Levittown and the Suburbs in 1950s America

by admin - November 6th, 2017

By Erin McCormack

Much of the American stereotypes from the 1950s derived from the ideas of life in the suburbs and in communities such as Levittown. Prior to World War II, the vast majority of Americans lived in cities or the surrounding towns, but this soon changed as the 1940s and the 1950s brought about legislation enabling suburban town construction. As part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, he reconstructed the mortgage system which allowed developers, such as the Levitts, to begin large scale developments and took the risk out of mortgage insurance (Green). The first suburbs in the U.S. were in Levittown, New York and then also created communities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania (Galyean). The Levitts started their developments as a way to provide low cost and mass produced home for veterans returning from war and between the years 1947 and 1951 they built 17,447 homes (Green). These houses were small and compact, but were just what young consumers wanted: affordable, well-built, single family houses that were low price (Dunar).

The photo above is of Levittown, which highlights how these communities were mass produced in an identical manner.

The development of the Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways allowed increased access to cities from outside communities, such as the suburbs [see also, Kelsea’s post]. Eisenhower’s increase in the interstate highway system included over 46,000 miles of intercity highways through the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 (Matthews). This development allowed for many Americans to move out of the crowded cities, while still being able to work in them without too far of a commute. The rise of automobile culture also impacted this move to the suburbs, and it became so popular that many of the nation’s largest cities such as New York and Chicago’s populations dropped (Dunar). The rise of the suburbs was a direct effect of the baby boom in the 1950s, and many young couples moved out of the crowded cities in order to start families of their own. From 1946 to 1964 there were 77 million babies born, the most notable reason for this was soldiers returning home from war and eager to start families (Baby Boom). These factors pushed towards the increased interest in the suburbs, and ultimately the mass production of more communities like Levittown.

Television, movies, literature, and other factors of the media were flooded by the perception of the perfect American family in the 1950s, characterized by suburban life. Television shows and movies portrayed the stereotypical American family as a housewife who cared for the children, while the father went to work their business job during the day. This stereotype is most notable in the Cleaver family in the hit show, Leave it to Beaver. Didactic films and literature became popular in order to teach the public about the way an ideal American family should operate in the 1950s. However, Grace Metalious’ novel, Peyton Place, exposed the less than perfect lifestyles that many Americans led.

Works Cited
“Baby Boom.” History in Context. Ed. Thomas Riggs. Gale, n.d. Web.

Dunar, Andrew J. America in the Fifties. N.p.: Syracuse UP, 2006. Print.

Galyean, Crystal, Zachary Brown, Julia G. Cohn, Alexandra E. Stern, Serena Covkin, Rhae Lynn Barnes, and Ted Brackemyre. “Levittown.” US History Scene. N.p., n.d. Web.

Green, Arthur. “New York Suburb of Levittown – U.S. History in Context.” U.S. History in Context. Gale, 13 Apr. 1949. Web.

History.com Staff. “The 1950s.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2010. Web.
Matthews, Robert. “Interstate Highway System.” History in Context. Gale, 2007. Web.

3 Responses to “Levittown and the Suburbs in 1950s America”

  1. Victoria Lemire says:

    I did not realize that Levittowns were started basically because of the baby boom and as well as the soldiers coming home from World War II. I had never put much thought into whether this type of society would have a specific reason for being created, so thank you for bringing this fact up in your blog post.

  2. Matas Buivydas says:

    The picture reminds me from the late 1950’s and 1960’s show the Twilight Zone, weirdly enough. The houses are very orderly; many very compact and structured similarly which gives that creepy feeling. But now, I see the relation to why there were many houses – due to the baby boom. With marriage having a high percentage rate in addition to happiness rate, I would expect an increase in population. I also find the reason may be due to the expansion in the economy that WW2 caused, which caused the Great Depression to end. This most likely allowed for family’s to regain a secure financial position. Great blog nonetheless.

  3. Jessica Fournier says:

    I find Levittowns to be interesting because of how different they were to all other towns before their time, as well as the large impact they had on the decade. I liked how you did not just discuss the Levittowns themselves, but also how they redefined the suburbs. For instance, their affect on the new interstate highways and how media displayed typical suburban life. This new way of life in the 50s was explained very well in your blog post and I enjoyed reading it.