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The United States During WWII: The Home Front

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  • 0:05 WWII at Home
  • 1:34 Entertainment During WWII
  • 2:31 Government and Economy
  • 5:12 Social Effects
  • 8:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Alexandra Lutz

Alexandra has taught students at every age level from pre-school through adult. She has a BSEd in English Education.

When the United States entered World War II in December 1941, life changed almost overnight for those on the battle front and on the home front. Learn about the war's dramatic and lasting effects on American government, economy and society.

WWII at Home

World War II had been raging for more than two years before the United States entered in December 1941. Life was changed almost overnight - not just for the 16 million men and women who joined the armed services, but for those who stayed home, as well. World War II had a profound influence on American government, economy and society.

Personal decisions, like what to have for dinner or what to wear to the office, were shaped (if not dictated) by the needs of the army. There was a rationing program that controlled the purchase of certain items needed for the war, like gasoline, and distinct shortages of other goods. Prices and wages were fixed. A massive propaganda campaign run by the United States government urged Americans to conserve wherever possible, grow their own vegetables in a 'Victory Garden' and clean their plates. Even fashion was affected by war shortages, since commercially-produced fabric was needed for uniforms - not for long ball gowns, vests or cuffs.

Civilians organized drives and held contests to see who could save the most scrap metal, aluminum cans, fats and rubber. They boosted production at the work place and in the home. They used it up, wore it out and did without, yet 70% of the American people said that they hadn't had to make any 'real sacrifices' as a result of the war.

Entertainment During WWII

Even entertainment was affected by the demands and interests of a wartime nation. When 95% of professional baseball players traded in jerseys for uniforms, including even Joe DiMaggio, a 'second string' of athletes got a chance at the big leagues - including women. Many of the nation's most famous actors, such as Clark Gable and Jimmy Stewart, also joined the armed forces, but Hollywood still cranked out feature films. Movies typically started with updates and footage from the front lines, often adding cartoons with negative caricatures of the enemy, followed by the main feature.

But the radio was by far the most important source of information and entertainment during World War II. Networks reached more than 80% of American households, broadcasting battle reports, performances from overseas military bases, messages from the president, radio dramas and patriotic music.

Government and Economy

World War II had an enormous impact on the federal government. A network of new agencies emerged to coordinate the war effort on the battle front and the home front. Most of these were dissolved after 1945, but Americans still became accustomed to looking to the president and Washington for solutions to problems, rather than local or state government. And even though measures like price and wage fixing ended with the war, there was also a lasting influence when it came to federal oversight of the nation's economy.

The propaganda machine cranked out posters encouraging American production and investment. Even before Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt had promised America's allies that the nation would become the world's 'arsenal of democracy,' and it did. The United States unleashed its productive might, lifting the nation out of the Great Depression and forging lasting links between the military and industry. Factories that had once manufactured consumer goods converted to war production. For example, Ford Motor Company could build one B-24 bomber every HOUR. American workers produced 14,000 ships, 80,000 landing craft, 100,000 tanks and armored cars, 300,000 airplanes, 15 million guns with 41 billion rounds of ammunition, and two atomic bombs. Through it all, posters on factory walls reminded workers that every accident, every sick day, every extra minute on a break was time lost to the enemy.

The war not only encouraged the growth of big business, it also accelerated the growth of commercial agriculture. American farms multiplied their output of wheat, corn and other foods. Ironically, American civilians faced shortages of many food items.

All this factory and farm production was paid for by the federal government, which promised to cover costs, plus a fixed-percentage profit. In the end, World War II cost the U.S. government about $340 billion, NOT adjusted for inflation. Where did all that money come from? The American people. Nearly 2/3 of all citizens purchased war bonds, loaning the government half of the money it needed for the war. Revenue also increased, as more than four times more people were now paying income tax, and business taxes expanded.

Social Effects

Finally, World War II had dramatic social effects. Many jobs that had previously been closed to women and African-Americans suddenly opened up when millions of men went overseas to fight. Thanks to a popular 1942 song, women in the war industries were nicknamed Rosie the Riveter, epitomized by a now-famous poster from the Westinghouse Company. By the mid-1940s, more than a third of American women were in the workforce, up nearly 50% from before the war. While most women left their positions when the men returned, their experience laid the groundwork for the women's rights movement in coming decades.

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