Post WWII optimism and the rise of the late 1940’s American suburb


The post World War II era marked a sharp change in the United States compared to the years preceding the war, years that were dominated by the Great Depression. Changes that America underwent during the war years ushered in a new, modern era of which we still feel the effects of today.

The effects of the war were very different on the United States compared to most countries that participated heavily in the war effort. While Europe and Asia were in the midst of rebuilding from the ravages of war, the continental US was untouched.

Winning the war effort dictated a new direction in American culture that was dominated by a new found wealth and independence that soldiers and perhaps more importantly, women experienced during this time. Americans now wanted something new and better, and many were earning enough money to find that better life.

While men were overseas fighting the war, many American women were employed in factories and earning good wages while contributing to the war effort.  The independence and earning power of being employed was too good to abandon, and more and more women entered the workplace.

One of the basic changes that occurred in the culture of America in the post-war years were typified by custom built housing such as Levittown, where new attitudes were taking hold. Americans began to buy newly built homes in suburban communities outside of busy cities.

Before WW II, it was common for newly married couples to settle in on the ranch owned by the father of the groom and living in a multi-generational household. After the war, tract housing was being built to hold returning soldiers and their brides so they could start new families in the cities and suburbs. Cities such as Levittown expanded greatly in the post-war years in terms of both population and physical size, providing more jobs and creating new opportunities.

This new prosperity of peacetime meant that we were now a nation on the move and the suburbs were safer, calmer, less crowded than the cities. Our nation’s people had a need for family and security after the long strenuous years of war and sacrifices. These new suburbs were free, open, and friendly. There were neighborhood group activities, Boy and Girl Scouts, PTA at school, families would gather in a neighbor’s backyard for cookouts, and people felt safe enough to leave their doors unlocked at night.

The essence of a house in Levittown, c. 1946

This new prosperity also meant that we could finally replace the family car, falling birth rates were replaced by a baby boom, and we could buy new and modern appliances. Post-war optimism encouraged us to “take to the highway and see the country in a Chevrolet”.

Another profound change was a new emphasis on pop culture that centered on teens that were coming of age in the post WW II years. In communities like Levittown and across the US, the popular culture which was built around family oriented stars, musical acts and the like began focusing on teen interests as the rise of the bobby-sox generation and ultimately the entry of rock ‘n roll into the mainstream.

As you can see, the post-war era launched the cultural changes that helped shape the world we live in today.

Comments 1

  1. Just in case you were not aware of it, the phrase “take to the highway and see the country in a Chevrolet” was actually from a commercial: “take to the highway and see the USA in your Chevrolet” in order to make it rhyme.

    Incidentally, ialgl means I Am Living The Good Life. Hah!

    Nice pictures.

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