Following World War II, America creates the Marshall Plan and enjoys a postwar boom. Throughout the world, prosperity transforms economies, lifestyles, and cultural values.
Unit Themes and Topics:
advertising, consumerism, and materialism
the Marshall Plan
postwar economic and baby boom
the rise of a global economy
Connections Across History connection: when: where: program: economic development plans 1917-1940 Soviet Union "Red Flag" the Cold War 1945-1961 Soviet Union, United States "Brave New World" Japan's and Korea's rise to economic prominence 1951-1988 Japan, Korea "Asia Rising"
(Oldsmobile owner, United States)
"Cars in the 1950s...they really weren't cars, they were status symbols. They said who you were and what you had, and maybe even where you came from and where you could go."
1. How would you define the term status symbol? Based on Georgette Braga's quotation, why do you think she would say status symbols affect people's lives? Why are cars considered status symbols? What do status symbols tell about a society?
2. As students watch the program, have them write down the reasons why owning vehicles became important to people in different countries in the 1950s.
1. What were the differences between postwar experiences of citizens in the United States and citizens in European countries? Why was the Marshall Plan created? What kinds of aid did the United States give to European countries and why? How did the aid affect America's relationship with European countries in the short term and in the long term?
2. What made the car and the motor scooter important symbols of success during the 1950s? How did these vehicles change people's lives? What other material goods did people work to acquire? How did acquisition and production of goods affect people's lives directly and indirectly?
Have students explore the rising standard of living in the United States by comparing advertisements from the 1950s with advertisements from the 1990s. First, give students the median household incomes for 1955 and the current year, and advertisements in widely circulated periodicals, such as Life, Ebony, Time, and Newsweek, from both years. Then have them list the products and the prices (if included) in the advertisements and compare the number and variety of products advertised and the price, relative to the median household income today and in the 1950s. DIscuss how the advertisements reflect changes in the standard of living from the 1950s to today, and the social consequences of those changes.
The following lesson focuses on a program segment about how ordinary citizens' lives were affected by America's postwar boom. "Baby boomers" share memories of the lifestyle made possible by their families' postwar prosperity.
approximately 7 minutes
Dinah Shore sings, "See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet."
The Joe, the King of the Workers cartoon
1. Why do some people refer to the 1950s as a "golden age"? What words would you use to describe the United States in the 1950s? What has shaped your impressions of this decade? How do television programs, movies, and advertisements portray the 1950s?
2. As students watch the program segment, have them take notes on why some Americans might feel nostalgic for the 1950s.
1. What impressions does the program segment give of life in 1950s America? How would you describe the people in the segment? How accurately do you think this segment presents the lives of Americans in the 1950s? What people are not represented in the segment?
2. What is the central message of the Joe, the King of the Workers cartoon? What values does it promote? How does it portray American workers? What does it suggest workers should feel about their work and the United States?
3. How did growing up during the Great Depression influence how Carin Pace's parents raised her? What was the economic climate in which the adults you know grew up? How do you think that economic climate influenced their hopes for you?
Have students interview people who were teenagers during the first ten years after World War II. First, brainstorm a list of trends described in the program segment, such as consumerism, leisure time, rising productivity and wages, suburbanization, and technological advances. Have students ask people how their lives were affected by these trends, how their lives were different from their parents' lives, and what their most positive and negative memories are of the postwar period.
In the program, Carin Pace says, "I got everything I wanted. I couldn't of asked for anything more as a child." Using magazine and newspaper articles, have students research the impact of the "baby boomers" on today's society. What trends can be linked to the baby boomers? How have they helped to shape the economy, culture, politics, and lifestyle of the 1990s? After gathering their information, have students bring in an artifact or other representation of one of the trends (e.g., song lyric, book, advertisement, clothing) in order to present their findings to the class.
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