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“Early Retirement,” the headline in LIFE blared in February of 1957. Accompanied by photographs by Alfred Eisenstaedt — some of which, including unpublished outtakes, are seen here — the article promised to share the secrets of men in their 40s who had managed the impressive feat of retiring while they still had the energy to enjoy the extra time.
And, though the dollar figures they provided may be shockingly low 60 years later, when retirement experts tell potential retirees that they should expect to need 70% of their pre-retirement income and when more Americans than ever think they will need $1 million to be ready for that milestone, some of the wisdom of those young retirees stands the test of time.
Perhaps the most noticeable thing about the men featured in LIFE’s story is that all of them continued to make money even after they gave up their traditional jobs.
Joel Brecheen, featured in the first slide above, had been making $10,000 annually as a salesman — that’s nearly $87,000 in today’s dollars — but, even if he had enough money, was “always out of pocket for time.” So it was in 1952 that he took his savings of $13,000 (about $119,500 today) and walked away from his job. He still worked some, owning an orange grove in Arizona and renting out apartments that he owned, and in fact made nearly as much money each year as he had before, but he spent his time with his family rather than his clients.
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Meanwhile, in 1953 Arthur and Kathryn Lynch had traded his $15,000 job ($137,000 today) in Pittsburgh and their $30,000 in savings for life in the Virgin Islands, where the $4,000 ($35,000) they made doing odd jobs and labor was plenty to live on.
The move made by the Lynches was a key ingredient as they relied on the lower cost of living in St. John to make their retirement work. Likewise, Allen Cook, whose job as a pilot had kept him away from his family, had moved his family to Sarasota, Fla., where he could work full-time during the tourist season and concentrate on spending time with his kids the rest of the year. Accordingly, the story subject who was closest to being fully retired, Joseph B. Wertz, relied on $4,200 annual income from smart investing ($36,000 today) to fund a full life of hobbies and family — thanks to having left Washington for Santa Fe.
It also took hard work to make retirement a success, both in terms of getting a more relaxed source of income off the ground and achieving the mental adjustment to passing days more quietly. Fifty years later, these early retirees perhaps don’t seem so different after all from their counterparts today.