Weird History
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Here's What Nuclear Families Ate In The Postwar Era United States

Updated April 29, 2019 3.1k votes 548 voters 30.9k views12 items

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In the years after WWII, Americans became more affluent than they had been in previous generations. Veterans were going to college and buying homes in droves, the population boomed, and cities around the country grew rapidly. 

As Americans enjoyed greater prosperity, their day-to-day habits changed due to new innovations and technologies. They wanted to be able to come home after a long day of work, put on their favorite 1950s TV show, and enjoy a quickly cooked meal with their families. Refrigerators were more accessible to the average family than ever before and they soon came to change the American palate. Consumers didn't have to go to the butcher shop every day to pick up the night's entree, and leftovers could be stored overnight without spoiling. 

Families of the 1950s wanted everything to be convenient and filling, and some of the dishes that figured heavily in American diets reflected those purposes. Some of those foods have disappeared in subsequent decades, but others are still with us.

  • Photo: Classic Film / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

    The Casserole Was King

    Casseroles were convenient dishes that showcased the ingenuity of post-WWII American society. They were easy to prepare, cheap, and filling for everyone in the family. Gone were the days of making meals from scratch. With advancements in food technology, homemakers could now throw creamed soup, noodles, and additions like tuna and celery into a pan and bake it for less than hour to make that evening's dinner. 

    In the 1950s, the casserole reached a new level of popularity as brands promoted their foods by offering easy recipes that anyone - even those without superior culinary skills - could make.


    Does this show some tasty ingenuity?
  • 6

    Families Made Cereal The Number One Breakfast Food

    The popularity of cereal has waned in recent years; however, in the 1950s, packaged cereal was an everyday staple for most families. Breakfast cereal was first marketed as a health food around the turn of the 20th century.

    However, by around 1910, companies found they could successfully entice children by including a prize in every box. By the 1950s, TV ads for cereal were largely focused on children. Animated mascots like Tony the Tiger, the Trix rabbit, and the Sugar Crisp bears - Handy, Dandy and Candy - convinced kids to request their favorite cereals. 

    After WWII, cereals were sold pre-sweetened; mothers no longer had to spend time sugaring their children's cereal. Parents found the food convenient, and kids were hooked on the taste. 

    Does this show some tasty ingenuity?
  • Photo: daves cupboard / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    Spam Cemented Its Status As An American Staple With The 'Hormel Girls'   

    Spam, which takes its name from "spiced ham," hit store shelves in 1937 and was an instant hit with consumers. Made with pork shoulder, ham, salt, water, sugar, and sodium nitrite, the Hormel Foods creation was meat that didn't need refrigeration. 

    Hormel's marketing resonated with consumers as much as the product did and featured some of the earliest "interactive" campaigns, including a contest to name the product and submit to a Spam recipe book. Spam was also easy for American forces to eat on the front lines, and they introduced it to new countries as they traveled. 

    After WWII, Spam came back to American dinner tables and was even more popular than before. A musical group of female WWII vets called the Hormel Girls touted the product during peacetime with their hit radio show. During those years, Spam sales went through the roof. Hormel has since sold over 8 billion cans of Spam in 44 counties. 

    Does this show some tasty ingenuity?
  • 8

    Wonder Bread Was The Consumer's Bread Of Choice In The 1950s

    Video: YouTube

    The Taggart Baking Company marketed Wonder Bread as an economical and nutritious product starting in 1921. In the 1950s, this bleached, sugar-laden, 1.5-pound loaf was the first pre-sliced bread on store shelves. It was hugely popular with consumers. During the 1950s and '60s, the average American consumed a loaf per week and got almost 30 percent of their daily caloric intake from it. 

    In the '80s, Wonder Bread's reign in the American kitchen was challenged as consumers turned to more artisanal breads. Wonder Bread is still on store shelves but isn't nearly as popular as wheat bread, which has since become the American bread of choice.


    Does this show some tasty ingenuity?