Life Magazines from the 1940's

By the end of the 1930s, America was still in the throes of the Great Depression and the rest of the world was going to war. By the end of the 1940s, nothing would be the same. Flipping through the pages of LIFE Magazines from 1940 to 1949 is like watching the world change before your eyes. Sections like “LIFE on the Newsfronts of the World” chronicled the weekly development of the war in Europe, and LIFE Magazine editors devoted ever greater numbers of pages to events leading up to America’s entrance into World War II. For years, Americans read of the conflict in the pages of LIFE Magazine as outsiders. Then came December 7, 1941 – “a date which will live in infamy.”
Beginning with the first issue of LIFE Magazine after the Pearl Harbor attack, you can see a shift in American culture. Cover photos, with few exceptions, feature strapping soldiers, American flags, or beautiful women. Even the advertisements went to war, with handsome men in uniform selling soap and encouraging the purchase of war bonds by the dozen. War-time issues of LIFE Magazine offer a unique look into domestic life in America during WWII. Instead of 24-hour news coverage, families read about battles well after they happened. A moment-by-moment, first-hand account of The Battle of the Bulge, complete with diagrams, is chronicled in the January 8th issue from 1945. Lighter moments, like the soldiers’ improvised “Spaghetti Bowl” football game and parade held in snowy northern Italy, are left out of most history books, but from the pages of LIFE Magazine they offer you a special look into life for soldiers in the 40s. From The beaches at Normandy to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, LIFE Magazine is a treasure trove of information and photographs for WWII enthusiasts.
War might have been the main event, but life as usual didn’t cease to exist for Americans. Movie reviews of classics like National Velvet and Citizen Kane; profiles of stars like Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck and Judy Garland; and biographies of baseball legends all give a peek into how Americans at home kept morale high. Walt Disney makes a surprising number of visits to LIFE’s pages during the forties, both for full-length features like Dumbo and for his series of war-themed short films. In the years after the war, LIFE Magazine and America settled in for a new time of prosperity, peace, and growth during the 1950s.

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