Post-War America 1945-60


Harry S. Truman (1945 - 52)


  • Full Employment Bill 1945 - declared employment a right and required the government to do more to find people jobs. Also increased benefits, established a minimum wage and a public works programme.
  • 1948 Presidential Election - Truman did a 30,000 mile tour of the US defending his policies; won the election by a 2 million vote majority.
  • 1949 - The Fair Deal: tried to introduce welfare measures; succeeded in raising the minimum wage and extending the Social Security Act. Also passed an act to assist in slums clearance and provide housing for the poor.


  • April 1945 - mine workers on strike ; May 1945 - rail workers on strike. Truman announced he would conscript railroad workers and have the army take control over the railways. He also wanted to introduce legislation that would restrict strike action towards the government.
  • Failed in 1948 to pass many New-Deal type measures; often blocked by Congress.
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Dwight Eisenhower (1952 - 61)


  • Continued to introduce many New Deal and Fair Deal measures, despite a Democratic majoirty in Congress for most of his presidency.
  • Strengthened social security programmes, increased the minimum wage and created the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
  • 1956 - Interstate Highway System - largest public works scheme in history; built 41,000 miles of road nationally.
  • Spent money on completing the St. Lawrence Seaway (connecting the Great Lakes with the Pacific).


  • Criticised for being too conservative and not doing enough to help African Americans.
  • He was also accused of representing big business too much as his Cabinet was made up of millionaire businessmen.
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McCarthyism & the Red Scare

1950 - Joseph McCarthy (junior Senator) made a speech stating that the State Department was infested with spies; had no evidence to prove this, but it led to a witch-hunt against members of the department. New Deal measures were attacked for being Communist-inspired. 1953 - McCarthy was given control of the Senate Committee on government operations.

Developments of the Red Scare:

  • Fall of China to the Communists (1949), development of Cold War in Europe (1945+).
  • Spy scandals in Britain, Canada and the US (e.g. US: Harry Gold - physicits - arrested for giving nuclear secrets to the USSR).
  • Alger Hiss Trial (key figure at Yalta, accused of Communism, was convicted on evidence that he handed documents to the Russians in 1938)
  • 1947 - Truman introduced the Loyalty Review Board to check government employees.
  • 4 years:1200 people dismissed, 6000 resigned, and 150 organisations = banned. 

Downfall of McCarthyism - McCarthy began accusing respected officials (e.g. General George Marshall) and in 1954 began investigating the army for 'nests' of Communism - poorly percieved.

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Economy after WWII

  • The US represented 7% of the global population but 42% of global income.
  • Per capita income was $1450 (x2 of the UK's).
  • Federal spending increased from $9.4bn to $36.5bn (1939 - 48).
  • More employment opportunities led to increased immigration and therefore food production.
  • But there was unequal prosperity - by 1947, 33% of homes lacked electricity and 40% lacked a flushing toilet. Poorer cities struggled (especially in the South) and people had to rent rather than buy - couldn't afford it. Memories of the depression were still fresh so people saved more.

Increased Mobility

  • Sales of new cars increased from 69,000 in 1945 to 6.7 million in 1950.
  • By 1950 there were 16,000 foreign cars on US roads.
  • The number of 2-car families doubled between 1951 - 58.
  • This led to the development of motels, gas stations, and a decrease in the use of passenger transport (e.g. trains). 1956 Interstate Highway Act: 41,000 miles of road built.
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Social Change after WWII

Growth of Suburbs

  • By 1960, 60% of Americans owned their own homes (mortgages given through the Federal Housing Administration. 1.7 million new homes were built in 1950 alone.
  • The % of people in suburbs increased from 17% in 1920 to 33% in 1960.
  • Led to the development of shopping malls; 4000 by 1950 (though this damaged small shops).

Consumer Boom

  • Increase in advertising; by 1960 there were over 50 million TV's in the US.
  • Increase in population; nappies became a $50 million industry by 1957.
  • 4 million babies born each year between 1954-64 ; divorce rates fell to 9.6% by 1953.
  • But national debt increased from $5.7bn in 1945 - $56.1bn in 1956.

Cinema and Youth Culture

  • Cinema attendance dropped by the 1950's but drive-in ones became popular. 
  • In Hollywood, the anti-hero (James Dean, Marlon Brando) replaced traditional actors.
  • By 1950, over 40% of the population in the US was under 21 years of age. Youths had more money to spend on average, and rock & roll music became a huge infleunce.
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Position of Women

Progress for Women - 1900-60

  • 1900-45 - job opportunities gave greater social freedom, and birth control was introduced. The war made a case for women's rights, so they gained the vote in 1920 through the 19th Amendment, with the first femal governer elected in 1924. 4 states made equal pay for women compulsory and by 1930 there were 2 million more women employed than in 1920.
  • 1945-60 - women began questioning traditional values and became more liberal. By 1950 they represented 28.8% of the workforce and 60% of married women were working by 1960.

Continuity for Women - 1900-60

  • 1900-45 - backstreet abortions killed 50,000 a year. Women still seen as 2nd class citizens up until around 1917, and the Supreme Court banned all attempts for setting a minimum wage for women. After WWI, they returned to their traditional roles as housewives and the jobs they did have were unskilled and low-paid. Only 4% of uni professors were women and the number of female doctors decreased in the 1920's.
  • 1945-60 - heavy stereotyping of women as homemakers; 89% of female graduates from Smith College became houswives. Opportunities for jobs with career prospects didn't increase and unions didn't support women in the workforce.
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Position of Native Americans


  • 25,000 had served in WWII, 40,000 served in war production.
  • 1944 - the Indian Claims Commission was set up to offer financial compensation for Native American claims for lost lands (but the lands wouldn't be returned to them).
  • Too many were living in poverty on reservations after WWII.


  • August 1953 - House Concurrent Resolution No.108 - termination policy; broke up reservation lands, which would be sold off and the profits distributed aming the tribal members, who were then made to live in urban areas. The government were trying to get rid of their responsibility.


  • Those who left the reservations became unemployed. Alcoholism among NA's increased.
  • The broken-reservation policy was later abandoned, but it left anger that developed into 'Red Power' and more militant NA action.
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Position of African Americans (1)

After WWII, the membership of the NAACP increased from 50,000 to 450,000 within 5 years. CORE was founded in 1942, and the case for civil rights became more popular.

Truman's Presidency

  • Sept. 1946 - set up the Civil Rights Commission to investigate racial abuse. By 1947 the Committee published a report stating the US couldn't claim to lead the free world while racism existed so strongly in the US. It called for laws to abolish the poll tax and prevent lynching.
  • But a coalition of 20 Southern Democrats and 15 Republicans blocked every civil right bill.
  • However, Executive Order 9981 (passed July 1948) desegregated the armed forces and guaranteed employment opportunities for African Americans in the civil service.
  • By 1950 the Navy & Air Force were completely desegregated. Army followed after Korean War.
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Position of African Americans (2)

Einsenhower's Presidency

Eisenhower was less committed to desegregation but was not a racist; felt that legislation wouldn't change how people felt. But he achieved desegregation in Washington D.C. by passing an executive order to desegregate shipyards and veterans hospitals.

The NAACP & Schools

  • 1896 - Plessy v Ferguson - decalred segregates schools 'seperate but equal'.
  • 1930 - the NAACP commissioned the Margold Report to investigate the ruling. In 1933 it reported that the ruling was poorly thought out, badly written and imprecise.
  • It also found that South Carolina spent 3x more on white schools and 100x more on white school transport. Also that in 1947, 1/4 African Americans in the South were illiterate.
  • This led to Brown vs Topeka in 1954.
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Position of African Americans (3)

Brown vs Topeka, 1954

  • Case led by the NAACP - reverand Oliver Brown's daughetr had to travel 10 blocks to get to a black school in Topeka, Kansas, when a white school with spaces was just 1 block away.
  • The case was taken to the Supreme Court. The new Cheif Justice Earl Warren ruled in May 1954 that in the education sector, 'separate but equal' was unconstitutional, so schools had to be desegregated.
  • Between 1956-7, 723 school districts desegregated but 240,000 remained entirely segregated. States such as Alabama, Florida and Mississippi had penalties for districts that attempted to desegregate - they ignored the ruling.

Progress in Education - late 1950's & early 1960's

  • More courts began ruling against segregation; by 1956, BvT was held up in 19 cases.
  • Southern school boards gave grants to private schools (which could be segregated); by 1959, Prince Edward County (Virginia) had closed all public schools.
  • Some authorities made tests harder for black children. Mississippi made desegregation illegal.
  • 1964 - only 2% of black pupils in 11 Southern states went to fully integrated schools.
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Position of African Americans (4)

Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1955

  • December 1st - Rosa Parks arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus for a white man.
  • Following weekend - officals organised a boycott of buses by 50,000 black supporters in the city. It lasted 381 days and drained the bus companies in the area.
  • November 1956 - the Supreme Court rules in Browder vs Gaye that segregation on buses was unconstitutional, so buses desegregated.

Little Rock High School, 1957

  • Governor Orval Faubus used National Guard troops to stop 9 black students entering Central High Schol after it was declared to be desegregated.
  • Eisenhower (as commander-in-chief) sent in federal troops and announced that the 10,000 National Guard troops were to be kept under federal control.
  • The soldiers were now used to keep white protestors back, and escort the students to school safely.
  • The event showed the power of federal government regarding desegregation.
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Development of Cold War (1)

Russia had lost 27 million people during WWII - 2x as many as the US and the UK combined.25 million were homeless, and 6 million buildings had been destroyed. 9/15 republics in Russia had been invaded; Russia created a 'buffer zone' after the war - protection between them and the west.

YALTA, February 1945

  • 3 powers (Churchill, FDR, Stalin) met to discuss what to do with Europe after the war.
  • FDR's health was failing, making him more lenient with Stalin in negotiations.
  • Germany was to be divided and would pay reparations, 1/2 of which would go to the USSR.
  • Russia was to gain land in Poland, and Poland would gain land in Germany.
  • Stalin promised that proper democracy and free elections would be upheld in USSR territories.


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Development of Cold War (2)

POTSDAM, July 1945

  • In April, FDR had passed away. Churchill had lost the general election. Only Stalin left.
  • Stalin knew that the US had an atomic bomb but the US hadn't told Russia they were prepared to use it - led to much mistrust. 
  • Stalin had been imposing USSR systems of government on his new territories; communist dictatorship in Europe; promise made at Yalta wasn't kept.
  • Truman accused Stalin of breaching the Yalta Agreement - built up tensions further.

Churchill's 'Iron Curtain' Speech, 1946

  • The speech didn't cause the Cold War but it formalised it.
  • Churchill stated that Europe was divided by this 'iron curtain' due to the USSR dominating Poland, Romania, Hungary, etc.
  • Soviet influence had spread to East Germany & Czechoslovakia; the Red Army was still in liberated areas.
  • In response, Stalin compared Churchill to Hitler and within 3 weeks the USSR withdrew from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), increased anti-western propaganda and created a new 5-year plan for strengthening.
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Development of Cold War (3)


America issued money to Western European countries (excluding the USSR)  to prevent the spread of Communism, leading to an economic drain on the USSR.

General George Marshall - Chief advisor to FDR, Secretary of State & Defense, won the Nobel Prize in 1953 for his efforts. 

The US was unsure whether to allow the USSR to join the plan, considering all they had lost in the war, but didn't want the spread of Communism. Therefore a strict criteria was set to qualify for economic aid: involved allowing the US to look through the country's financial records.

  • Truman's initial doctrine was to give $400 million to Greece & Turkey; Greece was badly damaged and had US nuclear weapons based there - couldn't ignore it.
  • The final bill allowed a 4-year programme of $13 billion in accordance with Congress & the Marshall Plan, but didn't pass until 1948 (after the Czechoslovakia Coup - USSR influence).
  • Money was eventually allocated to many countries, including West Germany which was used as an advert against Communism (East v West).
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Development of Cold War (4)


Germany had been divided into 4 zones of occupation after WWII. Berlin was also divided, though it physically lay in the Soviet zone. Therefore, the US, UK and France relied on Soviet goodwill to travel to their sectors in Berlin. By 1948, the West was recovering, but the USSR was still poor.

June 1948 - the western zones introduced a new common currency (the Deutschmark).

  • when the leaders tried to introduce it into their sectors in Berlin, Stalin ordered all transport links with the West to be cut; wanted to blockade Berlin into accpeting Communist rule.
  • in response, Britain and the US organised an airlift of essential supplies into the city.

March 1949 - 8000 tonnes of supplies being delivered per day, despite Soviet threats to the planes

May 9th 1949 - Stalin called off the blockade. The US had won the 1st big conflcit of the Cold War.

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Development of Cold War (5)

NATO, 1949

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation was established because:

  • the Berlin blocakde demonstrated that Truman was followin a containment policy,
  • the geographical size and physical resources available to the USSR were clearly a threat,
  • publicly, people believed it was created as an alliance against the Soviets,
  • privately, it was created to stop the spread of Communism.

If one country in NATO was attacked, then Europe & North America would consider it an attack against them all, and would react accordingly. 

Members: Britain, USA, Canada, France, Belgium, Norway, Denmark, Luxembourg, Portugal, Italy, Holland and Iceland.

By 1949, the USSR had created their 1st atomic bomb - now a bigger threat.

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Korean War (1950-53) [1]

Causes of the Korean War

  • Domino Theory - US felt if South Korea became Communist then other countries would follow.
  • Undermine Communism - NSC68: 'roll back' communism.
  • Cold War - would be an indirect attack on USSR.
  • Kim II Sung - supported by Stalin & Zedong; threat to the US.
  • Syngman Rhee - boasted about plans to attack North Korea.

North Korea - Communist dictatorship led by Kim II Sung.

South Korea - Capitalist (but almost dictatorial) led by Syngman Rhee.

China - recently Communist under Mao Zedong.

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Korean War (1950-53) [2] EVENTS

  • June 25th 1950 - North Korea attacked & captured most of South Korea.
  • June 27th 1950 - UN allowed US to help South Korea - sent troops to Pusan to join S.K. army.
  • September 15th 1950 - UN led an amphibious landing of 300,000 troops (260,000 = US troops); they drove the NKPA back and recaptured S.Korea, taking 125,000 prisoners.
  • October 7th 1950 - General MacArthur invaded N.Korea and took up to the Chinese border, when he should have stopped at the 38th Parallel.
  • November 25th 1950 - 200,000 Chinese troops attacked the US using Russia's weapons (unknown to the US at the time).
  • December 31st 1950 - 500,000 more troops attacked the Americans, driving them back and advancing quickly into S.Korea.
  • February - March 1951 - US landed more troops and used bombers. China lost 390,000 men (but the UN put it at 1 million), North Korea lost 500,000. The US lost 54,000 and was pushed back to the 38th Parallel.
  • March 1951 - 53 - Truman removed General MacArthur as he refused to stop advancing. Eisenhower became president in '53. The US threatened to use their atomic bomb in China unless they stopped attacking.
  • July 27th 1953 - China agreed to a truce.
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Korean War (1950-53) [3]

Effects of the Korean War

  • Estimated that 10 million died in 3 years - same as WWI.
  • Intensified the Cold War; led to an arms race.
  • Strengthened US will to stamp out Communism.
  • Changed US foreign policy in the Far East.
  • Rec Army increased from 2.8 million (1950) to 5.8 million (1955).
  • The US tripled their defence spending to 10% of their GDP.
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Cold War under Truman

Were these events all Truman's Fault?

  • Yalta 1945 - Truman wasn't responsible; FDR was still president.
  • Potsdam 1945 - Truman was partly responsible; his intimidation on Stalin didn't work.
  • Iron Curtain Speech, 1946 - Truman was partly responsible; speech was made in the US.
  • Truman Doctrine 1947 - Truman was responsible; he introduced the doctrine.
  • Marshall Aid, 1948 - Truman partly responsible; he approved the aid.
  • Berlin Airlift 1949 - Truman was responsible; he introduced the new currency.
  • NATO, 1949 - Truman was partly responsible; US was part of it, and it was his idea.
  • Korean War, 1950-3 - Truman was partly responsible; US got heavily involved.
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Foreign Relations under Eisenhower (1)

Improved relations - USA & Others

  • Khrushchev returned a naval base to Finland & decreased the Red Army by 500,000.
  • Khrushchev agreed to talks on agriculture and the peaceful use of atomic energy with the US.
  • USSR surrendered territory for the 1st time since WWII - Austrian Peace Treaty May 1955 - Austria became independent and neutral.
  • Khrushchev and Eisenhower - Summit Meeting 1959 - relaxed atmosphere but no progress made regarding Berlin.
  • January 1959 - Eisenhower asked Congress for military & economic aid for any Middle East country threatened by aggression - 'Eisenhower Doctrine' - containment.
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Foreign Relations under Eisenhower (2)

Worsened Relations - USA & Others

  • Warsaw Pact 1955 - rival Soviet organisation to NATO - military alliance of 8 countries.
  • Hungary 1956 - threatened to leave the Warsaw Pact; Khrushchev sent tanks in to crush the rebellion; increase in communism, threat to the US.
  • Germany 1958-9 - West refused to recognise East Berlin and used West Berlin for espionage. Khrushchev threatened to give East Germany access to West acces routes and gave an ultimatum of responding within 6 months. He backed down in 1959; West wouldn't move.
  • Paris Summit Meeting 1960 - failed; just before, the USSR shot down a US spy plane and captured the pilot; Eisenhower had to admit the plane's purpose; Khrushchev refused to attend the summit.
  • Britain, France and Israel invaded the canal zone in Suez (taken by Egypt) without US support. The US wanted them to withdraw, but Eisenhower was kept uninformed.
  • China: during the Chinese civil war, the US had given aid to the Chinese Nationalists, and refused to formally recognise the PRC as the government (communist), and instead maintained communicatio with the Nationalists in Taiwan. After Korea, the US put a trade embargo on China, kept it out of the UN and established military bases in Taiwan. (1959 - US-Taiwan Defence Treaty.
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Arms Race, 1940's & 1960's

Atomic Weapons

  • 1945 - US tested their 1st atomic bomb - Stalin sent spies to find out US atomic secrets.
  • 1949 - USSR tested their 1st atomic bomb - US lost their monoply on atomic weapons.
  • 1952 - US tested their 1st hydrogen bomb - now a full-blow arms race.
  • But the USSR had their intercontinental ballistic missle (ICBM) ready a few weeks before the US did - humiliating.
  • 1953 - USSR tested their 1st hydrogen bomb.
  • 1954 - the USA's 1st nuclear-propelled submarine was now fully operational.
  • 1960 - US tested a missile fired from a submerged submarine to hit any target on the globe; by this point, the Soviet navy was years behind the US navy.

Military Spending

  • Military-industrial complex developed; defence spending rose to $40-50 billion.
  • 90% of the USA's foreign aid went to the military.
  • Defence establishments built in poor areas (e.g. Southern states), desert areas in Arizona and New Mexico became centres for weapons testing.
  • This helped smooth out economic inequalities in the US.
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