- It is hard to think of two more significant decades in U.S. history than the 1930s and 1940s. During these 20 years, the United States suffered the worst ever economic collapse during the Great Depression; underwent major political reform under the New Deal; survived and emerged victorious in a world war that brought enormous change, not least in America’s world role; went through postwar reconstruction at home; and entered into an international struggle that became the Cold War that was to last 40 years.For many people, the Depression that followed the Wall Street Crash of 1929 threatened the very existence of liberal capitalism. In Europe it led to the rise of new ideological groups on both the right and the left, posing the alternative visions of Soviet communism or the fascism of Italy and Nazi Germany. Although some Americans turned to one ideology or another for answers, the economic crisis produced instead one of the greatest periods of political, social, and economic reform under Franklin D. Roosevelt, who went on to become the longest-serving president in U.S. history. Roosevelt’s New Deal reshaped the very nature of the American state and established the basis of the modern welfare system while preserving the democratic form of government. In the process, the makeup of the major political parties, particularly the Democratic Party, changed, and the political agenda for much of the rest of the century was established.Historians have debated the exact nature of these changes ever since. While the New Deal was so complex and lacking in coherence that it is difficult to define, for some writers it represented a definite period of revolutionary change; for others it has been seen as neither revolutionary nor even particularly new. Some writers traced the roots of the New Deal to progressivism and others to the experience of World War I; revisionists reevaluating the career of Herbert Hoover argued that the foundations of much of the reform had already been laid before 1933. Historians, often on the left, have pointed to the many shortcomings of the New Deal: the failure to change capitalism rather than save it, the omission of certain groups such as African Americans or women from the reform agenda, and the failure to redistribute wealth. All the major pieces of legislation have been picked over and their weaknesses revealed. Most of all, every writer recognizes that the Roosevelt administration failed to end the blight of mass unemployment that still affected the country by the end of the decade; however, there is now recognition that the New Deal avoided the worst alternatives, that working through the various constraints in the democratic system, it was still able to provide hope and restore faith in the U.S. government—a point reinforced at the polls.The Depression and New Deal were followed by U.S. entry into World War II, a cataclysmic event that, as its name suggests, resulted in worldwide change. The war raged across virtually the whole of Europe, most of Asia and the Pacific, and large parts of Africa. It left 50 million people dead and millions displaced or homeless; it saw the collapse of empires and brought about major changes in the balance of power across the globe. It will forever be associated with the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust. However, for the United States, the war brought economic recovery and ended the “hungry thirties”; it also reinforced the central role of the federal government in the lives of all Americans either through the introduction of Selective Service and the service of 15 million men and women in the armed forces, or through the many war agencies established as “Dr. Win-the-War” replaced “Dr. New Deal.” The war confirmed Roosevelt’s reputation as one of the greatest presidents of all time. Unlike World War I or the Vietnam War, few Americans subsequently doubted the justice of the country’s role in World War II. Although an isolationist element had been evident in the 1930s, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor appeared to unite the nation. Many would later look back nostalgically to the “Good War” or remember those who had served as “the greatest generation.” While the military events of the war were well known, it was not until the 1960s and 1970s that historians focused on the home front. Initially, the positive elements of the war’s impact were recognized—the achievements of U.S. industry and resilience of the economy that provided full employment, gains for minority groups, advances for women, the rewards for service for veterans, and the continuation of social welfare provision during and after the war. However, it also became apparent that unity was not total. The war witnessed considerable labor strife, the persistence of racism and race violence, and the survival of gender discrimination that was only too evident in postwar lay-offs. That said, there is little doubt that the war, combined with the events of the previous decade, had an enormous effect and helped to shape the country’s development for the next 20 or 30 years in countless ways, political, economic, social, and cultural.One of the most obvious consequences of the defeat of Germany and Japan was the presence of U.S. armies in Europe and Asia, but also of an enormous power vacuum with the collapse of the former leading world powers, particularly Great Britain and France. In part, to fill this gap and prevent further conflicts, the United States recognized the need for an international body to supplant the moribund League of Nations. The United States thus took much of the initiative in creating and committing itself to the United Nations (UN); however, the defeat of fascism not only brought the automatic rise of the left in Europe, it also saw the presence of Soviet forces across the length and breadth of Central and Eastern Europe. Competing visions of postwar settlement combined with ideological differences and a history of suspicion led to the breakup of the wartime Grand Alliance and a steady slide into opposition that became the Cold War, a conflict that spread to Asia with the triumph of the communists led by Mao Zedong in 1949. This conflict may have been inevitable given the differences of outlook and experience of the respective countries involved in the Cold War, but it has been the subject of much debate. Some commentators immediately suggested that Roosevelt had been too conciliatory to the Soviets during the war and had conceded too much; others argued instead that his successor, Harry S. Truman, had been too uncompromising or lacked the experience to deal with the enormity of the postwar crisis. Truman, already viewed critically by some historians for approving the use of the atomic bomb in 1945, has often been seen as overly belligerent in his relations with the Soviet Union; however, since the collapse of the communist regime in the late 1980s and the full recognition of the many failings of the Soviet system, there has been a sense that Truman’s position and actions were justified at the time and ultimately successful in the long run. There is though still the possibility that things might have been different from the start given a different approach.Truman’s reputation has gone through a considerable sea change. Becoming president by virtue of a predecessor’s death in office is bad enough at the best of times. To do so in such a period of worldwide turmoil and to succeed one of the most revered presidents in history was an enormous burden. As Truman honestly said after learning of Roosevelt’s death, he felt as if, “the moon, stars and all the planets had fallen” upon him. Lacking the charisma and refinement of Roosevelt, who after all came from the east coast elite, the former haberdasher from Missouri also lacked a clear political mandate. His critics both then and later charged him with letting down the New Deal legacy, unleashing the atomic age, initiating the Cold War and setting a foreign policy agenda that dominated the next 40 years (and some said led inevitably to the disaster that was Vietnam), and laying the groundwork for the period of political hysteria at home known as McCarthyism. His period in office ended with the war in Korea that was only brought to a conclusion by his Republican successor, Dwight D. Eisenhower. However, just as Truman’s position with regard to the Cold War is now often seen as understandable, if not justifiable, so too he has been recognized for his achievements. It has been pointed out that under Truman the country made the transition from wartime to peacetime production with only a brief period of dislocation and that the feared return to the Depression did not materialize. And despite the lack of a strong political base, Truman continued some elements of the New Deal in his own Fair Deal program. If his accomplishments were limited, it is suggested that the conservative opposition had much to do with it, and after almost 15 years of war and economic and political upheaval, the American people did not want further drastic change, a view supported by Truman’s remarkable upset victory in the election of 1948. Equally, a number of writers have pointed to some considerable achievements, particularly in the area of civil rights. In setting a tone of honesty and plain speaking with the motto “the buck stops here” firmly located on his desk, Truman established standards against which some of his successors have been judged—and failed. As a result he is now often ranked alongside Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson by historians and only two or three places below Franklin D. Roosevelt himself.POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTSThe election of Democratic candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 and his inauguration on 4 March 1933, marked the end of a period of Republican “ascendancy.” Having suggested to the American people in his 1928 inaugural address that they would soon “be in sight of the day when poverty will be banished from this nation,” Herbert Hoover was himself a victim of the economic collapse that led to an unemployment rate of 25 percent by 1933. Roosevelt’s vague promise of a “New Deal” secured an overwhelming victory by a margin of more than 57 percent of the vote to Hoover’s less than 40 percent and by 472 electoral college votes to 59. However, the president-elect declined to cooperate with the outgoing president during the interregnum, and it was not until after his inauguration that the nature of the New Deal became clear. Suggesting, in words that were soon on many lips, that the only thing the country had to fear was “fear itself,” Roosevelt called for broad executive power to wage war against the emergency and summoned Congress into special session. Roosevelt also brought people from diverse backgrounds into government to create a Brain Trust of advisors. They helped shape the program that the president described during a radio broadcast in June 1934 as one providing relief, recovery, and reform. In the “first one hundred days,” a benchmark against which all subsequent administrations were to be assessed, Congress passed an unprecedented number of bills to put this into effect.The country’s basic financial institutions were stabilized by declaring an immediate bank holiday to stop further bank collapses and by passing legislation providing federal guarantees of deposits in the Banking Act (1933). When banks reopened, customers began to deposit rather than withdraw their funds. The problems of falling farm prices and incomes were addressed in part through the Agricultural Adjustment Act in May 1933, which created the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) to pay farmers not to produce by reducing acreage and output. Subsequently declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, a second Agricultural Adjustment Act was passed in 1938. Farmers were also provided assistance with mortgages through the Farm Credit Administration and later, in 1937, through the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Help was provided for some of those displaced from the land through the Resettlement Administration established in 1935. Relief for the unemployed came through the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, which provided additional federal funds to support state relief spending. More significant was the creation of work relief programs through the Public Works Administration (PWA) under Harold Ickes, which ultimately created more than 2 million jobs. When that proved too slow to take effect, the Civil Works Administration (CWA) was established and headed by Harry Hopkins to provide work for 4 million during the winter of 1933-1934. A Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was created to provide good, wholesome work on reforestation and irrigation schemes for young people (primarily men) between the ages of 17 and 25.Industrial recovery was the focus of the National Industrial Recovery Act that set up the National Recovery Administration (NRA) to enable businesses to agree on codes of fair practice, setting prices and wages, and providing for recognition of trade unions. The program was supported by massive publicity under the “Blue Eagle” symbol and the slogan “We Do Our Part.” Although there were more than 500 codes involving 2 million employers, the NRA was never very successful in terms of union recognition, and it became caught up in political conflict and personal scandal surrounding its head, Hugh Johnson. Like the AAA, it too was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Another major measure aimed at providing work, tackling soil erosion, and encouraging industrial development in what became known as the “First New Deal” was the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The TVA was a massive program to build more than 20 hydroelectric plants on the Tennessee River and its tributaries. The TVA provided electricity for an area covering seven states and a population of more than 2 million people; it also opened up these parts of the country for industrial development.During the brief lull after this wave of legislation, Roosevelt faced criticism on a number of fronts. The Louisiana governor, now Senator Huey Long, called for more radical programs of redistribution to “Share Our Wealth,” while the radio priest Father Charles Coughlin demanded nationalization of banks and suggested that the New Deal was in the hands of both bankers and communists. Dr. Francis Townsend meanwhile attracted a great deal of support with his revolving pension plan to help the elderly. Left wing groups, members of the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) and the Socialist Party of America, also called for more radical action.Faced with these challenges and the persistence of the Depression itself, a “Second New Deal” began in 1935, with a greater emphasis on reform, suggesting that it had moved further to left. First an even greater program of work relief was initiated with the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act in 1935 creating the Works Progress Administration (WPA) under Hopkins. Reform came in the form of the Social Security Act, which provided a federal-state system of old age and unemployment insurance. The measure did not include all workers, excluding self-employed, agricultural, and domestic employees. Nonetheless it laid the foundations of the modern U.S. welfare system. In 1935 the New Deal also passed the National Labor Relations Act, although in reality this was largely the work of New York Senator Robert Wagner. The act outlawed unfair labor practices and recognized the worker’s right to join trade unions and benefit from free collective bargaining. The political impact of these measures was clear. In 1936 Roosevelt trounced Republican candidate Alf Landon, gaining almost 61 percent of the vote. The Democratic Party now increasingly had the support of the urban immigrant communities, organized labor, African Americans, and other underprivileged groups, as well as the traditional support of the South. The fact that the number of votes for the communist and socialist candidates was even less in 1936 than in 1932 revealed the New Deal’s appeal to the have-nots in society.Further reform came with the National Housing Act in 1937, which provided federal mortgage support for homeowners and built low-cost public housing. In 1938 the Fair Labor Standards Act finally prohibited the employment of children under the age of 16 and established a basic minimum wage and maximum of work hours of 44 per week, falling to 40 by 1940. Again this legislation did not apply to agricultural or domestic workers.Events in the late 1930s effectively brought the New Deal legislative program to a close. First, having seen the Supreme Court undermine crucial legislation and facing the possibility that it would do the same with the labor relations and social security acts, Roosevelt called for the reorganization of the court early in 1937. Proposing to add one additional justice for each over the age of 70, the president was accused of attempted “court packing” and faced criticism inside Congress and beyond. Although confrontation was avoided when the court began to approve new pieces of legislation and Roosevelt was able gradually to appoint his own justices as members retired, the damage had been done.When the economy took a downturn in 1937-1938, Roosevelt was held responsible. To make matters worse, in the run-up to the 1938 congressional elections the president tried to purge conservative Democrats from the party. He failed in all but one case. Not only were the conservative Democrats returned, but for the first time Republicans made gains in both houses. A conservative bloc now appeared in Congress restricting the opportunity for further reform, but by then foreign affairs were also beginning to dominate politics.The last years of Roosevelt’s second administration were dominated by the mounting crisis in Europe and the growing conflict with Japan. Many Americans were anxious to avoid being needlessly sucked into another European conflict, and from 1935 on Congress passed a series of Neutrality Acts to prevent trade or loans to belligerent powers or travel on the ships of belligerents. Although the isolationist lobby, spearheaded by the America First Committee, remained strong, in 1940 preparations were made for the nation’s self defense, and in October 1940 Congress approved an increase in defense spending and the introduction of the first peacetime draft in U.S. history.In 1940 Roosevelt, arguing against change amid the mounting international crisis, stood for an unprecedented third term. He defeated Republican candidate Wendell Willkie by a margin of 54.8 percent of the vote to 44.8 percent. A decisive moment in the campaign was Roosevelt’s declaration that American “boys are not going to be sent into foreign wars”; however, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, the Senate responded to the president’s request for a declaration of war with a unanimous vote in favor. The House of Representatives voted in favor by 388-1, with Jeanette Rankin of Montana casting the single vote against.Entry into the war had a huge impact on the U.S. political system. The president’s power and authority was immediately increased by virtue of his position as commander in chief but also because of his role in negotiating with the leaders of the other Allied powers. The War Powers Acts of 1941 and 1942 extended his authority to allocate priorities and resources without consulting Congress. To manage the war effort, more than 30 war agencies were created. The Office of Production Management (OPM), created in January 1941, was replaced in 1942 by the War Production Board (WPB), a supreme agency to have oversight of industry, allocate raw materials, and set quotas. The allocation of manpower was handled by the War Manpower Commission (WMC); the Office of Price Administration (OPA) was established to manage prices, rents, and rationing; the Office of Civilian Defense enlisted 10 million people in preparation for a possible attack and later in conserving scarce materials; the Office of War Information (OWI) dealt with propaganda; and a National War Labor Board was established in 1942 to adjudicate in labor disputes and set wage levels. An Office of War Mobilization was set up in 1943 to balance the demands of the other war agencies.By the end of the war, the number of people working in federal government had risen from less than 1 million to 3.8 million, and the federal budget had increased from $9.4 billion in 1939 to $95.2 billion in 1945. Although this development has been described as “state-managed capitalism,” it still relied a great deal on voluntary cooperation. While the war effort saw the return of many businessmen to positions of influence within government and the inclusion of labor leaders in a number of agencies, plans to implement the central direction of labor through national service or to conscript women were resisted. Rationing, too, varied from state to state and was never total. Despite this, although the New Deal agencies now disappeared, the war served to confirm the centrality of the federal government in the everyday life of U.S. citizens. Although the role of Congress was limited during the war, to some extent politics continued as usual. Talk of suspending elections or adopting a national government was overruled in favor of continuing to demonstrate the strength of American democracy. Congressional elections were held in 1942 and saw a considerable swing to Republicans as the Democrats lost 45 seats in the House and nine in the Senate. Democrats still had a majority in both houses, but the conservative bloc was strengthened. Congress provided scrutiny of executive action, legitimized presidential decisions, and in some cases limited wartime measures. The abolition of New Deal agencies was largely initiated by Congress; congressional criticism led to the limitation of OWI’s functions, the War Labor Disputes Act was passed over the president’s veto in 1943, and Roosevelt’s attempt to raise taxes on incomes more than $25,000 was thwarted. Nonetheless, Roosevelt was reelected for the fourth and final time in 1944 despite concerns for his health. The liberal vice president Henry A. Wallace was dropped in favor of Harry S. Truman. Roosevelt’s margin of victory over Republican Thomas E.Dewey was reduced from 53.5 percent to 46 percent, but the Democrats regained many of the lost seats in the House of Representatives while the position remained unchanged in the Senate.Having taken over as president following Roosevelt’s death on 12 April 1945, Truman had the task of managing the transition to peacetime at home. Shortly after the surrender of Japan, Truman seemed to signal a continuation of the New Deal when he outlined a 21-point legislative program including action to ensure full employment, the expansion of social security benefits, housing reform, and a permanent Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC). However, the rapid demobilization of the armed forces (from 12 million to 1.5 million in a year), conversion of war industry to peacetime production, and the lifting of some government controls led to inflation and labor-management conflict. Congressional opposition limited the powers of the OPA, and it came to an end in 1946. Truman was also forced to compromise on the 1946 Employment Act, and in dealing with the industrial disputes he managed to anger both sides. In 1946 the Republicans, whose campaign slogan was simply “Had Enough?” won control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives for the first time since 1928. Truman and the conservative-dominated 80th Congress were in conflict over a number of issues. The Taft-Hartley Act aimed at limiting the power of labor was passed over the president’s veto; congressional attempts to reduce taxation were twice vetoed by Truman. However, Truman did secure support for his foreign policy initiatives and for the National Security Act (1947) establishing a new cabinet office of secretary of defense with separate departments of army, navy, and air force; a National Security Council (NSC); and a Central Intelligence Agency. Nonetheless, Truman appeared to face overwhelming defeat in the 1948 election. His support for civil rights with the appointment of a civil rights commission that reported in 1947 and his order initiating the process of military desegregation in 1948 led to the defection of southern Democrats behind the States’ Rights candidate Strom Thurmond; Truman’s strong stand against the Soviet Union alienated liberals who turned to the Progressive Party behind Wallace. Dewey, once again the Republican candidate, seemed a certain victor; however, Truman followed a determined election strategy that targeted key groups—labor groups, African Americans, the Jewish community, and those living in small-town America—in a remarkable old-fashioned whistle-stop tour across the country. The result was an upset victory in which he won 49.6 percent of the vote to Dewey’s 45.1 percent, with Wallace and Thurmond both securing 2.4 percent each. In an indicator of what was to come in the future, Thurmond carried four southern states. Buoyed by his victory, in January 1949 Truman announced his Fair Deal containing many of his earlier proposals: civil rights reform, housing reform, national health insurance, and further extensions to social security. He managed to achieve only the extension of social security benefits to include another 10 million workers, some limited housing reform, and the raising of minimum wage levels. Reform was less likely in the conservative mood brought about by McCarthyism. The attack on the Democratic administration launched by Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1950 dominated politics for the next three years as he hurled one accusation of communist infiltration after another. Finally, in 1954 he went too far and turned on members of the armed forces, but he left a damaging legacy of loyalty oaths, blacklists, fear, and suspicion that reached from federal to state and local levels.Apart from fending off charges of communist subversion at home, the president and country were increasingly concerned with foreign affairs, particularly with the onset of the Korean War in 1950. In 1952 Truman chose not to seek reelection (he was exempted from the Twenty-Second Amendment ratified in 1951 limiting presidents to two terms). Instead the Democrats chose Adlai Stevenson as their candidate to face the Republican candidate, former commander in chief of the Allied forces, Dwight D. Eisenhower. The war hero won an overwhelming victory with 55.1 percent of the vote to Stevenson’s 44.4 percent. The Republicans were back in the White House after an absence of 20 years; however, despite this apparent change in direction, there were already signs of an emerging political consensus involving an acceptance of basic New Deal welfare reforms and continued international involvement focused particularly against communism. The debates now centered on how far policies would be pursued in either area.ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL TRENDS The period from 1933 to 1953 can be divided into two in terms of economic development: the 1930s, during which the country struggled to free itself from the grips of the Great Depression, and the years from 1940 onward when a war-induced boom brought massive growth to the economy and launched a boom that, with the exception of a brief downturn at the end of World War II, continued into the 1950s and laid the basis for the “Affluent Society.” That said, there were some elements of continuity, as the 1930s were not without their positive developments. The process of modernization continued as such new industries as electrical, plastics, aircraft continued to grow during the Depression years. Popular entertainment continued to grow as movies and radio became even more significant forms of media. Second, the central role of the federal government, albeit in very different circumstances, was a common feature of both decades. Nonetheless, the predominant feature of the 1930s was a struggling economy.The Wall Street Crash of 1929 revealed the flaws in the apparent boom of the 1920s. Between 1929 and 1932 some 5,000 banks failed; 90,000 businesses collapsed; 250,000 people lost their homes; and between 12 and 17 million people, 25 percent of the labor force, were out of work. By 1933 industrial production was less than 50 percent of 1929 levels.Farm income, already one-third lower in 1929 than in 1920, fell from $6.2 billion to $2 billion in 1932 as a consequence of the catastrophic decline in world prices and the collapse of export markets. To make matters worse for farmers, a series of long, hot summers were followed by high winds blowing down from Canada across the Midwest creating a Dust Bowl of massive proportions. Driven out by the weather, foreclosures, and bank seizures, 170,000 people left Oklahoma alone, and the total number of farms declined by almost 200,000 during the decade. By 1940 farming accounted for only 18 percent of the labor force, a drop from 21 percent in 1930.The New Deal set out to address many of these issues. Financial institutions were stabilized through banking legislation and regulation of Wall Street. Industrial recovery was encouraged by the NRA, which suspended antitrust legislation to allow businessmen to agree on production levels, prices, and wages. At the same time, huge public works programs were intended to act as a primer for the economy by injecting money at the bottom and increasing purchasing power. The NRA achieved only limited success before it was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1935. The notion of central national economic planning and business self-regulation was less significant thereafter. Instead the emphasis appeared to be more on using federal spending through even greater work relief programs and the protection of workers’ rights through labor legislation to increase demand via consumer spending.Labor clearly benefited from New Deal policies, and against all the odds in a period of high unemployment trades, unions went through a period of rapid growth. The conservative policies of the old American Federation of Labor (AFL) were challenged in the 1930s by the new Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). Encouraged by the promise of recognition in New Deal legislation, industrial unions began to organize using new tactics such as the sit-down strike to unionize first car workers and then major sections of the steel industry. By 1941 union membership had almost doubled.The problems of agriculture were tackled through a combination of programs establishing government-supported production quotas (planned scarcity), price support loans, and financial assistance with mortgages as well as some assistance in resettlement. Through production divisions of the AAA, agricultural output was reduced—initially through the destruction of crops and slaughter of livestock—and price levels agreed. When the Supreme Court declared the AAA unconstitutional in 1936, it was replaced by a second Farm Act in 1938, which introduced the system of surplus commodity storage and a system of price parity that remained in place more or less into the 1970s. The reform measures tended to benefit larger farmers, and little was done for the tenant farmers or sharecroppers, many of whom left the land. Resettlement provided aid for less than 10 percent of those who needed it; however, the New Deal did improve life for those who remained on the land, particularly through the rural electrification schemes. In 1930 only 13 percent of farms had electricity; by 1940 this had risen to more than 33 percent; by 1950 it was more than 90 percent.Despite the limitations of the New Deal measures, agriculture did undergo something of a recovery with farm prices rising by some 50 percent and farm income doubling to $4.6 billion by 1939. How much this was due to the federal programs and how much to the effects of shortages brought about by farm failures and natural disasters is hard to gauge, and paradoxically, soil conservation and irrigation schemes only served to increase production and encourage a return to crops that would later be the victims of dust storms in the 1950s. Overall, however, the New Deal’s economic success was qualified. Between 1933 and 1937 the gross national product (GNP) grew at about 10 percent per year, and industrial output and real income levels had both reached those of 1929 by 1937. Unemployment fell from 25 percent to 14 percent. As a result, Roosevelt cut federal spending, the money withheld from wages to fund social security reduced spending, and work relief. All combined to increase unemployment back to 19 percent or around 10 million. If by 1938 the New Deal had adopted aspects of the deficit spending theories of British economist John Maynard Keynes, Roosevelt was clearly only a reluctant and late convert. Ultimately, it was World War II that ended the Depression, not the New Deal.The war saw an enormous growth in industrial output and revealed the underlying strength of the U.S. economy. In 1940 the GNP was approximately $99 billion; by 1942 it had risen to $150 billion, and by the end of the war was more than $200 billion. This was achieved through the massive injection of $186 billion in federal spending on war production combined with the prodigious efforts of U.S. industry. In 1939, for example, 2,500 airplanes were produced a year. By 1941 that number was produced in a single month, and the total aircraft production in 1944 was 100,000. More new plants were built during three years of war than in the previous 15 years as huge new factories like the Ford plant at Willow Run outside Detroit were built. Mass production techniques were introduced, even in shipbuilding, and production of Liberty ships increased from one every six months to one every 20 days. In addition to supplying the needs of their own armed forces, U.S. industries also supplied 40 percent of all Allied war materials. Farming output increased during the war by 30 percent, despite a fall in farm labor as almost 3 million people left the land. Production increased as a result of mechanization of farm production as the tractor forever replaced the horse during World War II. Fertilizer was used more extensively, and farming modernized and moved to large-scale production as family farms increasingly disappeared. Farm income rose by 200 percent, closing the gap that had existed between the agricultural and industrial sectors.The wartime boom saw businessmen back in favor. Not only were they incorporated into war agencies, they also benefited from the suspension of antitrust legislation and from federal payments on the basis of “costs plus” guarantees of profits and the promise they could keep new plants after the war. Larger companies tended to benefit most from government spending as the top 100 companies like Lockheed, Douglass, Ford, and others accounted for 70 percent of production. This development tended to continue after the war and led to the formation of what became known as the “military industrial complex.” While the rich undoubtedly grew richer during the war, there was some narrowing of inequality as incomes for the bottom fifth of society rose by 70 percent compared to a 23 percent rise for those at the top. Wage levels virtually doubled, and even allowing for inflation, the increase was significant. Equally, with 15 million people in the armed forces, full employment was achieved, although not until well into the war. Although this gave people money to spend, there was less to spend it on given wartime shortages. The 1942 Revenue Act extended income tax so that, coupled with the rising the wage levels, almost all Americans came into the tax system. Taxes and war bonds not only helped fund the war, they also helped to control consumer demand. By the war’s end, Americans had $146 billion in savings, and the pent-up consumer demand was to be unleashed in the 1950s. Wartime shortages, however, encouraged the development of such substitutes as synthetic rubber, nylon, and plastics; frozen and dehydrated food processes were also given a boost, as was research that aided the later development of television, transistor radios, and such key medicines as penicillin. Full employment and the inclusion of union leaders in government agencies further added to the membership of trade unions, and by the end of the war union membership stood at almost 15 million. One drawback to this growth was that union officials now seemed more remote from their members and, with the exception of the miners’ leader John L. Lewis, had lost some of their militancy. The unions also had to accept restrictions. Limits on the working week were lifted, and a virtual wage freeze was imposed in 1943. In 1943, faced with rising prices, many workers went on strike, and as a result Congress passed the War Labor Disputes Act in an attempt to curb shop-floor union militancy. Although not terribly effective, this legislation provided the basis for the postwar Taft-Hartley Act, also aimed at restricting the right to strike. Labor unrest was just one indicator of wartime social tensions. The war triggered a massive movement of people as almost 15 million people moved out of state, mostly heading to northern and western centers of defense production. More than 1.4 million people entered California alone during the war, flooding into San Francisco and Los Angeles. Seattle, Washington, Detroit, Michigan, and Chicago, Illinois, all faced huge population increases necessitating further federal housing provision and OPA controls on rent. Another feature of the wartime dislocation was, inevitably, the absence of male heads for many families. The family unit, already disrupted by the impact of the Depression, suffered further strain during the war. Divorce rates rose, but so too as servicemen returned from war, did marriage rates. The increase in marriages led to a boom in births, and birthrates rose from 19.4 per 1,000 people in 1940 to 24 per 1,000 in 1946. Whereas the population had only grown slowly in the 1930s (by 8.9 million), in the 1940s it doubled to 19 million.The end of the war saw a rush to domesticity reflected in homemaking and the baby boom. This was made possible in part by the Selective Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, or GI Bill, which provided $13 billion to assist veterans make the transition to peacetime by financing the purchase of homes and businesses and a return to college. By 1950 almost one-third of the nation had benefited from one aspect or another of this scheme, and nearly 8 million ex-service personnel returned to school or college between 1945 and 1952. Another 4.5 million took advantage of home loans. Truman’s continuation of social welfare policies also helped maintain economic growth, as did the sustained federal spending on defense during the Cold War.The postwar housing boom and pent-up demand eased the transition from wartime to peacetime production. Although there was a period of some dislocation as workers were laid off and servicemen returned, there was no return to Depression conditions that many people feared. There were labor conflicts in 1946 and 1947 leading both to the threat of takeover by the president and the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act by Congress, but this was relatively short-lived. The unions themselves seemed to grow more conservative with the onset of the Cold War, and by 1948 inflation was coming under control, and the economy was resuming an upward trend. By 1952 the GNP had risen to $347 billion, and the Affluent society was already emerging. While this affluence was evident in the rise of auto registrations from 26 million in 1945 to 40 million in 1950, two developments also indicated the new direction the country was taking. By 1950 there were already 8 million homes with televisions, and in 1952 Quaker produced the first TV dinner.WOMEN AND RACIAL AND ETHNIC MINORITIESThe exp eriences of women in the 1930s and 1940s seemed very different from those of other underprivileged groups. While it is possible, for example, to see both decades as ones in which African Americans made discernable progress toward the goal of equality, the same could not be said for women. Instead there seemed to be quite contradictory developments.The Depression revealed how little had been gained since women won the vote in 1920, and it revealed how far they were from achieving economic equality. With the rapid rise in unemployment there was strong pressure for women to give up their jobs for men. The 1932 Economy Act, for example, specified that the federal civil service should only employ one spouse from each family, and by 1933 1,500 married women had been dismissed. Elsewhere many schools refused to appoint women, and others dismissed those existing female teachers who were married. Not until 1937 was legislation passed prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of marital status. Because of such prejudices and the fact that women were concentrated in vulnerable, low-paid, unskilled manufacturing jobs and domestic service, unemployment among women rose at a quicker rate than among men. But economic necessity often forced women to seek work, and as a result their proportion in the labor force rose from 24.3 percent in 1930 to 25.1 percent in 1940, and the percentage of women workers who were married actually rose from less than 30 percent to 35 percent. Women gained some recognition from the New Deal, most famously with the appointment of Frances Perkins as secretary of labor. Many women played key roles in New Deal agencies or in the Democratic Party organization. An Emergency White House Conference on the Needs of Women at least recognized that there was an issue, even if it did little in practical terms. Also significant was the role of Eleanor Roosevelt, who as an active first lady did much to give women a positive role model. Although women benefited from the Fair Labor Standards Act, New Deal agencies themselves often discriminated in terms of rates of pay or participation rates, and in many ways the New Deal, both through legislation and cultural reference, placed an emphasis on the ideal of the nuclear family with women and children supported by male breadwinners. In part this was a response to the notion that the Depression broke up families. The marriage rate and birthrate dropped, and although divorce levels remained fairly constant, it was clear that many men deserted their families during the Depression years “looking for work.”World War II brought about a dramatic change in women’s positions. As labor shortages surfaced there was a drive to recruit female workers—married and single—to join “Rosie the Riveter” and fill the gaps in defense industries. Three million women who would normally have stayed at home went to work as the number of females in the labor force rose from 12 to more than 16 million, and the proportion of women in the labor force rose from 25 percent to 36 percent. Several thousand more women joined auxiliary branches of the various armed services. Although it appeared that women had made a major breakthrough, there were signs that this was not so. Women were promised equal pay for equal work, but in fact earnings lagged 40 percent behind men’s; women occupied few senior posts and were discriminated against by fellow workers and trade unions. Most significant of all was the pressure to leave work with the war’s end, and as some 2 million women were laid off, their representation in the labor force fell back to 29 percent; however, this was still higher than before the war, and by the early 1950s the number was back above 30 percent. In reality, women’s employment increased, but the 1950s were years in which women faced enormous pressures to remain at home and rear children. In films, television series, women’s magazines, and even Cold War propaganda, domesticity was the goal presented for women to aim for. Betty Friedan’s revolutionary book The Feminine Mystique (1963) was a call to arms based on a critique of these years. The experience of African Americans in the 1930s and 1940s was also mixed, but for many historians these decades are now seen as vital in paving the way for the explosion of civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s. The immediate impact of the Depression on African Americans was entirely negative as the old adage “last hired, first fired” resulted in unemployment rates often twice those of whites. With more than 75 percent of the black population concentrated in the South—many still as sharecroppers—the collapse in agricultural prices, particularly of cotton, was catastrophic. After a period of decline, there was a sudden rise in the incidence of lynching in the 1930s as blacks became victims of white resentment.Unlike previous decades, however, violence and discrimination against African Americans was now the subject of protest. The case of the Scottsboro boys—nine African American teenagers accused, tried, and convicted of raping two young white women in Alabama—became an international cause célèbre that was fought throughout the 1930s by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the CPUSA and eventually resulted in the death penalties being overturned. In the North, African Americans in Harlem, New York, rioted in 1935; elsewhere they organized “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work Campaigns.” During the 1930s the NAACP began to prepare legal cases to challenge segregation, particularly in education. The organization also had greater access to the White House through New Dealers and the good offices of Eleanor Roosevelt. The New Deal employed enough African Americans in key posts for there to be a “Black Cabinet,” and this influence produced results in terms of benefits from legislationHowever, President Roosevelt failed to speak out on race issues, and New Deal agencies were operated at state level where local prejudices applied. WPA relief payments were lower for blacks than white, and the CCC was segregated and initially only admitted African Americans in limited numbers. Despite this, there were sufficient positive developments for African Americans to switch political allegiance. African Americans went from voting 70 percent Republican in 1932 to 70 percent Democrat by 1936.World War II brought the issue of race into sharp focus. Rather than a sense of national unity, the war illuminated some differences. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, despite there being no evidence of disloyalty, 112,000 Japanese Americans were placed in relocation camps in 1942 and lost an estimated $400 million worth of property and possessions in the process. Not until many years later did they receive an apology and full compensation for their losses.Facing segregation and discrimination in both military institutions and defense industries, black Americans protested as early as 1939 and continued to argue for democracy at home and abroad during the war. Such protest brought some concessions in military policies in 1940, and A. Philip Randolph’s threat of a march on Washington won a major victory in 1941 with the executive order that outlawed discrimination in defense industries and established a Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC). The combined effects of FEPC, and more importantly increasing labor shortages, led to opportunity. Almost 1 million African American workers entered the labor force, and the numbers of black skilled and semiskilled workers doubled. There was change in employment patterns for black women as many left domestic service for factory work.The migration of African Americans that had begun with World War I but slowed during the 1930s resumed as 500,000 people (17 percent of black southerners compared with only 3 percent of whites) left the South. Tensions over housing, competition over jobs, and the stresses of wartime led to a rise in racial tension and outbreaks of violence. In 1943 there were more than 240 racial incidents in 47 different towns and cities ranging from full-scale riots in Detroit, Harlem, and Los Angeles, to industrial conflicts—“hate strikes”—in places like Mobile, Alabama. Lynching occurred in a number of different states.There were some changes in military policies during the war, and while segregation continued, all branches of the services were gradually opened to African Americans. More than 1 million African Americans served during the war. Black service personnel still experienced discrimination and prejudice in and around southern training camps and within the military itself. As a result, black servicemen not only protested against discriminatory practices during active duty, but they were also found among the black political activists at the war’s end. Many left the South after the war, and the continued demographic changes increased the political influence of African Americans in northern states and undoubtedly contributed to Harry S. Truman’s decision to call for an end to segregation in the armed forces and civil service just before the 1948 election.The experiences of Mexican Americans in the 1930s and 1940s were very much shaped by the different economic trends of the respective decades. During the Depression years Mexican workers were no longer welcome, and about one-third were deported or encouraged to return to Mexico. The Mexican American population fell from 617,000 in 1930 to 377,000 in 1940; however, wartime labor shortages once again encouraged migration, and in 1942 the government reinstituted the Bracero program to import temporary workers from across the border. About 200,000 people entered the country legally and perhaps another 200,000 illegally during the war. Because they were excluded from the provisions of the draft, many Americans viewed the migrants as draft dodgers, and in Los Angeles resentment against Mexican American youths dressed in zoot suits led to a major riot in 1943. However, Mexicans continued to enter the country after the war, and the Bracero program was used again during the war in Korea. Although these new arrivals were mainly concentrated in the southwest and California, some began to migrate to such larger northern cities as Chicago and Detroit. They were among the largest group of the growing postwar Hispanic population.FOREIGN AFFAIRSThe 1930s and 1940s were crucial in shaping the foreign policy of the United States. Initially, the impact of the Great Depression was to reinforce the nationalism that underlay the strong isolationist mood that had shaped much of U.S. foreign policy in the 1920s. Thus attempts to reach international agreements at the London Economic Conference in 1933 were rejected in favor of the domestic interests of the New Deal. However, a “Good Neighbor” Policy was adopted with regard to Latin American countries promising that the United States would not intervene in the internal affairs of other countries, and the remaining American troops were withdrawn from Dominica and Haiti. Relations with Cuba and Mexico survived changes in government that threatened U.S. interests, and the “Good Neighbor” Policy also enabled beneficial trade agreements to be reached.The possibility of trade was perhaps one factor that led President Roosevelt to recognize and reestablish diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union in November 1933; however, the main threat to U.S. isolationism appeared to come from Europe, where the rise of the new right-wing ideologies of fascism and Nazism threatened peace. The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) pitted left against right as the Soviet Union backed the republican government against General Franco’s forces, which were supported by Adolf Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy. Although some U.S. volunteers joined the conflict in Spain, Congress was determined that the country would not be dragged into another European war. Neutrality Acts passed from 1935 onward were strengthened and extended to include Spain; however, when Japan attacked China in 1937, Roosevelt avoided the Neutrality Laws by claiming that neither side had declared war and so was able to continue to support the Chinese. On 5 October 1937, the president suggested that aggressor nations should be “quarantined,” but it was not clear how this should be done. In January 1938, following a direct appeal from Roosevelt who was alarmed by the possible limits to presidential power, the House of Representatives narrowly rejected the proposed Ludlow Amendment that would have required a national referendum on any declaration of war.Support for the Ludlow Amendment increased following the sinking of the USS Panay by Japanese aircraft in December 1937 amid fears that the incident could lead to war. It was, however, because of events in Asia that the United States became involved in World War II. Although the Roosevelt administration responded to the outbreak of war in Europe by lifting the arms embargo in 1939, agreeing on a Destroyersfor- Bases Agreement with Great Britain in 1940, providing aid through the Lend-Lease Act in 1941, and drawing up an Atlantic Charter with Prime Minister Winston Churchill in August 1941, this still stopped short of war with Germany. Instead, the administration responded to the Japanese expansion of the war in Asia by first restricting exports to Japan in 1940, and in August 1941 imposing a total trade embargo and freezing Japanese assets. Facing the likelihood of a military response from the United States if they pushed further into Asia to obtain oil and other necessary resources, the Japanese attacked the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. The United States declared war on 8 December, and Germany and Italy declared war on the United States on 11 December.American isolationism effectively ended as World War II ushered in what Henry Luce described as “the American century.” Alongside Britain and the Soviet Union, the United States was the leading Allied power, providing much-needed aid to both partners. In the course of meetings between war leaders in Casablanca, Morocco; Cairo, Egypt; Tehran, Iran; and Yalta, Ukraine, they agreed not only on the military strategy of the war and the future of postwar Europe, but also on the establishment of a UN, agreed on in detail at the San Francisco Conference in April 1945. Plans for postwar international economic cooperation were reached at the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944. Harry S. Truman, the new president who succeeded Roosevelt after his death, continued the commitment to internationalism backed by the Republicans, led by Arthur H. Vandenberg; however, disagreements with the Soviet Union began to appear in Truman’s first and only meeting with Stalin at Potsdam in July-August 1945, and this deterioration continued after the war had come to an end.Buoyed perhaps by the possession of the atomic bomb, Truman adopted a fairly aggressive tone with Soviet representatives regarding perceived failures to honor agreements about Poland and East Germany reached at Yalta. In 1946 the American chargé d’affaires in Moscow, George F. Kennan, sent a telegram to Washington outlining the inevitability of conflict between the USSR and calling for a policy of containment. Winston Churchill encouraged the growing mood of pessimism when he said in a speech in Fulton, Missouri, that an “iron curtain” had fallen across Eastern Europe. Influenced by these views and responding to the call for aid to Greece, in March 1947 the president announced the Truman doctrine effectively putting containment into effect and committing the United States to a worldwide struggle. This was followed by the Marshall Plan to provide economic aid to European nations struggling to recover from the war and facing a variety of left-wing challenges. The Cold War had begun.The Soviet response to these actions was to tighten control in Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. When the Western powers seemed to be moving to unite West Germany, Stalin responded by imposing a blockade on the divided city of Berlin in June 1948. For almost a year the Western powers mounted the Berlin airlift of materials to support the western sectors until the blockade was lifted in May 1949. Although the West had won in this confrontation, fear of further Soviet expansion led to the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a military alliance committing the United States to support European nations against possible aggression. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed supreme commander of NATO forces, and four U.S. army divisions were located in Europe. The Cold War spread to Asia following the victory of Chinese communists led by Mao Zedong in 1949. The United States refused to recognize the new government, instead continuing to back Chiang Kai-shek in Taiwan. In response to the “loss of China” and the successful atomic test by the Soviet Union in 1949, the NSC produced a review of defense policy, NSC-68, calling for a massive increase in military spending. Not acted upon immediately, it soon became government policy after forces in North Korea crossed into South Korea in June 1950. Viewed as another case of communist expansion, Truman secured UN backing for a military response and sent U.S. forces to take the lead in the Korean War that lasted until 1953. Containment was furthered through the Australia- New Zealand-United States Alliance treaty, the South Pacific equivalent of NATO. The Korean War encouraged an increasing anticommunist hysteria at home and provided the basis for McCarthyism; it also brought to an end the Democratic Party’s control of the presidency.CULTURAL CHANGES: LEISURE AND ENTERTAINMENTThe decades of the 1930s and 1940s have often been seen as significantly different in cultural terms, one being marked by pessimism induced by the Depression and the other characterized by a more positive mood following victory in the war and the economic recovery that followed. However, there are probably much stronger elements of continuity as film, literature, and the arts were all marked by a mixture of anxiety and optimism throughout both periods. It can even be argued that it was the 1930s that were optimistic and the 1940s that pointed to “an age of doubt” and anxiety.One feature of the 1930s was a return not just to a focus on things American but also to ordinary Americans and their values. This could be seen in the painting of the American regionalists and their celebration of the American landscape, in sharp contrast to the bleak black and white photographs of rural poverty and soil erosion produced by the FSA and the more ambiguous paintings of Edward Hopper. Faith in the land and the ability of the American people to survive was also evident in the work of composer Aaron Copland and in two literary classics of the decade, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, both of which were made into successful movies. Optimism too was the outstanding feature of The Wizard of Oz, while a belief in fundamental political values was central to the films of Frank Capra. A much darker view, however, was presented in Mervyn Leroy’s I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, and there was even a sense of darkness beneath the surface of the Marx Brothers’ zany escapist comedies.However, if overall a distinctive and often celebratory American culture emerged from the Depression years, this was not necessarily the case with the war and postwar years. Despite the apparent unity and economic and military achievements of the “Good War,” the horrors of the war and the reality of the Holocaust, coupled with the tension of the ever-present atomic threat during the Cold War, often seemed to bring a sense of doubt and uncertainty to the arts. The attacks on intellectuals, writers, and filmmakers during the McCarthy era only served to increase this mood. Such new writers as Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, and playwright Arthur Miller in Death of a Salesman and The Crucible were perhaps the most obvious voices of this changed climate, but the popular thirties’ detective fiction of Hammett and Chandler also lent itself to the bleak atmosphere in the film noir of the 1940s. Similarly, one of the postwar film classics, High Noon, captured much of the oppressive and critical feeling of the times. On the other hand, Broadway offered a rather different view particularly with the success of the Rogers and Hammerstein musicals, from Oklahoma (1943) and Carousel (1945) to Guys and Dolls (1949), South Pacific (1950), and The King and I (1951)—all films suggesting a more upbeat frame of mind. The history of Hollywood in many ways charts the complexities of these two decades. The period from 1930 to the start of the 1950s began with movies experiencing a decline brought about by the initial effects of the Great Depression and ended with a drop in popularity brought about by the rise of new forms of entertainment and political challenges. In between, movies experienced something of a golden period in terms of film content and audience size. Movie attendance reached roughly 80 million per week by the end of the 1930s and 90 million weekly by the end of the war. Hollywood was credited with providing alternatives to revolution during the Great Depression and helping to maintain national morale during the war; however, beginning with the House Un-American Affairs Committee hearings in 1947, the movies were accused of procommunist influences and subjected to investigations and blacklists. In 1948 the power of the film studios was weakened following the Supreme Court’s ruling preventing their monopolistic control of film theaters and film distribution. Perhaps more importantly, with the rise of the suburban family and the “baby boom,” audiences now stayed at home where the rapid rise of television provided an alternative form of visual entertainment with an altogether more optimistic content. With these developments, movie audiences were halved between 1946 and 1953.Television, suburbia, and the rise in automobile ownership all pointed to the positive achievements of the U.S. economy as it moved toward the affluent society that was to emerge in the 1950s. While materialism fueled by the release of pent-up consumer demand was one of the dominant characteristics of the postwar years, Americans also sought spiritual reassurance. Inspired no doubt by Billy Graham’s religious revival that began in 1949, and by such popular religious novels as The Robe (1942) and The Big Fisherman (1948)—both later made into films—church attendance soared, rising from 64 million in 1940 to 114 million in 1960. As a result of the 1930s and 1940s, Americans increasingly looked to the federal government in times of need, but they still clearly turned elsewhere amid the uncertainties of the modern world.
Historical Dictionary of the Roosevelt–Truman Era . Neil A. Wynn . 2015.