- As a result of the GI Bill that guarantied home loans, the post-war Baby Boom, and low housing prices, families in the 1950s started to move to the suburbs.
- Levittown in Long Island, New York, is widely recognised as the first modern American suburb. It had swimming pools, shopping centres, and backyards.
- Each home looked the same in Levittown, as they were all built in the Cape Cod-style and featured the same floorplan. They cost around $US7,000.
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As World War II came to an end, families looked for ways to start over. One way they did that was by moving out of the cities and into newly developed suburban communities.
In fact, the suburbs expanded by 47% during the 1950s.
Levittown in Long Island, New York, was one of the first to introduce the idea of a pre-planned, mass-produced uniform suburban community. Families started moving there on October 1, 1947.
Here’s what it was like to live in that neighbourhood in the 1950s.
Before the 1950s, people mostly lived in cities to be close to factory jobs.
At the time, most people lived close to the city centre to work in factories, or they lived in rural communities to work on farms.
Everything changed in the 1950s when soldiers returned from World War II, sparking the great migration to the suburbs.
The 1950 Census found that 60% of people were living in the city, while 40% of people were living in the suburbs.
The GI Bill made it easier to afford a new home, prompting this transition from urban to suburban.
The GI Bill gave each returning soldier benefits that were designed to stimulate economic growth. Each soldier was given a year of unemployment and free tuition to college. The military pledged to back all home loans, which allowed veterans to buy houses with little-to-no down payments.
The Baby Boom started at the same time, causing many families to outgrow their city apartments.
Shortly after WWII ended, the Baby Boom began. In 1946 3.4 million babies were born, more than ever before, and 20% more than in 1945. This trend continued into the ’50s.
By the end of the boom, this generation made up 40% of the country’s population.
Some believe this was due to “a desire for normalcy after 16 years of depression and war,” while most think it was simply because Americans were eager to have families after having postponed marriage and childbirth because of the Great Depression and World War II.
Whatever the reason, people flocked to the suburbs to accommodate their growing families.
In response to this growing need for space, suburban communities popped up at faster rates in the ’50s.
During the war, factories focused on creating wartime essentials, like aeroplanes and barracks. In the ’50s, they refocused their efforts on building home components and automobiles using the new practices they implemented in the war, like the assembly line. As a result, factories were able to produce materials for homes faster than ever before.
Levittown in Long Island, New York, is widely recognised as the first modern American suburb.
Levitt and Sons, a construction company, purchased a seven-square-mile plot of potato and onions farms in Long Island in 1947. They set out to build one of the first uniform suburban community in the US.
The community grew fast. In fact, a house was built every 16 minutes in Levittown.
Levitt and Sons hired mostly unskilled workers to build the homes, giving them each one very specific skill to specialise in, and creating a sort of human assembly line in that way. Basically, each contractor mastered one specific skill and performed it all day long. William Levitt reportedly even called his firm “the General Motors of the housing industry,” according to The Guardian.
Levittown has 17,447 houses, one of which was built every 16 minutes during the peak of its construction boom.
People flocked to home sale events to get themselves a slice of suburbia.
The first homes in Levittown cost new residents around $US7,000. For veterans, there was no down payment.
Every house in Levittown was identical. The Levitt family called it “the best house in the US.”
The picturesque community was lined with greenery. In fact, a tree was planted every 28 feet in Levittown.
Each home sat on a 6,000-square-foot lot.
Outdoor spaces, like backyards, became focal points.
With the growing number of children, outdoor spaces became increasingly important to the suburban neighbourhood.
Inside each home, there were four rooms, a built-in TV set, and Hi-Fi for the radio.
At first, they were modest homes, but most families saw their new suburban lives as luxurious.
The community prided itself on the neighbourhood amenities, like this mobile public library.
There were even swimming pools that children could swim in during the summer months.
Levittown also had seven shopping centres within its community.
The shopping centres were called “village greens” and were designed to make the town more of a bustling community.
The suburbs were also known for being a safe alternative to the gritty city streets.
Since the streets were considered safer in the suburban neighbourhood compared to the streets of the city, parents used to allow children to bike around by themselves.
Levittown was also known as a cheaper option compared to an apartment in the city.
The mortgage on a home in Levittown was about $US29 per month, while most paid $US90 per month in the city.
With all the amenities and perks, the community grew rapidly. In less than a decade, there were 82,000 people living in Levittown.
As a result, Levittown became a model for other suburban communities in the US during the 1950s.
In fact, 13 million new houses in suburban neighbourhoods were sold throughout the 1950s.
Although suburban communities boomed in the ’50s, the shift was reserved for white Americans.
For years, there were rules that restricted minorities from buying homes in Levittown, and even as the Civil Rights Movement was starting to take form and the rest of the country was integrating after Brown v Board of Education in 1954, Levittown remained mostly white. Per the Guardian, it’s still 94.15% white today.
During a typical day, the streets of Levittown were filled with women, as the men were mostly off working in the city.
When men left to fight in WWII, women began entering the workforce, gaining newfound independence and freedom. However, they were suddenly expected to give this up again, and instead focus on childbearing and rearing.
In 1963, author Betty Friedan wrote in “The Feminine Mystique” that the suburbs “were burying women alive.” However, some believe that women’s dissatisfaction with staying home “contributed to the rebirth of the feminist movement in the 1960s.”
- Read more:
- The 50 best suburbs in America, ranked
- 8 things people in the suburbs take for granted that make city folks jealous
- 20 vintage photos of California during its heyday
- 13 vintage photos of the auto industry during America’s first auto boom
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