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Postwar Culture Pursuing The American Dream. Coming Home From War The end of WWII saw US at top of the world. ◦ Economic powerhouse ◦ Only nuclear superpower.

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Presentation on theme: "Postwar Culture Pursuing The American Dream. Coming Home From War The end of WWII saw US at top of the world. ◦ Economic powerhouse ◦ Only nuclear superpower."— Presentation transcript:

1 Postwar Culture Pursuing The American Dream


3 Coming Home From War The end of WWII saw US at top of the world. ◦ Economic powerhouse ◦ Only nuclear superpower Congress intent on not repeating WWI mistakes ◦ We helped rebuild Germany & Japan ◦ Returning vets were offered the GI Bill of Rights  Unemployment while looking for a job  College tuitions paid  Low-interest loans for businesses & homes ◦ This last helped spur the incredible rise in suburbs ◦ Restarted price controls to stop inflation


5 Labor Unrest All was not perfect however, even as unemployment fell, labor unrest returned ◦ During WWII, strikes prohibited by fed law ◦ Now over, workers demanded a share of wealth war had created (& left in hands of big biz owners)  Oct’ 45- Oct ‘46, saw millions of strikers ◦ 200,000 electrical workers 350,000 railroad workers ◦ 93,000 meatpackers43,000 petroleum workers ◦ 750,000 steelworkers44,000 lumber workers ◦ 1,340,000 coal miners70,000 teamsters ◦ 40,000 machinists250,000 auto workers ◦ Truman threatened to draft railroad, coal, & steel strikers into army


7 In ‘46, Truman created team to study c.r. Among other things, their report called for: ◦ Anti-lynching law ◦ Ending poll taxes ◦ Creation of a permanent civil rights commission Congress refused to pass any of these Truman deseg armed forces in ’48 after Congress refused to pass civil rights bill ◦ Risky as it came 100 days before the 1948 election ◦ Southern Demos opposed to c.r. (Dixiecrats) leaped at this ◦ Commerce Sec. Henry Wallace criticized pres for not doing enough on c.r. & being too hawkish in Euro, quit Demos & started his own Prog Party It appeared c.r. might tank Truman’s presidency Civil Rights Issues


9 The Fair Deal & Repub Victories Despite opposition from outside & w/in the party, Truman prevailed. After his victory in ’48, Truman proposed econ programs that came to be known as the Fair Deal ◦ Universal health care ◦ Ended govt contracts for companies which discriminated ◦ Housing Act of ’49: increased public housing & urban renewal projects ◦ Increased aid to farmers (subsidies) ◦ Social Security Act of 1950- extended benefits & raised min wage Ultimately, the Fair Deal not as successful as the New Deal Ams more conservative after WWII, & Korean War (which began in 1950) meant the Demo party lost the next elections in 1952 In the ’52 elections, Republicans swept both Congress and the presidency, the Conservative Era had officially started


11 The Eisenhower Era Begins Dwight Eisenhower promised return to normality “Ike” promised to end the war in Korea, end the economic hardship of war years, & bring about a tech boom ◦ W/ running mate, Richard Nixon, Ike won 1952 election in landslide-ending a 20 year Democratic era Most Ams optimistic about the future as 50s started ◦ WWII was over & we had won ◦ Wartime rationing over & consumption rose to new heights  New homes in the new “suburbs”  New cars  Television! ◦ The new GI Bill of Rights was available to returning vets ◦ Returning vets started new families resulting in Baby Boom

12 Despite new good feelings about future, some argued that promises of peace, prosperity & progress rang false White, male middle-class Ams enjoyed greater opps, but racial & social inequality obvious & tension rising ◦ Af-Ams had made gains during WWII w/i the military, now back in a segregated civilian life ◦ During 1950s, Supreme Court outlawed school segregation & Rosa Parks refused to submit to segregation on a Montgomery, AL bus.  These events triggered heated reactions by white segregationists & renewed commitment from c.r. workers  Despite success of both Montgomery boycott & federal desegregation, much of South still separated by race going into next decade. ◦ Women also lost some of their newfound independence also as returning vets reclaimed jobs and society & media focused on role of housewives in society The Eisenhower Era Begins


14 The Booming Economy Despite comm & nuke fears, postwar years saw booming econ & consumer spending at highest in history Am standard of living was highest in history & evidence of our affluence was everywhere. About 60% of nation was in middle-class Fed programs contributed to this prosperity ◦ GI Bill paid 13.5 billion for returning veteran education ◦ Provided low cost home & business loans for vets ◦ As Ams began spending wartime savings, ended price controls- Ams had more $$ to spend & business charged more $$- sparking more growth! While more Ams were reaching prosperity than ever before, still remained many others w/o access to wealth. ◦ Ike’s policies favored business over social programs & distribution of wealth remained unequal ◦ Appalachia & Southwest remained very poor & stats placed ¼ of Ams in poverty  ½ of Af-Ams & Nat Ams lived below poverty line


16 The Baby Boom Since the econ was booming, GI’s were returning to their wives and sweethearts, & it was only natural that vets would begin having families Married households the majority (97% of pop -50% today) Young people were encouraged to marry early to avoid the evils of premarital sex- result: younger marriage ages ( 18-22 compared to 25-27 now) The increase in the birthrate was unprecedented ◦ In 1930, the US pop was 123 million. By ‘40, it was 132 million, but by ‘50, it was 151 million & ‘60, it was 179 million ( rates of growth from 7.2% to 14.4 % to 18.5%) Baby Boom contributed to the Econ Boom in many ways: more clothes, more food, more gadgets, bigger houses, etc. all necessary to take care of new babies in a consumer-driven society.


18 Prefabricated Housing Immediately after WWII, US experienced severe housing shortage, w/ millions of returning vets & baby boom occurring, US lacked enough places to live Govt encouraged housing industry to increase building rate- mandating that a large portion be in low-cost range ◦ However, wasn’t economically feasible- too expensive with bricks, etc. Answer to the problem was assembly-line created pre-fab houses. ◦ B/c they were mass produced, they were much cheaper & easier to build ◦ Builders like Wm Levitt designed suburbs based on these new houses & created them at an amazing rate (1 per 16 min). ◦ Houses were designed w/ homemaker in mind- kitchen w/ appliances included, central air, plumbing etc., living room picture window The growth of new gadgets made pre-fab housing seem normal: FM stereos, central vac, auto transmissions on cars, electric can openers were all new


20 Suburban Living Cheap pre-fab houses allowed more middle class Ams the chance to live out the American Dream outside the city ◦ The govt encouraged this mass movement b/c it would protect more Ams when/if a nuclear attack occurred (big cities were targets) ◦ Also the FHA made it cheaper for vets to buy a house than to rent ◦ Finally, white middle-class Am saw suburbs as refuge from minority-filled cities (whites outnumbered blacks 35 to 1 in suburbs) ◦ As a result of factors suburban pop doubled (rose from 36 to 72 mill from ’50 to ‘70 & by ‘60 more people lived in suburbs than neighboring cities) Suburban living was good for private business also ◦ Since workers were isolated from one another (in various suburbs) organizing into unions was harder. ◦ Automobile industry benefited since workers found it necessary to drive to work (they also contributed to suburban sprawl as workers felt justified in living farther and farther away Some critics pointed out that suburbs created disconnected communities & others that they fostered conformity


22 Women’s Roles Immediately after WWII, most women faced setbacks from the wartime progress they had made. ◦ By 1945, 60% of Am women were employed and of those 75% were married ( 33% of the women had children under 14 yrs of age) ◦ In 1950, it was 33% & their pay had been cut by 26% of what they were making during the war! ◦ Media fostered change in roles w/ magazine articles encouraging women to dote on their husbands & take care of their husbands’ needs over their own ◦ Headlines included: “How to Snare a Man!”, “Don’t Be Afraid to Marry Young”, & everyone’s favorite: “Give Us Back The Victorian Mothers of 7-10 Children!” The media and the rest of Am culture had its effect: women who could opted out of working, leaving those too poor to quit stuck in jobs paying significantly less Even college enrollment fell. ◦ Attendance dropped from 40% to 35% from ‘45 to ‘50 & 2/3 who were in school in the 50s dropped out before graduating (presumably to get married & raise families)


24 America Takes To The Road Prosperity of ‘50s magnified Americans’ love of cars Auto purchases reached new heights the farther into the decade we went For suburban Ams owning a car was as much a status symbol about their wealth as it as a necessity ◦ The newer the car, the more important the driver. Likewise, the size of the car & the amount of chrome & extra features (Prices: new ‘58 Dodge with auto transmission: 2500.00 & a ‘58 fully loaded Cadillac El Dorado was 13,000.00  Women used cars to escape the home (running errands  Teenagers borrowed the car for dates Cars transformed the American landscape also ◦ Drive-in movies & drive-thru restaurants were invented ◦ The Interstate Highway System was created (originally designed to move tanks, missiles, etc. quickly across country) & became THE way to get quickly to a destination for millions of busy drivers ◦ Traffic jams became a ubiquitous feature of city streets & so did smog


26 Rise of Television Besides cars, television a must-have item to consumers ◦ By end of decade 88 million Ams had one & Ams spent more than 6 hours a day in front of the television ◦ For those unable to tear themselves away from TV, frozen meals were invented to be cooked in oven & eaten in front of TV (& trays soon followed) In beginning, most shows were continuations of earlier radio shows (Jack Benny, George & Gracie Burns examples) Early TV was different than today in that most of it was done live (Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows” featured 90 min of live songs, dance, & comedy) As 50s progressed, TV became main form of entertainment of Ams, but it also served as a powerful enforcer of stereotypes ◦ Women always “homemakers” & men heads of household ◦ Whites were norm; minorities were servants, ignorant, or not seen at all ◦ Critics charged TV was making America dumber & called it the “idiot box” or “boob tube”


28 Elvis Presley & Rock n Roll In middle of conservative ‘50s burst a 21 yr old truck driver who took a popular, but largely Af-Am music style & made it “white” With tight pants, wailing voice, suggestive hips, & trademark snarl, Elvis Presley personified the spirit of rock n roll : teenage rebellion Critics called him lewd, but the more “lewd” he was, the more popular “The King” became w/ teens. ◦ Ed Sullivan finally caved in & invited him to perform on his show, but ordered that Elvis be filmed from the waist up to protect viewers from his profane moves. ◦ By ‘59, Elvis had sold more than 120 million in records, movie tickets & merch Ironically, Elvis had merely adopted a blend of rhythm & blues already seen in Chuck Berry, Little Richard & others. Elvis’ commercialization of rock n roll allowed these and other black artists wider appeal in a still prejudiced white community

29 The Beat Movement Besides rock ‘n roll, another way that youth rebelled was found in the Beat Movement ◦ Created as a protest to white, middle-class, suburban culture, Beats grew beards, wore jeans & dark clothing, listened to jazz, and created stream-of-consciousness poetry ◦ Allen Ginsburg’s Howl & Jack Kerouac’s On The Road typified this new anti-consumerist philosophy ◦ “Beatniks” (as they came to be called) were the older brothers of the “hippies” of the 1960s.



32 The Big ideas 1950s America was characterized by ◦ Conformity  Individualism was discouraged (& adults had peer pressure, too)! ◦ Consumerism  Easy credit meant the American Dream was possible (& for sale)! ◦ Conservatism  Status quo good; change bad (for middle class whites at least)! Storm clouds were threatening mainstream America ◦ Civil Rights  Beginning under Truman and continuing through Johnson ◦ Cold War  Soviet-US tensions affected every aspect of American life ◦ Countercultural Rebellion  Rock n’ roll/ Beat movement/ rising feminism


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