Here is a brief history and timeline of how and why the “counterculture” and hippies came to be.
1900 – Rapid industrialization of America started to create a vast middle and upper class – citizens with, for the first time in history, leisure time to pursue various forms of happiness.
1920’s – the Roaring 20’s, where much of modern culture was formed. From Jazz to Women’s suffrage, the era was one of changing lifestyles and the spreading idea that life was to be enjoyed (earlier cultures and history were not this way for the masses).
1938 and 1943 – Albert Hoffman, a Swiss Chemist, creates LSD in 1938, however does not injest it until 1943. He (and many hippies) later called it “medicine for the soul”.
1939-1945 – The world at war. Great relief was felt when the western powers (USA) prevailed, and millions of returning service members helped create the Great Baby Boom.
1946-1964 – Official Baby Boom – a quick rise in the birth rate and the population of the USA. Most of these new citizens were uniquely American – as opposed to previous generations largely made up of immigrants.
1946 – The Cold War as well as the Nuclear and other arms race is underway. To those who just went through the hell of WWII, this was a shock…to still have to concern themselves with not only war, but the possible total destruction of mankind in a nuclear holocaust.
1950’s and early 1960’s – The Beats foretold of the hippie generation. Writers and Poets typified by Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs celebrated non-conformity and spontaneous creativity.
1960’s – All of the above events come together with many ingredients added to the mix:
Music – the Beatles and other rock/folk – some songs with messages.
Civil Rights – riots and clear examples of how backwards America was in human rights.
JFK – His and other assassinations showed many that there was little hope of change through the standard channels of politics.
Vast Middle Class – More and more families lived comfortably, allowing their offspring to devote more time to pursuing arts and possible alternatives to the straight and narrow.
Consumerism – seemed to trap many people in a quest for more and more “things”, often leaving them feeling empty in a spiritual or community sense.
Many books have been written on all of the subjects above – and the interested reader can research any or all in more detail.
In summary, the 1960’s were a unique point in time – and especially in the history of the USA – where a number of factors came together to create the movement known as the counterculture (hippies).