Novels with secretaries, black caviar and Dhaka in Komarovo: how did the US and USSR elites live in the 1950s?

A light blue Cadillac Eldorado Seville and a dress with shrimp Claire McCardell is the color combination of the American dream of the 1950s.

The prosperity of the workers of the United States of America in the 1950s is increasing, as they say! After World War II, the suburban revolution begins: representatives of the American middle class from industrial cities move en masse to green suburbs. Owning a home, a car (or even two), a TV, a plethora of home appliances, a steady, well-paying job and access to a good education — this is the affordable American dream.

Incidentally, the father of mass suburban housing in the United States was the grandson of a rabbi and the son of a lawyer, Bill Levitt. He applied the principle of the Ford assembly line to construction, resulting in a house being produced in a factory in a quarter of an hour and costing the family $ 58 in monthly payments. The Americans were happy and Levitt lived like a rich trendsetter: he bought a luxury Manhattan mansion, drove an open Cadillac, picked up Chagall and Renoir, changed wives, visited a Havana yacht and a Bahamas casino.


Bill Levitt applied the principle of the Ford assembly line to construction, the family paid $ 58 a month for the house.

The product of Bill Levitt, the typical country town of Levittown, was built in series from scratch within a few days.

Pennsylvania edition of Levittown.

The new way of building houses turned out to be a flow of great news from the stock market for the head of Levitt and Sons after the offering of shares of the company.

Levitt’s way of life is very indicative: in the 1950s, luxury is subject to every distance, it is gradually freed from the shackles of strict morality, but at the same time it maintains old habits. For example, Levitt did not understand anything about painting, but the collection was considered prestigious and profitable and followed the trend. And in the late 1950s, Levitt made an almost new Russian gesture: he divorced his next wife and married a secretary.

Everything is very decent: Betsy Bloomingdale, the wife of the owner of the department store of the same name, delivers dinner for 14 people.

However, some unbridled in those years coexisted with amazing rigidity and ceremony. They were mainly presented by ladies. Thanks to the mass production of clothes, including from artificial materials, the middle class was able to copy the style of the rich – the latter had to figure out how to stand out.

Ladies from high society pulled themselves into corsets, did not appear in society without a hat and gloves, showed off their cleavage at night and changed their clothes several times a day so that the lower classes could not keep up with them. American designer Ann Fogerty, author of the coincidental book Wife Dressing (1959), wrote a book about wealthy married American women. “You must not forget that you are a husband first and foremost,” Fogerti said. In short, if the wealthy neo-rich were irresistibly attracted to greed and pleasure, their wives in America in the 1950s were trying to become comme il faut.

Finally, it was in the 1950s that a type of wealth that did not rely on tangible assets appeared in the United States. The type of rich man who made money out of ingenuity is born. In 1950, 20-year-old Warren Buffett, a freshman and a modest clerk in his father’s office, after reading the book by American economist Graham The Intelligent Investor (1949), realized that it was necessary to buy shares of non-expensive companies. , but those whose shares are undervalued.

Buffett makes a number of profitable investments, with the result that his fortune increases from $ 9,800 to $ 140,000 in 5 years. The average cost of a car in those years is $ 1,510, while the average monthly salary increases from $ 204 in 1950 to $ 294 in 1956.. In other words, Buffett becomes not just a rich man, but a man who became rich in an innovative way. The face of a brand new America is emerging.


GUM in the 1950s is the USSR’s main stage for a show about luxury living. Even fashion designers from the socialist bloc countries took part in fashion shows.

Rigans set the tone for the design of GUM shop windows. They adopted the chic of European minimalism from the Bauhaus and Alvar Aalto.

In the USSR, of course, nothing like that was observed. However, the privileged class, which began in the 1930s, eventually took shape in the 1950s. The greatest anti-communist in history, Stalin eventually buried the ideas of equality and fraternity and created a class hierarchical society, keeping a close eye on the elite, fulfilling the state order in the areas assigned to it, lived well.

This was not limited to civil servants. It was in the 1950s that the creative mind, having its way to the top, had the opportunity to live really wide. The head of the USSR Writers’ Union, Alexander Fadeev, was an ardent fighter for high-paying and long-distance travel to the Houses of Creativity, but even wrote to Malenkov and Khrushchev in embarrassment in 1954: in the field of literature and a corrupt system of awarding all kinds of arts, in which it is impossible to distinguish what is really good and what is bad.

Even ideological purity suffered: when the unreliable, recently obstructed Zoshchenko wrote The Stories of Lenin, he was given such an impressive reward that Zoshchenko denied the amount.


Porch of Korney Chukovsky dacha in Peredelkino near Moscow.

Among the surviving items are books from the family library.

Most of the buildings in Peredelkino were built in the 1930s by German architect Ernst May.

A museum opened in the author’s Dhaka.

In the 1950s, the house was insulated and Chukovsky began living in the country all year round.

Scientists did not lag behind the writers – in full agreement with The Enthusiasts’ March (art film “Svetly Path”, “Mosfilm”, 1940): “Hello, land of heroes, land of writers, land of scientists!” In 1945, the Council of People’s Commissars issued a resolution “On the construction of housing for full members of the USSR Academy of Sciences”. Under the decree, academics received 25 dachas in Komarovo near Leningrad, and in the 1950s became neighbors of officials, composers, directors and writers. Their chauffeurs brought caviar and crabs, game, Armenian brandy and Georgian wines, meringues, eclairs from the city … It was hard to imagine a more urban modus vivendi.

By the way, the gastronomic abundance, in the form of popular, but not in content, was a luxury accessible to the then elite. In 1952, an expanded and revised edition of The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food was published, featuring a table full of food and in 1955 a heavy volume called “Cookery” containing recipes for dishes with wild duck and pineapple. as if criticizing Mayakovsky (“Eat pineapples, chew perch, your last day is coming, bourgeois!”).

Thus, appealing to the stomachs of its citizens, the Soviet elite of the 1950s successfully passed its own elite consumption as public consumption. Most of the people, living in barracks and communal apartments, walked the streets and stared with hope and admiration at the Stalinist skyscrapers and brick houses – with reliefs, columns and huge bright windows. There were problems with food, especially in the first post-war decade, but the press was full of photos from the stalls of the Eliseevsky grocery store with sturgeon and ham, and Glavrybsbyt published “Puppet yourself to eat black caviar!”


The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food did not talk about food as much as the type of consumption and together with Ogonyok magazine with photos of new models of clothes and shoes, in a sense, they replaced the Soviet man Robb Report, Harper’s Bazaar and Cosmopolitan, together. The reality of some has become the sweet dream of others. Everything will change in the next decade.


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Soviet and American luxury: how did the rich live in the USSR and the USA in the 1930s?

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