A Look Back

1946 ~ Technology now turned to improving American industry

By Holly Gerard

Although the end of the Second World War had finally taken place, America quickly was faced with additional challenges:  a shortage of housing for the returning servicemen, lack of job availability and inflation that was rising quickly.  President Truman also faced the realization that with the continuing struggles of poverty, hints of the looming threat of what became the Cold War, and the existence of the atomic bomb, America would be forced to take on the role of international peacekeeper in a global environment.

America started to enjoy the benefits of peacetime and moved quickly to address the housing shortages.  Tract housing and the popularity of a new style of floor plan home called ‘the ranch,’ spurred the construction industry, as new homes began to dot the countryside.  In addition, women enjoyed the repeal of wartime fabric restrictions, which allowed the return of longer, flared skirts and a renewed interest in high fashion.

The minds that worked hard to advance warfare technology now turned to improving American industry.  International Business Machines (IBM) introduced an electronic calculator as an advancement of the adding machine.  The invention of the vacuum tube allowed for electronic pulses to replace mechanical switches, increasing efficiency and speed as electrons flowed through a gas-controlled tube.  IBM also created the first general-purpose, electronic computer for U.S. War Department, unveiling the machine at the University of Pennsylvania.  It computed 1,000 times faster than any other calculator made to that point.

Another technological advancement came with the introduction of “xerography,” an improvement on the mimeograph machine.  The inventor, Chester Carlson, perfected the practice of copying writing from one page to the next quickly by inking a date on a piece of glass, followed by charging the glass electrostatically and then spraying it with dye.  Although Carlson initially had trouble finding financial backers, his copy machine invention has increased office efficiency and communications infinitely.

Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini was given the honor of becoming America’s first saint.  The bells in Rome tolled, as she was canonized by Pope Pius XII.  She had tried to become a nun at the age of 18, while living in Italy, but poor health prevented her from taking her vows.  After six years of teaching at an orphanage, she took the veil and was asked to found the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart.  She and six Sisters traveled to New York, with Mother Cabrini eventually founding 67 organizations of care, including hospitals, schools and orphanages.  She became an American citizen and was noted by Pope Pius in his canonization homily that “…her spirit was endowed with such singular strength that, knowing the will of God in her regard, she permitted nothing to impede her from accomplishing what seemed beyond her strength.”

The television set continued to find its way into more and more homes, and 1946 featured several evening television show options.  The DuMont network featured western movies and two game shows, Play the Game with celebrity guests performing charades, and Cash and Carry; while NBC offered boxing fans Gillette Calvalcade of Sports and on Mondays and Thursdays the Esso Newsreel among its lineup.  Favorite movies included The Best Years of Our Lives, Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life, and Great Expectations.

Popular songs of the year included “Ole Buttermilk Sky,” “Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy,” and “I Got the Sun in the Morning,” a song from Irving Berlin’s popular Annie Get your Gun.

In sports news, baseball fans loved the return of top baseball players from the War, with the leagues in turn treated fans to an edge-of-your seat pennant race.  The National League was forced into a playoff to determine the champion of their division, with the St. Louis Cardinals winning the division championship over the Brooklyn Dodgers.  The Cardinals went on to claim the 43rd World Series, defeating the Boston Red Sox in a four game to three split.  In football, the Chicago Bears brought home the NFL championship with their 24 to 14 win over the New York Giants.


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