Generation 497, 1925-1950 Consumer culture

Looking back from here, it would appear that this generation had a grim time. The period started with the General Strike in the UK in 1926, went through the Wall Street Crash, the years of the Depression, to the Second World War and the rationing of food and clothing that continued several years after it ended. And yet, one thing I have already learned with this investigation is that each generation takes its own formative years as the baseline to measure what follows, and Generation 497 have a different view of their own time period.

This was a time of major innovation that affected daily life, particularly in the USA. The car, the fridge and the automatic washing machine became widely available, though most Europeans had to wait another generation to benefit from them. Before the automatic washing machine, clothes washing was a major chore that took a whole day every week for the woman of the house. Man-made fibres such as nylon, rayon and viscose were coming into use, so there was a wider variety of clothes to wear.

Lack of refrigeration meant that fresh food could not be stored for long. So people went shopping most days, which meant that there were many more shops within walking distance of where they lived. In those shops the customer went to the counter to ask for what they wanted. Self-service supermarkets had started in the US, also reaching Europe in the following generation, but were the exception rather than the norm.

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There was motorised transport, so people could take the bus, train or tram, and the wealthier families had a private car. Air travel existed, but was a luxury for the very few. Nearly everyone lived out of doors much more than now, so the innovation of the wireless radio, although giving immediate access to more information from the world beyond our home patch, was seen as having a dangerous side-effect, isolating people in their homes. We went to the cinema, to the theatre, to football matches, to the seaside or simply played in the street (a car was a novelty in many areas). One contrast that many people from that period make about the world of generation 500 is that they did not have to lock their front door and were not afraid of being attacked on the street. So despite bombs falling on many cities (also a first, that non-combatants should be a target) people felt safer than now.

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The biggest innovations in this period, however, were in the areas of health, education and social security. The development of antibacterial drugs and then antibiotics starting with penicillin meant that many diseases that were fatal at the start of this period were easily treatable by the end of it. Pneumonia, diphtheria, scarlet fever, for example.  By the end of this period, the National Health Service had just started in the UK, meaning that good health was accessible to all. Compare this to the start of the period when many women had all of their teeth taken out when they were married, to save dental bills later on in life.

Health insurance, unemployment insurance and retirement pensions started to become available. At the start of this period, most children left school at the age of 13 and started work. By the end, the minimum leaving age was 15, but many more went on to university or college.

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