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B4 1940s Convery

Page history last edited by Klara Steupert 10 years, 5 months ago

Marissa Cook

Rebecca Mak

Klara Steupert




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Business & the Economy



     Near the beginning of the 1940's, the economy was still struggling to get out of the economic depression of the 30's. However, the economic problems soon ended with the start of World War II, which led to drastic increases in government spending to help the economy. The new wartime economy allowed business to become very profitable. This was in part because of the increased demand for goods from countries in the middle of war, which re-opened the formerly isolated American economy. The government designed policies that advanced American economic interests while keeping them out of the war. However, the United States inevitably did get involved in the war when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. When the U.S. began to get involved in the war, the government changed many of its policies toward large businesses. Cost-plus programs were started, meaning that businesses were guaranteed by the government to automatically receive the cost for making much needed products as well as an extra profit. Through programs like these, government regulations were greatly increased in the economy. A number of government-run programs regulated all war-related industries and worked out problems between workers and companies so that production would continue smoothly and without any threat of strikes. At this time i history, the economy did very well and the United States soon became the biggest arms producer in the world (American Decades).

     Still, much of this economic success had its basis in the demand caused by the war and government spending. Although many things had changed during the war and the economy was now enjoying tremendous prosperity, the government now faced the problem of how to keep the economy from returning to the depression of the 30's. The end of the controlled prices that the government had previously kept on products as well as other re-conversions was balanced out by an increase in consumerism and demand for luxuries that were unavailable during the war. Some veterans were sent to college by the government to avoid a huge increase in unemployment. When they returned, they were more qualified and replaced the many teenager, women, and minorities who had supported the economy during the war. The government also kept a large standing army to avoid and increase in the unemployment rat. Despite these efforts, the economy slowed for a brief time until the potential threat of the Soviet Union started the Cold War, once again leading the economy into a war economy, with an increase in military spending and more economic growth. This, along with the opening of international trade, helped to stabilize the economy by the beginning of the 1950's (American Decades).





Throughout the 1940's, a great deal of change happened in schools across the nation. At the beginning of World War II, the public schooling systems tended to be underfunded and inconsistent. During the war itself, the many men who had left to fight had also left vacancies in many jobs, which led to a bigger role for community colleges as trade schools, with two-year degrees becoming more common. The demand for jobs also had an effect on teachers, who had little pay or benefits. During the war, many had left teaching to work in defense and military industries, leaving many students without classes and causing many schools to close. To fix the teacher shortage, many states allowed people with little qualifications to teach, but this only lowered the quality of education further still. At the university level, the war and military need caused many colleges to add to the science classes offered and the government began to coordinate university work with the war.

     After the war, with the problem of veterans coming home and adding to the unemployment rate, the government created a plan to send veterans to colleges. However, the lack of teachers and immediate increase in students only added to educational problems. Another issue at the time, which was currently being fought by the NAACP, was segregation in schools, often resulting in much worse conditions for black students. Still, at the end of the decade public schools had become much more organized and standardized. Meanwhile, universities changed to allow for more social and academic freedom as well as became more professionalized, with a greater emphasis on science (American Decades). 


(left) http://www.sitemason.com/files/joKNHi/lunchkids.JPG




     One very prominent aspect of culture includes the fashion of the time. In the early 1940’s, the clothes stayed the same throughout the war. During WWII, many materials were in short supply and changes in fashion were nearly nonexistent. Also, new regulations had been made during war times that limited the amount of cloth that could be used to make a dress (Pendergast). Thus, the styles for women in the early 40’s were very simple, unadorned dresses that came down to about mid-calf. They mostly had square-shaped, padded shoulders and narrowed down to the waist. Women often added accessories to the simple dresses, like hats, handbags, and high-heeled shoes. Men’s clothes were also very simple and less elaborate than they had been prior to the war. They wore simple two-pieced suits in subtle colors and, like women’s fashion, had very few extras adorning them and square shoulders (American Decades).

            However, in the post-war era following, people began to have more money and resources to buy and design clothes. The “New Look,” the new popular designs from the French designer Christian Dior, emphasized long, flowing skirts instead of the straight, narrow dresses that had previously dominated women’s clothing (Pendergast). For men, the popular styles became gray or brown suits with white shirts and narrow ties during work, and after work they wore sporty, comfortable clothes. However, other styles were gaining popularity throughout the 1940’s. For example, the “zoot suit” was popular among African-American and Mexican-American men. The suit for them reflected a new pride in ethnic roots among people of color in the United States. Because of this, many whites soon felt threatened and began to fear the racial identity that was growing. In 1943, the fear turned into violence in Los Angeles, when white sailors began attacking people wearing the suits (American Decades).



Film and Theater

Hollywood had reached its peak in 1940. Movies were normally released at a rate of 1 per week. The stars were what attracted people to see the movies. There were some movies that raised the issue of whether the U.S. should go to war, but most of the industry was not focused thereupon. Some of the more famous movies during this time were Fantasia, Rebecca, and The Grapes of Wrath, along with Abbott and Costello movies and the start of Orson Welles' career with the movie Citizen Kane.

Once the war had begun in the U.S., the government and the movie industry started working together to produce films that were not necessarily anti-Nazi, but pro-American, with a focus on war related films. The film that I feel best captures this idea is the film Casablanca, with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Humphrey Bogart plays a restaurant owner during World War II who resists getting involved in politics but risks his life and sacrifices his love for the larger good. That is exactly the attitude the government wanted the American people to have, that the larger good is more important than anyone's own personal gain.

Hollywood also worked with the government to release educational movies about the war as well as some training films and documentaries (Uschan).

After World War II, a new genre of film was invented, film noir, or Hollywood crime dramas. These films were to define the attitude of the American people, particularly the growing fear of Communism following the start of the Cold War. Some famous noir films are The Maltese Falcon, The Glass Key, and Murder, my Sweet. Also, during the 1940's, Black Americans were still oppressed against, with no black actors ever receiving lead roles or director positions. This attitude toward black people in the movies would not change for another twenty years.


Food &  Drink

The food in the early years of the forties was much different from the food in the later years. The war led to the need of rationing food so that more food could be sent to the soldiers that were serving the country. Because of this, people had to find ways to stretch out the little food they had. Recipes like egg-less cakes, sugarless cookies, and other foods that didn’t require expensive ingredients had to become popular at that time because of the limited amount of ingredients available (Olver). Victory gardens also started becoming popular during the war years because of the limited amount of ingredients. People had these gardens to grow vegetables for the community, which allowed more food to be sent to the troops (Uschan).

However, all of this changed when the end World War II led to an economic boom in the US, which allowed families to buy more processed foods and eat out more often. This rise in consumption led to the creation of some of today's most popular products and restaurants.

Families could now stop by Dunkin Donuts for breakfast, and then make a trip to McDonald’s for lunch. They could then snack on M&M chocolate candies before going to a pizzeria for dinner. All of these choices were made widely available in the forties after the war (Pendergast). In fact, M&Ms and pizza were made popular partly because of the war. M&M candies were included in the soldiers’ rations, and pizza became popular because soldiers who were stationed in Italy began to miss the foods of that region. Foods like this became popular very quickly, especially because of the ease and convenience in which people could get them.


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Print Culture

Print media in the 1940's consisted of the introductions of many comic strips, such as Archie Comics, Brenda Starr, Reporter , Captain America, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman. Many new magazines appeared, like Ebony, the largest mass-circulation magazine written by and for African Americans, Highlights, and Seventeen Magazine. The invention of paperbacks made books more accessible to readers and popularized reading (Uschan). Books such as The Bobbsey Twins Series and Curious George were written, as well as the Golden Books Company. Also, the tale of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was first written.


Sports &  Games

In 1940's, the sports world went under some very drastic changes. With so many young men in the war, lots of college football teams were shut down and women were drafted to play baseball instead of the men. However, Roosevelt "felt sports were so necessary to morale that ... he approved the continuation of professional baseball" (93 Uschan). Other sports such as boxing, men and women's golf, and automobile racing gained more popularity, and tennis teams started to become professional. While mixed race teams were frowned upon, the all-black Harlem Globetrotters rose to fame and were one of the more financially stable teams during this decade.

More famous athletes during this time were:

Joe DiMaggio- Playing baseball for the New York Yankees, won 3 MVP awards and had a 56 game hitting streak in 1941, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955, and is considered one of the most revered athletes in sports history.

Joe Louis- Youngest heavyweight boxing champion in history, first black champion in 20 years, defended his title more than 25 times, retiring unbeaten.

Jackie Robinson- First black player in Major League Baseball, playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers.



The forties was a decade of development in music. New styles and adaptations of established genres emerged in this decade.

Swing and jazz orchestras, or big bands, became popular in the beginning of this decade with artists like Glenn Miller, who had several chart-toppers. Singers like Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, famous crooners, also gained fame. However, this genre started losing some public interest when popular jazz singers were suspected of being Communists, drug addicts, or other bad influences after the war (Erenberg). However, other genres emerged from swing, such as R&B, the boogie-woogie, and bebop, which all laid foundations for rock and roll. Folk music morphed into country music that incorporated electric and steel guitars, as well as swing music, and bluegrass (Pendergast). Two of the most famous country singers came from this time, Ray Acuff and Hank Williams, who are both considered “kings of country”.

All of these music styles and artists would not have become as well-known if it had not been for the long playing record, or the LP. This new type or record was cheaper, longer lasting, and had a better quality, which made it more accessible to a greater variety of people. This new invention accounted for the increased popularity of many artists in the 1940s (Pendergast).


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"The Way We Lived"

     At the beginning of the 1940’s, the U.S. was still recovering from the Great Depression. When U.S. involvement in the war began, the many new restrictions on products were tolerated by the American people. Many worked to help the war effort and planted “victory gardens” in order to grow their own vegetables (Pendergast). World War II had brought in an era of prosperity. The average income for families grew, as well as the amount of production from businesses, which after the war was matched by consumer demand (American Decades).

            When the war was over in 1945, a number of people who had been putting off marriage until the end of the depression settled in homes, often in the new suburbs that were growing everywhere, and had children, starting the baby boom (Pendergast). Later, the baby boom would create many problems as well as opportunities and change in the United States, and the effects still exist today. Many baby boomers grew up in comfort due to the widespread economic success. Families bought expensive cars, new electric appliances, and many material goods (American Decades). However, when the Cold War began, fear was also a large part of American lives. With the development of the atomic bomb and fear of communists, people began to build bomb shelters in their backyards and took other safety measures to protect their families from the possibility of nuclear war (Pendergast).                                                                                                         

 (upper picture: http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/hot_topics/2009/images/02victory_garden.jpg)

(Lower picture: http://www.undergroundbombshelter.com/news/images/11.jpg)









Government & Politics

The governing and policies of America varied throughout the 1940s. Pre-war, America was very isolationistic, and the public didn’t want to get involved with the war even though they disapproved of what was happening with Germany. This idea was supported by Senator Wheeler of Montana, and Senator Borah of Idaho, along with the America First Committee that believed in putting America before everything else (Uschan). Interventionists, headed by President Roosevelt, argued that the war was “really a battle between the ideologies of democracy and fascism”, so it was necessary to fight in the war (12 Uschan). However, the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941, decided the matter and changed this isolationist policy. During the war, many isolationists still tried to protest against the fighting, but the general public supported the war efforts.

Also during the war, the government started becoming directly involved with the economy. The War Powers Act, passed near the beginning of the war, allowed the president to basically control America’s economy. Thus, in hopes of stimulating the economy and creating more supplies for war, the government became more involved in big businesses (Baughman). This partnership between businesses and the government earned approval from the public, who supported the boost to the economy. Government war bonds also helped to pay for the expensive war, and many celebrities promoted this effort by attending rallies and offering kisses to those that bought bonds.

Near the end of war, President Truman replaced Roosevelt in 1945. It was in these later years of the forties that the Marshall Plan was created. This plan spent $13.3 billion for European recovery after the war, but the US benefited by developing valuable trading partners (For European Recovery). The following video further explains the motives behind the Marshall Plan.


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The Marshall Plan is a prime example of the changes that took place after the war, since it showcases how the US, a formerly isolationistic country, changed so much. Other changes took place in the government after the war, including the creation of the Department of Defense, the CIA, and the National Security Council. The war caused an increase in the importance of national security and military spending.



Franklin Delano Roosevelt-32nd President (1932-1945)

Created at blabberize.com


Harry S. Truman-33rd President (1945-1952)


President Truman was born on May 8th, 1884, in Missouri. He truly was an "ordinary man", which made his campaign slogan that "even an ordinary man can become president" very useful. He grew up learning how to farm, went off to war in WWI, came back to the states, married his girlfriend and opened a clothing store. He then ran for Jackson County Judge, a post which he served for 8 years before gaining a seat at the Senate, which he was on for 10 years. He was convinced to run for vice-president with current president Franklin D. Roosevelt, and easily won the 1944 election. Then, 83 days after being inaugurated, FDR died of a stroke, and Harry S. Truman stepped in to become the 33rd president. Some of the most famous events that happened during his presidency were the decision to drop the atomic bombs on Japan, the Berlin airlift, the tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and the beginning of the Cold War with the Korean War in 1950. In 1952, he decided not to run for re-election, and was succeded by Dwight Eisenhower. Harry S. Truman died on December 26th, 1972, at the age of 88. 


Law &  Justice

The 1940s was a decade of oppression, freedom, curiosity and danger, which is difficult to believe.

The war caused many groups to be oppressed, the most obvious being the Japanese. Racial discrimination and suspicions were the reasons that thousands of Japanese Americans got sent to internment camps during World War II. The government felt the Japanese Americans were in a position to help soldiers from Japan, and that locking them up would be the best solution. The civil rights of these internees were denied as they were forced to live in very poor conditions. They weren’t set free until 1944 (Uschan).

African Americans also faced oppression as they migrated to larger cities such as Detroit, Los Angeles, and New York. “[T]he nation’s new racial makeup created racial tensions, which increased as African Americans were held down by Jim Crow laws and their lack of civil rights. Lynching, riots, and other violent acts broke out. There was a contrast to this violence though, as sports teams began signing black players and creating Negro leagues.

The end of the war also brought on some freedoms as well. More laws were made defining and outlining citizen’s rights, such as the freedom of speech, the freedom not to salute the flag, and the freedom for everyone to own property (Baughman).

Crime was another thing that was offered to the public more. Not that crime rates necessarily went up in the forties, but the television and the radio made it easier for people to have access to the news (Baughman). With that, public interest in crime grew as people got quick updates on events such as the Howard Unruh mass murder, the battle for Alcatraz, and the Black Dahlia murder.



      Church attendance had greatly dropped during the Great Depression. After the war started, the churches became a part of the war effort. Often, religious leaders would offer aid to separated families or would go to serve as chaplains in the army, often also acting as counselors for soldiers. With the end of the war, church membership grew by a huge amount as well as underwent major changes. At the time, Protestantism was one of the largest religious groups, followed by Catholicism and Judaism, all which grew in the post-war era. Churches after the war also became much more liberal in their ideologies and also much more tolerant of other religions. Other changes occurred as people moved from rural areas to cities during the war, and later from cities to suburbs. Religious affiliations in the suburbs became blurred more with people of different faiths living so close together. Still more changes occurred as going to church became a part of suburban life and a symbol of conformity and community, causing some to worry that church was becoming more social than religious (American Decades). 



Positive Political Cartoon



This political cartoon shows the positive outlook and hope there was for the allied powers in World War II. A comparison is made between the war and the battle between David and Goliath, in which David “slew the giant”, which in this case would be the allied powers beating the axis powers. The comic is labeled 1942 and the axis powers are shown to have far superior weapons, but both of these things combined shows the optimism there was for the young allied powers to “grow up” and defeat the axis.


Negative Political Cartoon


This negative cartoon, by Dr. Seuss, shows an optimistic American that is oblivious to the peril going on behind him. In this comic, Seuss is mocking the “half-cocked” optimists who are ignorant to the real problems of the world, and believe that America is winning the war just because of a few victories. In reality, the war was still raging and there was a lot more to do before America could claim victory.



MYP Unit Question: How did culture, events and leadership shape and reflect post-WWII America?


            The 1940’s was a decade of great change and adaptation. The early years of the forties were full of war and depression, but the end of the war in 1945 brought about a drastic change. The revolutions in the culture, leadership, and events of the forties show that this decade was one of transformation.

            During the forties, fashion, food, and movies were all affected by the war. During the war period, lifestyles had to be very simple. A limited amount of materials and resources forced fashion styles and food to be very practical. People became more preoccupied with the war, rather than with luxury. However, things like fashion became more extravagant after the war ended, both because of the economic boom and because more materials were available. The prospering economy brought on by the end of the war changed a lot of American’s lives. People now had the time and money to indulge in new foods, and new restaurants sprouted up all over the country. Convenience and quality were two things expected now that people had money to spend, and the dining habits during that decade reflected those ideals. Movies also went through some transformations in the forties, brought on by the end of the war. During the war, the government commissioned movie producers to make movies that supported America and the war efforts. After the war, movie producers were allowed to produce any movies they wanted, which led to the development of new genres.

            Leadership of the United States also transformed during this time period. Not only was Roosevelt replaced by Truman, but the ideals of America were transformed as well. The isolationist policy of America was broken by Pearl Harbor, which led us into the Second World War. The war definitely helped to change the governing of America, but so did a new leader, Harry S. Truman. Truman focused on rebuilding the world after the war, and improving America. New laws were passed giving people more freedom and civil rights.

            Finally, events of the decade also show the drastic changes that occurred during the forties. The economic boom is perhaps the greatest change that spurred all of the others. The war lifted America out of the depression and changed the American lifestyle. People adjusted to an easier way of living, especially with new technological advancements like the television. Education was also changed once the government could focus on improving life at home, which improved the workforce of America.

            All of these new developments and changes during the decade shows how truly transformed America was during and after the war. These changes, mostly for the better, improved and simplified life, especially after the turmoil of the war. The end of the forties marked the end of a decade that was full of anguish, hope, inspiration, recovery, and most of all, transformation.



Works Cited


"Annual Message to the Congress on the State of the Union.." The American Presidency Project. 2009. University of

     California. Web. 17 Jun. 2009 .


"Europe Divided on Familiar Lines To Two Speeches." Prescott Evening Courier 54(1948): 6. Print.


Bowling, Beatniks, and Bell-Bottoms: Pop Culture of 20th-Century America. Eds. Sara Pendergast and Tom Pendergast. Vol. 3: 1940s-1950s. Detroit: U*X*L, 2002. Print.


Baughman, Judith S., et al, eds. American Decades. 10 vols. Detroit: Gale, 2001. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 9 June 2010.


Cooke, Jacob E. "Washington, George." Presidents: A Reference History. Ed. Henry F. Graff. 3rd ed. Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2002. 1- 21. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Farmington Hills: Gale. Web. 30 Apr. 2008.


Erenberg, Lewis A. Swingin’ the Dream: Big Band Jazz and the Rebirth of American Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1998.


Friedrich, Otto. City of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood in the 1940s. HarperCollins Publishers, Inc, 1986.

Uschan Michael V. The 1940s. San Diego: Lucent Boks, Inc., 1999.


“Introduction”. For European Recovery: The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Marshall Plan. 11 Jul. 2005. Library of Congress. 8 Jun. 2010 <http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/marshall/mars0.html>.


Olver, Lynne. “1940’s Foods”. 7 Mar. 2010. Food Timeline. 8 Jun. 2010 <http://http://www.foo www.foodtimeline.org/fooddecadhttp://www.foodtimeline.org/fooddecades.html#1940s es.html#1940s>.





























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