Life in 1940
transition year between the Great Depression and World War II.
Rememberences from a childhood in suburban Philadelphia during the war.

We didn't have Sony Playstation videogames, we played marbles and mumbley-peg. We didn't have cable television in our room, we had a console radio in the parlor. We didn't have MP3s or Napsters, there were 78's on which you had to carefully place the needle or permantently scratch the record. We didn't ride to school in an SUV, we walked two miles, up hill each way, in rain, sun, and snow. We didn't have the Internet or video phones, we had a tin can on as string streched between your room and the neighbor kid's house. We took a bath in a tub every day, in summer. We didn't have email and instant messaging. We wrote a letter with straight pen and ink or a pensil sharpened with a mumbley-peg knife. You got an adult, fountain pen for graduation. Ballpoints had just been invented and not been manufactured yet. Instead of calling friends from the address book on your cell, you dialed a number and letters on a rotary phone. An operater placed long distance calls for you. Long distance charged by the distance as well as the time. Most people had party lines and in some places you had to listen for your particular combination of long and short rings so that you answered for your own calls and not your neighbors. We did not have push button phones, digital had not been introduced. " 1- " had not been invented, Nor had 800-. Instead of calling friends from the address book on your cell, you stood outside his house and yelled, "Hey Joey, come out and play." Everybody had their windows open, nobody had air conditioning. Teachers also coached, chaperoened, proctored, etc as part of the job, not on overtime pay. The high beam switch on your car was on the floor to the left of the clutch pedel. Sealed beam headlights were introduced There were no automatic transmissions; stick shift was not sporty, but the way to make a car go. Overdrive was a semi-automatic shift of luxury cars. A Ford V-8 deluxe coupe cost about $650. The Jeep utility vehicle was in prototype test mode. (647,925 built for WW2) Tires had tubes and the tire lasted about 5,000 miles. The reason for fuel rationing and speed limits was to save tires, rubber had came from occupied territory. Likewise, sugar was rationed during the war because shipping was needed elsewhere. Computers had not been invented. TV had been invented, but nobody had sets, yet, not even black and white. Airplanes carried 21 passengers, not 400 as in an airbus. Airplanes had propellers, the jet engine had not ben invented yet Anti-biotics were exotic medicines; the war introduced sulfa and penicilin. We did not have telephoto digital cameras. Brownie box cameras took pictures on film that took a week to develop at the drug store. If you had copies made to send to relatives by postal mail, it took another week. Xerography, photocopy was not in use. Copies of letters were made with carbon paper. Copies of bulletins were made using a strong ink on a jellypad that transfered the page to a dozen others, one at a time. Or by memeograph machine. Teaching was done with a chalk board, not a power-point presentation. Population was 132 million, not 330 million. The population center was in Indiana, not Missouri. The American flag had 48 stars. Hawaii, and Alaska were still territories. Largest cities were: New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Fifth was Los Angles after Detroit. Religious makeup was 52% Protestant, 36% Catholic, 8% Jewish, 4% Other. California was the 5th most popular state. Rural areas used kerosene Adladin lamps. Farm population was 23%. Most farm work was done with real horses, not horsepower. The Dow Jones Industrial average was 135. U.S. had 22 million telephones, 50% of the world total. About half of households had a telephone. Pizza had not been introduced to the US. Frozen custard was a midwestern item and something new. Spam was a new form of meat served for Saturday lunch. Instead of ice cream novelties from the freezer, you chased after the ice wagon begging for a piece of ice. An ice box had a block of ice in it to keep food cool. A grocer and a butcher asked for your order; self-service supermarkets with large parking lots came after the war. Milk and bread were delivered to your front door. Eggs came from a neighbor-lady. Oleomargarine from vegitable oils had not been invented (and when it was, it was white, like lard.) Animal lard was used for cooking, not hydogenated vegitable oils. Doctors made house calls instead of having sick people getting up to go to a clinic. Gun control meant hitting your target. Women were sales clerks, typists, telephone operators, elementry school teachers, and nurses. Mothering was a full time job. Unmarried women worked, but not most married women. Telegrams were used for important information, it was delivered early in the morning by a boy on a bicycle. Microwave ovens hadn't been invented. A postage stamp cost 3 cents and a penny postcard was a penny. Gay and aids were legitimate words. Average education was 8.7 years. Minimum wage of 25 cents an hour. The military rifle was a bolt action Springfield 30-06; pistol Colt 1911 .45. Some open cockpit, fixed landing gear, biplanes were still in first-line service with the armed forces. The primary purpose of a military airplane was to allow seeing/scouting over the horizon. Radar had been invented, but was not yet in use. Airplanes were detected by their sound or by men with binoculars. Europe was at war, but fighting really hadn't started. Japan was most noted for making paper novelties and toys. Cartoons were not a cable channel, but at the beginning of a film. A film of international news was shown after the cartoons. Men and women wore hats. Canvas sneakers were worn to school because they were cheap, rather than a sign af affluance. Chicken was reserved for Sunday dinner, not as a filler for other meats. Birthing at home was common, so were viewings of the dead. Life expectancy for men was 62, women 67. Five percent of the population had college degrees. The median income for a man was $956; a working woman $593.


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Links : dMarie Time Capsule   01/01/1940
About this page : Life1940.html   a casual look at life in 1940 to put the war years into perspective.
    Most of this is sparked by rememberences from a childhood in suburban Philadelphia during the war.
Created : 14 June 2005
Last updated: 26Aug2019
URL: http://www.ww2pacific.com/life1940.html