During WWII, Americans on the home front supported military efforts by rationing food and supplies. For many, this was not a problem; they’d been dealing with food and supply shortages since the Great Depression. What many of them weren’t accustomed to were steady, good paying jobs. With the majority of able-bodied men overseas, America had many jobs to fill and new ones created by the war effort. As a result, Americans were being paid well but were limited on what they could buy, which was fine; frugality had been bred in them since the stock market crash. When the war was won and rations ended, many Americans were met with the pleasant realization that they had accrued a great deal of wealth. With this postwar affluence came the dawn of a consumer culture unlike anything the United States had seen before. For the first time in many of their lives, Americans could afford to buy more than just essentials, and starting a family in the suburbs became the new American Dream.
Life in suburbia was championed by no one more than William Levitt. Having been contracted by the federal government during the war, Levitt had experience building military housing quickly and affordably. Applying these techniques to domestic living, Levitt began mass production of housing. There were five variations of the same basic floorplan so each unit was practically the same.
As suburban life grew in popularity, so did conformity in standard of living. “Keeping up with the Jonses” became the new norm as Americans splurged on items their friends and neighbors were buying, including sleek automobiles and luxury appliances. With shopping malls and fast food restaurants, consumerism became increasingly convenient.
From 1930 to 1950, the U.S. had done a complete 180. Once overwhelmed by poverty, Americans now had within their reach everything they needed. And much, much more.