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Themes of the
Cold War
American consumers, after being
held in check by the Great
Depression and wartime
scarcities, finally had the chance
to indulge their suppressed
appetites for material goods.
The Cold War provided the
additional stimulus the
economy needed when postwar
expansion slowed. The
Marshall Plan and the Korean
War ensured continued
prosperity as the government
spent massive amount on guns,
planes, and munitions.
By the mid-1950s,
there were over
40,000 defense
contractors working
for the federal
During the 1950s, the real
weekly earnings of factory
workers increased 50%. The
year 1960 marked the first
time in United States history
that a majority of high-school
aged people actually graduated
from high school.
Aided by the GI Bill, college
enrollments also increased.
Owning a home also became a
tangible reality for more and
more Americans, as the
availability of housing
increased and veterans could
secure low-interest mortgages.
Life in the Suburbs;
Baby Boom; Teenage
As families prospered and cars and
highways made people mobile, many
moved to the suburbs. From 1950 –
1960, there was a 19% growth in the
US population as couples began to have
up to five children, compared to two in
the 1930s. This was called the Baby
As families became more
affluent, teenagers began to
become an important consumer
class. The creation of Rock
music in the 50s led to a
separate teenage culture. Adults
were shocked at some music,
such as Elvis Presley, and the
dancing that went with it.
The Televised Society
The biggest consumer revolution was the
growth of the television industry. The
technology for television had existed since
the late 1920s, but American companies
did not mass produce TVs until after
World War II. In 1946, there were 17,000
television sets in the nation, mostly in the
East. By 1949, Americans purchased
250,000 sets every month. By 1953, twothirds of American homes had at least one
Television had a lasting
influence on political
campaigns. The presidential
election of 1952 was the first
time that a candidate for
president made use of
television advertising.
Eisenhower used 15- and 30second spots.
By the 1960 presidential
campaign, television had become
so central to people's lives that
many observers blamed Nixon's
loss to John F. Kennedy on his
poor appearance in the televised
presidential debates. JFK looked
cool, collected, presidential. Nixon,
according to one observer,
resembled a "sinister chipmunk."
Fear of Communism
In 1949, the USSR exploded their
first atomic bomb. By 1949,
Chinese Communists under Mao
Zedong governed China. Americans
were afraid of communism and the
Soviets were seen as the greatest
enemy of the American way of life.
Americans began to build
bomb shelters in their
backyards. The terms “duck
and cover” came into being,
and to prove allegiance to
their country, American
schoolchildren began to recite
“ . . .one nation under God . .
.” in the pledge of allegiance.
Traditional Gender Roles
Life in the suburbs did nothing to
encourage the development of
feminism. Women who had been
in the workplace during WWII
returned home to fulfill the 50s
ideal of a woman as wife and
mother. “Women could do much
more in the living room with a
baby in her lap or in the kitchen
with a can opener in her hand.”
Still, by the end of the 1950s,
40% of American women,
including one-third of married
women had jobs outside the
home. This would lead to the
women’s rights movement of
the 1960s & 1970s.