Postwar Prosperity


US History (11th) Early Cold War Through Vietnam Postwar Prosperity
Students are introduced to the U.S. economy and culture of the postwar era by watching a brief video clip and a photo-essay about teenagers in the 1950s. Then, they read, summarize, and present articles on the postwar economic boom and its effects, including the GI Bill and the baby boom. Next, students explore artistic developments of the era. Finally, they learn about the development of the polio vaccine and its impact on American families.

This learning experience is designed for device-enabled classrooms. The teacher guides the lesson, and students use embedded resources, social media skills, and critical thinking skills to actively participate. To get access to a free version of the complete lesson, sign up for an exploros account.

1:1 Devices
Teacher Pack

The Pack contains associated resources for the learning experience, typically in the form of articles and videos. There is a teacher Pack (with only teacher information) and a student Pack (which contains only student information). As a teacher, you can toggle between both to see everything.

Here are the teacher pack items for Postwar Prosperity:

Preview - Scene 1
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Overview

In this experience, students are introduced to the U.S. economy and culture of the postwar era by viewing a photo-essay about teenagers in the 1950s. Then, they read, summarize, and present articles on the postwar economic boom and its effects, including the GI Bill and the baby boom. Next, students explore artistic developments of the era. Finally, they learn about the development of the polio vaccine and its impact on American families.

Students will collaborate in small groups in scene 2 and scene 3 to summarize and present an article to the class. There are six articles to be covered in this fashion.

This experience contains a lot of content. You may choose to teach it over two sessions in order to spend adequate time on the various elements of postwar prosperity.

Objectives

  • Describe the United States economy during the years following World War II and how it impacted American lifestyles.
  • Discuss how the GI Bill and the baby boom contributed to postwar prosperity.
  • Explain the impact of the polio vaccine.


The postwar era in the United States can be summed up in one word: prosperity, an increased economic wellbeing. Allowing for relatively brief downturns that were part of the normal ups and downs of the business cycle, the economy began a generation of steady expansion. In this experience, you’ll learn about the boom times typified by the 1950s.

Objectives

  • Describe the United States economy during the years following World War II and how it impacted American lifestyles.
  • Discuss how the GI Bill and the baby boom contributed to postwar prosperity.
  • Explain the impact of the polio vaccine.




Prosperity on wheels: a 1958 Ford Thunderbird


Don’t you wish you owned that car? It’s a classic design from the 1950s, a period of optimism for most Americans.  

The postwar era also saw the invention of a new type of person: the teenager. Yes, while there had always been people between the ages of 13 and 20, they had started becoming a distinct class in the 1920s. But after World War II, teenagers gained a new prominence in society. The word teen-ager itself wasn’t invented until about 1941 (and only lost its hyphen several years later). With an increase in educational opportunities and spending money, teenagers became a powerful, visible force in the American economy, with a culture of their own.

Read “The Luckiest Generation”: LIFE with Teenagers in 1950s America and look at the photos to find out more about your own history.


What do you think it would have been like to be a teenager in the 1950s? Imagine your life, and write a short diary entry about something that you did today.

Post your answer

Lead a brief discussion on students’ responses. A possible takeaway is that although teenagers today probably have more freedom than teenagers in the 1950s, back then they felt a sense of novelty and liberation in things we take for granted today, like rock and roll, cars, and dating. The new power of 1950s teenagers was a sign of American society as a whole opening up, stretching its wings—and spending money.

Interested students might enjoy an additional photo-text resource, The Invention of Teenagers: LIFE and the Triumph of Youth Culture, included in the Student Pack. 


Divide students into their small groups for the next two scenes. Assign each group one of the following articles for scene 2:

  • Economy in the 1950s (You may choose to divide this article between two groups.)
  • The GI Bill
  • African Americans, Women, and the GI Bill

The small group members will collaborate to read and summarize their assigned article. When all the groups have completed their summaries, have them give a brief presentation of the article to the class.

The small groups will repeat the process for one of three articles in scene 3. If you prefer, unlock the gate at the end of scene 2 and divide the six articles among the small groups.

When everyone is ready to continue, unlock the next scene.

End of Preview
The Complete List of Learning Experiences in Early Cold War Through Vietnam Unit.
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