The above chart is total GDP adjusted for 2005 dollars. One of the problems with using chained numbers far away from the data (such as using 2005 dollars for 1950s figures) is you can get somewhat distorted data. But it would be too severe -- plus, it's all we've got to work with.
First, note there were two recessions -- one from mid-1953- mid 1954 and a second from mid-1957- mid-1958. Two, evenly spaced recessions over a decade is certainly different from our current experience.
Eyeballing the chart, total, inflation adjusted GDP increased from a little over $1.9 trillion to a little under $2.8 trillion -- or an increase of about 47%. That is very impressive. But, remember, the US was a smaller economy back then. There was a tremendous amount of pent-up demand and we were the only game in town -- Japan and Europe were still recovering from WWII, so we produced most of what we consumed by default and provided most of the goods to the rest of the world.
The above chart is the compounded annual rate of change of GDP. Notice the very strong rates of growth in the early parts of the decade. Remember the Korean War lasted from 25 June 1950 – 27 July 1953, so the 1951 figures include the country getting its war facilities up and running. This explains the very strong growth rates in the early part of the decade. However, there were two other periods -- the first clustered around 1955 and the second around 1959 - when the compounded annual rate of change was over 5%.
Looking at the first half of the decade, we see very strong growth rates 5%+ fort eh first 7 quarters. followed by four quarters of slower growth from 4Q51-3Q52. There is another burst of three quarters of strong growth and then a recession from July 1953-May 1954. However, the economy bounced from that lull in late 1954.
The economy grow strongly in the mid-50s, but slowed down in 1956-1957. Notice there were three quarters of shallow contraction in 1956 and 1957. In August 1957, the second recession of the 1950s started which lasted until April 1958. This was followed by four quarters of incredibly strong growth.
What stands out here is that the economy vacillated from strong growth to recession fairly quickly. Also note there were two quarters of extreme contraction -- the first quarter of 1953 and the first quarter of 1958.
I'm on Linked In and Twitter (@captivelawyer). Silver Oz's Linked In name is @silver_oz. NDD is a fossil and may be reached by etching a picture in stone on the wall of a cave.
The Bonddad Economic History Project
At the beginning of 2012, I decided to start looking at the actual, statistical history of the US economy starting in 1950. The reason is simple: to find out what really happened. So, when you see title of a post that begins with a year such as 1957, followed by "employment" or "Fed policy: you know what it's for. You can also access the information by typing in BE for Bonddad econ and a year to find information on a particular year.
Here is a link to pages that contain links to all the posts on the years listed.