Culture of the 1940s

 
1944_NormandyLST.jpg

Ascent: 1940

Decline: 1941

Cultural Hallmarks: computers; legacy of World War II, television, Tupperware, Frisbee, Abstract Expressionism, Tachisme, Art Informel, jazz, country, pop music, modernist and postmodern literature, Film Noir, Italian Neorealism 

The 1940s saw the brunt of World War II through the middle of the decade and consequences lasting much longer. When the war ended, Europe became divided between the influences of the Western World and the Soviet Union. The Cold War soon followed, emerging in the late 1940s, as a state of heightened tensions between the Eastern Bloc, consisting of the Soviet Union and its satellite states, and the Western Bloc, made up of the United States, its NATO allies and others. Though it’s not usually agreed upon as to when the Cold War started, many historians accept 1947 as a start date.

Across the world, postwar conditions encouraged decolonization. The United Kingdom was bankrupt following its war campaigns and this debt, coupled with growing unrest in its colonies, led to most of its colonies falling away. The first was India in 1947 in the wake of a nonviolent civil disobedience campaign led by Mohandas Gandhi and others followed.

Further, Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party gained victory in the Chinese Civil War and in 1949, the People’s Republic of China was officially proclaimed.

Technologically, the world saw the atomic bomb as well as the first computers. The sound barrier was broken, the commercial television was developed and the microwave oven; velcro; Tupperware; the Frisbee; and transistor were all invented.  

No. 5, 1948  by Jackson Pollock

No. 5, 1948 by Jackson Pollock

Art continued to be varied in the 1940s as movements continued to spring forth. In the United States, Abstract Expressionism was the first American movement to achieve influence internationally and made New York City the center of the western art world. Taking influence from Surrealism, artists like Jackson Pollock, Hedda Sterne, Norman Lewis and Elaine and Willem de Kooning took their emotional expression and put emphasis on creative spontaneity.

In France, another abstract style called Tachisme grew as part of a larger group known as Art Informel. Reacting to Cubism and becoming the European equivalent to Abstract Expressionism, these works are characterized by spontaneous brushwork, drips and blobs of paint and scribbling. Notable painters in this movement include Hans Hartung, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Serge Poliakoff, and Jean Dubufett.

Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra

Jazz remained popular in the 1940s where Pure Jazz musicians such as Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday became successful along with Dixieland Jazz revival musicians who established their own unique style.

Additionally, romanticization of the cowboys and the old west in film spawned a desire for singing cowboys. Honky tonk music also took root, taking Western swing and blues music and combining it with rough vocals,  backing it with guitar, fiddle, string bass and steel guitar. Floyd Tillman and Hank Williams would eventually pick the style up later in the decade, causing it to become the predominant style of country music. Jenny Lou Carson would also be the first woman to write a number one country hit with her 1945 song “You Two-Timed Me One Time Too Often” performed by Tex Ritter.

Pop Crooners arose as well, seeing vocalists become popular solo artists. Changing demographics after the war led to traditional pop singers and crooners becoming more favorable than large bands. Among these singers, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra would garner much fame.

Modernist literature was in its downfall by the 1940s and Postmodernism would pick up from where it left off, reacting to where its authors saw Modernism failing. However, Postmodernism as a literary form would grow into itself until the 1950s and it would become the most popular form of literature in the 1960s.

W. H. Auden

W. H. Auden

Rationing of paper made for publishing books and magazines difficult and authors during the war preferred to write poetry and short stories. Keith Douglas would present detached accounts of the battlefield and Alun Lewis would publish short stories detailing the lives of officers and enlisted men.

Once the war was over, literature would be characterized by an increase in religion. W. H. Auden wrote poems expressing Christian commitment combining classical form with the vernacular, Graham Greene’s Roman Catholicism could be seen in his thriller novels studying moral and psychological ambiguity and Robert Graves expressed his attachment to Eastern mysticism in a 1948 poem called “The White Goddess.”

Hamlet  poster

Hamlet poster

Several films during the 1940s were about World War II and Film Noir became prevalent with its incorporation of crime dramas and dark images. Several films considered classics would be released in this year and Disney put out a number of animated films.

Despite the war, cinema flourished around the world. Laurence Olivier’s 1948 film Hamlet would be the first non-American film to win an Academy Award and Italian filmmakers would introduce the Italian Neorealism movement. In Japan, Akira Kurosawa would begin his career in a path that would bring him to be one of the most notable Japanese filmmakers

Sociological Timeline

  • Feb. 10, 1940 - Tom and Jerry make their debut
  • Feb. 29, 1940 - Hattie McDaniel becomes the first African-American to win an Academy Award
  • March 2, 1940 - Elmer Fudd makes his debut
  • April 1940 - Robin the Boy Wonder debuts in Detective Comics #38
  • April 7, 1940 - Booker T. Washington becomes the first African-American to be depicted on a United States postage stamp
  • May 6, 1940 - International Olympic Committee cancels the 1940 Summer Olympics
  • May 10, 1940 - Winston Churchill becomes Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
  • June 3, 1940 - Franz Rademacher proposes the Madagascar Plan
  • July 27, 1940 - Bugs Bunny debuts
  • Oct. 1, 1940 - First section of Pennsylvania Turnpike, United States’ first long-distance controlled-access highway, opened
  • Oct. 8 1840 - Cincinnati Reds defeat Detroit Tigers 2-1 in 1940 World Series
  • Oct. 15, 1940 - Charlie Chaplin releases The Great Dictator
  • December 1940 - Captain America and Bucky debut in Captain America Comics #1
  • Dec. 30,1940 - California’s first modern freeway opens in Pasadena
  • January 1941 - Nazi Germany begins mass killings of those with mental and physical disabilities
  • Jan. 13, 1941 - Puerto Rican people declared United States citizens
  • May 1, 1941 - Cheerios introduced by General MIlls
  • July 31, 1941 - Adolf Hitler orders a general plan to carry out the “desired Final Solution of the Jewish question”
  • Aug. 1, 1941 - Production of the first U.S. Army Jeep
  • Aug. 16, 1941 - Units of the Wehrmacht and the Einsatzgruppen start killing Jewish children, the Jewish Genocide begins
  • Sept. 6, 1941 - Jewish people in German-occupied areas required to wear Star of David
  • Sept. 12, 1941 - Construction of The Pentagon begins
  • Oct. 6, 1941 - New York Yankees defeat Brooklyn Dodgers 3-1 in 1941 World Series
  • Oct. 31, 1941 - Last day of carving on Mount Rushmore
  • Dec. 7, 1941 - Attack on Pearl Harbor, United States drawn into World War II
  • Dec. 8, 1941 - President Franklin delivers “Infamy Speech;” First mass gassing of Jewish people begin at Chelmno extermination camp
  • Dec. 26, 1941 - Winston Churchill becomes first British Prime Minister to address a joint session of the United States Congress
  • 1942 - DDT first used as pesticide
  • Jan. 13, 1942 - Henry Ford patents plastic automobile
  • Jan. 20, 1942 - Nazi leadership decide at Wannsee Conference the “Final Solution” is relocation and extermination
  • February 1942 - C. S. Lewis publishes The Screwtape Letters
  • Feb. 25, 1942 - Battle of Los Angeles, shells fired at unidentified, slow moving object in the skies
  • March 18, 1942 - President Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9101, creating War Relocation Authority responsible for internment of Americans of Japanese, German and Italian descent
  • May 20, 1942 - First African-American seamen taken into the United States Navy
  • June 12, 1942 - Anne Frank begins writing in her diary
  • July 22, 1942 - Deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto begins
  • Sept. 3, 1942 - Lachwa Ghetto Uprising, first known ghetto uprising
  • Oct. 5, 1942 - St. Louis Cardinals defeat New York Yankees 4-2 in 1942 World Series
  • Oct. 28, 1942 - Alaska Highway completed
  • March 23, 1943 - Vicodin and Lortab produced in Germany
  • April 19, 1943 - Warsaw Ghetto Uprising begins
  • May 30, 1943 - Josef Mengele begins position as medical officer in Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp
  • June 3, 1943 - Zoot Suit Riots between military personnel and Mexican American youths in East Los Angeles
  • June 20-23, 1943 - Detroit race riot of 1943
  • Oct. 11, 1943 - New York Yankees defeat St. Louis Cardinals 2-0 in 1943 World Series
  • Dec. 4, 1943 - Great Depression officially ends
  • 1944 - 1944 Summer Olympics suspended due to WWII
  • March 24, 1944 - The Great Escape, 76 Royal Air Force prisoners of war escape, 73 recaptured
  • April 25, 1944 - United Negro College Fund incorporated
  • June 6, 1944 - D-Day, 1550,000 Allied troops land on the beaches of Normandy
  • Aug. 1, 1944 - Warsaw Uprising begins
  • Aug. 9, 1944 - United States Forest Service and Wartime Advertising Council feature Smokey Bear for the first time
  • Oct. 9, 1944 - St. Louis Cardinals defeat St. Louis Browns 3-1 in 1944 World Series
  • Dec. 16, 1944 - George C. Marshall becomes first U.S. Five-Star General
  • Jan. 16, 1945 - Adolf Hitler takes residence in Fuhrerbunker in Berlin
  • February 1945 - Anne Frank dies of typhus in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp
  • Feb. 4-11, 1945 - Yalta Conference
  • March 4, 1945 - Princess Elizabeth joins British Army’s Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service as truck driver/mechanic
  • April 12, 1945 - President Roosevelt dies, Harry S. Truman becomes President
  • April 30, 1945 - Death of Adolf Hitler
  • May 2, 1945 - Berlin falls to Soviet Union forces
  • May 5, 1945 - Prague Uprising; Japanese fire balloon kills six people near Bly, Oregon as the only people killed by an enemy attack on the American mainland during WWII; Yosemite Sam debuts
  • May 8, 1945 - Nazi Germany surrenders, Victory in Europe Day
  • Aug. 6, 1945 - Atomic bombing of Hiroshima
  • Aug. 9, 1945 - Atomic bombing of Nagasaki
  • Aug. 14, 1945 - Japan surrenders
  • Aug. 15, 1945 - Victory over Japan Day
  • Sept. 2, 1945 - World War II ends
  • Sept. 3, 1945 - Cold War begins
  • Oct. 10, 1945 - Detroit Tigers defeat Chicago Cubs 9-3 in 1945 World Series; Nazi Party officially dissolved by the Allied Powers
  • Oct. 23, 1945 - Jackie Robinson signs contract with the Montreal Royals
  • Oct. 24, 1945 - United Nations founded
  • Nov. 16, 1945 - Casper the Friendly Ghost debuts
  • Nov. 20, 1945 - Nuremberg Trials begin
  • Dec. 27, 1945 - World Bank created
  • 1946 - Women’s suffrage enacted in Belgium, Romania, Yugoslavia, Argentina and Quebec; First Tupperware sold; Casio company founded
  • July 5, 1946 - Bikini first modeled in Paris
  • July 25, 1946 - Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis stage first show as a comedy team
  • Aug. 3, 1946 - Santa Claus Land becomes first themed park
  • Sept. 1, 1946 - 1946 Turin Grand Prix first recorded Formula One Grand Prix Motor Race in Italy
  • Oct. 1, 1946 - Mensa founded
  • Oct. 15, 1946 - St. Louis Cardinals defeat Boston Red Sox 4-3 in 1946 World Series
  • Dec. 11, 1946 - UNICEF Founded
  • 1947 - First commercial microwave oven; Women’s suffrage granted in Argentina
  • Jan. 3, 1947 - United States Congress proceedings televised for first time
  • Jan. 15, 1947 - Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia, found murdered
  • April 1, 1947 - Jackie Robinson signs contract with Brooklyn Dodgers
  • April 15, 1947 - Jackie Robinson becomes first African-American to play Major League Baseball since 1880s
  • April 16, 1947 - Post-WWII tensions first described as a “Cold War”
  • May 11, 1947 - Ferrari 125 S  debuts as the first car to bear the Ferrari name
  • June 1947 - Doomsday Clock introduced
  • June 25, 1947 - The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank first published
  • July 8, 1947  Roswell UFO Incident
  • October, 1947 - First recorded use of the word “computer” referring to electronic digital machine
  • Oct. 5, 1947 - President Truman delivers first televised White House address
  • Oct. 6, 1947 - New York Yankees defeat Brooklyn Dodgers 5-2 in 1947 World Series
  • 1948 - I-Spy books created; Cadillac introduces tailfins to automobiles
  • Jan. 5, 1948 - Warner Brothers show first colored newsreel
  • Jan. 12, 1948 - Mahatma Gandhi begins fast-unto-death in Delhi to stop violence during Partition of India
  • Jan. 30, 1948 - Mahatma Gandhi assassinated; 1948 Winter Olympics open in St. Moritz
  • Feb. 21, 1948 - NASCAR founded
  • March 17, 1948 - Hell’s Angels founded
  • May 14, 1948 - State of Israel declares independence
  • May 15, 1948 - Arab-Israeli War begins
  • June 11, 1948 - First monkey astronaut launched into space in New Mexico
  • July 26, 1948 - President Truman signs Executive Order 9981, ending racial segregation in the United States Armed Forces
  • July 29, 1948 - 1948 Summer Olympics begin in London
  • Oct. 11, 1948 - Cleveland Indians defeat Boston Braves 4-3 in 1948 World Series
  • 1949 - Currywurst invented in Berlin
  • Jan. 25, 1949 - First Emmy Awards; David Ben-Gurion becomes first Israeli Prime Minister
  • June 24, 1949 - First television western airs in the United States
  • July 20, 1949 - Arab-Israeli War ends
  • Aug. 24, 1949 - North Atlantic Treaty Organization established
  • Oct. 9, 1949 - New York Yankees defeat Brooklyn Dodgers 10-6 in 1949 World Series