6 November 1956

Dwight Eisenhower is reelected as a President of the United States.

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The United States presidential election of 1956 was the 43rd quadrennial presidential election, held on Tuesday, November 6, 1956. The popular incumbent President, Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower, successfully ran for re-election. The election was a re-match of 1952, as Eisenhower’s opponent in 1956 was Adlai Stevenson, a former Illinois governor, whom Eisenhower had defeated four years earlier.

Eisenhower was popular, although his health had become a concern.Stevenson remained popular with a core of liberal Democrats, but held no office and had no real base. As the country enjoyed peace – Eisenhower had ended the Korean War – and economic growth, few doubted a successful re-election for the charismatic Eisenhower. However the weeks before the election saw two major international crises in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Eisenhower’s Republican base had grown thanks to the growth of suburbs. He maintained his 1952 gains among Democrats, especially white urban Southerners and Northern Catholics. His voters were less likely to bring up his leadership record. Instead what stood out this time, “was the response to personal qualities— to his sincerity, his integrity and sense of duty, his virtue as a family man, his religious devotion, and his sheer likeableness.”

Compared to the 1952 election, Eisenhower gained Kentucky, Louisiana, and West Virginia from Stevenson, while losing Missouri.

This was the last presidential election before the admissions of Alaska and Hawaii, which would participate for the first time as states in the 1960 presidential election. It was also the last election in which any of the major candidates were born in the 19th century, and it is the latest where both candidates were renominated for a rematch of the previous presidential election. This is also the last election in which the Democratic nominee won multiple states that were all contiguous.

15 October 1956

The first modern computer language, Fortran, is first shared with the coding community.

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Fortran, the first modern computer language, is shared with the coding community for the first time. Three years in the making, it would be refined in work that continues to this day.

While this ground-breaking “high level” language has been long eclipsed, it defined an approach to programming that still informs the art of computer science.

Back at the dawn of the computer age thinking machines were oversized, petulant infants that understood only their own, private, nearly incomprehensible languages. There really wasn’t a pressing need to have languages that worked on every possible machine, there not being too many kinds yet. So programs written using “assembly” or “low level” languages were good enough — even though they were difficult to learn, took lots of time to write and compile, and had no lasting value.

Unlike the software and web apps of today, which can run on different operating systems and platforms with, at worst, slight modifications, early languages ran only on the same series of computer. A program written for a WingBat Series 51 couldn’t operate on a BatWing Series 15, because it issued instructions based the unique architecture of the box on which and for which it was written. Trying to port it would be like giving driving directions meant for a driver in Paris to someone walking around in Nairobi.

Enter John W. Backus, whose permanent place in computing history began on a stroll in midtown Manhattan in 1950. The 25-year-old grad student, intrigued by a room-sized computer on display on the ground floor of IBM’s New York City offices, wandered inside to get a closer look.

A tour guide learned he was studying math at Columbia University uptown and sent him upstairs for what would be a brief oral exam of “brain teasers.” Backus was immediately hired — as a programmer. “That was the way it was done in those days,” he would later tell The New York Times with a shrug.

24 May 1956

The first Eurovision Song Contest is held in Lugano, Switzerland.

Inspired by the Italian Sanremo Festival, the idea to organise a pan-European musicial competition was born at a meeting of the European Broadcasting Union in Monaco in 1955. It was decided that the first ever Eurovision Song Contest would be hosted the following year in the Swiss resort of Lugano. The 1956 Eurovision Song Contest was primarily a radio show, although some cameras were taping the contest for the few Europeans who had a television set at that time.

Lohengrin Filipello hosted the programme, which lasted 1 hour and 40 minutes. The seven participating countries each submitted two entries. The songs of the contest were not to exceed three and a half minutes, and the performers were accompanied by an orchestra of 24 musicians, led by Fernando Paggi.The winning song, as announced by the head of the jury, was Refrain, performed by Lys Assia from Switzerland . Lys Assia is the only Swiss contestant to have ever won the Eurovision Song Contest, as Switzerland’s other winner, Céline Dion, is French-Canadian.

The broadcasters from Austria, Denmark and the United Kingdom missed the deadline for participating in the first ever Eurovision Song Contest and only appeared one year later. Only solo artists were allowed to enter the contest. Groups were initially banned – a rule which would only be abolished in the 1970s.

All participating countries sent two jury members to Lugano in order to vote secretly on the songs. The jury members from Luxembourg could not make it to Lugano, so the EBU allowed Swiss nationals to vote on their behalf. The juries were allowed to vote for whatever country they wished to, including their own; The scores of the voting have never been made public, leaving room for lots of speculation. Attempts to reconstruct the voting by interviewing jury members over the past five decades did not lead to any reliable outcome.

28 January 1956

Elvis Presley first appears on American television.

His first TV appearance was on January 28, 1956 on the little remembered, Stage Show, co-hosted by Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey. He appeared on the next 3 episodes and a total of 6 appearances. I’m not sure if the show lasted much longer than that but the press really didn’t pay much attention. His first national TV appearance was on April 3, 1956 on the Milton Berle Show. Berle remembered that there were many stars on that night including Hugh Jarrett, Esther Williams, Buddy Rich and Harry James. Milton Berle also mentioned Buddy Hackett but the rundown of those who appeared does not list Hackett. In any event, Elvis was an unknown young performer. Elvis’s agent, Colonel Parker (see book about Parker and Presley) had called Berle and asked him to give Elvis an audition. Berle did and was impressed enough to book Elvis on the show. Elvis performed “Shake Rattle and Roll,” “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Blue Suede Shoes.” Of the three, Elvis wrote “Heartbreak Hotel.”

The New York Journal-American wrote that the young man’s “primitive physical movement difficult to describe in terms suitable to a family newspaper.” The San Francisco Chronicle called the performance “In appalling taste.” The New York Daily News said that Elvis “gave an exhibition that was suggestive and vulgar, tinged with the kind of animalism that should be confined to dives and bordellos.” Berle said that 4 days after the show he received 400,000 “pan” letters. Not “fan mail” but “pan mail.” People wrote to Berle and said that they would never watch his show again after he showed that disgusting young man. Berle said that he called Colonel Parker to inform him that he had a star on his hands. Berle recognized that if that many people took the time to write letters then he had to be on the minds of just about everyone. All publicity is good publicity.