Postwar Suburbia Timeline
How It All Went Down
World War I veteran Walter W. Walters leads a group of fellow veterans, many jobless, in a march on Washington. The protesters demand the immediate payment of a military bonus promised to them, arguing that they need the money to survive the Great Depression. Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur, convinced that the march is part of a Communist plot to undermine the government, instructs the Army to force demonstrators to vacate. Riots ensue as military veterans and uniformed servicemen clash near the capital. In later years, the GI Bill will be created for veterans in order to prevent future problems.
Homeowners Loan Corporation
The U.S. government creates the Homeowners Loan Corporation (HOLC) in order to protect homeowners from foreclosure by dividing mortgage payments into small, manageable installments. The HOLC policies will favor white, non-immigrant families residing outside cities; most blacks will be denied loan consideration outright.
National Housing Act
Responding to the banking crisis during the Great Depression, Congress passes the National Housing Act. The Act, devised as a way to make housing more affordable and to insure mortgage loans, creates both the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation (FSLIC).
First Housing Project
Techwood Homes, the nation's first public housing project, opens in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1996, Techwood will be razed for the 1996 Summer Olympics and its mixed-use replacement, "Centennial Place," will offer substantially fewer affordable housing units.
United States Housing Authority
The United States Housing Authority (USHA) is created as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal program. The agency, designed to create decent, affordable housing for working-class families, will lend state and local communities up to 90% of housing construction and maintenance costs. Some will blame the government's public housing program for the creation of crime-infested, racially segregated ghettoes.
National Highway Commission
Fearing a postwar economic depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appoints a National Interregional Highway Committee to investigate the need for a system of national highways. The committee recommends the creation of 63,000 kilometers of highway over the next twenty years.
Southern California Car Culture
The California State Railroad Commission estimates that more than 85% of Southern California workers travel to their place of employment in cars. (The Commission doesn't specify, however, whether this statistic refers to white employees only or workers of all races.)1
First California Freeway
The first Southern California freeway is opened. It connects downtown Los Angeles to Pasadena.
First LA Smog
In the midst of World War II, a brown cloud forms over the city, alarming residents who complain of poor visibility, throat irritation, sneezing, and watery eyes. The Los Angeles Times reports a "Gas Attack," but the following day public officials discover that the strange fog is the result of emissions from a nearby manufacturing plant. It is the city's first report of what will later be known as "smog."
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Servicemen's Readjustment Act, commonly known as the GI Bill. The Act will help war veterans by offering grants for college education and vocational training, and by providing loans to buy homes and start businesses.
World War II is officially over. Some 16 million American GIs return home from the warfront and from military bases in the United States. Millions, unable to find housing for themselves and their new families, must live with their parents or rent available space in apartments, attics, basements, and even barns. The nation is in desperate need of available housing.
Benjamin Spock Publishes Baby and Child Care
Pediatrician Benjamin Spock publishes Baby and Child Care, a highly influential book that advises mothers to stay at home if they want to rear healthy and well-adjusted children. A mother who chooses to work outside the home, Dr. Spock writes, jeopardizes her child's emotional health.
First Car Ad on TV
Chevrolet, an American automaker, becomes the first car manufacturer to advertise on network television.
Second California Freeway
A second freeway, connecting Hollywood to the San Fernando Valley, opens in Southern California.
Levitt and Sons announce a plan to build some 2,000 rental homes for GIs in the Island Trees region of Long Island, New York. Within two days of the announcement, half of all proposed homes are rented.
Santa Ana Freeway
Construction on the Santa Ana Freeway (also known as the I-5) begins. The freeway, scheduled for completion in 1955, will help speed the development of suburban communities south of the city of Los Angeles. By the end of the century the Santa Ana will become the main—and most congested—thoroughfare connecting Los Angeles to its suburbs.
Shelley v. Kraemer
In Shelley v. Kraemer, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that a state cannot enforce any restrictive covenant that would prohibit a person from owning property on the basis of race. Such private covenants, the Justices rule, are legal, but the enforcement of such agreements violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Levitt and Sons, a burgeoning home-building enterprise, stops building rental properties and instead plans to build larger, more modern homes for sale. The "ranch"-style homes—each with a model kitchen and interior heating—are offered for just under $8,000, a manageable price for young couples hoping to become homeowners. Not everyone is invited, however; Levitt and Sons rejects all prospective African-American and other non-white homebuyers.
The world's first major retail shopping center—a shopping mall—opens in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Public Housing Created
Congress passes the Taft-Ellender-Wagner Housing Act, which authorizes the construction of hundreds of thousands of public housing units in order to provide decent, affordable housing for "every American family." But the act places a very low ceiling on the income of residents admitted into the units, limiting such housing to the very poor. At the same time, the act's "urban renewal" provisions authorize the demolition of city "slums" for the development of retail and upscale housing complexes.
Working Wives in 1950
Roughly 21% of all American wives are employed outside of the home.2
Domestic Spending Shifts for War
The United States is again at war in Korea. The government's planned federal highway program is put on hold as funds for domestic development are funneled into military mobilization.
Levitt in Time
William Levitt, founder of the tremendously successful Levittown franchise, is featured on the cover of Time magazine.
President Harry Truman signs the National Security Council Document 68 (NSC-68), which outlines an aggressive strategy to contain Communism. The Cold War begins.
On the advice of economic researchers at Stanford University, entrepreneur Walt Disney purchases 160 acres of land in Anaheim, California, an agricultural region south of Los Angeles. He plans to level the orange tree orchards to build a large-scale family entertainment park.
The first McDonald's fast food restaurant opens in Illinois. By the mid-1960s, over 700 McDonald's restaurants will be built, and over 400 million hamburgers sold.
Ford introduces the Thunderbird, a two-seater sports car. It is the first personal luxury car widely available in the United States.
Los Angeles is hit by another "gas attack," far worse than the one reported in 1943. Planes are diverted from the city's airport, schools close for the day, and citizens are advised to stay indoors. Pollution control officials reveal that at least two-thirds of all smog in the Los Angeles area is caused by automobile emissions.
Disneyland premieres in Anaheim, California. Some 28,000 people visit on opening day. One of the many attractions featured in Walt Disney's new theme park is "Autopia" in Tomorrowland, a miniature model of a freeway in which patrons are invited to experience a "real life highway adventure."
Jackie Robinson Rejected for Home Loan
Jackie Robinson, a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team and noted for breaking Major League Baseball's color line, is unable to purchase a house in his team's home state of New York. Real estate agents are unwilling to sell to Robinson and his wife Rachel because they are African-American. The Robinsons find a house in Stamford, Connecticut after some well connected white friends lobby on their behalf.
Eisenhower Creates Interstate Highways
President Dwight D. Eisenhower signs the Federal Highway Act, which authorizes the construction of 40,000 miles of interstate highways to be built over the next thirteen years.
On The Road
Jack Kerouac publishes On the Road, an unconventional novel he typed on a 250-foot roll of paper. The semi-autobiographical story recounts several long road trips that Kerouac made during the late 1940s.
Baby Boom Peaks
The "baby boom" peaks; the birthrate in the United States is 25 births per 1,000 people. In 1957 alone, 4.3 million babies are born—one every seven seconds. Death rates plummet during this decade as well, largely due to medical innovations. By 1957, the average life expectancy is 70 years for whites and 64 for blacks (in comparison, life expectancy in 1920 was 55 years for whites and 45 years for blacks).
Businesses follow Americans as they migrate to the suburbs. In this year, more shopping centers—suburban malls—are built than in any year prior, allowing more and more consumers to avoid urban regions altogether.
In a scale model of an American kitchen at the American National Exposition in Moscow, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and Vice President Richard Nixon engage in a discussion about technology, militarism, and political power. The American press will refer to the exchange as "The Kitchen Debate." Nixon's strong showing will help earn him the Republican nomination for president in the following year.
Majority Home Ownership
For the first time, more Americans own their homes than rent them.
Working Wives in 1960
Some 30% of American wives are employed outside of the home and the income gap between white and black working women has narrowed. Still, the prevailing notion that all women should be homemakers helps employers justify low wages and the denial of job promotions.
American Families Own Car
Roughly 80% of American families own at least one car, and approximately 14% have two or more.3
California Most Populous
California becomes the most populous state in the nation.
The Feminine Mystique
Betty Friedan publishes The Feminine Mystique, a provocative critique of representations and expectations of women in American popular culture. According to this "unquestioned gospel," she writes, "women could identify with nothing beyond the home...unless it could be approached through female experience as a wife or mother or translated into domestic detail."4
Dinny the Dinosaur
Dinny, the 150-ton Cabazon dinosaur and famed roadside attraction of Cabazon, California, is completed with scrap pieces of Interstate 10.
Dick and Jane
A new series of Dick and Jane books are released—Wide Horizons for advanced readers and Open Highways for beginners.
Americans Become Suburban
For the first time, more Americans live in the suburbs than in urban regions.