Post-War Boom

By: Alissa Coyle

The American Dream

After World War II ended, Americans turned their attention to their families and jobs. The economy prospered and new technologies and business ideas created fresh opportunities for many people. By the mid-1950s, nearly 60 percent of Americans were members of the middle class, which is about twice as many as before World War II. These people now wanted and had the money to buy, increasing the number of products. By the end of the decade, Americans were enjoying the highest standard of living. The American dream seemed within the reach of many people.

During the 1950s, businesses rapidly began expanding. By 1956, people were no longer working "blue-collar" jobs, but instead were working more "white-collar" jobs. There were more people now working in advertisement, insurance, and communication fields instead of selling manufactured goods.

This whole new change allowed for people to provide their families with the so-called good things in life. Most Americans worked in cities, but fewer and fewer of them lived there. For many people, the suburbs portrayed the American dream of an affordable single-family house, good schools, a safe, healthy environment for children, and congenial neighbors just like themselves.

With new highways and the availability to actually afford cars and gas made commuting a lot more possible. After the war, an abundant amount of both imported and domestically produced petroleum led to inexpensive and plentiful fuel for consumers. Another thing that added to this was that easy credit terms and extensive advertising persuaded Americans to buy cars. Along with all of that, living in the suburbs made owning a car quite necessary.

Most Americans of the 1950s had more leisure time than ever before. More people owned labor-saving devices such as washing machines, clothes dryers, dishwashers, and power lawn mowers, which then allowed more time for leisure activities. Millions of people began participating in sports such as fishing, bowling, hunting, boating and golf. More fans than ever attended baseball, basketball, and football games; others watched professional sports on TV.

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Pop Culture

When the television was first available in 1948, it had reached 9 percent of homes by 1950 and then 55 percent by 1954. Then by 1960, almost 90 percent (45 million) of American homes had TVs.

The first regular broadcasts, beginning in 1949, reached only a small part of the East Coast and offered only two hours of programs per week. By 1956, the Federal Communications Commission had allowed 500 new stations to broadcast. This period of rapid expansion was the "golden age" of television entertainment. At the same time, veteran radio broadcaster, Edward R. Murrow, introduced two innovations: on-the-scene news reporting, and interviewing. American businesses took advantage of the opportunities offered by the new television industry. Advertising expenditures on TV, which were $170 million in 1950, reached nearly $2 billion in 1960. Sales of TV Guide, which was introduced in 1953, quickly outpaced sales of other magazines.

Not everyone was thrilled with this new thing called the television though. Critics objected to its effects on children and its stereotypical portrayal of women and minorities. Male characters outnumbered women characters three to one. African Americans and Latinos rarely appeared in television programs at all.

Although the television turned out to be wildly popular, radio and movies survived and instead of trying to compete with the television's mass market for drama and variety shows, radio stations turned to local programming of news, weather, music, and community issues. During the decade, radio advertising rose by 35% and the number of radio stations increased by 50%.

Beat. The best movement expressed the social and literary conformity of artists, poets, and writers. Followers of this movement lived nonconformist lives and they tended to shun regular work and sought a higher consciousness through Zen Buddhism, music, and sometimes, drugs. Many mainstream Americans found this lifestyle as less enchanting. Nonetheless, the beatnik attitudes, way of life, and literature attracted the attention of the media and fired the imaginations of many college students.

While beats expressed themselves in unstructured literature, musicians in the 1950s added electronic instruments to traditional blues music, creating rhythm and blues. Although the music was usually produced by African American musicians, the audience of this music was mostly white. They called this music rock 'n' roll- a name that has come to mean music that is both black and white.

In the early and mid-1950s, Richard Penniman, Chuck Berry, Bill Haley and His Comets, and especially Elvis Presley brought rock 'n' roll to a frantic pitch of popularity among the newly affluent teens who bought their records. The music's heavy rhythm, simple melodies, and lyrics captivated teenagers across the country. African American music had inspired the birth of rock 'n' roll, and many of the genre's greatest performers- like Berry and Penniman- were African American.

The Other America

For many Americans, the 1950s were a time of unknown prosperity, but not everyone experienced this financial well-being. In the "other" America, about 40 million people lived in poverty, untouched by the economic boom. In 1962, nearly one out of every four Americans were living below the poverty level. Many of these poor were elderly people, single women and their children, or members of minority groups, including African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans.

While millions of middle-class white Americans left the cities for the suburbs, taking with them precious economic resources and isolating themselves from other races and classes, the rural poor migrated to the inner cities. By the end of World War II and 1960, nearly 5 million African Americans moved from the rural South to urban areas. The urban crisis prompted by the "white flight" had a direct impact on poor whites and nonwhites. The cities lost not only people and businesses, but also the property they owned and income taxes they had paid. The city governments could no longer afford to properly maintain or improve schools, public transportation, and police and fire departments, and the urban poor suffered. And while all of this poverty grew rapidly in the decaying inner cities, many suburban Americans remained unaware of it.

One proposed solution to the housing problem in the inner cities was urban renewal. The National Housing Act of 1949 was passed to provide "a decent home and a suitable living environment for every American family." This act called for tearing down rundown neighborhoods and constructing low-income housing. Although rundown areas were razed, parking lots, shopping centers, highways, parks, and factories were constructed one some of the cleared land, and there was seldom enough new housing built to accommodate all the displaced people.

Despite the ongoing poverty, during the 1950s, African Americans began to make significant strides toward the reduction of racial discrimination and segregation.

The Long-Term Effects of the 1950s

There are a lot of long-term effects of the 1950s, surprisingly for it being over 60 years ago!

One of the big, big effects is the TV. The TV was first really introduced and in a lot more of people's houses in the 1950s. The color television is still around today and I'm sure used even a lot more than it was used back 60 years ago. The whole production and the things on the television has changed tremendously.

Another one of the big effects of the 1950s is the whole music culture. Back in the 1950s two of the bigger genres that were popular were rock 'n' roll and the blues. Back in this time is when this type of music became really popular and grew and was catchy. Today they still have these types of music, and although they aren't too popular compared to what type of music a lot of society listens to, they're still around.

Cars also played a role in the effects of the 1950s. Although cars were already around way before the 1950s, the type of cars that were out in the 1950s were constantly changing just like they still are now. Sixty years ago cars were beginning to become more and more popular and being used more.

I think that another effect that has kind of changed is just the mere structure of the family and houses together and then were the houses are planted. During this time, there were more and more people that were moving out to the suburbs, and now today there are still tons of people who live in the suburbs. The way that houses were beginning to be built started to effect the way that there are now even.