The Post World War II Boom: How America Got Into Gear

Chrysler tank production

 

In the summer of 1945, as WWII drew to a close, the U.S. economy was poised on the edge of an uncertain future.

In late 1940 for the United States to serve as the “arsenal of democracy,” American industry had stepped up to meet the challenge. U.S. factories built to mass-produce automobiles had retooled to churn out airplanes, engines, guns and other supplies at unprecedented rates. At the peak of its war effort, in late 1943 and early 1944, the United States was manufacturing almost as many munitions as all of its allies and enemies combined.

On the home front, the massive mobilization effort during World War II had put Americans back to work. Unemployment, which had reached 25 percent during the Great Depression and hovered at 14.6 percent in 1939, had dropped to 1.2 % by 1944 — still a record low in the nation’s history.

Shopping with ration stamps

With the war wrapping up, and millions of men and women in uniform scheduled to return home, the nation’s military-focused economy wasn’t necessarily prepared to welcome them back. As Arthur Herman wrote in his book, Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II, U.S. businesses at the time were still “geared around producing tanks and planes, not clapboard houses and refrigerators.”

Veterans had no trouble finding jobs, according to Herman. U.S. factories that had proven so essential to the war effort quickly mobilized for peacetime, rising to meet the needs of consumers who had been encouraged to save up their money in preparation for just such a post-war boom.

With the war finally over, American consumers were eager to spend their money, on everything from big-ticket items like homes, cars and furniture to appliances, clothing, shoes and everything else in between. U.S. factories answered their call, beginning with the automobile industry. New car sales quadrupled between 1945 and 1955, and by the end of the 1950s some 75 % of American households owned at least one car. In 1965, the nation’s automobile industry reached its peak, producing 11.1 million new cars, trucks and buses and accounting for one out of every six American jobs.

Studebaker 1946

Residential construction companies also mobilized to capitalize on a similar surge in housing demand, as Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans and the GI Bill gave many (but not all) returning veterans the ability to buy a home. Companies like Levitt & Son, based in New York, found success applying the mass-production techniques of the auto industry to home building. Between 1946 and the early 1960s, Levitt & Son built three residential communities (including more than 17,000 homes), finishing as many as 30 houses per day.

Levittown, NY 1947

New home buyers needed appliances to fill those homes, and companies like Frigidaire (a division of General Motors) responded to that need. During the war, Frigidaire’s assembly lines had transitioned to building machine guns and B-29 propeller assemblies. After the war, the brand expanded its home appliance business, introducing revolutionary products like clothes washers and dryers, dishwashers and garbage disposals.

Bendix washing machine ad, Jan. 1947

Driven by growing consumer demand, as well as the continuing expansion of the military-industrial complex as the Cold War ramped up, the United States reached new heights of prosperity in the years after World War II.

CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.

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Military Humor – Home Front style

“I understand you’ve been riveting in your name and address.”

“Housing shortage or NO housing shortage – that’s going too far!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Quarantine Humor – 

‘It’s an ill wind that blows,’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being as most areas are opening, I suppose this will be the last of the Quarantine Humor!  Stay safe and healthy folks!!!

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Farewell Salutes – 

Harold L. Barber – McDonough, GA; USMC, WWII, PTO, Cpl., Purple Heart / US Army, Korea. Major (Ret. 23 y.), Silver Star

William C. Clark – Washington D.C.; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 5th Air Force

Roy “Dan” de Rosa – New Orleans, LA; US Army, Korea, Lt., Bronze Star

Mervin D. Galland – Eveleth, MN; USMC, WWII, PTO, Pvt., KIA (Tarawa)

Paul Lunsford Sr. – Charlotte, NC; US Army, Korea / Nato / Colonel (ret.)

Derrick Madden – Nadeau, CAN; RC Army, WWII, linesman

Margaret Montgomery – Palestine Township, IA; Civilian, WWII, ammo plant

Margaret Ryan – W. Palm Beach, FL; US Navy WAVE, WWII, Cartographer

Gaylord “Chuck” Taylor – USA; US Army, Vietnam, Ranger, Captain, Bronze Star / Author

Stanley Webb – London, ENG; British Army, ETO

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About GP Cox

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

Posted on May 21, 2020, in Home Front, Post WWII, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 117 Comments.

  1. Brings back memories. I grew up in the next town over from Levittown. Cozy homes with a fireplace between the kitchen and livingroom and bedrooms upstairs, if i remember correctly… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hopefully we can comeback from this “depression” that we’re going through now. I know things are opening up, but I still think we have a long way to go, unfortunately.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A great timely post. I hope we have the same drive to go to work coming out of this virus as the greatest generation who built America after the war. Mr. Levitt built the most amazing community after the war and that housing project led to jobs in other industries, like construction, home appliances, home furnishings, lawn maintenance, cars, and teaching jobs for children of young families.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Let us hope we still have this capacity, when this economy fully re-opens after the virus.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is timely. I do hope the US and Canada, emerge from this pandemic with renewed vigor and prosperity.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. As a tidbit, the modest home in which I live – across the street from where Old Man Jack and his wife lived – was built in 1953. The homes in this entire area was built for Navy and Air Force personnel as the Long Beach Naval Base and Northrup and other aircraft companies surrounded the very close by Long Beach Airport. While I bought this home 20 years ago after the previous occupants passed away, the homeowners were of that generation. They bought it new as did Old Man Jack. The husband was partially disabled having been wounded in the head in Europe. I remember the Purple Heart they had framed and on display near the entry when we came in during an open house.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I remember Old Jack; when I think of your father, it is difficult not to see Jack’s face as well. My parents stayed on broad Channel until after I was born and then moved to the suburbs, 1950. I’ve been here in FL for almost 50 years, but that house – it is still home to me!

      Like

  7. All to the benefit of us very fortunately baby boomers!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I enjoyed this mini history lesson of the post-war boom. My dad used to quote from the Malvena Reynolds song “Little Boxes.” Here’s the Pete Seeger version: https://youtu.be/n-sQSp5jbSQ.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Maybe the US government can use the same war mobilization technique to produce in greater quantities the medical equipment and medicine needed to fight coronavirus.

    Liked by 1 person

    • They are certainly trying. I do know that we are now shipping respirators out to other countries. Vaccine wise, even the common cold virus has never been developed, but that isn’t stopping the labs and the CDC from going full-steam ahead in trying to cure it.

      Like

  10. Grandpa came back from the war and ended up doing some of that new housing construction as a contractor 🙂 Another great post, GP- have a good Memorial Day weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. The post war years and path of economic development are interesting as well. Thank you, GP!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Unfortunately, many countries after the WWII had to rebuild their countries and raise them from the ruins. They did not think about buying houses, new cars and household they just thought about where to live. Thanks God all that gone but people who never suffered from the war horror can hardly understand what is that all about.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. GP, What a great post in this time of COVID-19!!!! You told our American success story for us that needed to be told!!! All America needs to read this & come together under a capable leader as ion WWII !!!!!!!!!!!! Many thanks, GP. May you & yours be well & safe! We are OK. We are still awaiting a second elective surgery for wife Geri to “reconnect” her intestine from her first surgery in August 2019. We think it will be July 30. We pray. God save America! Phil

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Twas a time to celebrate and exhale. We bought a lot of stuff! For most, it was a great time. I still find it awful that we had to then jump into the Korean War. You’d think we’d be tired of death from WW2.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Amazing history Sir. They should put this kind of things for the young generation to read in highschool

    Liked by 1 person

    • We need to even start earlier than than that, Priest. By high school, they’re already concentrated on – “Gimme this and gimme that!”

      Like

      • I don´t think it belngs in high school, it belongs to the parents and then the “little” individual that want´s to study this. Unfortuanly history will repeat itslef no matter how much you study it. Based on the principle that if you are good and studied history you would assume that othters that study history will make better choices. Humans are humans hence we got now a 3 WW, very unconventinal for sure, yet it all comes down to human behaviour.

        Liked by 1 person

  16. Good timing on this post, GP! We are certainly going to have to “get America into gear” again!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. My dad came from a poor family (single mom who had to work long hours to keep him and his sister fed and housed). After returning from WWII, he was able to get a college education thanks to the GI Bill while working during the day. His life/career would have been unattainable before the war.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. It amazes me how these big organisations can change production lines from one thing to another at what seems the drop of a hat. I’m sure it takes more than changing a few tools, but it’s incredible I think.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. On a tangent from your central theme. Your “feminine touch” cartoon reminds me that apparently the UK women of the Air Transport Auxiliary delivering aircraft in WW11 did occasionally scratch their details into the cockpit. Perhaps a research idea for another post.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Here in Australia we don’t have Democrats or Republicans but we seem to have done a pretty good job with almost the whole country cooperating and blaming no one.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Very timely post on how the country got back on its feet. This is certainly going to be the challenge ahead for us right now. I do worry because so many want things handed to them while they do nothing at all. We are going to have to stick up for our rights if we want to maintain freedom in the United States. I’m not very happy with the way the government is handling this right now.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think the government meant well, but now people are making more on unemployment than they do going back to work – so we now have new problems. The free ride for many has to stop.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. I’ve enjoyed the coronavirus memes you’ve included. (COUGH!) (ACK!)(GASP!)

    One thing I’ve never understood about postwar auto production is all of the companies were hampered in output by the lack of steel. How could they have been unable to get steel when the steel industry had been going full blast during the war?!?!

    Liked by 1 person

    • As the only major steel maker not harmed during the war, the United States iron and steel industry reached its maximum world importance during and just after World War II. In 1945, the US produced 67% of the world’s pig iron, and 72% of the steel. By comparison, 2014 percentages were 2.4% of the pig iron, and 5.3% of the steel production.
      Although US iron and steel output continued to grow overall through the 1950s and 1960s, the world steel industry grew much faster, and the US share of world production shrank. In the 1960s, the US became a major importer of steel, mostly from Japan.

      hahaha, take care of that cough now, ya hear?!

      Like

  23. An interesting and important post, GP!
    I believe good American’s CAN get it into gear again!

    Love The Feminine Touch and the racoon! 😀 😛
    (((HUGS))) 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  24. If you want a booming home economy then the potential consumer has to have money in his or her pocket…and not money from benefits but money from employment – so put public money into assisting the small businesses which are the backbone of the domestic economy and let the big firms, more intent on enriching their bosses than on producing wnything worthwhile, wither on the vine.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. When our 1946 Ford was delivered. The whole neighborhood came out to see it. Thanks, GP.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Hi G
    Good humor as usual
    And this post was connecting to some of he history shows I watched during the pandemic – like he seeks about the men who built America – and America in color – where they added cod to old footage!
    — the home neighborhood projects still impress me to think that was a novel idea – feels so common now –
    And
    This was worth snipping – had no idea:
    “On the home front, the massive mobilization effort during World War II had put Americans back to work. Unemployment, which had reached 25 percent during the Great Depression and hovered at 14.6 percent in 1939, had dropped to 1.2 % by 1944 — still a record low in the nation’s history.”

    Hopefully we will recover from this with a healthy boom

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Nice to be reminded of the power of American industry during and after the war . We are in somewhat of a different economy now . Looking forward at some point to a
    Great Depression post from you , GP.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Maybe this current crisis will help us to find some of the strength and resilience that our parents and grandparents had. I’ve no doubt that we will get through it, but I wonder how long it will take us to emerge. It’s not like most of the population was saving up for this day.

    Love the racoon!

    Liked by 2 people

  29. What a timely post, GP, as we are again poised on the edge of a massive change in America. Thanks for the perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. One factor I do not believe applied to post-WW II that we have today is the insidious illegal alien population. Many have already noted their displacement of citizens in recovery aspects.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Perhaps in Europe, because the Soviet kept pushing people out of their area and into Allied territory – they had no wish to feed and clothe them. But here, you are correct. Mexicans still crossed the border, but not in the amount as today.

      Liked by 1 person

  31. A very timely post, GP. I keep wondering how we’re going to “get back into gear” after the mess this virus has made of everything.
    I enjoyed this and the photos. All those tanks and other things — inside– wow! That facility must be enormous! Hugs on the wing!

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Fascinating. One issue we had was that women, who had been doing men’s work during the war, were expected to hand the jobs back to men afterwards.

    Liked by 1 person

  33. THe young lady riveting her name and address was so funny….and so human!

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Lets hope this will be the same with the actual crisis, or “war”, like same used to say. But i am a little bit pessimistic, because we have a too devided society all over the world. We lost the enemy situation between comunists and capitalists too. On both sides they are wearing masks from the others.
    Thank you for the information, GP! Best wishes, Michael

    Btw: Have you heared about the new joke around? Pompeo is to be held liable for a arms deal with Saudi Arabia. It was said at the start of the case that he had a senior official lead to walk the dog and hand over clothes in the laundry. He replied that he did not let the dog walk to sell weapons to the laundry. Lol

    Liked by 1 person

    • haha, Pompeo seems to be the scapegoat lately for a lot. He congratulated the Taiwan Pres. about his leadership and now China is saying he broke the One-China policy. Taiwan territory has never been signed over to China, so how can that be true? I don’t know – this is why I dislike politics so much!!

      Liked by 2 people

  35. We had money to burn and were probably the only industrialized nation left with an intact infrastructure to manufacture goods the world needed. There was an excellent 1945 movie showing some of the problems that returning WWII vets had finding an appropriate job. I think it was called the Best Years of Our Lives. Love the Racoon meme. Shared it with my Midway library shipmates on their Facebook page.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. I knew that the American production of war materials was far superior to all the other nations during WW2 but it almost reached the combined volume of the Allied and enemy forces was new to me. A very interesting post, GP!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s what a country can do when everyone sticks and works together. Not like so many today who sit on their laurels yelling “Gimme this and gimme that”, or finding nothing better to do with their time but protest everything!
      Thanks for coming by, Peter!!

      Liked by 1 person

  37. In November 1941, my grandparents (and their sons) had no idea they’d just purchased one of the last cars built until after the war, a 1942 Plymouth. No wonder people were ready to buy. As a veteran, Dad was given vouchers to be able to buy a new tractor, but he didn’t have money for it. He sold the voucher to his uncle so he’d have money to buy a used tractor.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Family still worked together! I’m hoping between this post and a future one about the Great Depression will show people that if we stick together – the U.S. can come out of anything!!!

      Like

  38. I’m curious about the size and cost of the houses (30 in one day!). *side note* one of many of my favorite stories from my Great Grandmother (born 1897 – died 2001) “well, before the washing machine you’d leave your laundry in a bag outside your door, someone would come pick it up and a week later they would return it pressed and folded. We were so excited about the new washing machine. But then we were left with all the work. I’m not so sure what we were so excited about.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • As far as I know, in 1950, Levittown, 2-3 bedrooms cost $10,000 and East Meadow, 2 bedrooms, but attic easily converted to 2 more, plus a garage, was $1,000 more.
      We had a washer, but no dryer. Everything went on a clothes line outside.

      Liked by 1 person

  39. One of my dad’s co-workers for many years, grew up in Levittown, NY, and told us that those houses were well-built, and very much in demand today. They all have fireplaces. It’s amazing to think of people finishing 30 houses in one day!!
    Maybe this is why some of those old-time refrigerators kind of look like tanks! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  40. The current financial situation in Britain has not been worse, since 1945. The war left the country completely borke, and in huge debt too. But we came through that through the 1950s into the 1960s, and I have confidence that we will do so again. It might just take a bit longer this time though.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

  41. That 1.2% unemployment is eye-catching. Employers then, must have found positions for the many we assume now, are unemployable. Agree, this is a very positive post.

    Liked by 1 person

  42. Really enjoyed reading that. It’s an interesting contrast to the years of rationing the UK endured after the war. I badly want us (US) to be a nation that manufactures things again.

    Liked by 1 person

  43. Given our current situation, your post provides so much hope, GP. Thank you for writing this. I enjoyed the giggles too!

    Liked by 3 people

  44. Thank you very much, Ian.

    Like

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