An Early Family Poses in Front of their 1948 Cape Cod

Suburbs: The American Dream?

Maryland State Archives
350 Rowe Boulevard
Annapolis, MD 21401

Phone: (410) 260-6400
Internet: mdsa.net
e-mail: archives@mdsa.net

Overview

Following World War II, Americans found that they were no longer in the midst of a depression nor involved in a global conflict.  Americans had money and they wanted to spend it.  They wanted to purchase the consumer goods they had been denied for so long such as cars, appliances, and steaks.  Most men who returned from the war wanted to marry, have children, and start their civilian career.  Marriage and birth rates soared along with the demand for housing.  Unfortunately, housing was in short supply. 

In response to the low-interest loans provided by the Federal Housing Authority and Veterans' Administration, developers began to purchase large expanses of open space lands.  On these lands, they built "cookie-cutter" houses from standard, factory-made parts.  William Levitt led the effort by constructing Levittown 30 miles east of New York City.  By 1951, Levittown consisted of 17,000 homes.  The Levitts also built other Levittown's in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  These Levittown's became the model for all future communities in the United States. 

Despite their enormous popularity, the suburbs did have some problems.  Suburban fathers now had long, time-consuming commutes to and from their offices.  Mothers now became chauffeurs, taking their children to music lessons, sports fields and doctors.  Mothers were also responsible for running the household including the preparation of meals and the care of the home.  This house-care burden was eased by the creation of new and improved appliances such automatic washer and dryer.  Suburban housewives also created clubs which would meet while their children were in school. 

Not all groups shared equally in the attainment of a home in the suburbs.  African Americans and other ethnic minorities were often prevented from purchasing homes in certain areas. 

National History Standards

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades 5-12:

Era 9: Postwar United States (1945 to early 1970s) 

Standard 1: The economic boom and social transformation of postwar United States

Standard 1B: The student understands how the social changes of the postwar period affected various Americans.

9-12: Explain the expansion of suburbanization and analyze how the “crabgrass frontier” affected American society. [Explain historical continuity and change]  

Primary Resources

  1. DESCRIPTION:  Aerial View of Levittown
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  After 1951
    SOURCE:  Levittown: Documents of an Ideal American Suburb
    REPOSITORY:  Levittown: Document of an Ideal American Suburb

  2. DESCRIPTION:  Aerial Photo of Long Island Onion Fields
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  Before 1947
    SOURCE:  Levittown: Documents of an Ideal American Suburb
    REPOSITORY: Levittown: Document of an Ideal American Suburb 

  3. DESCRIPTION:  Levittown Floor Plan
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1951                                                                                                                                              
    REPOSITORY:  Levittown: Document of an Ideal American Suburb 

  4. DESCRIPTION:  Family Standing in Front of their Suburban Home
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1948
    SOURCE:  Levittown: Documents of an Ideal American Suburb
    REPOSITORY: Levittown: Document of an Ideal American Suburb 

  5. DESCRIPTION: Girl Standing in Front of Car in Levittown 
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  Early 1950's
    SOURCE:  Levittown: Photographs from the Tekula Family
    REPOSITORY:  Levittown: Document of an Ideal American Suburb

  6. DESCRIPTION: Levittown houses. Mrs. Rose Sagistano, residence at 3635 Regent Lane.
    PHOTOGRAPHER: Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc.
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: Aug. 28, 1958
    REPRODUCTIONS: Rights and Reproductions
    SOURCE: Architecture and Interior Design
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

  7. DESCRIPTION: Holly Stores, business in Levittown, Long Island, New York. General view to front
    PHOTOGRAPHER: Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc.
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: Apr. 17. 1951
    REPRODUCTIONS: Rights and Reproductions
    SOURCE: Architecture and Interior Design
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

  8. DESCRIPTION: Holly Stores, business in Levittown, Long Island, New York. General view to rear
    PHOTOGRAPHER: Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc.
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: Apr. 17. 1951
    REPRODUCTIONS: Rights and Reproductions
    SOURCE: Architecture and Interior Design
    REPOSITORY: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 

  9. DESCRIPTION:  Census Figures for Growth of Suburbs
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  November 2002
    SOURCE:  Demographic Trends in the 20th Century
    REPOSITORY:  United States Census Bureau

  10. DESCRIPTION: Levittown U.S.A.
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1951
    SOURCE:  Levittown Historical Society
    REPOSITORY:  Levittown and Beyond

  11. DESCRIPTION:  Racism in Levittown
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  February 27, 2005
    SOURCE:  Completing Unfinished Business
    REPOSITORY:  Bucks County Courier Times

  12. DESCRIPTION:  Membership Card for Levittown Teen Club
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  
    NOTES
    SOURCE:  The Social Web:  Community and Levittown in the First Decade
    REPOSITORY:  The Social Web: Community and Levittown in the First Decade

  13. DESCRIPTION: Map of Levittown Properties in New York Metro Area
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  August 1958
    SOURCE: House and Home
    REPOSITORY: Levittown and Beyond

  14. DESCRIPTION: Advertisement for Levittown
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  July 13, 1958
    SOURCE:  The Philadelphia Inquirer
    REPOSITORY:  Levittown and Beyond

  15. DESCRIPTION: Suburbia Cartoon
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  July 1957
    NOTES: Reprinted from Electrical Merchandising
    SOURCE:  Levittown, Pa. | Building the Suburban Dream
    REPOSITORY:  Crabgrass Frontiers

Additional Media Resources

Levittown, Pa. | Building the Suburban Dream

Levittown: Document of an Ideal American Suburb

Levittown and Beyond

Academy Heights History

Levittown Historical Society

Long Island: Our Story--The Birth of Suburbia and the Boom Years

Instructional Resources

Architecture and Interior Design for 20th Century America: Photographs by Samuel Gottscho and William Schleisner , 1935-1955

Secondary Resources

Baxandall, Rosalyn Fraad. Picture Windows: How the Suburbs Happened. New York, New York. Basic Books. 2000.

Duany, Andres. Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream. New York. North Point Press. 2000.

Jackson, Kenneth. Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States. New York. Oxford University Press. 1975.

Martinson, Tom. American Dreamscape:  The Pursuit of Happiness in Postwar Suburbia. New York, New York. Carroll & Graf. 2000.

Scott, Thomas G. The United States of Suburbia:  How the Suburbs Took Control of America and What They Plan to do With It.  Amherst, New York. Prometheus. 1998

Associated Heritage and Preservation Organizations

Levittown Historical Society
P.O. Box 57
Levittown, Long Island, New York, 11756
(516)735-9060

Credits

Teaching American History in Maryland is a collaborative partnership of the Maryland State Archives and the Center for History Education (CHE), University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), and the following sponsoring school systems: Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Baltimore City Public School System, Baltimore County Public Schools, and Howard County Public Schools.

Other program partners include the Martha Ross Center for Oral History, Maryland Historical Society, State Library Resource Center/Enoch Pratt Free Library, with assistance from the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress. The program is funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

This document packet was researched and developed by Susan E. Pennington. 

An Archives of Maryland Online Publication
© Copyright, Maryland State Archives, May 11, 2005