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The Post World War II Boom: How America Got Into Gear

May 14, 2020 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

After years of wartime rationing, American consumers were ready to spend money—and factories made the switch from war to peace-time production.

In the summer of 1945, as , U.S. businesses at the time were still “geared around producing tanks and planes, not clapboard houses and refrigerators.”

Americans Were Ready to Spend

View of the assembly line and workers at the Studebaker automobile manufacturing plant in South Bend, Indiana, 1946.

Some economists even predicted a new crisis of mass unemployment and inflation, arguing that private businesses couldn’t possibly generate the massive amounts of capital necessary to run the pumped-up wartime factories during peacetime. A report released in mid-1945 by Senator James Mead of New York took this opinion, arguing that if the war in the Pacific ended quickly, “the United States would find itself largely unprepared to overcome unemployment on a large scale.”

But history proved the pessimists wrong. Most returning veterans had no trouble finding jobs, according to Herman. U.S. factories that had proven so essential to the war effort quickly mobilized for peacetime, rising to meet the needs of consumers who had been encouraged to save up their money in preparation for just such a post-war boom.

Photos: Rationing During Word War II

During World War II, every American was entitled to a series of war ration books filled with stamps that could be used to buy restricted items (along with payment), and within weeks of the first issuance, more than 91 percent of the U.S. population had registered to receive them.

View the 10 images of this gallery on the original article

By the summer of 1945, Americans had been living under wartime rationing policies for more than three years, including limits on such common goods as rubber, sugar, gasoline, fuel oil, coffee, meat, butter, milk and soap. Meanwhile, the U.S. government’s Office of Price Administration (OPA) had encouraged the public to save up their money (ideally by buying war bonds) for a brighter future. In her book A Consumer’s Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America, Lizabeth Cohen reported that by 1945, Americans were saving an average of 21 percent of their personal disposable income, compared to just 3 percent in the 1920s.

READ MORE: 8 Unusual Wartime Conservation Measures

With the war finally over, American consumers were eager to spend their money, on everything from big-ticket items like homes, cars and …read more


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