USA Home Front 1950’s

Arvin TV ad

Arvin TV ad

By the time WWII was over, the American people were exhausted. They had given their all between enduring the Great Depression and then depriving themselves even more for the war effort. They had had rationing and lost their men. They wanted to forget it all and as quickly as possible. They wanted their lives to change, to move forward and they went for these goals with both feet.

The military at home was being drastically reduced and there was ample talk of eliminating the Marine Corps entirely. Among those in favor of that budget-cut included such men as: Omar Bradley, Dwight Eisenhower and Louis Johnson, Secretary of Defense. Johnson was responsible for the Corps being down to only 70,000 men, spread throughout the world.

John Wayne in Camels ad

John Wayne in Camels ad

When Pearl Harbor was attacked, the whole country, no matter where they were or what they were doing, remember hearing the news and were immediately aware that the country was at war. This was not so in 1950 when the North Korean army crossed the 38th parallel. As we enter the Korean War section, you will clearly notice the transformation on the home front. The lifestyle described in my guest posts for Greatest Generations drastically changes from the WWII era and partly accounts for why this became such a forgotten war.

Harriet Nelson for Hotpoint

Harriet Nelson for Hotpoint

The American public knew nothing of “police actions,” in fact, the term did not exist until the media coined the phrase. President Truman was capable of committing U.S. troops to a combat zone without a declaration of war by Congress – who knew? The idealism, enthusiasm and support from WWII was rapidly fading.

The civilians wanted communist aggression halted, but not at the cost of losing more troops; especially the longer it seemed to drag on – was it really worth the cost? There were very few protests against the war and some reason for that were the infamous McCarthy Senate investigations; many feared being put on “the list” of communist sympathizers. Joseph McCarthy’s accusations that the government contained “card-carrying” members proved unfounded, but his hearings continues, as did the newspaper headlines. The political atmosphere of the U.S. was poisoned and when General MacArthur was reined in – the situation deteriorated all the more.

Coffee pot that turns off automatically!

Coffee pot that turns off automatically!

In December 1950, Truman ordered that all statements made by government or military officials must be cleared by Washington first; the trust and support for the war dropped even farther. The polls showed 56% of all Americans felt the U.S. had made a mistake by getting involved. In the spring of 1951, the Truman administration became the most unpopular in American history (to that date). The president wanted a limited war, while MacArthur and many in Congress felt, “there is no substitute for victory.” A ‘win or get out attitude’ would begin the general’s dismissal and the polls read 60% for MacArthur and 29% for Truman.

International Harvester Refrigerator

International Harvester Refrigerator

America had changed. Salaries were up, unemployment was down to 2% and the public had money to spend. The American population was a mere 6% of the world, but they made about half of the manufactured products for the planet. Industry, without competition, booked in outrageous proportions. Detroit was rolling out both tanks and automobiles. Televisions hit the market in such quantities that 2/3 of all households owned at least one.

the latest in milk delivery

the latest in milk delivery

Despite nighttime news reports on the war, the public continued to get most of their updates in newspapers. The TV cameras, at the time, were still bulky and it was difficult to get them up to the front. But in the fall of ’52 and spring of ’53, the war headlines abated. (American lives were lost in large numbers in this time period in the small-scale engagements and the ferocious battle of Pork Chop Hill. These months were the stage of war depicted in the TV series M*A*S*H*.)

"Cookie-cutter" housing development, Levittown, PA

“Cookie-cutter” housing development, Levittown, PA

People went on vacations, traveled, went shopping without ration cards and the majority virtually went about their daily lives as if there was no war at all. Developments sprung up around the country of ‘cookie-cutter’ homes such as in East Meadow, Long Island and Levittown, PA. Couples picked out their new refrigerators and stoves. Children had backyards to play in with swing sets and no victory gardens taking up space. Women shopped for new clothes and kitchen items. Young men could even avoid the draft or postpone it with college deferments. Red Sox fans were torn between national pride and support of the team when Ted Williams was sent as a Marine pilot to Korea for 39 missions. But, he did return in time to finish out the 1953 season, batting over .400 in 37 games. After the 1930’s depression and 1940’s restrictions, Americans as a whole were enjoying the good life.

The latest in Harley-Davidson 'hogs'

The latest in Harley-Davidson ‘hogs’

This was a time of contradictions that the “boomers” were born into. A population explosion mixed with political upheaval, the birth of rock ‘n roll, convenience, a totally new lifestyle and a hidden war that would set a president for all those that followed.

1950 Sears ad

1950 Sears ad

I did not have information about countries outside the U.S., so I would love to hear what life was like around the world at this period in time. Thank you all – you’re great.

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Current News –

A monument was erected for War Horse, SSgt. Reckless at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, at Quantico, Virginia.

SSgt. Reckless, USMC

SSgt. Reckless, USMC

“You picture a horse, but she was truly a Marine.” _______ Mike Mason, Korean War Veteran

Two remarkable stories about the Korean war horse who received medals for her service, including carrying ammunition to the front in 51 trips under fire – in one day alone.

http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/national_world&id=9187461

http://www.sgtreckless.com/Reckless/About_Reckless.html

##########################################################################################

Farewell Salutes –

Eugene Wilkinson – Long Beach, CA; U.S. Navy (submarines), WWII, Silver Star, commander of nuclear sub “Nautilus”

Ponciano Tabac Ponce – Maui, Hawaii & L.A., CA; U.S. Army, Korean War

Clyde Shorey, Jr. – Washington D.C. & Cranberry Island, ME; U.S. Army Air Corps, WWII

David Goldfinger – Bronx, NY & Laguna Woods, CA; U.S. Air Force, sergeant in WWII

Charles McCreight – Oledo, OH & Lake Worth, FL; U.S. Army WWII

Joseph Bali – Gary, IN & Phoenix, AZ; U.S. Air Force, WWII

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About GP

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GP is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on July 30, 2013, in Home Front, Korean War and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 162 Comments.

  1. I grew up in the 1950s, I remember it as a golden time when life was clearer than it is today, despite the problems of the era. Thanks for bringing it back to life.

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  2. Great post! Guess I need to go back and read the rest of what you’ve done 😉
    Interesting how the Korean War really did set the precedent (note spelling!) for later wars. Perhaps the Vietnam conflict garnered more attention as there was so much tumult at home, but our most recent wars certainly didn’t require/ask for much in the way of sacrifice from the general population… I’m reminded of one of G.W. Bush’s responses to the 9/11 attacks: go out an shop! Hmmmm….

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    • Yeah, that comment of Bush’s sounds ridiculous now, but it was in concern of keeping the economy flowing and the people busy (not getting themselves into a panic). Thanks for dropping in. You have some great work yourself, you leave a link here for other readers to find you easier.

      Like

  3. What a geat post, it has a feel to it that i just cant quite describe.
    I actually grew up in Australia in the 60,s, they always said we were 10 years behind the USA , so that could explain a lot. I also love anything vintage , so that helps.

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  4. Love to read your posts. You bring history to life. Also love the adds.

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  5. Great Blog, ‘trooper.. I was born at the leading edge of the Baby Boom, a month & a half before the “official” start of the boom on January 1, 1946, in Brooklyn, NY. I grew up on Long Island, living for a short time in one of those cookie cutter communities you mentioned (Levittown, NY), then spending all of my school years in Lindenhurst on the south shore of Long Island. It was a great time to be a kid. Coincidentally, just a week ago attended the 50th anniversary reunion of the graduation of my high school class (Lindenhurst HS, Class of 1963). Will take a look at your previous posts and looking forward to new ones.

    Jim Reilly

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    • Thanks for stopping by; but actually Smitty (my father) was the paratrooper and I was born not long after you. Born on Broad Channel, grew up in East Meadow and moved to Lindenhurst for a year before coming to Florida. Small world!

      Like

  6. What a fascinating post! I love the advertisements you added throughout the text.

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  7. EmilyAnn Frances

    Excellent post! (They always are.) I like your use of the advertisements to get the message about the changes in popular culture. My late Mom always said the 1950s were happening in late 1947 and used ads from her collection of 1940s “True Story” and “True Romance” magazines to prove the point. The fashions, hairstyles and attitudes from 1948 were familiar to me in 1958 when I was 5 years old. In like fashion, the 1960s began to happen in the late 1950s as the Civil Rights movement and the Ban the Bomb movements started to get attention.

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    • You’re right on target, Emily. Thanks for bringing that up. Until women started reaching for equality and teenagers went out for Flower Power, things were kind of stagnant.

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  8. Reblogged this on muscleheaded and commented:
    Great reading !!

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  9. Amazing how little of this we learn in school. Good to see the horse statue, I’ll have to visit it someday. I still can’t believe how calm the ads were about nuclear bombs back then.

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    • When I saw the statue of Reckless being unveiled on tv, I had to go right to the computer and get a photo. Schools tend to skim over stories that they really don’t want to talk about.

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  10. Thank you for your recent interest, have been trying to contact you and say a great big thanks. Happy to read all of your entries and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your service.

    Like

  11. Yours is one of the most interesting blog that I have come across. Full of information and nicely writting.
    You deserve great praise.
    Thanks for liking my post.

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  12. Pierre Lagacé

    A reblogué ceci sur Lest We Forget and commented:
    About the Forgotten War… Korea 1950-1953… Part Two

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  13. Love it…Love it….LOVE IT !!!! Oh, the memories your post triggered. We were blessed to come into the world, in the US at that time. 🙂 🙂 🙂

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  14. Great post.
    I’m a 1947 baby. In my earliest memories England had lots of holes in the streets, and this ‘bomb damage’ seemed normal. Also normal was the concentration on food. My parents (father an ex Far Eastern POW) kept pigs, ducks, chickens and shot rabbits and pigeon, which we all learned to prepare for the table. We children had the privilege of special orange juice, and cod-liver-oil and malt to balance the rationing.
    My father remained in the army and was posted to Gibraltar in the early 50s. We lived on top of the rock and had to stay out of the house whenever they were doing explosion tests. I was very anxious about another war and questioned my father, who was reassuring.
    My father was posted to Germany in the mid 1950s, where as a child I remained in happy ignorance of the worst aspect of their role in the war.
    In 1956 I was sent to a boarding school/convent in Belgium where the first thing I was shown was a wall pockmarked with bullets – which had all miraculously missed the crucifix there.
    So for me, and I would guess most Europeans, the war was all around in my childhood.

    We loved MASH, though, when it finally reached our screens, taking from it both the humour and the warning.

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    • Fantastic addition to our story here, Hillary. Thank you very much. This is a wonderful first hand account of Europe and what was still happening during the 50’s.

      Like

  15. I don’t have anything to add but my thanks! Well done, as always.

    Like

  16. No one who did not grow up in the 50s can ever understand how great a time it was for kids (in my humble opinion!). I don’t believe any other generation will experience what we had. On another note, I’ve just about finished reading “The Girls of Atomic City”. Amazing. Especially amazing that the military was ever even able to pull off something like that. Boy, try that today. HA!

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    • You are so right, Linda. A fantastic childhood for me and the kids I grew up with that’s for sure. “Atomic City” today? WikiLeaks would be all-over that one too.

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  17. I love how you peppered this piece with these old ads. The cookie cutter houses were no fad. They are still with us ;). When I was a kid they played that song “Little boxes” in school for us. “Little houses made of ticky tack . . . .” Great post.

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  18. Quite a Baby Boomer lifestyle blast from the past.

    Like

  19. Reblogged this on Masako and Spam Musubi and commented:
    A wonderful summary of the home front in the 1950’s. My parents didn’t get their first TV until about 1959 or so. It was also a used B&W.

    Like

  20. Having been born in Tokyo in ’54, I have very little personal recollection of what the area looked like. But from reading and listening to personal accounts, Tokyo was still in the reconstruction stage. My father – a Nisei – had returned to Japan in ’51 to marry my mother. Because of the dollar-yen exchange rate, his pay as a civilian employee of the PX was enormous. With that money, they had begun building their home from scratch as did my aunt from about 1955. (That’s me…and my dad’s Ford Console, a new car back then and a rarity on the roads.)

    Aunt's New Home - Setagaya-ku

    Many civilians were still very poor from having lost everything. Cars were largely not manufactured until starting around 1954 or so. Until then, it was mostly trucks and three wheeled vehicles that ran in diesel. This was likely to aid in reconstruction but I am not sure. Besides, the general population wasn’t able to afford a car anyways.

    Tokyo had a heavy air of the US military’s influence that that was expected. Many signs had sprung up in English and many airbases were in operation still – Yokota, Tachikawa, etc.

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  21. What a great idea to document history with the ads of those times! 🙂 Advertisment is a kind of mirror of the ruling ideology, indeed. Thank you very much for your search of all this old ads.
    Greetings from Norfolk
    Klausbernd

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  22. Wonderful history of that time period. I was born in 1946 so I grew up with all those wonderful and not so wonderful new inventions and i have a vague recollection of their being a war going on in Korea. One clear memory I have was being in first grade in1952 and we occasionally had air raid drills at our school! I had no idea at the time what an air raid was, being only 6 though.

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    • I remember the air raid drills, crouched under our desks like that was actually going to protect us from the BOMB and that was the mid-’50s for me. The air raid siren was only 5 houses away from mine – every noon and 6pm it went off.

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    • What a piece of propaganda! Did we actually believe that. Did ourt parents? Or did we believe it because not to believe would leave us in despair?

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      • Thanks for doing this, Weggieboy; I’m awful adding links. I never would have gotten this into the site. We did, I believe, accept whatever the government told us. Hey – we took Teddy’s, Cal’s, FDR’s and JFK’s word at everything – didn’t we?

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  23. Please don’t get me wrong and I ask this question in all sincerity? (Let’s ignore Granada for a moment).

    I believe the American military won almost every single battle they fought since WW2 – but did they win any war since WW2?

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  24. I can remember my uncle listening to the McCarthy hearings. All of us children had to play outside so as not to disturb him. Enjoyed seeing all those old ads from 1950.

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    • I suppose McCarthy had the top tv ratings back then; it was news, history and a blot on the U.S. story all at once.

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      • Imagine Congressional Hearings occupying the afternoon time spots, competing with the soap operas. The Estes Kefauver Hearings were also a big hit. That’s the first time most Americans ever heard those famous words, “I refuse to answer that question under the provisions of the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, against self-incrimination.”

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  25. What I can tell you about the 50’s is that the world seemed so much brighter and our country seemed like a never ending success story. Manufacturing companys were everywhere, and people were happy to have those jobs. By the mid-50’s, most people had a t-v, food was pleantiful, people could save maoney, and really enjoy the good life in peace and harmony. No one in my community locked their doors at night. I could go on and on, about one of the greatest periods in our history, but will end with great thanks that I was a part of it.

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  26. Interesting article and you got me thinking about what other countries were doing after the war. And Europe, though battered and beaten still came up with an incredible transportation system that seems far superior to ours. In many ways they have been ahead of the US in this regard. Love the ads!

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  27. Loved this post, and all the responses it got from people who answered your question about other countries. This is the world I was born into. Yet, as a little girl, I felt WWII and the Korean War (which ended the year I was born) were “ancient history.” Funny how “twenty years ago” when you are ten years old is not the same length of time as “twenty years ago” when you are sixty years old….

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    • So true, so true – you think it’s because of time running so much faster the older we get? Thanks for the comments, Susan. Always a pleasure to see you here.

      Like

  28. I am amazed at the notion that there was any thought or plan to eliminate the Marines! As you mention the stats regarding consumerism and employment, it reminded me of what one professor in college told us years ago: that war was GOOD for the economy. He based it on WWII’s economic results. Ever since hearing that, over the years I have sought evidence of such a similar ‘boom’ with the wars I’ve been alive to see or aware of and I have not seen anything like he described. Perhaps, then, not all wars are good for the economy, after all. I especially have to conclude that after 10 years of the current war. If anything, this current war has cost our economy, thanks to downsizing of the Clinton era, and because we have taken so much of the manufacturing plants and jobs overseas. Such a shame. What I wouldn’t do to see some ‘boom’ times again.

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    • Back in WWII, the economy DID prosper from the war production, but ever since Korea – the wars are run by politicians and drag on so long that they drain the economy. Both you and your professor are correct – depending on the era you are speaking of.

      Like

  29. buffalotompeabody

    ” We invite you to use your credit”
    I will be laughing over that for weeks!

    Like

  30. Really great overview of the times – I always enjoy your posts. The 50’s was when industrial workers were living the heyday of the new middle class. Unions were effective in raising workers wages, people had disposable income to spend on goodies and life’s dreams seemed to know no limits. I wonder what those families who lived in Detroit during these times would think of their city today?

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  31. As always a great post. I love the nostalgia in those ads too! Social breakthroughs — a “coffee robot” … whoever would have thought it? (Turns itself off yet keeps the coffee hot, and for hours~!)

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  32. Reading your story reminded me of the recent passing of Eugene Polley. Mr. Polley, in 1955, invented the first wireless TV remote control. Ads for the product were similar in design to the ads you featured in this post. If you’re interested, Google his name, or First Wireless Remote Control.

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  33. I really enjoyed reading this post. It is a concise summary of the period. Being only in the first few years of my life at that time, I remember it well. Not so much…

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  34. Love these old fifties ads! Great post~

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  35. You are on the mark again. Great job!

    There is some heavy content here, but my comment runs on the light side.

    TV antennae began to appear on chimneys around Queens NY. I had no idea what they were. When someone I knew let me watch their TV, I was totally amazed. TVs brought neighborhoods together, gathering in the houses of the fortunate. When eventually “everyone” had a TV, folks didn’t get together very much.

    Living in NYC afforded the best of times for TV viewing. NY had more TV stations than anywhere else.

    I remember people watching the McCarthy hearings and then Edward R. Murrow tore into McCarthy, bringing him down. TV proved a powerful medium.

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  36. Great post ! It was a wonderful moment in US history in so many ways . Americans wanted desperately to forget war , after all , and the economy was good after years of Depression and war . Thus , the Korean War was known as the Forgotten War . You did a nice job of writing a concise brief summary of that time .

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  37. This was the time, too, of dietary / nutritional change as “convenience” entered the food markets … TV dinners were the rage, as were other convenience items. The American obesity epidemic began during the 50s and 60s.
    Great post! The ads certainly tell the tale, don;t they?

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  38. I was marveling at the same statistic – 6% of the population responsible for 50% of manufactured goods. Boy, things have changed haven’t they? Reading about a reduction in the military and talk of eliminating the marines, altogether… and then we find ourselves in another war. Some things change… others just repeat.

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  39. History Of The Third Reich - Kolmannen Valtakunnan Historia

    Thank you for all your comments! Wishing you a wonderful day 🙂 Maarit

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  40. I was born in 1952 then soon was under the care of a Japanese nanny named Uki. I have dim recollections about my relatives talking about Korea and the earlier World War II. I took the new conveniences for granted. They evolved as I grew up.

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  41. The ads are great–It’s interesting that a farm equipment company (International Havester) came up with the idea of colored refrigerator door handles. Hmm. . . maybe that’s why they never caught on. 🙂

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    • It was a surprise for me too, but I couldn’t find out why – maybe you’re right. Glad you enjoyed the article, Sheryl; I look forward to yours every morning.

      Like

  42. I really find history so interesting! Maybe I was born in the wrong era! 🙂

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  43. A Dutch friend born in December 1945 wrote me how he had a vivid memory, as a schoolchild in the early 1950s, of walking past a house each day that’d been bombed in WWII. The feature of this war wreck that most impressed him was a bathtub that had been on the second story held in space by the plumbing!

    His father, a history teacher, always told him to expect war in the Netherlands in his lifetime because there always was war. When approval of the Treaty of Maastricht unified the European continent (the EU countries, at least) in a zone where all national currencies were replaced with the euro, my friend was reminded of that forewarning by his father, and noted how fortuitous he was to live in the longest period of continental peace in memory.

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  44. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    I was born in 1950! I only lived, during my childhood, under the good things that American influence brought to my country …… but at the expense of what??? I wonder ………

    Like

  45. I was born in Puerto Rico in 1950. The island was still a possession of the US …. bounty from the Spanish American way. In 1952, Puerto Rico became a commonwealth of the US. As a result of that, good things (at the time), started literally “pouring” into the Island …… the American way, the American money, American citizenship, etc. There was progress all around.
    But we have to be careful what we wish for ….. the negative effects of progress can be felt anywhere.
    Great post!!! TY….
    Reblog: http://hrexach.wordpress.com/

    Like

  46. What an amazing transformation of US society in those post war years. I didn’t realise how rapid the change was. I don’t think the changes happened as quickly in New Zealand. My parents talk of a housing shortage. They spent the first years of their married life with my grandparents. Loved the story of Reckless. It is wonderful when our faithful, brave soldier- animals are recognised.

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  47. Really interesting post…loved the adverts, its great to find out what is was like in the USA after the war compared to GB. Thanks again 🙂

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    • If you have the time, tell us what it WAS like in GB. Thanks for reading.

      Like

      • Its only from what I have read…..no first hand information….but maybe I could get my Dad to write down his impressions, he is in his 80’s but he was just too young to be in the war, but he has told me lots of stories about everyday life, the bombs and doodle bugs that just dropped out of the sky, only having 1 egg a week on rations during the war……he lived in Portsmouth and spent most of his childhood in the Harbour doing odd jobs for all the warships…I just really remember playing on the bomb sites a long time after the war around the city that were left from the bombings, it took a great many years before they were filled in, in fact there might even be some left now in odd places 🙂

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        • That would be outstanding. It might be easier for father tho, if you acquired a voice recorder, they’re not expensive and will record for hours.

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  48. Pierre Lagacé

    Great overview of that period! I love those adds that add so much to the atmosphere of that period of time. Canada took part in this “police action”. I know a sailor who was aboard HCMS Iroquois when it was shelled by North Korean shore batteries.

    Wikipedia

    HMCS Iroquois G89/217 was a Tribal-class destroyer that was built in the United Kingdom and served in the Royal Canadian Navy. She was the first ship to bear this name.

    Iroquois served off Korea during the Korean War, commanded by William Landymore.[1]:1173 On 2 October 1952, the ship was hit by enemy shore batteries, killing 3 and wounding 10. These were the only RCN casualties in the war.[2]

    The ship’s badge is described as: Blazon Or, the head of an Iroquois brave, couped at the base of the neck, properly coloured and wearing two eagle feathers in his hair and a gold ring pendant from the ear.

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    • Thank you for the added info, Pierre. Yes, Canada was represented in the Korean War and I hope to put in everything I locate – if you see me faltering – you know what to do.

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  49. Well, I wasn’t born yet, but from what I know life wasn’t easy around here. Although Portugal wasn’t part of the war it severely affected us in several areas. The fact that we were under a left-wing dictatorship regime didn’t help either. It was, however, a time when there were big developments in areas like the chemical industry, transportation, energy and the building of bridges, dams and roads throughout the country. Experimental TV transmissions started in 1956 and if you were lucky to have a TV set, like my grandfather was, neighbors would flock to your house to watch it.

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  50. The American population was a mere 6% of the world, but they made about half of the manufactured products for the planet. That sure is a statistic to wonder over. Thanks again for a great post.

    Like

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