In August 1945, Americans celebrated the end of the most destructive war in history. But, their joy was mixed with concern. Many feared peace would bring the return of the Depression as defense factories closed and millions of ex-soldiers flooded the nation's labor market. The postwar years did bring strife to the nation, but it took a different form. The pent-up consumer demands of years of depression and war soon ended concerns about joblessness. Instead, the chief problems of the postwar period because shortages, inflation and labor unrest as the difficult process of converting the American economy from war to peace began. President Truman soon had his hands full trying to balance the often-clashing interests of consumers, labor and business.
This area is divided into two sections.
The first details the challenges of converting from a wartime to the peacetime economy. The exhibit includes a red background to signify to the visitor that it was a period of uncertainty. Photographs showing the GI's returning home, the housing and job shortages, the rising consumer prices, and various labor strikes are included. A video monitor shows a loop of period newsreels illustrating the theme of postwar reconversion. The second area in the center of the room is devoted to President Truman's attempts to guide the nation through the difficult period of reconversion.
The second section focuses on the postwar economic boom that the nation began to experience after 1947 and which continued for years thereafter. America's standard of living soared, suburbia was born, and new appliances, televisions, and a host of other material goods entered the consumer culture. A refrigerator, stuffed with food and supplies, dominates this area, while a 1950 vintage television set displays a video loop of television shows, commercials, weather forecasts, and other television images from the early 1950s.
Two sets of soundsticks allow visitors to listen to the voices of Americans who experienced the hardships of reconversion and the beginnings of the postwar prosperity.
Two flipbooks also appear in this area. An "In His Own Words" flipbook features a series of Truman's letters and diary entries dealing with the problems of economic reconversion, his declining popularity, and the success of the Republican Party in the 1946 elections. A "Dissenting Views" flipbook features the opinions of critics of the domestic economy. Also displayed in this area are newspaper and magazine articles about the postwar economic challenges along with press accounts and advertisements describing the expansion of the American economy and the vast growth of the consumer culture during the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Featured documents in this section of the exhibit:
Postcard, Al Rappaport to Harry S. Truman with attached internal memo, December 13-14, 1945, regarding having soldiers home by Christmas. Papers of Harry S. Truman: Official File.
President's appointment sheet, September 28, 1945, listing Truman's scheduled visitors and Truman's handwritten annotation of what they discussed. Papers of Harry S. Truman: President's Secretary's File.
Letter, Mrs. Mildred Spears to Harry S. Truman, January 12, 1946, expressing concern over the use of resources to repair the White House rather than concentrating on housing for returning veterans. Papers of Harry S. Truman: Official File.
Cabinet Meeting Agenda and Minutes, January 11, 1946, pertaining to problems of post-war demobilization, especially within the military. Papers of Matthew J. Connelly.
Letter, Harry S. Truman to Bess Truman, from Key West, Florida, November 18, 1946, describing the conditions and environment of the President's vacation spot upon his first visit. Papers of Harry S. Truman: Family, Business, and Personal Papers.
Speech draft, June 20, 1947, explaining why Truman vetoed the Taft-Hartley labor bill. Papers of Harry S. Truman: President's Secretary's File.
Truman: in His Own Words
- Harry S. Truman to Bess Wallace Truman, June 6, 1945, discussing some of the challenges he faced with the war ending. Papers of Harry S. Truman: Family, Business, and Personal Affairs File.
- Harry S. Truman to Bess Wallace Truman, December 28, 1945, expressing his frustration with himself and the job. Papers of Harry S. Truman: President's Secretary's File.
- Confidential personal memo of Harry S. Truman, c. late 1945, expressing his anger and irritation with labor leaders and with Stalin. Papers of Harry S. Truman: President's Secretary's File.
- Press release, statement of the President, November 9, 1946, regarding ending wage and price controls. Papers of Harry S. Truman: President's Secretary's File.
- Draft of speech, with handwritten notes by Harry S. Truman, c. December 1946, regarding a humorous take on the nation's problems for the Gridiron Dinner. Papers of Harry S. Truman: President's Secretary's File.
- Handwritten speech draft, c. October 1946, expressing anger at the perceived selfishness of Congress and the public regarding price controls. Papers of Harry S. Truman: President's Secretary's File.