Life in the 40’s

The 1940’s was perhaps the greatest decade in American history. It was a time when the fate of democracy hinged on the backs of the brave young men fighting overseas with the Allied Forces in World War II against the tyranny of Hitler and the fascist regime. The war ended when the Atomic Bomb was dropped on Japan, and a Cold War began with the Soviet Union. When our solders returned home, it turned out that our economy wasn’t the only thing that was excited, as the stork visited houses in record numbers during the Baby Boom. In the 1940’s Eisenhower expanded the highway system and the suburbs became the place to raise a family. And who could forget the nail biter election of 1948 where Harry S. Truman defeated Dewey. After the blockade of Berlin in 1948 was thwarted by United Sates airlifts, in 1949 NATO was formed to protect the world from Soviet aggression.

40’s Facts

  • Population 132,122,000
  • Unemployed in 1940 – 8,120,000
  • National Debt $43 Billion
  • Average Salary $1,299. Teacher’s salary $1,441
  • Minimum Wage $.43 per hour
  • 55% of U.S. homes have indoor plumbing
  • Antarctica is discovered to be a continent
  • Life expectancy 68.2 female, 60.8 male
  • Auto deaths 34,500
  • Supreme Court decides blacks do have a right to vote
  • World War II changed the order of world power, the United States and the USSR became super powers
  • Cold War begins


  • franklinroosevelt

    • Franklin D. Roosevelt
    • 32rd President
    • 1933 – 1945
    • Wife: Anna Eleanor
  • harrytruman

    • Harry S. Truman
    • 33rd President
    • 1945 – 1953
    • Wife: Bess

Things Invented
in the

  • The Atomic Bomb
  • The Wurlitzer Jukebox
  • The First All Electric Computer
  • The United Nations
  • NATO
  • Color TV
  • Aerosol Spray Cans
  • Silly Putty
  • Slinky
  • Microwave Oven
  • Cake Mix
  • Tupperware
  • Jeep
  • Frisbee
  • Velcro


rita_small 1. The lip shape in the 1940s was a little bit plumper on the top, with swelling rounds on the cupid’s bow. The smear was also worn in the beginning of the decade. Colours were, of course, red, but also raspberry tones, and lipliner, which first appeared in 1938* was used to give the lips a more precise definition.

2. Hair in the 1940s consisted of elaborate rolls and curls, and was usually worn swept up off of the face. Rita Hayworth sometimes wore her sexy mane down around the face, though, for a more alluring look. Rolls are relatively easy to achieve, but they do take practice.

3. Nails were worn in a similar style as in the 1930s, except that they were usually filed into a round shape. The white at the tips was a little thinner, too. Sometimes, women painted all the way to the tips. Colours matched the outfit, red, pink, even navy blue!

Mens Apparrel

hatMen of the 1940s wore a small variety of clothing choice; not nearly as widely-ranged as that of a woman’s wardrobe. Men found tuxedoes fashionable, as well as overcoats and wool and/or cotton sweaters and vests. Mostly, though, they wore dark colors, such as blacks and browns. Other colors, like blues, reds, grays, and certain khakis and chartruses were considered highly fashionable. The men of this decade were quite partial to that clean-shaven look, and they liked to be nicely groomed.


What was the typical American dish of the 1940’s?

home-slicing-1943-smallThe 1940s were all about rationing, protein stretching, substitutions, and making do with less. Home cooks made sugarless cookies, eggless cakes, and meatless meals. Cookbooks, magazines, government pamphlets, and food company brochures were full of creative ideas for stretching food supplies. Why the shortage? Food was needed to food soldiers fighting World War II. Farmers and food manufacturers were tapped to supply growing military needs, thus creating a shortage of foods available for domestic civilian consumers.

Rationing was introduced in the United States by the Office of Price Administration in 1942 as a way to equitably distribute diminishing food supplies. The American government encouraged homeowners to create Victory Gardens, small plots of fruits and vegetables to supplement personal and community food supplies. Nutrition information was also widely disseminated to help home cooks create balanced meals for their families. The National School Lunch Act was passed in 1945, extending Roosevelt’s New Deal WPA commitment to feeding America’s hungry children.

After the war, many new products were introduced to the American public. These “convenience foods” (dehydrated juice, instant coffee, cake mixes, etc.) were the result of military research. Not all of these were embraced enthusiastically, as traditional homemakers preferred to cook “the old fashioned” way once rationed ingredients were readily available.

Other countries also faced similar shortages due to World War II. The United Nations created the Food and Agriculture Organization in 1945 to combat hunger around the world.

Recommended Reading Grandma’s Wartime Baking Book/Joanne Lamb Hayes–history notes & modernized recipes
Grandma’s Wartime Kitchen/Joanne Lamb Hayes—WWII American cooking notes and recipes

40’s Fast Food Still With Us Today!

Dairy Queen – 1940
Carl’s Jr. – 1941

40’s Fads

40s-jitterbug-smallThere were many types of fads in the ’40s, like dances. One of the most popular dances was the Jitterbug, a dance which consisted of swift, complex movements and flips. Records were nice amenities, also. They varied in many types, and most people had large collections of every type and genre of record music. Any fads that were not easily accessible by manufacturers and/or consumers were subsisted from other places. If a certain item was too expensive to ship, then the manufacturers would have purchased a similar, less expensive type of the same type of that specific item. Flight technology was an instant success in the early 40s. Frank Whittle built the first jet engine, which was successfully engineered in 1941. Igor Sikorsky invented the very first manual modern helicopter, which is still used today, William Shockley designed and created the first transistors in the mid-’40s, a necessity still used today for radios and other electronic equipment. The first computer was invented, also, in the 1940s, though it was only used in military facilities and bases, because it took so long and so much labor to build joust one, not to mention the fact that they were extremely large in size.

Pea Shooters

peashooter_smallDuring this period there appeared one of the greatest toys that a boy could ever have asked for. Not only was it fun, but it irritated adults to no end. The “pea shooter” was a plastic tube about an eighth of an inch in diameter and about nine inches long. The ones I remember were opaque and of a bluish green color. They were perfect for use as a blowgun with dried peas.

Kilroy Was Here

kilroyDuring World War II “Kilroy was here!” start showing up where ever American soldiers had been. Eventually it became a great American symbol. Though no one really knows who Kilroy is or was. After a while a cartoon character was paired with the saying.

Betty Boop

bettyboopBetty Boop, the most famous cartoon from the 1940’s
Betty Boop was the first female animation star. She had started out as a poodle in a Fleischer Studios animation series, but she slowly became a human. She eventually got her own series of animated shorts and Sunday paper comics that matched the popularity of even Mickey Mouse. She inspired Marilyn Monroe and her bubbly personality became a favorite of thousands of Americans. Betty Boop is still popular today.


slinky-smallA toy that children played with by placing on stairs and watching it slowly climb down. When he was 26, Richard James of Philadelphia invented the Slinky. It consists of 87 feet of flat wire coiled into 3-inch-diameter circles and stands about 2 inches high when stacked. The Slinky’s ability to “walk” down stairs and open and close like an accordion made it a favorite toy, and it is still popular today.

40’s Stars/TV Shows and Movies


1947-womans-suit-smallIt is worthless to discuss fashion of the forties without first understanding the tremendous impact World War II had on everyday life during the early part of the decade. Social trends dictate fashion. World War II changed the world of fashion forever.

On September 3, 1939 England and France declared war on Germany. On June 14, 1940 Paris fell to Germany. German occupation began controlling haute couture. During the war, the Germans seriously considered moving the French couture houses to Berlin and re-establishing the seat of haute couture in Berlin. Berlin would then be known as the fashion capital of the world. On September 3, 1940, the United States transferred destroyers to Great Britain. The United States officially entered World War II on December 8, 1941.

Prior to World War II, New York fashion designers made the trek across the Atlantic Ocean to attend the flamboyant and opulent French fashion shows each year. They then returned to the United States and copied the latest Parisian haute couture designs. Once the Germans occupied Paris and the United States stationed battleships in the Atlantic Ocean, the New York designers were cut off from Paris haute couture. In their attempts to design new fashions for the United States market, they concentrated on sportswear. This led to the United States emerging as the sportswear capital of the world.

In 1941, war goods manufacturing took center stage. The government confiscated all stock of natural fabrics, forcing domestic manufacturers to concentrate on substituting other fibers for domestic garments. The industry geared up rayon production. Nylon stockings disappeared in 1943.

In an effort to comply with the restrictions imposed on them, American designers created a new style of suits for women. Skirts were short and straight topped by short jackets of twenty-five inches or less in length. Cardigans matched skirts and sheath evening dresses replaced the long flowing gowns of the thirties. McCall’s produced patterns for transforming men’s suits into ladies’ suits and women’s dresses into children’s clothing. The women of America were once again sewing their own family’s garments.

The true hallmarks of fashion in the early 1940s included an austere silhouette with narrow hips, padded shoulders, and all manner of hats. The working-class look of icons such as Rosie the Riveter became chic, as women of all social standings joined the war effort. They kept things going at home, taking over the jobs – and the closets – of husbands and other male relatives. Class barriers fell and people dressed down. It was considered gauche to be showy during a time of shortage. Designers flexed their creative muscle – even creating beautifully decorated gas masks for evening wear!

American designers introduced the concept of separates and coordinating components in order to create the illusion of more outfits than one actually had. Classic sportswear styles took hold on college campuses and were soon adopted by all levels of society and all age groups.

Many varieties of peplums were in vogue: butterfly, bustle and gathered peplums were a few. Ruffles found their way to skirt hems, necklines and waists. Gored, gathered and A-line skirts were topped with soft, feminine blouses. Blouses donned bows at the center-front neckline and might sport full or puffy sleeves. Collars were cut generously full, in peter pan and traditional pointed shirt-collar designs. Lace also accentuated blouses around the neckline.

Overseas, leather was now restricted to military use, so shoe designers were forced to be increasingly clever. Every imaginable material was incorporated into shoes, but reptile skins and mesh were the most successful substitutes. Cork or wood-soled “Wedgies” were another staple. Trims and embellishments were, by necessity, kept to a minimum. Women everywhere used household items, including cellophane and pipe cleaners, to create festive shoe decorations. Everything was recycled, giving rise to such clever advertising as Vogue’s “Make Do & Mend” campaign. Factories were converted from consumer goods production to military production. U.S. rationing rules limited the height of shoe heels to one inch and allowed for only six color choices; stockings were also unavailable. Magazines and beauty salons helped out by offering tips on how to paint legs with back seams and tan using makeup. This being impractical as an ongoing ritual, ankle socks became increasingly popular.

In 1947, Dior introduced the “New Look”, featuring longer lengths and fuller skirts; a return to classic femininity with a nipped waist. The use of many yards of fabric in garments was now seen as lavish and opulent. Women’s fashion changed to a soft, feminine and romantic image. The accompanying shoe designs would set the stage for the next decade…

reverse-pump-1942-smallA Reverse Pump in Brown or Blue Linen with White Toe and Heel, North Carolina, May, 1942. Price $7.95.

Home Decor

Vintage 1940’s Ericsson Wall Phone

1940s-vintage-wall-phone-smallThese phones, produced more than a half-century ago by Sweden’s Ericsson, were rescued from a forgotten warehouse in Buenos Aires. Rugged rotary dial and heavy Bakelite handle. Professionally restored, inside and out. New wiring, ringer, microphone and equipped with a modern-day universal jack. 7″x9″x5″. 7 lbs.

Kitchen Table

1947-kitchen-table-smallPorcelain Enamel Top! Were 19.95
Handy for kitchen work and practical! Gleaming white porcelain enamel top is easy to clean, stain-resistant. Steel legs in bright chrome-plate. Now…9.88

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