The American Home Front After World War II: The End of the War and Its Legacies

Black and white photo. People – mostly white women – stand shoulder-to-shoulder cheering and waving. Some hold up the front page of The Nashville Journal with the headline “WAR ENDS.”
Residents of Oak Ridge, Tennessee fill the town square to celebrate the surrender of Japan, August 14, 1945. Photo by Ed Westcott, US Army. Oak Ridge is an American World War II Heritage City.

Wikimedia, public domain.

The hostilities of World War II did not end all at once. In the United States, they also took place against the somber backdrop of President Roosevelt's death on April 12, 1945. A few short days later, on May 8, President Truman announced the unconditional surrender of Germany. Celebrations of V-E (Victory in Europe) Day spilled into the streets across the country and around the world. But the celebrations were tinged with the awareness that the war in the Pacific continued.[1]

Three months later, on August 6 and August 9, with the agreement of allies, the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. With these explosions, the world became aware of the secret work of the Manhattan Project. On August 14 (August 15 in Japan, on the other side of the International Date Line), President Truman announced Japan's surrender.[2] With the war over on both fronts, celebrations of V-J (Victory over Japan) Day were even larger. Thousands of Americans celebrated in the streets including in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where workers had (largely unknowingly) refined the uranium used in the atomic bombs.

By the time the war ended in 1945, over 50 million men had registered for the draft, and over 10 million had served. [3] Millions of Americans – military and civilian, men and women – were killed and injured in the war. Most of the civilians killed within the Greater United States – between 500,000 and one million – lived in the Philippines. Approximately 1,700 more were killed elsewhere on the home front. Nearly half a million American service members died during World War II. Of those who returned home, almost 700,000 had physical injuries. Thousands more came home with psychological trauma including what we now recognize as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).[4] The impacts of these losses and injuries was significant, including an increase in marital problems and rates of divorce. But not all impacts on family life were negative. Over 60,000 servicemen married women while serving overseas. In 1945, the government passed the War Brides Act so they could immigrate to the United States, bypassing the restrictive immigration quotas of the Immigration Act of 1924.[5]
Color photo of African Americans, dressed in suits and dresses, standing and sitting on the lawn of the National Mall. Behind them is the Lincoln Memorial against a blue sky.
People at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC during the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Photo by David L. Harris, August 29, 1963.

Collection of the Library of Congress (

When the war ended, 10 million war workers, including women and people of color, lost their jobs as war production wound down and veterans returned looking for work. There was an acute shortage of housing in many areas of the country, met in part by converting surplus Quonset huts to homes. And there was an uptick in violence against African Americans, including lynchings and other murders, as returning whites tried to reinforce Jim Crow. As the War Relocation Camps closed, thousands of people of Japanese ancestry worked to rebuild their lives. Many returned to the West Coast; many others moved elsewhere in the US.[6]


Decades after the end of World War II, its continues to influence and shape the United States and the world. The United Nations was founded, national boundaries were redrawn, and former allies entrenched themselves on opposite sides of the Cold War. World War II technology from blood banks to duct tape and batteries to jeeps made its way from the battlefields to civilian use. Monuments and memorials to the war sprung up across the country, and mementos and keepsakes displayed or carefully tucked away. At home, the GI Bill fundamentally changed access to education and housing, and labor and civil rights movements coalesced and expanded.[7]
Black and white photo. Young boys are dwarfed by the size of the steel girders forming supports for an underground area. Behind them, the curved front of the UN building is mostly completed.
A group of young boys explore exposed steel girders during the construction of the United Nations Headquarters in New York City.  Photo by Angelo Rizzuto, May 1952.

Collection of the Library of Congress (

The United Nations

In 1945, thousands of representatives from 50 countries met at the United Nations Conference on International Organization. Devastated by the war, they came together in San Francisco to finalize their plans for lasting peace. This meeting followed several – including one at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC -- that had set the stage for these final talks. After two months of final negotiations in San Francisco, the delegation drafted and signed the United Nations charter.[8] Dignitaries and officials dedicated the United Nations Headquarters in New York City on October 10, 1952.

International Boundaries

After the war, the United Nations distributed enemy territories among Allied nations. Many of the places in the Pacific that the UN placed under American control have since become independent nations. Others have returned to Japanese control. Those that remain part of the Greater United States are the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Palau.[9] Elsewhere in the Pacific, the Philippines became a country independent of the United States on July 4, 1946. And in the Atlantic, the US took control of Water Island, incorporating it into the US Virgin Islands.[10]
Color photo of a piece of smooth concrete with irregular edges. The surface is covered in blue, red, yellow, and green graffiti paint.
A fragment of the Berlin Wall. It measures 3-3/4” by 4” and 1” thick.

Collection of Smithsonian National Museum of American History (2011.0015.01).

The Cold War

The Cold War was developing even as World War II was underway. In 1939, the Soviet Union signed a nonaggression pact with Hitler, aligning with the Axis. But after Germany broke their agreement and attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, Soviets and Americans became cautious allies. This did not, however, prevent them from spying on each other.[11]

After World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union jockeyed for global dominance. It was a battle between democracy and communism, with both nations actively promoting their ideologies around the world. In Europe, post-war Germany was divided into East (controlled by the Soviets) and West (a democracy). In the 1960s, the Soviets built the Berlin Wall. Encircling East Berlin and dotted with guard towers, it prevented East Germans from fleeing to the West. Winston Churchill described the physical and ideological division as an "iron curtain."[12]

By 1989, the politics in Europe had changed, and Soviet influence was weakening. In November, checkpoints along the Berlin Wall stood open. Moving freely between East and West Germany for the first time in decades, people broke off parts of the wall as souvenirs. The wall was officially demolished in 1990, followed by the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. These events marked the official end of the Cold War.[13]

Blood Banks

Dr. Charles Drew, an African American surgeon, pioneered the blood bank system in the United States. The need for blood and blood products (like plasma) was high during the war. Dr. Drew standardized blood collection, testing, treatment, and conversion to plasma for the American Red Cross. He also pioneered a way to extract dried plasma on a mass scale. This plasma was shipped overseas, saving thousands of American and Allied lives.[14]

Duct Tape

In 1943, Vesta Stoudt was working at the Green River Ordinance Plant in Illinois. Her job was to package ammunition, and she was frustrated. To keep the ammunition dry, the boxes were first sealed with thin paper packing tape, and then dipped in wax. A small tab of tape was left loose, so that in the field, the boxes could be opened quickly. But the tab often tore off, making it harder, if not impossible, to get to the ammunition. Vesta – who had sons serving in the military -- came up with a solution: seal the boxes with a strong, waterproof tape instead. [15]
An illustrative color ad. A white soldier in uniform shines a flashlight on a billboard advertising Ray-O-Vac batteries. “Flashlight batteries stay fresh for when you need them – even for years and years. 10 cents.”
Advertisement for Ray-O-Vac leakproof batteries, 1945.

Life Magazine, February 12, 1945, p. 113.

When her idea went nowhere at the ordinance plant, Vesta wrote to President Roosevelt, outlining her idea. “We can’t,” she wrote, referring to her sons and Roosevelt’s sons who were also serving, “let them down by giving them a box of cartridges that takes a minute or more to open, the enemy taking their lives, that could have been saved.” [16] Roosevelt forwarded her letter to the War Production Board, which contracted with Johnson and Johnson to manufacture the product. During the war, the tape was known as “duck tape” (because it was waterproof and made from a cotton fabric called duck) or “100 mile an hour tape” (for its successful use repairing just about anything and everything in the military). We now know it as duct tape. [17]


There were at least two major improvements to batteries during World War II. Batteries – a portable power supply – were crucial to wartime. They powered devices like field phones and walkie talkies, flashlights, mine detectors, and signal lights. But there were issues. As well as leaking and ruining equipment, batteries also quickly declined in power. These could result in service members being left vulnerable in the field. [18]

In 1940, Anthony Herman, an engineer at Ray-O-Vac, patented a leak-proof battery. When the US entered World War II, Ray-O-Vac switched their entire line to military production. After the war, Ray-O-Vac sold 100 million of their leak-proof batteries in 1946 alone. [19]

Although improved, these new batteries did not perform (or keep) well in hot, humid environments -- like the Pacific theater. Working with staff at the Signal Corps Laboratories at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, inventor Samuel Ruben developed a “tropical” battery. [20] These batteries were small, and kept a constant level of power for longer than other batteries. They did not degrade in tropical conditions, and it was possible to combine multiples together to provide increased power. The P.R. Mallory Company, Ray-O-Vac, and other battery manufacturers received government contracts to make these batteries by the millions. [21] Considered top secret during the war, they were first available in civilian hearing aids in 1946, and were widely available by 1952. These small, coin-shaped batteries were instrumental in the miniaturization of consumer goods including radios and wristwatches. They also powered the first successful cardiac pacemaker in 1960. [22]


The Jeep was developed specifically for the US military. In 1940, using specifications from the military, car manufacturers Willys-Overland, American Bantam, and Ford developed vehicle prototypes. The Department of Defense selected the Willys MA model for production.[23] Photos from the front often featured Jeeps, including ones featuring President Roosevelt reviewing American troops. With an eye on the post-war market, Willy’s advertised the Jeep to civilians as a proven workhorse, with multiple uses once hostilities ended. [24]
A full page color advertisement. A painted image shows a jeep in the foreground, while people load hay into a barn in the background. The question “Will the Jeep Speed Up Farming?” is answered in the positive through several printed examples.
Even during the war, Willys worked to create a post-war market for the Jeep. This 1944 ad shows how useful a Jeep could be on the farms.

Image courtesy of the Antique Automobile Club of America Library and Research Center, Hersey, PA.

Post-war, only a very few of the 637,000 Jeeps built for the military were available as surplus in the US. Too expensive to ship home, many were destroyed, abandoned, or given away. Despite the shortage, there was considerable demand for military Jeeps. Veterans, who got priority access, lined up for hours for the chance to buy one. [25] Willys quickly moved to civilian production. The Jeep CJ-2A, a modified version of the military vehicle, was available for sale as early as August 1945.[26] By 1947, Willys was also offering a Jeep station wagon and pickup truck. While the Jeep brand has changed owners several times since World War II, they continue to be manufactured.[27]

Memorials and Mementos

After World War II, memorials and museums went up across the United States. Many of these honored those who served and were lost in the war. Others commemorate the Allied victory. Some preserve the difficult histories of the war, and some lift up the work done on the home front. On a smaller scale, many of those who served in the war or whose family served in the war have mementos and keepsakes in their homes.

Memorials and Museums

Across the country there are memorials to those who served and were lost in World War II. They take various forms, including statues, parks, buildings, cemeteries, and gardens.[28] Museums and historic sites across the US also commemorate World War II as part of their mission.[29]

Mementos and Keepsakes

On a more personal scale, people keep items to help them remember and to connect them to a place, person, or event. In desperate circumstances, like war, people also hold on to familiar items to maintain a sense of self.[30] Service members also memorialized the bonds formed with their comrades in keepsakes and mementos. Examples include items fashioned from spent ammunition (“trench art”), insignia patches, and weapons.[31] Many kept other souvenirs, including wartime diaries; pins from bombs they dropped on enemies; pieces of uniforms damaged in battle; trophies taken from enemy combatants; and rocks and shells.[32] Service members also returned with medals memorializing specific events.

As well as mementos from the war, service members also collected souvenirs from their travels. When not on duty, the government encouraged them to be tourists to help keep up morale. Stationed around the world, service members had the chance to travel and see places likely inaccessible to them in peacetime. Souvenirs from these places served as means of documenting and remembering, but also as “proof” of their travels. Some were also acquired and saved as gifts for family and friends back home.[33]
Color photo of a folded American flag resting in its original cardboard shipping box.
2nd Lt. Vernon German went missing during the Battle of the Bulge on December 23, 1944. Discovered in the spring, he was buried in Luxembourg. His wife Roxie received his burial flag, keeping it for years in its original shipping box (Golden 2019).

Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History (2010.0058.01).

Americans on the home front also kept mementos and keepsakes of the war. Letters and souvenirs sent home, death notices, missing in action telegrams, medals, and burial flags of those killed in action were often carefully preserved or displayed. Sweetheart jewelry also served as a memento of family serving abroad.[34]

The GI Bill

Even before the war ended, the government was worried about the impacts of returning service members. With an increase in workers and a decrease in available jobs as defense factories closed, fears of a postwar economic depression and mass protests were real. In response, the government passed the GI Bill (officially the Servicemen's Readjustment Act). President Roosevelt signed it into law in June, 1944, just days after the D-Day invasion of Normandy.[35] The Bill provided unemployment payments and federal financial aid to veterans, including for education and medical care. Over 8 million veterans attended colleges and universities and received vocational and on-the-job training. The Bill also provided for federal loan guarantees for those wanting to buy homes or businesses.[36] As a result, veterans purchased 20 percent of new homes built after the war.[37]

African Americans did not receive the same GI Bill benefits as white Americans – not because of language in the law itself, but because society remained largely segregated. Black veterans were often unable to get home loans from banks. Even if they could access the needed funds, restrictive housing covenants excluded them (as well as Asians, Latinos, and Jews) from buying homes in certain neighborhoods.[38] Discrimination existed in education as well. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HCBUs) did not receive any funding to support returning African American veterans. As many as 20,000 Black veterans were turned away. Tired of discrimination, veterans and civilians were ready to turn their struggle to civil rights at home.[39]

Despite the unequal effects of the GI Bill, it did result in an economic boom that rippled across the American economy. The result was a generation of prosperity for many Americans after World War II. After the first GI Bill expired in July of 1956, the government extended it several times to benefit veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars.[40]


While the GI Bill helped keep unemployment down and stave off a post-war recession, all was not well between workers and employers. When the war ended, so too did the unions’ pledges not to strike during wartime. Employees had years of pent-up frustration with wages and working conditions, made worse as employers cut peacetime salaries and hours.[41] In response, workers walked off the job. From the end of 1945 and into 1946, over 5 million workers went out on strike. This included 800,000 steel workers across the country; telephone workers; meat packers; coal miners; railroad workers; and employees of General Electric.[42] In 1946 alone, there were almost 5,000 individual strikes.[43]

When the railroad workers went on strike on May 22, 1946, the nation came to a standstill. Southern Pacific estimated that almost 18,000 of its freight cars were stopped, sitting full. Agricultural workers sat sidelined because there was no way to transport crops to market. Only 100 of 175,000 passenger trains and less than 300 out of 24,000 freight trains completed their runs during the strike. The strike ended only after President Truman threatened to draft railway workers into the Armed Forces and order them back to work.[44]

The government responded to the strike waves of 1945 and 1946 by restricting the power of unions. Perhaps the most influential law passed was the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 (the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947). It prohibited closed shops, wildcat strikes, and secondary boycotts. It also limited union power in political contributions, allowed states to enact “right-to-work” laws, and required union officials to swear they were not Communists.[45] In December of 1955, the AFL and CIO merged to form the AFL-CIO, in part to provide a united front against the anti-union stance of President Eisenhower’s administration.[46]
Two black and white aerial photos, side by side. On the left, mostly empty fields. On the right, the same fields full of single-family homes.
The growth of Levittown, New York from July 1 to November 1, 1947. Levitt’s crews built over 2,000 homes during this time, beginning with the curving row of foundations in the middle of the photo on the left.

Life Magazine, August 23, 1948, p. 75.


In 1945, there was a shortage of approximately 5 million homes across America. To help fill the gap, the government provided a stimulus to build new ones. With limited space in the cities and the rising popularity of the car, suburban developments sprang up across the country. Between the late 1940s and the end of the 1950s, American car ownership jumped from roughly 50% to 74%. And from 1940 to 1960, the number of Americans in the suburbs went from about 19.5% to over 30%.[47]


Levittown on Long Island, New York was America's first planned suburban community. Developer William Levitt designed the community and pioneered the use of mass-production construction techniques first developed for the military. This included limiting the number of available variations, and using assembly-line techniques where individuals did only one part of the construction. A team of 36 builders was able to start and finish a Levittown house in a single day.[48] Other developers adopted Levitt’s innovations, and planned suburban communities sprung up across the country. Among these were those featuring Lustron homes. Lustron homes were made of pre-manufactured porcelain coated steel panels. They included several amenities, including an “Automagic” combination clothes and dishwasher.[49]
Color photo of a bungalow. The sides of the home are made of butter-yellow steel panels. Trees rise behind, and in front is a lush green lawn.
A Lustron home in Huron, South Dakota. Photo by Ammodramus 2017.

Wikimedia Public Domain.


Restrictive covenants (also called redlining) and other racial discrimination excluded Black, Asian, Latino, and Jewish families from many suburban developments – including Levittown. Limited incomes also excluded working class people from the suburbs. The result was suburban development that was relatively homogenous along racial and class lines. [50]

Changes in Commerce

The growth of suburban housing developments post-war, as well as expansion of road networks, led to the growth of large supermarkets. No longer did grocery shopping require trips to the butcher, the cheese monger, and other individual shops. Instead, all groceries (and other goods) were available in a single place, accessibly by car. Smaller scale convenience stores largely replaced neighborhood groceries in cities, catering predominantly to working class customers.[51]

Even though World War II ended decades ago, innovations, social changes, and ideas born from the conflict continue to shape and influence the American home front.
This article was written by Megan E. Springate, Assistant Research Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Maryland, for the NPS Cultural Resources Office of Interpretation and Education.

[1] In England, May 9, 1945 was declared V-E Day, and many American publications also celebrated that day.
[2] Hall 2013. The Japanese government signed the surrender documents on September 2, 1945. Technically, the state of war ended when the treaty of San Francisco (a peace treaty with Japan) came into effect on April 20, 1952 (Joint Base San Antonio 2015).

[3] National World War II Museum n.d. a.

[4] American casualties from World War II were both military and civilian.  Military casualties were approximately 416,800 plus 671,000 wounded. These numbers do not include military and civilian deaths in the Philippines or Guam, both of which were US territories. In the Philippines, about 57,000 members of the military were killed plus an additional 500,000 to one million civilians. In Guam, between one and two thousand died (Friedman 2023; Gruhl 2007: 102; National World War II Museum n.d. c; Stein and Rothbaum 2018; United States Department of Veterans Affairs 2021; United States House Committee on Armed Services 2009). 

[5] Gimbel and Booth 1994; Kushlan 2005; Lyon 2015; Makamson 2020; Wilt 2005. Developments in modern psychiatry, the expansion and decentralization of the Veterans’ Administration, and continued public-private medical research are all advances that came out of World War II (Barr and Podolsky 2020; Kammerer 1948; Stein and Rothbaum 2018; United States Department of Veterans Affairs 2023).
[6] Hayashi 2020, 2021; Howey et al. 2022; Oakland Museum of California n.d.; Robinson 2015; Wu 2020.

[7] Violence and discrimination against African Americans and other people of color was an everyday occurrence during the war. When the war ended, there was a shortage of jobs for those returning, and many white veterans resented Black workers being in “their” jobs. Many also wanted a return to the segregated society that existed before the war. The result was an increase in violence, including lynchings and riots (Essig 2005; Lamb 2021; Momodu 2019). In 1946, President Truman issued the “Freedom From Fear” Executive Order, creating the President’s Committee on Civil Rights. This was in response to the wave of violence and murders against African Americans after the war. In response to the Committee’s findings, advocacy by the NAACP, A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, and others, Truman signed Executive Orders in 1948 desegregating both the US military and the federal workforce (Brown 2018; Lamb 2021). Randolph was one of the key organizers for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, along with Bayard Rustin and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As a result of the march, and years of organizing and protests, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 became law. There are several places across the US associated with Bayard Rustin, including his residence in New York City, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places on March 8, 2016. There are several National Park Service units associated with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. These include the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park in Atlanta, Georgia; the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC; the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail in Alabama; and the site of the 1963 March on Washington, the National Mall. The Pullman National Historical Park in Chicago, Illinois includes commemoration of A. Philip Randolph’s work organizing the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and in other areas of African American labor history.

After the war, the experiences of Latinos in the Zoot Suit riots and as Braceros shaped the formation of the Mexican American Chicano movement in the 1960s and the farmworker movement associated with César Chávez and Dolores Huerta (Garcia 2023; Ramírez 2009). The César E. Chávez National Monument in California commemorates the work done by Chávez and Huerta in organizing US farmworkers. The National Farm Workers Association Headquarters in Delano, California was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 13, 2015. The Church of the Epiphany in Los Angeles, California is an important site in the Chicano Civil Rights Movement. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on January 6, 2020. The Community Settlement House in Riverside, California was an important organization that helped Mexicans and Mexican Americans in the immigration and settlement changes after the war. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 21, 2017.

The disability rights movement and the LGBTQ+ movement also have important roots in World War II.

[8] United Nations n.d. a, n.d. b. Dumbarton Oaks is located within the Georgetown Historic District, designated a National Historic Landmark District on May 28, 1967. It has been documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey. Dumbarton Oaks Park, originally part of the Dumbarton Oaks property, was added to the National Register of Historic Places on May 28, 1967. It is the subject of an Historic American Landscapes Survey and an Historic American Buildings Survey. It is currently managed by the National Park Service as part of Rock Creek Park. The Charter of the United Nations was adopted by unanimous vote at the San Francisco Opera House and signed at the Herbst Theatre auditorium of the Veterans War Memorial Building. Both are part of the San Francisco Civic Center Historic District, added to the National Register of Historic Places on October 10, 1978 and designated a National Historic Landmark District on February 27, 1987.

[9] In 1947, the United Nations placed the former Japanese territories (Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, and Palau) under the administration of the United States as the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI). These territories had come under Japanese control via the League of Nations Japanese South Seas Mandate following World War I (United Nations 1947). The US Navy had been managing some of these islands (specifically in the Northern Marianas) as early as 1944 (Kleiber 2023; National Archives and Records Administration 2022b). Beginning in the 1970s, members of the TTPI began to vote to end the trustee arrangement, and it was officially dissolved by the UN in 1990 (Kleiber 2023).

In 1986, the Northern Mariana Islands became the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a US territory. Inhabitants of the CNMI are American citizens, and have a non-voting delegate in US Congress (Central Intelligence Agency 2023c). American Memorial Park, a unit of the National Park Service, is located on Saipan. It honors those who died during the Marianas Campaign of World War II. Compacts of Free Association between the United States and the Federated States of Micronesia (effective 1986), the Republic of the Marshall Islands (signed 1982), and the Republic of Palau (signed 1994) recognize the former TTPI territories as sovereign nations. They preserve US interests by granting the US continued military access and stipulating that citizens can travel to the United States without visas to live, work, and study. In exchange, the US bears full authority and responsibility for defense and security (Central Intelligence Agency 2023a, 2023b, 2023d; Kleiber 2023; United States Department of the Interior n.d. a, n.d. b, n.d. c; United States Department of State 2021a, 2021b, 2022).

Between 1946 and 1958, the US carried out 67 nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands (population 52,000), including 23 at Bikini Atoll. The government forcibly evacuated inhabitants from several islands, resettling them elsewhere – in some cases to uninhabited islands with limited resources (Atomic Heritage Foundation 2022; Central Intelligence Agency 2023a; United States Department of State 2021a). Not everyone was moved out of harm’s way. Nuclear fallout from the tests spread throughout the Marshall Islands. Unaware of the dangers, there are reports of Marshallese children playing in the “snow” (Atomic Heritage Foundation 2022). There is evidence that some Marshallese were permitted to return to their homes prematurely so that scientists could observe the effects of people living in a contaminated environment. Medical testing without consent was also conducted on those exposed to radiation during the testing (Atomic Heritage Foundation 2022). The development of nuclear weapons by the United States is commemorated by the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

[10] Excluded from the pre-WWI purchase of the US Virgin Islands from Denmark was Water Island, which owned by the East Asiatic Company. In 1939, the US Navy leased almost half of Water Island (225 of its 500 acres) from the Dutch East Asiatic Company (which had long been suspected of being a front for the German government). In 1942, the US began building underground facilities to protect the US submarine base on nearby St. Thomas. The US Department of Defense acquired all of Water Island through eminent domain in June of 1944, paying the East Asiatic Company a total of $10,000 (about $172,000 in 2023). The US military installation was named Fort Segarra, honoring a highly decorated World War I veteran from Puerto Rico (Gidley and Wilkinson 2010b). From May 1948 through May 1950, the US military conducted poison gas testing across Water Island. Chemical weapons tested included mustard gas, cyanogen chloride, Agent Orange, and phosgene. Captured German munitions and nerve agents may also have been tested on the island (Chen 2014; Gidley and Wilkinson 2010b; St. John Source 2004; United States Army Corps of Engineers 2022). In 1952, the military transferred Water Island to the United States Department of the Interior, which began issuing development permits for hotels and residences. The last of Water Island was transferred from federal management to the government of the US Virgin Islands in 2004 (Gidley and Wilkinson 2010a; St. John Source 2004; Tampa Bay Times 2005). Like other American Virgin Islanders, residents of Water Island are American citizens and have a non-voting delegate in the US Congress.

[11] Burton n.d.; United States Department of State n.d.  

[12] Burton n.d.; John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum n.d. Winston Churchill made his “Iron Curtain” speech in March 1946 in the gymnasium at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. You can listen to a recording of Churchill giving his speech as part of C-Span’s “Reel America” series (Churchill 1946; Public Broadcasting Service ca. 2006; Rogers 2021). The Westminster College Gymnasium was designated a National Historic Landmark on May 23, 1968. The Westminster College Historic District (which includes the gymnasium) was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on April 12, 1982. In the 1960s, the president of Westminster College arranged for the 1600s St. Mary Aldermanbury church (slated for demolition) to be imported from England to the campus as a memorial to Churchill. The dedication of the Winston Churchill Memorial and Library took place in May 1969. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on March 16, 1972.

[13] Service 2015.

[14] Dr. Charles Drew’s home, the Charles Richard Drew House, in Arlington, Virginia, was designated a National Historic Landmark on May 11, 1976. The American Red Cross Headquarters in Washington, DC was added to the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966 and designated a National Historic Landmark on June 23, 1965. It has also been documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey.

[15] Gurowitz 2012.

[16] Vesta Stoudt to President Franklin Roosevelt, February 10, 1943, quoted in Gurowitz 2012.

[17] Gurowitz 2012.

[18] Alfred 2012; Hintz 2009: 28.

[19] Alfred 2012. 

[20] Hintz 2009: 32-33. Fort Monmouth located in Monmouth County, New Jersey, was documented by the Historic American Engineering Record.

[21] Hintz 2009: 33-35.

[22] Hintz 2009: 36-39. P.R. Mallory began marketing their consumer batteries under the Duracell brand beginning in December 1965 (Hintz 2009: 44-45).
[23] Automotive World 2020; Tate 2016.

[24] United States Army Signal Corps 1943. The origins of the “Jeep” name are uncertain. Common sources are given as 1) the pronunciation of the letters “GP” which were short for “General Purpose”; 2) that it was a carryover from World War I, when “jeep” referred to an unproven recruit or vehicle; and 3) that it was named for the cartoon character “Eugene the Jeep” from the Popeye comics. Most likely, however, was the result of a publicity stunt by Willys at the US Capitol in Washington, DC in February 1941. While a driver maneuvered one of the Willys vehicles up the capitol steps, he was asked, “What is that thing?” A reporter overhearing the driver’s answer, “It’s a jeep,” published the story the next day. It ran in newspapers across the US, and the vehicle became popularly known as a jeep. Willys-Overland registered the Jeep name as a trademark both within the US and internationally in 1950. (Allen 2022; Automotive World 2020; Tate 2016). The United States Capitol in Washington, DC was designated a National Historic Landmark on December 19, 1960.

[25] Nilsson 2022; Vellequette 2018.

[26] Automotive World 2020.

[27] Tate 2016; Vellequette 2018.

[28] World War II memorials include:
  • Faha Massacre Site, Merizo, Guam has a marker commemorating the massacre of 30 Chamorro men by the Japanese Army during World War II. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on August 27, 1991.
  • Fancher World War II Memorial, Murray, New York was dedicated on August 14, 1949. It memorialized the 10 men from the community killed in World War II. Rededicated in 2021, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places on August 3, 2022 (Rivers 2022).
  • Grosse Pointe War Memorial, Michigan was built in 1910 as the home of the Russell A. Alger, Jr. family. In 1949, the family donated the house to the Grosse Pointe War Memorial Association, and it was dedicated to the memory of veterans and soldiers of World War II. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on February 18, 1982.
  • Lidice Memorial, Phillips, Wisconsin was built in 1944. It is a tribute to the Czech village of Lidice, which was destroyed by Nazi forces in 1942. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on April 19, 2006. 
  • The Mitchell Monument, Fremont-Winema National Forests, Oregon commemorates the death of 6 civilians in May 1945. They were killed when a Japanese Fu-Go bomb exploded after they discovered it while on picnic. The Mitchell Recreation Area, home to the Mitchell Monument, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on February 20, 2003.
  • National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Oahu, Hawai’i. Administered by the National Cemetery Administration of the US Department of Veterans Affairs, it was built almost immediately after the war. A memorial to members of the US Armed Forces who died in service, it contains the remains of service members who perished on Guam, Wake Island, and other Pacific Theater battlefields. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on January 11, 1976.
  • Both the Netherlands Carillon, a 53-bell carillon tower, and the Marine Corps War Memorial depicting the capture of Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima, are part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. The Carillon was given to the people of the United States from the people of the Netherlands in thanks for their liberation in 1945 and for support after the war. The Netherlands Carillon and the Marine Corps War Memorial were listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of Arlington Ridge Park on September 4, 2009.
  • Pennsylvania Railroad World War II Memorial is a monument to the 1,307 Pennsylvania Railroad employees who died in World War II. It is located in the 30th Street Station, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is located in the 30th Street Station, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 7, 1978.
  • South Carolina Memorial Garden, Columbia, South Carolina was established in 1944-1945 by the Garden Club of South Carolina. The first memorial garden sponsored by a state garden club to honor the veterans of World War II, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on April 2, 2012.
  • Trinity Site, New Mexico was the location of the first nuclear detonation. The bomb exploded as part of the Trinity Test in 1945 was called “the gadget.” The test was part of the Manhattan Project. The Trinity Monument, an obelisk made from lava rock, was built at the center of the explosion. The Trinity Site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966 and designated a National Historic Landmark District on December 21, 1965.

Within the NPS National Mall and Memorial Parks are two World War II memorials: the World War II Memorial and the Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism During World War II.

[29] Some museums and historic sites that focus solely on World War II include:  
  • United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC; 
  • National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana; 
  • Wright Museum of World War II in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire;
  • National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas; 
  • Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos, New Mexico; 
  • National Museum of World War II Aviation in Colorado Springs, Colorado. 

New Orleans, Louisiana and Los Alamos, New Mexico are American World War II Heritage Cities.

National Park Service units established to commemorate World War II include: 
There are also many sites in the NPS with resources related to World War II. These include (but are certainly not limited to):
[30] Auslander and Zahra 2018: 3, 15; Dziuban and Stańczyk 2020; Seaver 2018: xvii.

[31] Van Ells 2019: 121-127.

[32] Guise 2020; Jacobs 2006; Seaver 2018; Van Ells 2019. The War Department had regulations about collecting souvenirs from battlefields. For instance, they could not come from enemy dead or via looting. In practice, these regulations were widely ignored (Seaver 2018: xvii; Van Ellis 2019: 128). Many of these trophies/souvenirs that were brought home were actually unsafe – several veterans had been hurt and killed by live ammunition and loaded weapons. After the war, the government worked to ensure that they were made safe, and that those with high value were returned (James 2010; Seaver 2018: xvii). 

[33] Van Ells 2019: 107-108.

[34] Golden 2019; Mundt 2018; Snider 1995. See also Monnin 2020.

[35] Capozzola et al. 2015: 493; National Archives and Records Administration 2022a; National World War II Museum n.d. b; United States Department of Defense 2019.

[36] National Archives and Records Administration 2022a; National World War II Museum n.d. b.

[37] National Archives and Records Administration 2022a; United States Department of Defense 2019.

[38] National Archives and Records Administration 2022a; Oakland Museum of California n.d. In 1948, the Supreme Court issued a decision finding restrictive covenants in violation of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution; however, the Federal Housing Authority continued to issue loans only to white communities. It was not until the Fair Housing Act of 1968 that racial covenants were specifically criminalized (Oakland Museum of Califnornia n.d.; Ruff 2007).

[39] National World War II Museum 2022.

[40] National Archives and Records Administration 2022a; United States Department of Defense 2019. Subsequent bills to help veterans return to civilian life, also referred to as GI Bills, include the Post 9/11 GI Bill of 2008 (Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008) and the Forever GI Bill of 2017 (Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017).

[41] Barbash 1976: 34; McDaid 2021; United States Department of Labor 1947: 6.

[42] McDaid 2021; United States Department of Labor 1947: 8-12.

[43] United States Department of Labor 1947.

[44] McDaid 2021. At the end of the strike, workers received a raise of 16 cents per hour (equivalent to $2.53 per hour in 2023) retroactive to January 1, 1946 and an additional 2.5 cents per hour ($0.47 per hour in 2023 dollars) effective May 22.

[45] Barbash 1976: 34. A “closed shop” is one where only union members can be hired and employees must remain a member at all times to stay working. A “wildcat strike” is when unionized workers strike without the authorization of their union. A “secondary boycott” is a strike in support of strikers in a different company or business. A “right-to-work” law (in this context) means that unions cannot negotiate contracts that require companies to fire employees who refuse to join the union.

[46] Barbash 1976: 35. These post-war changes in the labor landscape were foundational to the changes that happened later. For a detailed look at labor in America, including after World War II, see Labor History in the United States: A National Historic Landmarks Theme Study.  

[47] National World War II Museum 2022; Ruff 2007.

[48] National World War II Museum 2022; Ruff 2007. Levittown homes -- two-bedroom Cape Cods and ranches -- were built on slabs (no basements) and came with a built-in television. Levitt also built shopping centers and schools, and required residents to mow their lawns. Originally designed to be rentals, it was not long until Levitt began selling the houses. The first homes sold for just under $7,000 (approximately $81,000 in 2023 dollars). Levitt built five Levittowns across the United States: Levittown, New York (the first, built between 1947 and 1951); Levittown, Pennsylvania (built between 1952 and 1958); Willingboro Township, New Jersey (originally known as Levittown, begun in 1958); Levittown, Puerto Rico (1963), and Bowie, Maryland (1964). The Walt Disney Elementary School, Levittown, Pennsylvania was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on August 30, 2007.

[49] Fletcher 2020; Indiana Landmarks n.d. Lustron Homes listed on the National Register of Historic Places include: Caldwell Lustron House, Union City, Tennessee, listed June 25, 1999; Lustron Home #02102 in Cedar Rapids Iowa, listed August 25, 2004; and several within the Mitchell Lustron Historic District, Mitchell, South Dakota, listed December 2, 1998. Multiple property submissions (MPS) for Lustron homes include: Lustron Houses in Georgia MPS, accepted August 9, 1995; Lustron Houses in Alabama MPS, accepted February 24, 2000; Lustron Houses of Kansas MPS, accepted March 2, 2001; Louisville Metropolitan Area Lustron Homes MPS (Kentucky), accepted February 11, 2004; A New Standard for Living: Lustron Homes in Indiana, accepted September 23, 2010; Lustron Houses of Jermain Street Historic District MPS (Albany, New York), accepted July 29, 2009; Lustron Houses in New York MPS (New York state), accepted March 6, 2008; Lustron Houses of Oklahoma MPS, accepted February 23, 2009; Lustrons in New Jersey MPS, accepted July 25, 2000; and Lustron Houses in South Dakota MPS, accepted December 2, 1998.

[50] National World War II Museum 2022; Ruff 2007. A video from 1957, called Crisis in Levittown, PA explores the attitudes of residents when an African American family moves in. 

[51] Witkowski 1998. To keep the economy humming and people working, Americans were encouraged to spend money (Public Broadcasting Service ca. 2006). As factories reverted to civilian production, there was pent-up demand for products unavailable during the war and for new products developed during the war. Between 1945 and 1949, Americans bought 5.5 million stoves, 21.4 million cars, and 20 million refrigerators. Televisions replaced radios as the source of information and entertainment, flying off the shelves at 5 million per year (Public Broadcasting Service ca. 2006; Spigel 1992).

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The American Home Front Before World War II

3. The American Home Front and the Buildup to World War II

3B The Selective Service Act and the Arsenal of Democracy

4. The American Home Front During World War II

4A A Date That Will Live in Infamy

4A(i) Maria Ylagan Orosa

4B Enemies on the Home Front

4C Incarceration and Martial Law

4D Rationing, Recycling, and Victory Gardens

4D(i) Restrictions and Rationing on the World War II Home Front

4D(ii) Food Rationing on the World War II Home Front

4D(ii)(a) Nutrition on the Home Front in World War II
4D(ii)(b) Coffee Rationing on the World War II Home Front
4D(ii)(c) Meat Rationing on the World War II Home Front
4D(ii)(d) Sugar: The First and Last Food Rationed on the World War II Home Front

4D(iii) Rationing of Non-Food Items on the World War II Home Front

4D(iv) Home Front Illicit Trade and Black Markets in World War II
4D(v) Material Drives on the World War II Home Front

4D(v)(a) Uncle Sam Needs to Borrow Your… Dog?

4D(vi) Victory Gardens on the World War II Home Front

4D(vi)(a) Canning and Food Preservation on the World War II Home Front

4E The Economy

4E(i) Currency on the World War II Home Front

4E(ii) The Servel Company in World War II & the History of Refrigeration

5. The American Home Front After World War II

5A The End of the War and Its Legacies

5A(i) Post World War II Food

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Last updated: November 16, 2023