World War II and the U.S. Economy

This exhibit demonstrates that World War II changed American society from barely surviving to thriving in the early to mid-1900’s.


Before World War II:

Before World War II was the Great Depression. On Black Thursday in 1929, the stock market collapsed causing millions of people to be out of work and most of the country became very poor. The standard of life went from thriving in the Roaring 20’s to barely surviving after the stock market collapse.

Source 1: Maps

My first source is a map of North America with showing the effects of the Great Depression on the continent. It shows how much money was invested by the U.S. government to certain areas to revive the economy along with the unemployment numbers for 1928, 1932, and 1934. As you can see from this map, America took a huge hit from the Great Depression and the Roaring 20’s came to an abrupt halt.


The Effect of the Depression in North America

Source 2: Social Media

My second source is a tweet from the Twitter page “Today in History.” The tweet states, “1933: U.S. – the United States went off the gold standard. #history.” On April 19th, 1933, The United States went away from the gold standard in order to inflate the money supply to try and fight the economic downturn, a Keynesian economic strategy.

Twitter – Leaving the Gold Standard

Source 3: Time

My third source is a speech, given by Franklin D. Roosevelt at his third inaugural address on January 20th, 1941. This was about 12 years after the Black Thursday and the economy was slowing making progress to get back where it once was. The speech was a call to action for each and every American to not give up for if they do, then the livelihood of America will be no more. Times like this had occurred in the past and each time, the people stood up and survived. FDR wanted the American people to do the same this time around, to press forward even after what had happened the past decade. This speech was also just before America entered the war although historians say that FDR was planning on joining the Allies and that this speech may have been more of a call to action to fight for the country.

FDR Third Inaugural Address

During World War II:

On December 8th, 1941, America declared war on Japan and soon declared war on the Axis powers. While a great deal of men and women went off to fight the war, those who stayed behind were given plenty of employment opportunities in factories to help with the war efforts. This sparked a huge insurgence of money into the economy and the standard of living went up dramatically from before the war started.

Source 4: Image

My fourth source is an image of women working in the factory working on building airplanes. While a good part of the male population went off to fight the war on both fronts, women were left to survive. Luckily, airplanes, tanks, jeeps, bombs, and ammunition were needed to be made which created jobs and lots of them. The remaining men and women had ample opportunities to work and make more than enough money to survive. The mass production of war equipment and vehicles was the turning point for the U.S. economy.


War Production

Source 5: Words

My fifth source is an article written by Christopher Tassava about the U.S. economy during World War II. This article dives much deeper into the different stages of how the war turned things around starting from the Great Depression to how the U.S. government promoted economic resurgence during the war. It shows statistics on several key economic factors such as population location, personal income, taxes, government spending, etc. Besides the economy, it explains what innovations and new technologies came from the war that benefited the average American.

The American Economy During the War

After World War II:

After the war, America had to change the type of economy it had dramatically from a war-time economy to a peace-time economy which is a meticulous task. The GDP and average income per person didn’t keep rising like one would think but took a dip for a few years during the transition to peace time.

Source 6: Numbers

For my sixth source, I chose to use Gapminder to display several key points with regards to World War II and the U.S. Economy. To show this, I chose for my variables, time and income per person. Income per person was one of the few economic measures that had data dating back to the early 1900’s. With this graph, it shows the steady incline of the average income going up until 1929 where it drops dramatically. Not until 1941 does it get back to nearly where it was before the crash. After 1941, the income increases dramatically until the wars end in 1945. After the war though, there is a slight dip in the income per person as this is where the transition from war-time economy to peace-time economy happened. There has yet to be a more dramatic fall and rise in the U.S. economy since the Great Depression and World War II as the economy’s growth post-war is much more sustainable and slower.


Gapminder – Income vs. Time

Source 7: Words (Non-digital source)

My seventh and final source comes from a textbook I’ve kept all these years and has finally paid off keeping it on the top shelf collecting dust! The book is called “The Unfinished Nation” by Alan Brinkley of Columbia University. The book is about the entire history of America but more importantly is the section of post-war in America. The section goes on to say that Truman wasn’t necessarily fit to lead America from war-time to peace-time in terms of economy and other aspects of American society. Lack of knowledge and also the abundant ideas on what the government should do to transition led to a rough transition and a slight downturn in the economy before picking back up and growing again.

These seven sources all tie in together from the Great Depression up until just after World War II and how the war affected the U.S. economy.


Source 1: Maps

The Effect of the Depression in North America. University of Chicago. In Modern American Poetry.

Source 2: Social Media

Source 3: Time

Roosevelt, Franklin D. “Third Inaugural Speech.” World War II. Accessed April 28, 2017.

Source 4: Image

War Production. Library of Congress, Washington D.C. Accessed April 28, 2017.

Source 5: Words

Tassava, Christopher. “The American Economy during World War II.” Economic History Association. February 10, 2008. Accessed April 28, 2017.

Source 6: Numbers;&state_marker_select@_geo=usa&trailStartTime=1920;;&opacitySelectDim=0.00&axis/_x_which=time&domainMin:null&domainMax:null&zoomedMin:null&zoomedMax:null&scaleType=time;&axis/_y_which=income/_per/_person/_gdppercapita/_ppp/_inflation/_adjusted&domainMin:null&domainMax:null&zoomedMin:null&zoomedMax:null&scaleType=log;;;&chart-type=bubbles

Source 7: Words (Non Digital)

Brinkely, Alan. The Unfinished Nation: A Concise History of the American People. 7th ed. New York City, NY: McGraw-Hill Education, 2014.


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