Good Men At Work

The Optimistic Generation, Life Magazine, February 5, 1951

Jeff Cunningham
5 min readMar 8, 2024

Let's step into the time machine. Dial it back to an issue of Life Magazine dated February 5, 1951. What jumps out at you? The ads are a treasure chest of Americana at its most curious, optimistic, and sentimental. First up, we have the Studebaker Commander V-8 or the Visible eight cylinders. This isn't just a car; it's a statement to an age where innovation danced a jitterbug. Then there's Bufferin staring at you on page 1, a miracle that works twice as fast as aspirin, promising relief from the headaches of the atomic age.

Studebaker Commander V-8

Bacon Lovers

Let's not forget the Classics Book Club on page 5, an offer to immerse ourselves in the Works of William Shakespeare or the Essays of Francis Bacon,' a titan of the Elizabethan era." It was an invitation to stand on the shoulders of giants and maybe become one yourself.

However, these ads aren't just pitches but portholes in the American psyche. The 'Fifties Generation' didn't have all the answers, but they had the spirit to find them. When they tripped up, there was no clamor for a witch hunt, but best wishes for the next time.

But then, amid the promises of faster cars, quicker pain relief, and timeless literature, on page 27 was an editorial that swept across the American landscape like a nor'easter. "Good Men at Work," it declared, was the way to see the world, pulling back the curtain on the people of the hour (admittedly a man's era), tasked with monumental decisions.

Post-War Dresden, Germany

Oh, To Be 1950 Again

The leaders of our nation were grappling with the Herculean effort of rebuilding a Europe left in tatters by the war to end all wars while staring down the crimson tide of Communism threatening to spill into every nook and cranny of the globe from the ruins of Europe to the remote villages of the Korean peninsula.

Reflecting on the advertisements and insights provided by a 1951 issue of Life Magazine, we're transported to a time before the constant barrage of social media and public outrage. It was an era that welcomed individuals bold enough to dream. SNL would laugh at their wild eyed idealism, but they were determined to reconstruct the worn down, and hold faith in a future that was better than the past. To revisit 1951 is to revisit a period of boundless possibilities.

This editorial held both reverence for some leaders and criticism for others who may have fallen short in their duties. It spoke of an inherent optimism, acknowledging that obstacles may not always be overcome the first time at bat. It also reminded readers to take a step back now and then, to pause, to breathe in the legacy of their forebears, and perhaps, to cut themselves some slack.

Life Magazine Editorial, February 5, 1951:

Good Men at Work

This is an excellent time to examine some of the strong points in America's position at home and abroad. There are many strong points, and many of them have developed in recent weeks. In a period when everything often seems to be going wrong, and some things are, a great deal has been going very well indeed.

The best news is the news of General Eisenhower. This week, he reported his mission to Western Europe to the country. Before his report, he again showed himself as a foremost symbol of all that is right, good, and strong in American policy. His persuasive and, on occasion, compelling presence has, without doubt, aroused an awareness of necessity and a sense of urgency, which have been sadly lacking. Much needs to be done to gird up Western Europe's strength and its purpose to defend itself.

However, there is much moaning about a rift in the anti-communist ranks at the United Nations and the weaknesses that this rift is supposed to reveal. Well, there is a rift, and it is serious. At last, the US government has taken a strong — and we hope — unequivocal stand on this matter of Chinese communist aggression. If this stand is too solid and forthright for some of our companions in the United Nations, and if they cannot meet communist aggression as it must be, the sooner we know this, the better off all concerned will be. It is a good thing — a factor of strength, not a weakness — that American purpose and principles have been so vigorously affirmed.

Strong men, good men, are at work on the homefront in Washington. Charles E Wilson (former CEO of General Motors, not Charlie Wilson's War Texas Congressman) has already earned the country's gratitude for the vigor and success with which he has stepped up economic mobilization. Thanks to him and others, the military orders are being processed. Sensible and, at least on paper, adequate programs of further action are being implemented at a pace far beyond anything previously seen. There is a healthy willingness to recognize and correct mistakes.

Credit on the exact count is due to the president. Mr Truman lacks many qualities that a president of the United States ought to have in these times. But he possesses one quality that must stand him and the country in good stead now. It is a quality best described in a little story about a great president, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln's quote when he was in grave trouble: "If I were to try to read, much less answer all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business. And I do the very best I know how — the very best I can, and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what is said against me won't amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten Angels swearing I was right would make no difference."

In the end, Mr Truman will be found adequate.