Chrome Door Handles

Back in the 1950's in the United States, car culture reigned supreme. Boys bought cars in order to impress girls, and better yet, if they were lucky they could drive said girls up to Inspiration Point in those cars and perhaps learn a few lessons about the birds and the bees. With car culture going strong like it was, it stood to reason that some boys and young men became obsessed with having "the best" car. They would spend hours at the garage or, if in high school, in auto shop class, souping up engines, adding accessories and working on the car's look with things such as fancy chrome trim on the bumpers and even the door handles. Yes, chrome door handles were a sign of a fancy or much loved car back in the 1950's and in fact, when car companies got wind that young car buyers were searching for hot rods, they even began to include chrome door handles standard with some of their most popular models.

Curious about the time in American history when car culture reigned supreme? Check out a documentary or the musical Grease. While Grease is, underneath it all, a love story about a nice girl and a rebel boy, it's also a wonderful showcase of the way car culture affected the lives of American teenagers in the 1950's.

That's not to say that features such as chrome door handles have disappeared now that America's car culture has settled into a thing of the past. On the contrary, chrome door handles are still around as a decorative feature on cars, and chrome itself is still used on many consumer products.

As with many things in the past, there is a little confusion about what "chrome" actually was. What participants in 1950's American car culture called chrome was not actually entirely made up of the element "chromium" (where the word "chrome" comes from) at all. No, chrome used in things like bumpers and chrome door handles was actually steel which had then undergone several plating processes. This made it able to endure harsh temperature changes and inclement weather that cars are often subject to in the outdoors. One of the most popular and durable, yet also one of the most expensive, included plating the steel first with copper, then with nickel and then, finally, applying the chromium plating.

And it's a mistake to think that chrome door handles and other chrome parts were first introduced in the 1950's. In fact, they came to popularity as early as the 1920's in America. And even before chrome was used, nickel plating was popular.

Chrome such as that used in chrome door handles and bumpers, etc. was also considered popular because it was sometimes hard to get. War time in the United States often caused shortages of metals that could be repurposed for use in the war effort. Because of this, chrome plating was banned during the Second World War due to the fact that it was needed for the war effort. The fact that chrome plating (and thus no chrome door handles or chrome bumpers allowed) had been so scared may very well had contributed to the popularity of chrome plating in the 1950's when American went through an economic boom time. During WWII, Americans who wanted shiny door handles and bumpers instead had to make do with substitutes. During the last years of the Korean War, the American government almost banned the use of chrome in cars again, but eventually decided against it. We will never know if that ban would have driven chrome plating's popularity on cars to even greater heights.

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