The 1940s

World War II


Because World War II was in the midst of the 1940s, there were many important leaders involved. Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president of the United States in 1933 and was known for running the country from a wheelchair for he contracted polio in 1921. Roosevelt managed the war with the Axis Powers extremely well considering the condition he was in. He abruptly died in April of 1945 and Harry S. Truman took over the presidency. Truman was known for ending World War II by dropping two atomic bombs on Japanese cities. He was then elected for another term in 1948. Dwight D. Eisenhower was a powerful military leader for the United States in World War II. He was the head of the Allied forces and led the invasion into Normandy on D-Day He later became president in the 1950s.

Another important leader during the war was Adolf Hitler. He became Chancellor of Germany in 1933 and led the country under a dictatorship. Nazi Germany invaded Poland which resulted in Great Britain, France, Australia, Canada, and many other countries to declare war on Germany. This was the beginning of World War II.

Important Allied Leaders included Winston Churchill of Great Britain, Edouard Daladier of France, and Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union. Significant Axis Powers Leaders were Benito Mussolini of Italy and Showa Hirohito of Japan.


Servicemen's Readjustment Act (1944): This act was also known as the GI Bill. IT provided benefits to soldiers returning from World War II and gave scholarships and grants for college education. This act is still in effect today and provides many veterans with benefits.

Jim Crow Laws: These laws were widely known as segregation laws in the southern parts of the United States. They went into affect in the 1880s and began to disintegrate during this decade. Factors such as Supreme Court decisions and books led to the end of these hateful laws. The Jim Crow laws became a national embarrassment.

Supreme Court Decisions

Hirabayashi vs. United States: A presidential executive and congressional laws gave the military authority to exclude citizens of Japanese ancestry from area that were important to national defense and who are vulnerable to spying. The orders were found to be constitutional by the Supreme Court in this case.

Korematsu vs. United States: The War Relocation Authority held the power to remove, maintain, and supervise people who were not living in military areas. This case took place during World War II when the US government relocated Japanese Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of of wartime relocation and confinement.

Timeline of Major World War II Events

September 1, 1939- World War II begins when Nazi Germany invades Poland.

September 3, 1939- Britain, France, and other countries declare war on Germany.

May 10-June 22, 1940- Germany successfully invades France defeating the French forces in the Battle of France.

July 10-October 31, 1940- The Battle of Britain was mainly between the Air Forces of both countries. This was the first major campaign to be entirely fought in the air.

December 7, 1941- Japanese forces lead air raid on Pearl Harbor.

December 8, 1941- The United States declares war on Japan.

December 11, 1941- Germany declares war on the United States.

June 6, 1944- Allies successfully invade Normandy to reclaim France. This day is known as D-Day.

April 30, 1945- Hitler commits suicide when the tide of the war changes in favor of the Allies.

May 8, 1945- Germany surrenders to the Allied Forces.

August 14, 1945- Japan surrenders after the United States drop atomic bombs on two Japanese cities.


There was one major technological advance in the decade. The computer was starting to be drawn up in 1939. The main reason for the computer was for military use only. The first computer was known as an Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC). It was not very useful, so it was improved at Moore School. It was later able to deal with atomic energy and ballistic trajectories. The invention of the computer instigated the technological and scientific advancement in years to come.

The space program was just beginning in the 1940s. Many practice rockets were sent into the sky, but never reached a high altitude because of explosions.

Standard of Living

The depression was still affecting the United States at the beginning of the decade and the unemployment rate was high. After the United States entered World War II, the economy immediately recovered, but resources became limited. Citizens of the United States had to ration goods such as gas, sugar, meat, silk, shoes, nylon, and rubber. Because men had enlisted in the military, it opened doors for women to obtain jobs and advance in society.

Throughout the decade, here are what some items cost:

House- $7,211

Car- $850

Yearly Income- $1,286

Gas- $0.18/gal

Bread- $0.08

Milk- $0.34/gal

Minimum Wage- $0.30/hour


Most movies in the 1940s were based on World War I or World War II. They showed war experiences or plots that actually took place during either war. Examples of movies like these are The Great Dictator, Casablanca, and To Be Or Not To Be. Other popular movies were Oliver Twist, Bambi, Madam Curie, and Rebecca. Significant actors and actresses included Bing Crosby, Loretta Young, James Cagney, and Joan Crawford.

Popular music genres in this decade consisted of Jazz, Swing, Big Band, and Crooners. Music was somewhat put aside duing the war because musicians either went to the war or were on strike. Songs like This Is Your Land, White Christmas, Round Midnight, and God Bless The Child were popular. Important artists were Glenn Miller, Nat "King" Cole, and Frank Sinatra.


Many athletes played sports for enjoyment rather than the paycheck. Popular sports were basketball, football, boxing, and baseball. Baseball became very prevalent during the decade. The All-American Girls Baseball League was created after the United States entered World War II to provide entertainment for people on the home front. In 1947, a racial barrier was broken when Jackie Robinson signed a major league baseball contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Many other sports followed suit in breaking the barrier.

Popular Athletes Included:

Joe Louis

Ted Williams

Joe Fulks


Because of the war, women took the place of men in their absence. They worked in factories and tried to get rid of stereotypes placed on women and work to advance in society.

Clothes after the war became more bright and vibrant. Women wore feminine dresses with full skirts and tight waists. They wore comfortable shoes with a low heel. Women wore their hair curled and up and wore a little amount of makeup. Men wore nice shirts tucked into their pants for everyday wear and then wore suits for nice occassions.

Famous People