Time Capsule: The 1940s; World War II Transforms America
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States entered World War II. More than 16 million American men and women served in the military while millions of housewives worked to help keep the economy running. The U.S. emerged from the war as the world’s most powerful nation. Americans, after surviving years of depression and war, eagerly started families. A surge in the U.S. birthrate began in the postwar baby boom.
Movie fans enjoyed the films of Bing Crosby and Betty Grable. Commercial television was launched, and Milton Berle and Ed Sullivan became household names. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. For the first time, people played with Slinkys and Silly Putty. Nylon stockings were the rage for women, while teenagers sported socks with loafers or saddle shoes and rolled-up jeans. The jitterbug was popularized by music from live bands and jukeboxes.
New words: hot rod, pinup, bikini, self-employed.
- Released in 1941, Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane” was hailed for its artistic and technical innovations. The psychological study of a newspaper tycoon, it has consistently been considered one of the best movies in the history of film.
- Commercial television formally began July 1, 1941, and by the end of 1949 more than 3 million American homes had sets. Many early programs, including dramas, variety shows, new shows, and comedies, were adapted from popular radio shows.
- Big band music, popular on recordings and radio and in ballrooms and concert halls, distracted Americans during World War II. Led by Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, and others, the bands usually had 14 to 18 musicians.
- The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, better known as the GI Bill, helped approximately 2.25 million war veterans attend college. Millions of other GIs received job training, home and farm loans, and unemployment benefits.
- Antibiotics treat bacterial infections. Penicillin, derived from mold, saved the lives of thousands of wounded soldiers during World War II.
- Naval engineer Richard James watched a torsion spring bounce off a table, and the idea for a toy was born. The Slinky, 80 feet of coiled wire that can “walk” down stairs, caused a sensation when first marketed in 1945.
- With the end of the war, returning GIs married and started families, resulting in 75.9 million births from 1946 through 1964; this country’s Baby Boom.
- Jackie Robinson broke the Major League Baseball color barrier in 1947 when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. Voted Rookie of the Year that season, he earned the National League’s Most Valuable Player award in 1947.
- Tennessee Williams’ powerful play, “A Streetcar Named Desire” opened on Broadway December 3, 1947. It starred Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski and Jessica Tandy as Blanche DuBois. The play won the 1948 Pulitzer Prize for drama.