Rothman ch. 1

"Within two decades of the end of World War II, nearly everything about American life had been altered." (p. 7)
"Americans wanted more, and they wanted it faster"

How completely new was the dramatic change in public opinion on environmental issues in the 1960s?
Progressive Movement and pre-WWII conservation
Progressive idea about protecting the weak members of society led to a new belief in government regulation, including of pollution
Progressive movement (early 20th century)>>New Deal (1930s) expansion of government role>>WWII experience of the power of science and technology

After WWII the factories were quickly converted to make consumer goods (unlike
after WWI there was an economic downturn when the demand for war materials disappeared)
  • for example, factories making radar sets were quickly converted to make TV sets--a technology ready to take off
  • returning veterans had new opportunities--they got help with college tuition and expenses and then help with mortgages
  • many people had money to spend and they wanted more consumer goods
  • they felt at first their dream was being realized--their own house and car, new things like television, life was good
Post World War II transformation--a lot more people started caring about environmental issues, particularly those that affected them where they lived. 
  • wealth--they could afford to care
  • suburban movement--what people valued in the places where they lived changed
  • wealth meant more products therefore more factories and more pollution
At first focused on things that smelled bad and on parks

levittown After World War II there was another step:

 Traffic in Los Angeles, 1949
Environmental impact of postwar prosperity:
  • by the late 1950s there began to be questioning of the suburban dream--you could have a nice house and life somehow still seemed empty
  • people moved to the suburbs to have nature around them and that was disappearing
  • for the first time there began to be a shortage of wood as so many new wooden homes were built (led to more cutting in National Forests)
  • many more people commuting by car (plus goods transported by truck) meant increased demand for fuel
  • whole new cities had grown up around wartime manufacturing
  • prewar approaches to pollution by simply diluting it (eg. by dumping it in a river) didn't work as well any more
  • the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught fire
river on fire
Gasoline ( petroleum history sites )
map of Pennsylvania showing oil area in NW
Beginnings of the Petroleum Industry
 early oil refinery
early oil industry
historic change in
            lead levels
chart from
People began to realize that pollution was hurting them.

The new Conservation
It wasn't easy to challenge established institutions
Efficiency was still the dominant value

This page written and copyright Pamela E. Mack
Hist 124
last updated 3/29/10