Americans experienced two vastly different ways of life in the 1940s. Immersed in World War II, strict regulations were placed on the production of clothing, toys and media entertainment. The unprecedented prosperity following the war, combined with the repeal of rationing laws and advancements in technology, enabled Americans to enjoy a more leisurely lifestyle.
With jazz music firmly entrenched in American culture, traveling soldiers introduced the world to dances such as the Lindy Hop, Jitterbug and Jive. The energetic steps accompanied the syncopated rhythms of the big bands, which could employ up to 20 musicians. Famed artists of the era included Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington and Glenn Miller.
Families Around the Radio
As the main source of news and entertainment, the radio was an essential part of everyday life. Families gathered together to hear wartime updates, receive weather reports, laugh along with hour-long soap operas, cheer on sports teams, compete in quiz shows and listen to concerts.
War and Noir Films
A propaganda tool for the war effort and a needed escape from reality, more than 70 percent of Americans paid one quarter to visit a movie theater weekly. This golden age of film launched the careers of legendary starlets and debonair gentlemen, introduced the first Disney releases and pioneered the seamy film noir genre.
As persecuted artists fled Europe, New York became the center of the art world. Abstract artists, such as Jackson Pollock, experimented with new techniques, including dripping paint onto canvas. Abstract Expressionism inspired the entire creative community, including sculptors, poets, photographers and filmmakers.
Alluring icons of beauty, pin-up girls were credited with giving soldiers the motivation to continue fighting for freedom. Ripped from magazines, pictures of the pouty-lipped, long-lashed bombshells were tucked into G.I. helmets, mounted on headboards and painted onto warplanes.
Rebelling against rationing laws, young African American, Latino, Italian, Jewish and Filipino men donned flamboyant suits made from colorful rayon. The zoot suit included high-waisted, wide-legged trousers paired with broad-shouldered jackets. Color-coordinated dress shirts, ties and suspenders, along with feather-tipped fedora hats and knee-length wallet chains, accented the look.
After rationing laws ordered the trimming of beachwear fabric by 10 percent, designers introduced two-piece suits that exposed the midriff but covered the navel. Although the shrinking swimsuits were controversial among mainstream Americans, starlets and beach vacationing teenagers embraced the original version of the bikini.
A mass exodus away from inner-city living, where housing shortages were common, occurred after the war. Increased vehicles production, federal highway system expansions and veteran mortgage programs encouraged the newly created middle class to buy larger family homes on the outskirts of the cities.
Debuting at the famed Gimbel's Department Store during the 1945 Christmas season, the entire inventory of 400 Slinkys sold out in 90 minutes. Priced at just $1, the gravity-defying, stunt-performing spring captured the imaginations of more than 100 million children within two years. In 2000, Slinky was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame.
The Debut of Television
The war halted production on the earliest television sets, but new technology and wealth enabled millions of households to purchase a TV by the end of the decade. Popular shows included "The Original Amateur Hour," Milton Berle's "Texaco Star Theater" variety show and the children's Western "Howdy Doody."
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