Those born in the 1930s and early 1940s have come to be known as the Silent Generation. They, of course, preceded the Post World War II baby boomers and have very different views from those who served in the war and the generations that followed.
The Silent Generation is comprised of the the smallest number of children born since the
early 1900s. In many ways the Silent Generation constitutes the last ones with their unique life experiences.
They are the last generation, climbing out of the depression, who can remember the winds of war and the impact of a world at war which rattled the structure of daily life for years.
They are the last to remember ration books for everything from gas to sugar to shoes to stoves. They saved tin foil and poured fat into tin cans. They remember cars up on blocks because tires weren’t available. They were the last to see the gold stars in the front windows of grieving neighbors whose sons died in the war. They saw the ‘boys’ home from the war, build their little houses.
They were the last generation who spent childhood without television; instead, they imagined what they heard on the radio. With no TV, they spent their childhood “playing outside” and doing so on their own. There was no Little League. There was no city playground for kids. The lack of television in their early years meant, for most, that they had little real understanding of what the world was like.
On Saturday afternoons, the movies, gave them newsreels of the war sandwiched in between westerns and cartoons. Telephones were one to a house, often shared (party lines) and hung on the wall. Computers were called adding machines – they only added and were hand cranked. Calculating was done with a slide rule. Typewriters were driven by pounding fingers, throwing the carriage and changing the ribbon. The internet and Google did not exist. Newspapers and magazines were written for adults and the news was broadcast on the radio in the evening.
As the Silent Generation grew up, the country was exploding with growth. The GI Bill gave returning veterans the means to get an education and spurred colleges to grow. VA loans fanned a housing boom. Pent up demand coupled with new installment payment plans put factories to work. New highways would bring jobs and mobility. The veterans joined civic clubs and became active in politics.
Parents were suddenly free from the confines of the depression and the war, and threw themselves into exploring opportunities they had never imagined. The kids weren’t neglected, but they weren’t today’s all-consuming family focus. Parents were glad the kids played by themselves until the street lights came on. The parents were busy discovering the post war world.
The Silent Generation entered a world of overflowing plenty and opportunity; a world where they were welcomed. They enjoyed the luxury of feeling secure in their future.
Depression poverty was deep rooted. Polio was still a crippler. The Korean War was a dark presage in the early 50s and by mid-decade school children were ducking under desks for Air-Raid training. Russia lowered the “Iron Curtain” and China became Red China. President Eisenhower sent the first ‘advisers’ to Vietnam. Castro set up camp in Cuba and Khrushchev came to power in the Soviet Union.
This was the last generation to experience an interlude when there were no threats to our homeland.
They came of age in the 40s and 50s. The war was over and the cold war, terrorism, “global warming” and perpetual economic insecurity had yet to haunt life with unease.
Only this generation can remember both a time of great war, and a time when our world was secure and full of bright promise and plenty. They have lived through both. They grew up at the best possible time, a time when the world was getting better. not worse.
More than 99% of the Silent Generation now is either retired or deceased.