The 1940s threw America headlong into World War II when Pearl Harbor was bombed on Sunday, December 7, 1941, while most of Hawaii was still asleep. The first of three attacking waves by Japanese fighter planes hit at at 7:55 a.m.
In 110 minutes all of the big battleships and light cruisers were sunk or badly damaged, 188 planes destroyed and 2,400 men killed. The attack not only shattered the sabbath quiet but sounded the end of peace for America for the next 1,364 days.
The blow laid bare America’s inexcusable optimism and its unbelievable unreadines for battle. This was a call to arms and showed the need to immediately gear up every factory available to replace our Pacific fleet and to manufacture guns, ammunition, aircraft, jeeps and trucks. Most of the men over 18 were off to boot camp as they joined the military en mass.
This created a labor shortage like the country had never known before, requiring mom, grandma and all of the unmarried women over 18 to step into work boots as “Rosie the Riveter.”
The awkward, gangling younger children living in the penumbra between grammar school and a job were deplored as creatures called adolescents. But the war effort created a notable change in the status of those adolescents. Suddenly, they emerged with the brand-new – and far more respectable – label, teenagers. Adolescents evolved into a cult, to be prolonged, enjoyed and commercially catered to as never before.
Teenagers had money in their pockets, picked up by the many jobs available for children in the tight labor market. Boys under 18 were in high demand to fill some of those chores left undone when the men joined up, and the girls earned spending money baby-sitting for parents on the night shift at war plants.
The teenage phenomenon was quickly spotted – and boosted – by a variety of shrewd merchandisers. Among the first to cash in on the teen market were songwriters and the manufacturers of phonographic equipment. In the strictly female market, Seventeen magazine appeared in 1944, a rag solely devoted to the fashions, foibles and problems of young girls. Minx Modes, one of the healthiest members of a family of booming junior-fashions manufactures, sold $12 million worth of frocks between 1944 and 1946. Stadium Girl lipstick and other makeup blossomed on thousands of high-school faces. The Chicago Daily News started a wildly popular column of teen-age news titled Keen Teens; in 1949 the August Ladies Home Journal inaugurated a new section called Profile of Youth; and all across the nation teenage canteens became prime watering holes for jitterbugs and milk-shake drinkers on weekend evenings.
Throughout this early stage of the teenage revolution, the kids themselves remained responsive to traditional parental discipline, became almost compulsively conformist within their own age group and were massively unconcerned with world problems. They felt as though there was nothing they could do – or should do – about the war.
A survey carried out by Purdue University to define the major concerns of teen-agers during the 1940s revealed that 50 percent of all girls regarded their own figure as their No.1 preoccupation, and 37 percent of all boys were primarily concerned with having a good build. One-third of those questioned agreed that the most serious problem facing teenagers was acne.
Hail to the teenager – may we all remain teenagers for the rest of our lives!
Reference: “This Fabulous Century,” by the editors of Time-Life Books.
To reach Ted W. Stillwell send e-mail to Ted@blueandgrey.com or call 816-895-3592.