Brazil in the Fifties: Portrait of a Beautiful, Troubled Country

Beautiful Rio sits in its great bay, 1957.
Dmitri Kessel—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Caption from LIFE. "Beautiful Rio sits in its great bay. Its peaks are famous -- Sugar Loaf is in center, and dramatic. But they are also troublesome. To despair of residents, they almost strangle traffic. Still they make a lovely sight around city at dusk, when lights lie like pearl ropes along escalopes shores."

The title of a 1957 feature on Brazil published in LIFE magazine reads as if it might have been written last week: “Growing Pains of a Big Country: Ambitious Brazil Has Great Riches, Fine Prospects — and Big Problems.” The operative word here, of course, is “big,” as Brazil is huge in many ways, not least in geographic size (the 5th largest country on earth) and in population (200 million people).

But enormous troubles — many of which stem, at least in part, from the country’s endemic corruption — have held Brazil back from realizing its phenomenal economic potential. As the country hosts the 2014 FIFA World Cup and, in two years, the 2016 Summer Olympics, the world’s attention is focused on Brazil more intensely now than it has been in years. This gallery features color photos made seven decades ago, when beautiful, troubled Brazil was enduring “growing pains” not dissimilar to what it’s going through today.

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