The Postwar Economy:
Americans feared that the end of World War II and the subsequent drop in military spending might bring back the
hard times of the Great Depression. But instead, pent-up consumer demand fueled exceptionally strong economic
growth in the postwar period. The automobile industry successfully converted back to producing cars, and new
industries such as aviation and electronics grew by leaps and bounds. A housing boom, stimulated in part by
easily affordable mortgages for returning members of the military, added to the expansion. The nation's gross
national product rose from about $200,000 million in 1940 to $300,000 million in 1950 and to more than $500,000
million in 1960. At the same time, the jump in postwar births, known as the "baby boom," increased the number of
consumers. More and more Americans joined the middle class.
need to produce war supplies had given rise to a huge military-industrial complex (a term coined by Dwight D.
Eisenhower, who served as the U.S. president from 1953 through 1961). It did not disappear with the war's end.
As the Iron Curtain descended
across Europe and the United States found itself embroiled in a cold war with the Soviet Union, the government
maintained substantial fighting capacity and invested in sophisticated weapons such as the hydrogen bomb.
Economic aid flowed to war-ravaged European countries under the Marshall Plan, which also helped maintain
markets for numerous U.S. goods. And the government itself recognized its central role in economic affairs. The
Employment Act of 1946 stated as government policy "to promote maximum employment, production, and purchasing
The United States also recognized during the postwar period the need to restructure
international monetary arrangements, spearheading the creation of the International Monetary Fund and the World
Bank -- institutions designed to ensure an open, capitalist international economy.
meanwhile, entered a period marked by consolidation. Firms merged to create huge, diversified conglomerates.
International Telephone and Telegraph, for instance, bought Sheraton Hotels, Continental Banking, Hartford Fire
Insurance, Avis Rent-a-Car, and other companies.
American work force also changed significantly. During the 1950s, the number of workers providing services grew
until it equaled and then surpassed the number who produced goods. And by 1956, a majority of U.S. workers held
white-collar rather than blue-collar jobs. At the same time, labor unions won long-term employment contracts and
other benefits for their members.
on the other hand, faced tough times. Gains in productivity led to agricultural overproduction, as farming
became a big business. Small family farms found it increasingly difficult to compete, and more and more farmers
left the land. As a result, the number of people employed in the farm sector, which in 1947 stood at 7.9
million, began a continuing decline; by 1998, U.S. farms employed only 3.4 million