The ’40s and ’50s – The Best of Times

I just ran across this article, stored on my computer, and thought, once again, how perceptive it is. No one under 70 years of age will fully understand it, but for those of us growing up in those years, it’s a look back at what could rightly be called “the best of times.”

It also sets the stage for what then happened in the ’60s.

A version of this seems to have been written by Denise Eyherabide, but there are somewhat different renditions online. Plus, I have edited it somewhat.

We are the “Last Ones.” Born in the 1930s and ’40s, we exist as a very special age group. We are the last generation, climbing out of the depression, who can remember the winds of war and the impact of a world at war which rattled the structure of our daily lives for years.

We are the last to remember ration books for everything from gas to sugar to shoes to stoves. We saved tin foil, flattened cans, and poured fat into tin cans.

We saw cars up on blocks because tires weren’t available.

We can remember milk being delivered to our house early in the morning and placed in the “milk box” on the porch.

We are the last to have heard Roosevelt’s radio assurances and to have seen the gold stars in the front windows of our grieving neighbors whose sons died in the war.

We saw the “boys” come home from the war and build their Cape Cod–style houses, pouring the cellar and tar-papering it over until they could afford the time and money to complete building.

We are the last generation who spent childhood without television; instead, we had mental images of what we heard on the radio. “Up in the sky … look … it’s a bird … it’s a plane … it’s Superman!”

As we all like to brag, with no TV, we spent our childhood “playing outside.” There was no little league. There was no city playground for kids. We made baseball diamonds on empty lots until someone built a house on the empty lot.

With war-busy parents and the lack of television in our early years, we had little real understanding of what the world was like. On Saturday afternoons, the movies gave us newsreels of the war and the holocaust, sandwiched in between westerns and cartoons.

Telephones were one to a house, often shared (party lines) and hung on the wall in the kitchen (no cares about privacy).

Computers were called calculators, they were hand cranked; typewriters were driven by pounding fingers, sliding the carriage, and changing the ribbon. The “internet” and “Google” were words that did not exist.

Newspapers and magazines were written for adults and the news was broadcast on our radio in the evening by Gabriel Heater and later Paul Harvey.

As we grew up, the country was exploding with growth. The G.I. Bill gave returning veterans the means to get an education and spurred colleges to grow.

VA loans fanned a housing boom. Pent up demand coupled with new installment payment plans opened many factories for work.

New highways brought jobs and mobility. Veterans joined civic clubs and became active in politics. In the late ’40s and early ’50s the country seemed to lie in the embrace of brisk but quiet order as it gave birth to its new middle class.

The radio network expanded from three stations to thousands.

Our parents were suddenly free from the confines of the depression and the war, and they threw themselves into exploring opportunities they had never imagined.

We weren’t neglected, but we weren’t part of today’s all-consuming family focus. Our parents were glad we played by ourselves until the street lights came on. They were busy discovering the postwar world.

Most of us had no life plan, but with the unexpected virtue of ignorance and an economic rising tide, we simply stepped into the world and went to find out.

We entered a world of overflowing plenty and opportunity; a world where we were welcomed. Based on our naïve belief that there was more where this came from, we shaped life as we went.

We enjoyed a luxury; we felt secure in our future. Of course, just as today, not all Americans shared in this experience. African Americans didn’t have the same opportunities as did white people. Depression poverty was deeply rooted. Polio was still a crippler.

The Korean War was a dark passage in the early ’50s and by mid-decade, school children were ducking under desks. China became Red China. Eisenhower sent the first “advisors” to Vietnam. Castro set up camp in Cuba and Khrushchev came to power.

We came of age in the late ’40s and early ’50s. We are the last generation to experience an interlude when there were no threats to our homeland.

The war was over and the cold war, terrorism, “global warming,” technological upheaval, and perpetual economic insecurity had yet to haunt our lives.

Only our generation can remember both a time of a great war, and a time when our world was secure and full of bright promise and plenty. We lived through both.

We grew up at the best possible time, a time when the world was getting better — not worse.

We are “The Last Ones.”

About Lloyd Kahn

Lloyd Kahn started building his own home in the early '60s and went on to publish books showing homeowners how they could build their own homes with their own hands. He got his start in publishing by working as the shelter editor of the Whole Earth Catalog with Stewart Brand in the late '60s. He has since authored six highly-graphic books on homemade building, all of which are interrelated. The books, "The Shelter Library Of Building Books," include Shelter, Shelter II (1978), Home Work (2004), Builders of the Pacific Coast (2008), Tiny Homes (2012), and Tiny Homes on the Move (2014). Lloyd operates from Northern California studio built of recycled lumber, set in the midst of a vegetable garden, and hooked into the world via five Mac computers. You can check out videos (one with over 450,000 views) on Lloyd by doing a search on YouTube:

6 Responses to The ’40s and ’50s – The Best of Times

  1. Ah, nostalgia! When we were kids, we had things that kids today just don’t have. Things like rickets and Hitler!

  2. Yeah, I was born in ’36 in Salem, Oregon and grew up helping to raise our food (veggies, fruit, chickens, eggs, rabbits) on an acre just outside of town. I used to climb on the roof via a scaffold (our house was under perpetual construction for ten years) during blackouts to watch the searchlights come on to the north in Portland, After the war, we moved to Roseburg, a then small town further south in Oregon. I believe there were more log trucks than cars and the big employers were the myriad lumber mills spewing smoke 24/7 from their wigwam burners, which set a year-round pall that made LA smog look puny. These guys never saw a tree they didn’t want to kill and we saw many a truckload that consisted of three or two and not unoften one log roll through town; they were hell-bent on clearing off every stick. Those days are gone – probably forever – and it’s probably a good thing.

  3. The comments from Peter and Martin make me realize that these reminiscenses apply to white middle class America. They ring a bell with me because this was the world I grew up in, and that this was not everyone’s ’40s and ’50s world.

  4. True enough, Lloyd – the places I mentioned were about 99% and 110% white when I lived there. I didn’t get to meet and know any non-white people until I joined the army in 1955. Took my training at Ft. Knox, KY and shared a barracks with a bunch of guys divided about 45% white, 55% black. Learned a lot about differences and alikes in those days.

  5. Lloyd, I was lucky enough to grow up with a dad born in 1934. WWII was the defining event of his life; all his kids teased him mercilessly that EVERY topic of discussion in our house was eventually brought back around to “The War.” He was so proud to be an American. He was raised very poor in Blythe, CA, and we heard a lot about the “two-room shack,” and the outhouse, and the scorpions. By the time I came around, he had educated himself, and he and my mom were doing very well and living the suburban life in L.A. I loved to hear what his young life had been like, and I was envious. He had so much freedom! He had a BB gun by the time he was five, and he never had to wear shoes! His lifetime was a very special time to be alive. He worked so hard to give his family a good life, and to make sure we never knew what it was to want. I love to hear everyone’s stories!

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