The post wars society mirrored that of the 1920s with an economic boom and a very happy public. A large consumer culture provided for a strong middle class base, a fundamental layer of society. This new middle class rose out
Levittown, Long Island
Levittown, Long Island
of the cities in mass migrations to the suburbs. New technology allowed for easier transportation and a feeling of having to “keep up with the Jones’s”. Cars, washing machines, fancy clothes and other luxuries seemed to be all the rage. Everyone had to buy the latest model of everything! This new advertising technique ensured that people came back every year to upgrade their product.
New intellectuals rose out of the new middle class. They questioned the course America was taking and pondered on its past, a very capitalistic one. America seemed to have been the perfect breeding ground for capitalism with its stress on individual social liberty and free trade. In the 1950s it seemed Americans had found an image they could stick to. A bright future, a consumer culture, and a picturesque home and office characterized this decade.

A Consuming Society
After World War II America’s factories and businesses returned to a peacetime economy; meaning they could create an array of various goods that the public would just gobble up. If there was no market for the goods, then advertising agencies made one. If one existed, then new plans were made to exploit them. Just like in Bewitched, Darren is an advertising guru. Credit also played an important role in this consumer frenzy. It increased 800% between 1945 and 1957!! People just had to get the newest everything, the newest style of car and the newest inventions like garbage disposals, dishwashers, televisions, and the crazy new fad the Hula Hoop. The radio even got a new look with the rise of the stereo. Even though the radio didn’t have the same impact as it did during the time of FDR’s Fireside Chats, the new strong sounds of new music like Rock n’ Roll played really well on the new expensive stereos. This era (1950s-1960s) was not propelled by the usual economy stimulator, investment, but by people’s consumption. Extra buying put new money into the government that it didn’t have before. But each industry was not isolated from the rest. Entertainment industries like Walt Disney and his very successful Mickey Mouse created new markets for spending in places like Disneyworld and fashion accessories like Mickey Mouse hats, watches and clothing. This combination of markets would lead to huge conglomerations like the Disney Corporation is today.

The Car
A refined invention, the car deserves its own category because of the incredible changes companies made to it in terms of affordability, efficiency in making, and usefulness. Eisenhower’s Federal Highway Act of 1956 appropriated $25 million to the construction of interstate highways. These roads connected to smaller ones across the nation linking suburbs to cities to country to other suburbs. Cars made it much more practical for day trips and Sunday drives. The car let husbands drive to work in the morning and be home by dinner. Roads were also more efficient in transporting consumer goods from the manufacturers to the shoppers. All of these factors led to the decline of railroads as an expedient means of transportation. This decline will continue throughout the ages. The car also brought about a change in living habits since people could live even farther out than before. Since property values decrease the farther one is from a city, larger houses popped up everywhere. These large houses had huge backyards with swingsets, barbecues and some outdoor pools. While most amenities were restricted to the rich, cheaper land meant more luxuries were available to more people. Several new industries also boomed as a result of the car phenomenon. Motels surged up across the United States, dramatically increasing their numbers from the 1940s. Drive in theatres popularized in the 1930s also became more the norm as people wanted to show off their new shiny set of wheels. The ability to drive also encouraged new fast food chains to spawn catering mostly to the drive in crowd. Shopping also became a leisure activity and malls moved out to their own separate huge lots surrounded by abundant parking lots. No more were the days of walking down to the corner store to get the day’s groceries. Even grocery stores moved out to their own complexes that the often shared with smaller stores for random goods. Unfortunately an increase in cars also meant an increase in oil and demand for petroleum. Anexternal image 1950-Mercury-2dr-maroon-scallops-ggr.jpg
overabundance of cars would soon lead to be the number one cause of pollution in urban centers.

Suburbia was filled with those perfectly shaped cookie cutter houses that were perfectly equipped to serve the American Dream with manicured lawns and backyards, a nice neighborhood and cheap cost. Levittown on Long Island was the first of such settlements and each two- bedroom house sold for $10,000. Young couples from the war years moved by the thousands into these new houses, eager to do their part in helping out with the Baby Boom.
As picturesque as the entirety of this sounds, the migration to the suburbs was also somewhat of a flight. White couples moved out to the suburbs to avoid the increasingly African American populated cities. Integration was a great policy of this day and age and the 1950s and 1960s showed a still greatly racist society. Nevertheless the suburbs also appealed to worn torn men because of their homogeneity. All men came home from work in the evening to a wonderful wife waiting to pour him a drink and have dinner fresh, warm, and waiting on the table. Women enjoyed the friendships they could easily make based on similar backgrounds and interests, mainly being a stay at home homemaker. Yet just like in the city, a constant in any society, social hierarchies developed in the suburbs with particularly upper middle class neighborhoods, and ones for people of more humble means.
Family life in the 1950s was filled with stigma for mothers to stay at home and not bother the men in the workplace, however the desire for new luxuries and material comforts ended up overshadowing this stigma and by the end of the 1960s over a third of married women were in the workforce (an increase from previous times). The blanket of sexism that covered this era was actually useful in spurring on a revival of the feminist movement in later decades moving on to the women’s liberation movement.

external image i-love-lucy-season-1-pilot.jpg The newest sensation to hit the markets of the post World War II era came as a more refined version of the TVs of the 1920s. The television became the center of family evenings in the 1950s. New entertainment shows like I Love Lucy became all the rage. People actually enjoyed the television so much they more often owned one than a refrigerator. The television turned out to be a continuation and expansion of the radio industry; catering to the same public television relied on advertising just as much as radio did. The money came from large businesses that were willing to sponsor programs only if they were directly related to the program somehow. Some older television shows even had the characters of the show erupt into an advertisement in full character right in the middle of the program. Professional and college sports soon had a huge following as a direct result of the television; the market would not be what it is today if it weren’t for the enormous sums of money sports pours into the industry. Reminiscent of the times before the great trustbuster Teddy Roosevelt, America’s television industry was dominated by three major companies: the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) and the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). Television at once united the white, middle class suburbia and ostracized the poor, inner city blacks. TV shows often depicted the perfect American family and its silly day-to-day troubles, but it also showed other aspects of society lesser known. Either way, television’s main purpose in this era was to entertain and it did that quite well.

The Great Outdoors
The factors that pushed middle class Americans away from the cities also encouraged them to vacation away from Suburbia. They needed to escape from the stress and crowded conditions of daily life. These people often headed out to find nature in as many ways as they could. With such strong Republican overtones, the people of the 1950s and 1960s were surprisingly environmentalist. The desire to return to their grassroots and find themselves again in nature encouraged many Americans to travel to national parks where they hunted in, fished, camped, hiked and just looked at nature. Activists really came alive in the attempt to save Echo Park in between Utah and Colorado when the government wanted to build a dam and lake nearby and through it. The victory had a major impact on the environmentalist movement and would foreshadow the Green movement that was soon to come.

The Beats, or Beatniks, were the counterculture of the 1950s. This group of writers and other creative artists satirized society and portrayed it in a demeaning, sarcastic, way. They were disillusioned with the perfect American Dream and couldn’t stand the banality of the people of society in their cookie cutter lives. Even though some of the Beats behaviors were mirrored in the youth culture, the fact of the matter is that the youth of the 1950s did not show any dramatic increase in delinquency. Yet these teenagers did become restless because of how perfect their lives seemed, but how hard it was if one wanted to do something different.
The music of the 1950s was widely known to be Rock ‘n’ Roll. The rebellious youth culture was epitomized by the first real rockstar, Elvis Presley. He was mildly sexual intimating with his choice of dance moves more sensuality than the older more conservative generation could approve of. The whites’ choice to idolize Presley however may have risen from some lingering racial prejudice. Rhythm and Blues singers were very popular among the black population in this era and white rock artists drew heavily from them. Music transferred over to the television market with shows like American Bandstand featured in the movie Grease, where live audiences were shown dancing to recorded music. This show in particular had a strong effect in nationalizing the musical revolution. The surge in popularity of music between 1954 and 1960 was due mainly to rock music. New recording artists wanted to make sure their new artists were always broadcasted and so ensued some scandals due to the “payola” that they paid to radio disc jockeys under the table.
All in all society in the 1950s and 1960s was very varied. From the perfect suburbia to the disturbed inner cities all the way to the restless youth culture, the US entered a period of perfect prosperity.

Works Cited
Brinkley: American History