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Analyze the causes and consequences of important domestic Cold War trends.

Cars from the 1950s, from The People's History website
Cars from the 1950s, from The People's History website

Topics on the Page

A. economic growth and declining poverty
B. the baby boom
C. the growth of suburbs and home-ownership
D. the increase in education levels
  • The GI Bill
  • The Space Race
E. the development of mass media and consumerism
  • Women in Post-war America
  • African Americans in Post-war America
  • LGBTQ history

Focus Question: What were the causes and consequences of important domestic Cold War trends?

For an overview, see American Cultural History: 1950-1959 from a website at Lone Star College-Kinwood in Kinwood, Texas

Interstate Highway Map, 1957
Interstate Highway Map, 1957

A. Growth and Poverty in the 1950s and 1960s

The 1950's had gradual growth that lead to the peak of economic growth in the 1960's.
  • In the 1950's there was major inflation that followed WWII. Consumer prices increased due to the removal of price controls.
    • Large increase in consumer demand, credit and poor productivity were causes of inflation.
  • President Eisenhower believed in fiscal responsibility, but that it was also the government's duty to stimulate economic growth and raise productivity, so he curbed government spending.
    • Growth of the American economy was lead by life insurance industry and private firms absorbed the excess of personal saving.

Multimedia.pngClick here to see some of Eisenhower's 1952 campaign promises and advertisements, as well as ads from other presidential races, from the Museum of the Moving Image

Most importantly, in the wake of WWII the United States remained the only functional industrial power that did not need to rebuild its industrial infrastructure.
  • Unlike the soon-to-be other world super-power, the USSR, the United States' industrial power remained untouched by WWII.
  • This meant that US factories and farms exported most of the world's manufactured goods during the post-war period.
Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 12.29.18 PM.png
external image 200px-Paperback_book_black_gal.svg.pngSurges in the economy eliminated poverty for many Americans, but poverty remained a dire problem for those living in urban and rural areas, an issue that would be brought to light by the book, The Other America: Poverty in the United States by Michael Harrington (1962).

The 1960's was the longest uninterrupted period of economic expansion. The housing and computer industry beat the leading sectors including automobiles and chemicals, causing efficiency and productivity to increase dramatically. From 1945 to 1975 output per hour of labor increased 120 percent and output per standard unit of energy increased 23 percent.

Image result for us economy 1950s and 1960s
Image result for us economy 1950s and 1960s

This graph shows the growth in GDP (Gross Domestic Product), or total amount of goods and services produced, in the United States. As you can see the percentage of growth, adjusted for inflation, is far higher in the 1950's and 1960's and drops substantially by the 1970's.

As the 1960 presidential election campaign got under way, the 1960-1961 recession began.
  • John F. Kennedy’s 1960 campaign promise “ to get America moving again “ referred to the American economy. He wanted economic growth at an annual rate of 4-6 percent and unemployment at 4 percent.
  • Kennedy sent Congress an economic growth and recovery package consisting of twelve measures,
    • including an increase in the minimum wage from $1.00 to $1.25 per hour and an extension of the minimum wage to a larger pool of workers,
    • an increase in unemployment compensation plus increased aid to children of unemployed workers,
    • increase social security benefits to a larger pool of people,
    • emergency relief for feed grain farmers, area redevelopment, vocational training for displaced workers, and
    • federal funding for home building and slum eradication.

1950s television set
1950s television set

B. The Baby Boom

This period of time lasted roughly from around 1946 to 1964, and involved a significant increase in the number of births in the US.
  • After WWII, returning soldiers and society alike were ready to start over and many married couples began having large families.
  • In 1945 the number of births in the US was 2.8 million, in 1946 that number jumped to 3.47 million births!

This baby-boom generation helped to develop the base for most of America's economic, political, and social infrastructure.
  • As the economy picked up following WWII and post-war rationing ended, baby boom families began to move further away from cities.
  • Suburbs and small towns, now inundated with young families, had to accommodate the sudden swell of people.
  • New public schools, hospitals, and other public institutions were constructed overnight to deal with the new population boom.
    • Click here to read more about it.

  • This is a slideshow of influential women born during the baby-boom.
    • Women were expected to have certain homemaker-esque roles in the 1950s, consistent with the baby boom; however, this was also the time of the development of the birth control pill.

external image usbrate.gif

C. The Growth of Suburbs and Home-Ownership

As young families flocked from urban centers, suburban towns struggled to house these new migrants.
  • Since the economy was good (and in part thanks to the GI Bill), the government issued housing loans to a larger swath of Americans than before.
    • The need for housing, combined with the wish of post-war American society to return to "normal," produced prefabricated neighborhoods called "Levittowns."
  • Named after architect William Levitt, Levittowns were exclusively residential zones composed of individual parcels of land with pre-manufactured, modular homes.
    • Since these neighborhoods were "modern," streets were designed around commuting to work or school. In addition, homes came with "modern" conveniences and accommodations: such as refrigerators, washing machines, and driers.

external image levittown.jpg

Screen Shot 2017-02-24 at 12.30.24 PM.pngLesson plan: Levittown, automobiles, and Cultures of the 1950's

multicultural.pngIf you have access, PBS's documentary Race: The Power of an Illusion is absolutely phenomenal and has a section entitled "The House We Live In," which is all about the racialized aspect of US housing policy following WWII (redlining, restricted access to mortgage loans, blockbusting, and their effects today).
  • It's available through Kanopy if your school has access.
    • If you don't have access, this article from The Atlantic discusses many similar aspects of the racist housing policy post-WWII.

Special Topic page on Redlining and Housing Segregation Against African Americans

external image Red_apple.jpg

D. Increase in Education Levels

President Franklin Roosevelt Signs the GI Bill of Rights, 1944
President Franklin Roosevelt Signs the GI Bill of Rights, 1944

As WWII drew to a close, the GI Bill (also known as the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944) was introduced as a way of stimulating the economy, rewarding soldiers for their service, and better integrating soldiers back into civilian life.
  • In 1947, one-half of all college admissions were WWII veterans
  • One-half of all WWII veterans participated in some form of education or job training
  • College was no longer only for a small elite

For most Americans education was sporadic and ended at the high-school level.
  • Now, higher education was provided for Americans that had never had the chance to extend their education.
    • The result was a staggering growth in job sectors that relied on college-level knowledge and accreditation.
      • Many advances in medicine, science, engineering, and other "high-tech" industries came as a result of first-generation college graduates thanks to the GI Bill.

primary_sources.PNGClick here for a link to the text of the GI Bill.

multicultural.pngFrom the National Bureau of Economic Development, The G.I. Bill, World War II, and the Education of Black Americans

As the US economy became more heavily industrial, the need for public education grew. The economic boom of post WWII America allowed more funding to be devoted to public schools, libraries, museums, and other forms of education.

Thus, public education began to shift in the 1950s and 60s from traditional training of reading, writing, and arithmetic. As the United States became more involved in world affairs, public education reflected this involvement. Politics, history, and science became staples of public education. Communities began to demand established standards of education, literacy, and practices. By the late 1950s public education through twelfth grade had become a standard American practice in most school districts.

The Space Race

Image for Sputnik 50th anniversary
Image for Sputnik 50th anniversary

rotating gif.gifFor more on space exploration, see

In an effort to keep up with Russia in the Space Race, the US government launched a massive educational campaign in order to improve American students' performance in school, especially in the subjects of math and science.
  • The US government became concerned over the fact that Soviet children were more intelligent than American children.

Also the launch of the satellite Sputnik alarmed many government officials because the US was not even close to launching anything into space.
  • This only raised Cold War tensions in the US and caused a major boom in the US Space Program as well as the educational system.
    • Subjects such as math and science were emphasized only because the Soviets were winning the Space Race.

National Geographic link on the 50th Anniversary of Sputnik.

Reinforcing this Sputnik Fear is the failed launch of the Vanguard space craft, America's first attempt to launch a craft into space.

The US government became involved in the Space Race and ended up launching satellites and even landed Americans on the moon.
  • In the 1980s when President Ronald Reagan began his SDI defense program.
    • Reagan poured trillions of dollars into a space defense program designed to defend against a nuclear attack. He wanted a giant space shield built over the US which was technologically impossible.
      • Reagan code named the program "Star Wars" and envisioned a shield protecting the US from outer space. Not only was the technology too far behind to build this shield but the money was still spent on prototypes and equipment.

primary_sources.PNGPresident Eisenhower's Reaction to Sputnik: his "Radio and Television Address to the American People on Science in National Security," November 7, 1957

Multimedia.pngClick here for a short video about the Space Race between the US and the USSR.

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 11.31.08 AM.pngClick here for a lesson plan on the Space Race.

E. Development of Mass Media and Consumerism

1957 Chevrolet Bel Air
1957 Chevrolet Bel Air

Modern conveniences and infrastructure compared propelled a cultural phenomena in America's suburbs: Consumerism.

These factors helped to shape the growth of Consumerism:
  1. The economic boom allowed for a greater amount of disposable income among most suburban American families. This in turn allowed Americans to purchase items that had previously been "unnecessary" or too expensive.
  2. Technological discoveries of WWII began to be disseminated to civilian populations as commercial enterprises. For example, the microwave oven.
  3. Increasingly suburban identity became associated with financial identity.

Throughout the 1950's and early 1960's a strictly scientific approach dominated advertising theory, involving "a belief in the transcendent value of organization and in the power of 'science' to solve any problems."

primary_sources.PNGClick here to view ads from this period.

Click here for more information.

From PBS, the rise of consumerism.

Advertisers approached their public audience through utter saturation of the consumer's consciousness with campaigns that were "trite, repetitive, and literally unbelievable," convincing the consumer that it was the product to buy.

primary_sources.PNGClick here for advertisements for household appliances, including a stove and washing machine.

Multimedia.pngCoca-Cola commercial showing how the ads of the time pushed their products harder than ever before

In the 1950s, "the 'Theory X' values of science, efficiency, and management were at their zenith, and those of creativity and carnival noticeably in eclipse. . . Their idealized vision of consuming life had little to do with the actual experience of American consumers."

For more, including the source of these quotes, go to 1960s Ads.

The 1950's saw the rise of pop culture in the form of movies, television, and music. Notable stars include Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and James Dean.
  • Click here to view of prezi of how Marilyn Monroe changed American culture.

external image Red_apple.jpg

external image 465px-Elvis_Presley_promoting_Jailhouse_Rock.jpg external image ActorsPerformForTroops1.jpg

Female_Rose.pngWomen in Post-War America

After WWII, many women returned to "traditional" American roles. However, a large portion of women who worked in the war-time production of WWII remained in factory jobs. These women were typically paid less than men, and were often demoted.

Thanks to a combination of modern conveniences, education, and the experiences of WWII, housewives became increasingly dissatisfied with their lifestyle during the 1950s and 60s. Evidence of this can be seen in the increased use of "Miltown," a brand of tranquilizers marketed in the late 1950s. Miltown use among women skyrocketed, often as a direct result of gender conformity and social anxiety. [2]

Click here to learn more about gender roles in post WWII America.

From PBS, Women and Work after WWII.

Following WWII, there was a rise in feminism in the country, coming to a head in the second-wave feminism movement. However, the language is decieving; it was multiple groups of women, and they had been fighting since before their media-popularized era in the '60s. The famous founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW), Betty Friedan, even commented that homosexual women were a "lavender menace." This group of women, some of whom founded an organization entitled Radicalesbians, created a manifesto called "The Woman-Identified Woman." Watch a video discussing its creation here.

Rotating_globe-small.gifAfrican Americans in Post-War America

African Americans had fought for "Double Victory" during WWII: Victory against racism at home, and victory against fascism overseas. However, the American culture described throughout this page was rarely experienced by African Americans returning from the war. Increasingly southern factories barred African Americans and other people of color from working. A second great migration of southern African Americans to northern cities took place in the period directly following WWII.

Click here to read more about African Americans during the War and the migration North to find work post war

Click here to read more about the treatment of black Americans after WWII.

external image 200px-Paperback_book_black_gal.svg.pngDouble Victory: A Multicultural History of America in World War II, Ronald Takaki, 2001.

African Americans were barred from most of the educational, financial, and political changes to America in the 1950s. As a direct result of this cruelty, African Americans began to form the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement. By the 1960s, events such as the Mississippi Freedom Summer saw African American activists directly opposing racism.

  • Read more about how the Cold War developed a culture of conformity and marginalized LGBTQ Americans here (see "The Post-War eras and sexuality").

primary_sources.PNGClick here for a PSA from the early 60s "warning" against Homosexuality.

Works Cited:
[1.] http://geography.about.com/od/populationgeography/a/babyboom.htm]]
[2.] http://spectrum.library.concordia.ca/56/ ]