gender roles during that period.
“During the second World War, because most of the men were away in the service or overseas, women were pressed into jobs outside of the home. And after the war was over, GIs were coming home and there was a desire to kind of push women back into their traditional roles,” Bond said.
A television on display at the museum is a lot larger than the flat screens we’re used to today.
“DuMont had its manufacturing plants in New Jersey, so we were manufacturing television sets back then,” said Bond.
“Today we look back and see what was going on in our country back then and how we’ve changed. I think it’s remarkable, and obviously I think it’s so important to show our young folks that anything is possible in this country and we can do whatever we want and we can make sure that there is changes that can be made,” said Middlesex County Freeholder Director Ronald Rios.
The exhibit will remain open through June 2020.