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.
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.
For more about 1940s culture:
Lists of 1940s children’s books:
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.
Four cousins search for a hidden treasure in their grandfather’s mansion during a blizzard.
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.
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.
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.