1940: A Pictorial History

compiled by Warren F. O'Rourke

Obviously -- if you graduated from high school in 1958 -- 1940 is a fascinating year for you because it is the year you were most likely born.

It is also a fascinating year because there were signs that the Depression was easing its decade-long grip on the U.S. economy. People were buying stuff again: American factories were beginning to increase production of steel, automobiles, railroad locomotives, refrigerators, and other durable goods; small town business districts were starting to come back to life; FDR's WPA was putting people to work on both silly and serious projects; and people in general were beginning to shake off the Depression blues. The entertainment industry was booming, especially the movies and the radio broadcasting companies. 1940 was also a great year for advertising agencies and magazine and newspaper publishing companies. (World War Two would bring on four years of suffering war casualties and sacrificing with rationing and war-time shortages, but the war would strengthen America's inndustrial capacity and bring a good deal of prosperity to the post-war world.)

Of course, things are weren't improving very much for everyone in America. There are always places in America where poverty and gloom never seem to go away. Rural southerners, African-Americans, migrant workers. and others were still having a tough time.

In addition, there were dark clouds on the horizon. In Europe and Asia the German and Japanese armies were invading and occupying one country after another. The Germans were building concentration camps like Auschwitz and bombing cities indiscriminately. The Japanese were beheading Chinese prisoners of war, killing millions of Asian civilians, and building an aircraft carrier and submarine-based navy. Even Mussolini's ineffective and poorly supplied Italian Fascist Army attempted invasions of Ethiopia and Greece. (By 1941 Italy was totally depemdent on Hitler's Germany for military support.)

In 1940 France had almost totally collapsed, and England stood teetering on the brink of total disaster as the Luftwaffe pounded London and other British cities for 76 straight days. (At least 25,000 Londoners were killed during the Blitz.)

Meanwhile, most Americans were isolationists. They didn't want to get involved in European and Asian wars. One of the biggest anti-involvement groups was the America First Committee which was holding large rallies and listening to speakers like Charles Lindbergh and Henry Ford argue against getting drawn into the war in Europe and Asia.

The people born in 1940 were born into a world that was about to suck America into the horror of World War Two. America's entry into the war was still a year or so in the future, but it was on the way.

The images below are random views of what life was like in that crazy year when the class of 1958 was entering the world.

Well, we survived that period of history, but isn't the world we live in today just as crazy?

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