NewsLocal NewsCelebrating 70 Years


KSBY went on the air 70 years ago. Take a look back at life in 1953

Posted at 10:53 AM, May 19, 2023

As KSBY’s 70th Anniversary continues to inch closer, we wanted to look back at what life was like when KSBY first came on the air. KSBY’s Neil Hebert gives us a glimpse into what 1953 looked like.

The U.S. was at the tail end of the Korean War, you could watch the top movie at the box office — the original "Peter Pan" — for about $.50, and gas was about $.27 a gallon. Life was a bit different in 1953.

Nearly three times as many people own a car in the U.S. today compared to 1953. If you were in the minority that owned a vehicle, you could have headed down to Marion’s Drive-In Restaurant for a dubl-burger and a thick milkshake, all for just $.69, or you could have gone to a Cal Poly football game. The Mustangs went 9-0 in their last of two undefeated seasons in the past century. It was a different style of football then — no face masks, little to no padding, and some old-school jerseys.

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College was a bit cheaper back then. Students living on the Cal Poly campus paid an estimated $375 per year ($4,275 adjusted for inflation). Compared to today, in-state Cal Poly students living on campus fork out an estimated $33,000 a year for the full college experience. Enrollment for the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo campus was 2,200 then. Now, enrollment is nearly 10 times that at close to 22,000.

One woman was part of the 153-person Cal Poly instructional staff in 1953. Today, there are over 600 women, making up over 40% of the faculty.

Fun fact: Cal Poly had an Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Engineering Department.

To watch "I Love Lucy" on the tube, you’d need something like a GE Black-Daylite 19” television that cost about $440. Adjusting for inflation, you could buy more than 10 65” smart TVs from Best Buy.

Air travel was much less common then. Fifty-million people flew via commercial airlines worldwide. Last year, that number was nearly four-billion.

Population growth since the 50s varies from city to city. For example, Santa Maria has grown by 10 times its size, whereas Santa Barbara only doubled in size. More people live in Santa Maria (110,000) today than the number that lived in Santa Barbara County (98,000) then.

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San Luis Obispo County has grown by about 5.5 times its size from about 51,000 to about 283,000, while Santa Barbara County has shot up from about 98,000 to about 446,000.

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And believe it or not, there was a "Titanic" before Leo and Kate played Jack and Rose in James Cameron’s box office smash. Hollywood’s first adaptation of "Titanic" was released in 1953 featuring Barbara Stanwyck and Clifton Webb. That one made about $400,000 (roughly $4.5 million adjusting for inflation). The 1997 masterpiece made over $2.2 billion at the box office (almost $3.5 billion adjusting for inflation).