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The '40s

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"Do the boogie, hot doll!!"

The Fighting Forties was a memorably turbulent era, forever linked in the public consciousness with World War II (1937/1939-1945), the development of the first atomic weapons and subsequent Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This also marked the start of the Cold War and the Arab–Israeli Conflict. But this era also brought many other changes on the world's political map. The Soviet Union annexed Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, while Burma, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Israel, Lebanon, Pakistan, Syria, and the Philippines gained independence from various European and American colonial empires. New regimes also emerged in existing countries; Republican Italy, West Germany, Red China, and East Germany all emerged in the second half of the decade.

The technological innovations of the decade included the first digital computers - notably Z3 by Konrad Zuse (1941, German), the Atanasoff–Berry Computer (1942, American), the Colossus Mark 1 and Mark 2 computers (1943 and 1944, British), the Harvard Mark I (1944, American), Z4 by Konrad Zuse (1944, German), ENIAC (1946, American), the Manchester Small-Scale Experimental Machine (nicknamed "Baby") (1948, British), Sergey Lebedev's MESM (1948, USSR), the EDSAC (1949, British), the Manchester Mark 1 (1949, British), and the CSIRAC (1949, Australia).


While functioning radars were actually developed in the 1930s, they were first widely used in this decade, with several of the World War II combatants adopting and/or improving the relatively new technology. The first military jeeps were developed for the United States Army in 1940; the private companies creating them introduced civilian models in 1945. The German V-2, introduced in 1942, was the first successful ballistic missile and served as the progenitor of all modern rockets. Jet aircraft were still in an experimental phase during the start of the decade, but the jet-powered Messerschmitt Me 262 (1942, Germany) served as the first operational jet fighter aircraft, the first of many.

Television was still in its infancy. At the start of the decade, only a few countries had operational television stations (including the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, the Soviet Union, Mexico, the Free City of Danzig, Poland, Japan and Italy), and said stations only broadcast in major cities. Only a very limited number of people owned or had access to a television set - as of 1941, WRGB in Schenectady, NY was the only TV station outside a major world city anywhere. Later in the decade, the Philippines, Czechoslovakia, Chile, and the Netherlands would get their first experimental broadcasts. Commercial television got its start in this decade with the launching of early privately-owned networks.


The hit toy of the era was the Slinky, a helical spring which stretched and bounced up and down. Developed by engineer Richard Thompson James, it became commercially available in 1945. Tupperware, an airtight plastic container for storing food, was created by the eponymous Earl Tupper in 1946. The first commercial microwave oven was introduced by Raytheon in 1947, based on the experiments of inventor Percy Spencer. Velcro was invented by George de Mestral in 1948, though it would not become commercially available until the late 1950s. Momofuku Ando embarked on his quest for instant noodlesnote  in 1947, finally succeeding ten years later.

The cinemas of several countries managed to produce influential films. The Golden Age of Hollywood was still ongoing, and hit films such as Citizen Kane, The Maltese Falcon (1941), and Casablanca were arguably among its best products. The Film Noir genre rose to particular prominence. British cinema had some major hits in the adaptation of Shakespearean works by Laurence Olivier and the exemplary noir The Third Man. In France, influential directors such as Marcel Carné, Robert Bresson, and René Clément scored major hits in the aftermath of the War. Italian neorealism was developed in this decade, with major directors in the genre including Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica, and Giuseppe De Santis. In the Soviet Union, Ivan the Terrible by Sergei Eisenstein was arguably the most notable film of its decade. Meanwhile, a new generation of directors managed to produce their own hits. In Japan, new director Akira Kurosawa began his career.

As for fashion, styles for dresses, suits (especially zoot suits) and sportswear were a continuation of 1930s silhouettes, like shoulder pads and backless evening wear, only more robust, mannish and simplistic. Hairstyles for women were often long and updone in which they often showed their foreheads. Fedoras and Latin American-influenced hats were popular headwear; while high-heeled wedgies, mary-janes, close-footed oxfords and peep-toe pumps were popular choices for footwear. Gloves were a must. The decade also introduced a new fabric — nylon — and it was used in hosiery, toothbrush bristles, ropes, and parachutes.

During the war, due to fabric rationing and the closing of fashion houses in Paris, many day dresses were American-made, strictly knee-length and plainly decorated. Nylon stockings suffered shortages due to the need for parachutes, and sportswear was often substituted for casual wear. Many more had innovated themselves in order to be more stylish, even while working on factories. For instance, some women applied makeup on their legs in place of wearing stockings, while other women had the need to borrow their man's trousers and suits while joining the workforce. And somehow, in a certain loophole, while dresses only used a limited amount of fabric and cutting, accessories such as hats, gloves and jewelry weren't. Hats, while they use fabric, but are considered accessories, can have wide brims and often decorated with fruit as they can get, gloves can be as high as they can reach the padded shoulders, and necklaces can go as low as they can hit the dancefloor. After the war, restrictions were still implemented but were gradually relaxed in 1947, when a Parisian designer named Christian Dior created a new set of style, which included long full skirts, rounded busts, wide hips and narrow shoulders. Journalists had dubbed it the "New Look" and the innovative style lingered on until the end of The '50s.

For music, jazz was the main ingredient to swing (the rage of the dance floor), bebop (the cutting edge, characterized by extremely fast tempos and complex improvisation), and Latin dances like samba, mambo, salsa and conga brought by soldiers. And then, before The '50s popularized teen sensations, Frank Sinatra was the teen sensation.

Politically, the Forties encompassed at the very least the entirety of World War II (1939-1945) and at the latest stretched until the start of the Korean War in 1950, and the election of Dwight Eisenhower as President ending two decades of Democrat dominance of Washington in 1952. Culturally, the decade started with the New York World's Fair in 1939 and somewhat ended with the premiere of I Love Lucy in 1951. Please note that 1945 was a point of inflexion, marking the end of WWII and the start of the Cold War, as well as the first stages of the post-war boom. Also a nostalgic point during the second half of The '60s (with many war movies made during this time), as well during The '70s and especially The '80s (for the exaggerated fashions, of course).

See Also: The Gay '90s, The Roaring '20s, The Great Depression, The '50s, The '60s, The '70s, The '80s, The '90s, Turn of the Millennium, The New '10s, and The New '20s.

Popular tropes included in this period are:

  • America Won World War II: Among the people freed from the Axis such war movies were very popular.
  • Babies Ever After: There's a reason people born for the 20 years after the end of the war were called "Baby Boomers".
  • Cool Shades: Ray Ban aviator sunglasses started to become a must.
  • Dance Sensation: Swing, and in later years, Latin dances like mambo and salsa.
  • Dumb Blonde: While the stereotype surged two decades earlier, the late forties saw the character type of the pretty but dim blonde woman become really popular.
  • The Edwardian Era: Still a very strong nostalgic setting in the decade. Christian Dior's "New Look" designs were heavily based on this era.
  • The Fashionista/I Was Quite a Fashion Victim: While most fashions of the war era are seen today as hideous (such as the zoot suit), these were made out of necessity. And the not-so hideous "New Look" of the later part of the decade became this for many when the rationing got lifted up.
  • Film Noir: This genre was spawned out of the hard boiled detective stories. In fact, many of those stories were made into film noir adaptations.
  • Foreign Culture Fetish:
    • As a result of the Good Neighbor Policy to Latin America, Anglo-Americans went gaga for Latin American stuff like sombreros, samba, mambo, conga, Carmen Miranda and fruit hats.
    • Also in the list were all things Hawaiian/Polynesian due to the soldiers island hopping; with printed shirts, lei necklaces, hibiscus on hair, tikis, and sarongs coming into the scene. In turn, the Pacific Islanders have a liking for canned luncheon meat.
  • Glamorous Wartime Singer: Vera Lynn for the UK, The Andrews Sisters and Frank Sinatra for the USA.
  • Hard Boiled Detective: Introduced in the twenties, the trope reached its peak in this era.
  • High-Class Gloves: Continuing with the last decade's trend, a fashionable woman feels completely naked without gloves.
  • Hipster: Hipsters originated from this time period. Their lifestyles differ from those today though.
  • Japan Takes Over the World: A real threat during World War II, but even after the war it was still used for dystopian war stories and comics, because the Japanese were still Acceptable Targets back then.
  • Lobotomy: This is when they were popular, before psychiatric medication replaced them starting in The '50s.
  • Malt Shop: Actually a bit Older Than They Think.
  • Music of the 1940s:
  • Nice Hat: Fedoras for men and women were everywhere. Brazilian actress Carmen Miranda ruled this trope with her headbands and turbans covered with fruit.
  • Nice Shoes: Since shoes were accessories, and accessories were not subject to rationing, shoe designs were very experimental starting with this decade, with higher, thinnernote  heels, platforms, wedgies, sandals, sneakers, boots, and suedes coming to the platform.
    • Special mention includes Rudolf and Adi Dassler; with such a Sibling Rivalry, founded Puma and Adidas, respectively, at opposite sides of their hometown.
  • Peek-a-Bangs: If not updos, then this would be a low-maintenance yet highly fashionable alternative thanks to Lauren Bacall, Rita Hayworth, and Veronica Lake. They are not recommended to wear them on factories, though.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Despite the fabric rationing, dresses, whether on special occasions, casual wear, or sportswear are considered elegant. Then the latter half of the decade went on straight thanks to rising couturiers like Dior and Balenciaga. Prominent designers include:
    • Gilbert Adrian: a very prominent Hollywood designer, who had made costumes for over 200 films in his career. The most notable is the ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz in 1939.
    • Norman Hatnell: The royal dressmaker for The House of Windsor, famous for designing the wedding dress of the then-Princess Elizabeth to Prince Philip in 1947.
    • Claire Mccardell: A very savvy American designer of the "Make, Do, and Mend" era, famous for her practical and functional ready-to-wear clothing and sportswear.
    • Christian Dior: Famous for relaunching the French fashion industry with his ultrafeminine New Look designs that debuted in 1947.
  • The Roaring '20s: Due to the turbulence of the Great Depression and Second World War, the 1920s gained a reputation as a more peaceful time and became the decade for nostalgia.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man / Badass in a Nice Suit: for the gents, we have the Nazi uniforms designed by Hugo Boss, the trenchcoats worn by private detectives, the ration-defying zoot suits, and the ultrafeminine New Look's Spear Counterpart, the savvy Bold Look.
  • She's Got Legs: After a decade of long skirts, skirts crept up to the knees again; some daring hemlines have slits that go high up the thighs. And whether she's on the movies, dancing swing and samba, playing golf, on the beach, hitchhiking, entertaining soldiers, wearing fruit hats, and with or without nylon stockings, she's got it all. Her mother would have either been so proud, jealous, or shocked.
  • Shoulders of Doom: From dictators to soldiers to 1890s enthusiasts to Rosie Riveters to savvy women, emphasized and accented shoulders were the fad until 1947. The pads were revived forty years later, only bigger.
  • Slapstick: Still popular, with W. C. Fields, Abbott and Costello, The Three Stooges, Bob Hope and Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis as the most iconic ones.
  • Smoking Is Glamorous: Hollywood glamorized smoking still, with Bette Davis, Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart as the most iconic examples.
  • Suburbia: The "G.I. Bill" brought many ex-soldiers and their newly-formed families out of the big city. This also made Western states to have as many people as the ones at the Atlantic.
  • Trope Makers and Trope Codifiers of the era. With Hollywood, radio, wartime inventions and the emerging technological device, the television on fire with new media tropes, we have:
  • Those Wacky Nazis: The trope where Nazis are depicted as comedic buffoons started during World War Two in Allied propaganda.
  • Wartime Cartoon: Many early 1940s cartoons have references to war bonds, rationing, the draft and characters fighting against Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini or Japanese soldiers.
  • Wartime Wedding: Those who survived and lived to tell the tale may have great rewards.
  • Yakuza: The golden age of the Japanese Yakuza was in the late 1940's, after Japan was defeated in World War II.
  • You Have Waited Long Enough for me to return from the war.

Works that were made in this time period:

    open/close all folders 

    Comic Books 

    Eastern Animation 
  • Princess Iron Fan. 1941 animated feature film. The first Chinese feature-length animated film.
  • The Lost Letter. 1945 Soviet cel-animated feature film.
  • The Czech Year. 1947 Czechoslovak animated feature film.
  • The Humpbacked Horse. 1947 Soviet animated feature film.
  • The Emperor's Nightingale. 1949 Czechoslovak animated feature film.

    Live-Action TV 
  • On 25 February, 1940, an Ice Hockey game is televised. The first broadcast of its kind. The game was between the New York Rangers and the Montreal Canadiens.
  • On 28 February, 1940, a Basketball game is televised. The first broadcast of its kind. The game was between the teams of Fordham University and the University of Pittsburgh.
  • On 10 March, 1940, a performance of the Metropolitan Opera of New York City is televised. The first of its kind. The show included excerpts from the Pagliacci and four other operas.
  • A 1941 decision of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allows American Television Stations to broadcast Commercials. On 1 July, 1941, ten stations incorporate commercials to their programs. The first known television commercial was one for Bulova watches. Broadcast during a Baseball game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies.
  • Truth or Consequences, the popular radio show, was simulcast on radio and television for a single day on 1 July, 1941. To attract viewers to the station showing it. The game would not return to television until 1950.
  • CBS Television Quiz debuted in 2 July, 1941. Becoming the first regularly scheduled Game Show. It was cancelled in May, 1942. In favor of war-related programming.
  • By a 1942 decision of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the minimum weekly programming time required of American stations is lowered from 15-hours to 4 hours for the duration of World War II. Most stations switch to limited programming.
  • The Voice of Firestone Televues, a television program featuring highlighted selections from opera and operetta, debuted in 1943. Later known as "The Voice of Firestone", it would become an early Long runner. Broadcast in 1943-1947, 1949-1959, and 1962-1963.
  • Missus Goes a Shopping, a Game Show, debuted in 1944. Broadcast by the Columbia Broadcasting System, it is considered a pioneer of its genre.
  • NBC broadcast hours of news coverage on 8 May, 1945. In celebration of Victory in Europe Day. The network was preparing to resume full service, following years of limited programming during World War II.
  • Moscow TV center resumed regular broadcasting on 15 December, 1945. It had went on hiatus during World War II.
  • The BBC Television Service resumed broadcasting on 7 June, 1946. It had went on hiatus in 1939 due to the outbreak of World War II.
  • Regular network service by DuMont started on 15 August, 1946.
    • The 1946-47 television season is generally regarded as the first season in the United States (NBC and DuMont), with 1949-50 being the first full season on all four networks at the time.
  • Pinwright's Progress, a British television Sitcom, is considered the pioneer of its genre. Debuted in 1946.
  • Boxing from St. Nicholas Arena, an American sports program, debuted in NBC. Running from 1946 to 1948. It was revived by DuMont from 1954 to 1956.
  • Meet the Press. Television adaptation of the radio show. Debuted in 1947.
  • Queen for a Day. First Simulcast for radio and television in 1947. Continued in this format from 1948 onwards.
  • Break the Bank. Television adaptation of the radio show. Debuted in 1948.
  • Candid Camera. Debuted in 1948.
  • The Ed Sullivan Show. Debuted in 1948.
  • Winner Take All. Television adaptation of the radio show. Debuted in 1948.
  • The Aldrich Family. Television adaptation of the radio show. Debuted in 1949.
  • Captain Video. Debuted in 1949.
  • The Lone Ranger. Television adaptation of the radio show. Debuted in 1949.
  • Ripley's Believe It or Not!. Television adaptation of the comic strip feature. Debuted in 1949.

    Professional Wrestling 


    Western Animation 

    Other Media 






  • Sazae-san. Comic strip. Started in April, 1946.



  • Humpty Dumpty, the first game with electro-mechanical flippers, came out in 1947.

Tabletop Games


Theme Parks

Video Games

Works that are set in this time period are:

    Comic Books 

    Comic Strips 

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 


    Live-Action TV 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Mage: The Awakening: Historical setting Mage Noir covers the 1940s in the USA, with a focus on the latter half of the decade.


    Video Games 

Alternative Title(s): The Stormy Forties