History of the United States
The United States
suffered through the Great Depression that followed the stock market
crash of 1929 for more than 10 years. During the depression, millions
of workers lost their jobs and large numbers of farmers were forced to
abandon their farms. Poverty swept through the nation on a scale never
Depression and a world in conflict (1930-1959)
Depression was not limited to the United States. It struck almost
every other country in the world. In some countries, the hard times
helped bring to power dictators who promised to restore the economy. The
dictators included Adolf Hitler in Germany and a group of military
leaders in Japan. Once in power, both Hitler and the Japanese rulers
began conquering neighbouring lands. Their actions led to World War II,
the most destructive conflict in world history. The United States
fought in the war from 1941 to 1945, and played a key role in
defeating Germany and Japan.
Victory in World
War II brought a spirit of great relief and joy to the United States. The
postwar economy boomed. More people shared in the prosperity than ever
before, creating a huge, well-to-do middle class. Even so, Americans
still faced problems. Chief among them were the new threat of nuclear
war, the growing strength of Communism, and discontent among Americans
who did not share in the prosperity.
The Great Depression
The road to
The stock market crash sent shock waves through the American
financial community. Banks greatly curtailed their loans to businesses,
and businesses then cut back on production. Millions of people lost
their jobs because of the cutbacks. Spending then dwindled, and
businesses suffered even more. Factories and shops shut down, causing
even higher unemployment. Consumption of farm products declined, and
farmers became worse off than ever. Thousands of banks failed and
foreign trade decreased sharply. By the early 1930's, the nation's
economy was paralysed.
The depression and
At the height of the depression in 1933, about 13 million
Americans were out of work, and many others had only part-time
jobs. Farm income declined so sharply that more than 750,000 farmers
lost their land. The Dust Bowl, the result of a terrible drought on
the western Great Plains, also wiped out many farmers. Hundreds of
thousands of people lost their life savings as a result of the bank
depression, many Americans went hungry. People stood in "bread lines"
and went to "soup kitchens" to get food provided by charities. Often,
two or more families lived crowded together in a small apartment. Some
homeless people built shacks of tin and scraps of wood on waste ground.
Early in the Great Depression, President Herbert Hoover
promised that prosperity was "just around the corner." But the
depression deepened as the election of 1932 approached. The
Republicans supported Hoover for reelection. The Democrats chose
Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In his campaign, Roosevelt promised
government action to end the Great Depression and reforms to avoid
future depressions. The people responded, and Roosevelt won a
programme was called the New Deal. Its many provisions included public
works projects to provide jobs, relief for farmers, assistance to
manufacturing firms, and the regulation of banks.
to end the depression made him one of the most popular U.S. presidents. The
voters elected him to four terms. No other president won election more
than twice. Roosevelt's New Deal was a turning point in American
history. It marked the start of a strong government role in the
nation's economic affairs that has continued and grown to the present
The United States in World War II
World War II began
on Sept. 1, 1939, when German troops overran Poland. France, Great
Britain, and other nations (called the Allies) went to war against
Germany. At first, America stayed out of the war. But on Dec. 7,
1941, Japanese planes bombed the U.S. military base at Pearl Harbor,
Hawaii. The United States declared war on Japan on December 8, and
three days later Germany and Italy--Germany's chief ally--declared war
on the United States.
The war effort.
The American people backed the war effort with fierce dedication. About 15 million American men served in the armed forces. About
338,000 women served in the armed forces. At home, factories were
converted into defence plants where aeroplanes, ships, weapons, and
other war supplies were made. The country had a shortage of civilian
men, and so thousands of women worked in the defence plants. ven children took part in the war effort. Boys and girls collected used
tin cans, old tyres, and other "junk" that could be recycled and used
for war supplies.
May 7, 1945, after a long, bitter struggle, the Allies forced the
mighty German war machine to surrender. Vice President Harry S.
Truman had become president upon Roosevelt's death about a month
earlier. The Allies demanded Japan's surrender, but the Japanese
continued to fight on. Truman then made one of the major decisions in
history. He ordered the use of the atomic bomb, a weapon many times
more destructive than any previous weapon. An American aeroplane
dropped the first atomic bomb used in warfare on Hiroshima, Japan, on
Aug. 6, 1945. A second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on
August 9. Japan formally surrendered on September 2, and the war
The threat of Communism
The United States
and the Soviet Union both fought on the side of the Allies during
World War II. But after the war, the two countries became bitter
enemies. The Soviet Union, as a Communist country, opposed democracy. It helped Communists take control of most of the countries of Eastern
Europe and also aided Communists who seized control of China.
The Soviet Union
and China then set out to spread Communism to other lands. The United
States, as the world's most powerful democratic country, took on the
role of defending non-Communist nations threatened by Communist
take-over. The containment of Communism became the major goal of U.S.
postwar foreign policy.
The Cold War and
The postwar struggle between the American-led
non-Communist nations and the Soviet Union and its Communist allies
became known as the Cold War. The conflict was so named because it
did not lead to fighting, or a "hot" war, on a major scale.
Both the United
States and the Soviet Union built up arsenals of nuclear weapons. The nuclear weapons made each nation capable of destroying the other. The threat of nuclear war made both sides cautious. As a result, Cold War
strategy emphasized threats of force, propaganda, and aid to weak
nations. The United Nations (UN), founded in 1945, provided a forum
where the nations could try to settle their Cold War disputes.
Truman and Dwight D.
Eisenhower, the first two presidents of the Cold War era, pledged
American military support to any nation threatened by Communism. Also,
the United States provided billions of dollars to non-Communist
The Korean War
resulted from the Cold War friction. On June 25, 1950, troops from
Communist North Korea, equipped by the Soviet Union, invaded South
Korea. The UN called on member nations to help restore peace. Truman
sent American troops to aid South Korea, and the UN sent a fighting
force made up of troops from many nations. The war lasted for three
years, ending in a truce on July 27, 1953.
The spread of Communism caused deep divisions
within the United States. Conservatives blamed the Roosevelt and
Truman administrations for allowing the Communist postwar gains. They
also claimed that Communists were infiltrating the American government. The charges led to widespread investigations of--and debate over--the
extent of Communist influence in American government and society.
Conservatives believed the investigations were needed to save the
country from Communist control. Liberals charged the conservatives
with conducting "witch hunts"; that is, trying to fix guilt on people
After World War II,
the United States entered the greatest period of economic growth in
its history. Periods of inflation (rapidly rising prices) and
recession (mild business slumps) occurred. But overall, prosperity
spread to more Americans than ever before, resulting in major changes
in American life. However, millions of Americans--including a high
percentage of the nation's blacks--continued to live in poverty. The existence of poverty amid prosperity brought on a period of active
social protest that has continued to the present day.
Military spending during World War II drew the United States
out of the Great Depression. Major industries, such as car
manufacturing and housing construction, had all but stopped during the
war. After the war, these industries resumed production on a much
larger scale than ever. elatively new industries such as electronics,
plastics, frozen foods, and jet aircraft became booming businesses.
The shortage of
goods during the war and other factors combined to create a vast
market for American products. A population boom increased the number
of consumers. Between 1950 and 1960 alone, the population of the
United States grew by about 28 million. Trade unions became stronger
than ever, and gained high wages and other benefits for their members. Wage laws and other government regulations also helped give workers a
greater share of the profits of business. These developments also
meant that more Americans had more money to spend on goods.
A new life style
resulted from the prosperity.
After the war, millions of people
needed, and were able to afford, new housing. Construction companies
quickly built huge clusters of houses in suburbs around the nation's
cities. Vast numbers of Americans moved from cities to suburbs. The suburbs attracted people for many reasons. They offered newer housing,
more open space, and--usually--better schools than the inner cities.
A rise in car
ownership accompanied the suburban growth. Increased car traffic led
to the building of a nationwide network of motorways. The car and
prosperity enabled more people than ever to take holidays. New
motels, fast-service restaurants, and petrol stations sprang up to
serve the tourists.
technological advances changed American life in other ways. Television--an experimental device before the war--became a feature of
most American homes during the 1950's. This wonder of modern science
brought scenes of the world into the American living room at the flick
of a switch. New appliances made house
work easier. They included automatic washing machines, driers,
dishwashers, and waste disposal units.
In spite of the general prosperity, millions of
Americans still lived in poverty. The poor included members of all
ethnic groups, but the plight of the nation's poor blacks seemed
especially bleak. Ever since emancipation, blacks in both the North
and South had faced discrimination in jobs, housing, education, and
other areas. A lack of education and jobs made poverty among blacks
During the early
1900's, blacks, joined by many whites, had begun a movement to extend
civil rights to blacks. The movement gained momentum after World War
II. Efforts of civil rights leaders resulted in several Supreme Court
decisions that attacked discrimination. In the best-known case, Brown
v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954), the court ruled that
compulsory segregation in state schools was illegal.
In spite of the
gains, many civil rights leaders became dissatisfied with the slow
progress of their movement. In 1955, Martin Luther King, Jr., a
Baptist minister, began organizing demonstrations protesting against
discrimination. Before long, the public protest would become a major
tool of Americans seeking change.