A Little History
This was the decade of World War II (the first half of the decade), and the beginning of the Cold War Era (the second half of the decade). Some historians, including my college professors, say that World War II could be called World War I, Part 2 because part of the reason it started was that the post-war treaties and reparations from World War I left Germany’s economy crippled and the people desperate. Old conflicts that had never completely resolved resurfaced. The rise of dictators and the expansionist policies of the Axis powers led to a war that was eventually fought in battles all over the world as each side called in its allies once again.
By the end of the war, the United States had developed nuclear weapons and used them against Japan. This time, post-war settlements and power struggles ended up dividing the world into large sections controlled by competing political ideologies: communist countries, particularly Russia (the Soviet Union) and those loyal to Russia or under Russian control, vs. capitalist countries, particularly the United States and western Europe and countries influenced by those regions. This was the basis for the Cold War. The two sides began competing against each other for economic and technological superiority, using the threat of nuclear weapons to keep each other in check in a dangerously precarious balance of power. Countries outside of those two main political rivals were called “Third World” nations because they were not part of either of the two most influential groups or their power struggle. (Capitalist countries were considered “First World”, and communist countries were the “Second World.”) Third World nations were less affluent and not part of the technological race, leading to the modern conception of the term of “developing” countries.
Culturally, this was the era of big band music, and swing was still popular. Radio was still popular, and radio shows came in great variety. Many of them included references to the war or messages urging people to buy war bonds and support the war effort. Radio shows were transmitted overseas for the entertainment of the troops as well.
People could go to movie theaters to see not only the latest films (still mostly in black-and-white, although color film was gradually taking hold), but also news reels and cartoons. Film noir, crime movies with dark themes and images, became popular. Movies also often featured patriotic and war themes with announcements for people to buy war bonds.
Television broadcasting in the United States began in the early 1940s, although not all families purchased televisions right away. At first, all programs were black-and-white, but color television became popular in later decades.
After World War II, there was a sudden rise in new births, which people began calling the “Baby Boom.” Because of this sudden increase in births, children, children’s services, and products for children and young people became particularly important for the following decades.
During the war years, rationing would have made candy and other items more rare treats than they would be after the war ended. Some toys which are considered classic children’s toys were created in the 1940s, such as Mr. Potato Head (which did not include a plastic potato until 1964, early sets just featured parts that were meant to be stuck in to real potatoes, my mother and her siblings sometimes used foam balls for the same purpose because they could be reused and to avoid using actual food), Silly Putty, and Slinky.
A set of twins who were separated by their divorced parents and haven’t seen each other since they were babies meet again at a summer camp. This was the basis for the Disney movie The Parent Trap. Originally written in German. By Erich Kastner.
The everyday adventures of a group of neighborhood children. By Carolyn Haywood. 1939-1986.
When shy Ginnie moves to town, she makes friends with the more outgoing Geneva, and the two girls have adventures together. By Catherine Woolley. 1948-1973.
Four cousins search for a hidden treasure in their grandfather’s mansion during a blizzard.
Hardy Boys Mysteries
Two brothers, Frank and Joe Hardy, solve mysteries in their East Coast town of Bayport and around the world. By Franklin W. Dixon, A Stratemeyer Syndicate series. 1927-Present.
Nancy Drew Mysteries
Nancy Drew encounters and solves mysteries with her friends in her hometown of River Heights and around the world. By Carolyn Keene, A Stratemeyer Syndicate series. 1930-Present.
A classic mystery series featuring a girl and her group of friends who solve mysteries and support good causes. Created by Julie Campbell and continued by other authors. 1948-1986.
A spoiled little princess learns about friendship and hidden depths and finds her own inner beauty when she is sent to live with a family of commoners for a time.
Angelo is terrified of water to the point where he hates to take baths. When his family tries to make him take a bath so he will be clean for his sister’s wedding, he runs away only to be caught by some of the soldiers he admires, who teach him that soldiers must do their duty.
A family of ducks make their home in Boston’s Public Gardens, finding their way through the city with the help of some friendly policemen.
Mary has six dolls, each from a different country around the world, but she longs for a seventh doll to complete her collection. When she finally receives her seventh doll, it is a very special doll indeed.
Children born in this decade in the United States:
Mark a change in American society. Those born during the first half of the decade were born during World War II. Those born during the second half were among those considered Baby Boomers, born during the sudden increase in population that followed the end of World War II. (Generational designations can sometimes be subjective, especially when defining exact years.) Some of them were the children of people who had served in the armed forces during that war.
Those born during the first half of the decade would have little or no memory of World War II. For those born after, the two World Wars were simply a part of history. Atomic weapons were also a reality that had always existed for them and fear of their use would be a major influence in their early lives.
Those born during the second half of the decade were born during the Cold War and would be adults by the time that the Cold War drew to an end at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the early 1990s. All of those born during the 1940s would be about 40 to 49 years old at the time that the Berlin Wall fell in late 1989. Because they grew up during Cold War, they would have been raised with strong anti-communist feelings.
The would remember a time before space flight, and all of them would have been adults at the time of the moon landing at the end of the 1960s and would remember it afterward.
They would all would be old enough to remember when Hawaii and Alaska were admitted as states of the United States. The youngest ones would have been about 10 years old at the time. During the earliest part of their lives, there were only 48 states.
In their early years, although they would be taught to beware of strangers, they were far less worried about accepting homemade treats on Halloween than children in later decades, after stories of Halloween sadism spread. In fact, homemade treats such as cookies, popcorn balls, and candy apples were regular offerings at Halloween. They were adults by the time fears about Halloween sadism really spread.
Throughout their lives, they would become comfortable with a variety of new technologies, seeing rapid technological changes such as:
- from records to cassette tapes to cds to music purchased electronically with no physical copies
- from their first television sets in black-and-white to color television to vhs tapes to dvds to movies and television streamed online
- increasing computer usage and the progression from floppy disks of various sizes to cds of computer games and software to downloads and updates for computer programs managed entirely through the Internet
- from corded phones to cordless phones to cell phones to smart phones that do far more than just make phone calls
Many of these changes would have happened when they were adults. Their children would be even more comfortable with technology than they were, having grown up with forms that their parents wouldn’t have had during their earliest years.
They did not have home computers or video games when they were young, but many of their children would.
They would not have had use of the Internet and e-mail while still in school, not even those who went to college. The World Wide Web would not be available on home computers until the 1990s. Computer usage in general would have increased in popularity as they progressed through school and began their working lives. For the first part of their lives, when they needed something typed, it was done on a typewriter. If they needed two copies of something, they would either have to type using a sheet of carbon paper between a blank sheet and the page they were currently typing in order to make a second copy or just type the entire page twice over. Mistakes were either corrected with correcting fluid or the entire page simply had to be retyped until it was completely correct. This would be something that their children and grandchildren would have little or no experience doing.
Some of their families may have purchased their first home tv sets during the 1940s, but television broadcasting was new, and many families purchased their first television sets during the 1950s. Color tv would not become common until the 1960s. VCRs wouldn’t come into vogue until the 1970s. Some of them may have rented their first VCRs from video stores rather than owning them themselves. Before they had VCRs of their own, they just watched their favorite shows when they were on tv, at the time they aired, and if they missed them, they simply missed them. This was a simple fact of life that would change significantly later, eventually becoming almost unknown by their children and grandchildren.
All of them were already adults around the turn of the new millennium, all of them older than 50 years old. Most of them had children of their own at the time, and some may have even had grandchildren.
As adults, everyone born in this decade would be old enough to understand the events of September 11, 2001 at the time it happened and remember them forever after.
They were born during a time when schools were segregated, but as they progressed through school, things were changing. They would be among the the first to attend newly-desegregated schools with a far more diverse student body than the schools their parents had attended, especially in higher grades. Racial makeup of churches and other religious institutions would vary by religion and region. Years later, they would have memories of times when there were separate bathrooms or drinking fountains for different races in the United States or when people of different races weren’t allowed into certain restaurants or other public places. They would have been in their teens and 20’s at the time of the Civil Rights Movement, and some of them were among those who took part in it.
For more about 1940s culture:
Lists of 1940s children’s books: