The 1940s were of course dominated by the second world war, and Americans at home and overseas in the military were eager for distractions. Below are some of the most popular fads of the ’40s that helped people take their minds of their loved ones and the world’s troubles.
And, if you enjoy reading or reminiscing about mid-century crazes, be sure to click over to our post about fads of the ’50s when you’re finished here.
Fads of the 1940s
- Pea shooters were very much what they sound like: thin plastic tubes used as blowguns for small projectiles—especially dried peas. All young boys had to have one of these toys at the time, and they were the bane of parents and teachers everywhere.
- Swing dancing was all the rage among the ducky shincrackers who enjoyed the swinging big band music that first rose to prominence in the ’20s but continued to dominate the jazz scene into the forties, when bebop would also come into its own. The Jitterbug is one swing dance that swept the nation during this decade.
- Zoot suits, featuring pegged trousers with tight cuffs, wide legs, and high waists, and long coats with wide lapels and broad padded shoulders, were quite stylish through the decade. They were popularized by jazz musicians and caught on among a number of ethnic groups in the US.
- The Slinky, a zany invention of the 1940s, was first sold at Gimbel’s Department Store around Christmas in 1945. More than 100 million sold in the first two years as this unique, stair-descending toy caught on quickly among children all across the country.
- Pin-up girls became the stuff that dreams were made of for the young men of the ’40s, especially the soldiers away at war.
- Huddling around the radio was a key source of quality family time and entertainment throughout the decade, before television completely took over everything in the ’50s. People listened in for war updates, quiz shows, soap operas, sports broadcasts, and more.
- Buck Buck, also commonly known as Johnny on a Pony, is a children’s game that became wildly popular during the 1940s. There have been many variations, but a key component is always a bunch of kids piling on one kid’s back.
- “Kilroy was here” was an expression of unknown origin that young people—and especially GIs during WWII—wrote in graffiti all over the place. It was usually accompanied by a doodle of a guy with a big nose peering over a wall.
- Bikinis aren’t exactly a fad, since they’re still going strong to this day, but they became an item of intense curiosity, excitement, and controversy in the ’40s. While two-piece bathing suits have been around pretty much forever, the one we know today was created and named by French clothing designer Louis Réard in 1946.
- Silly Putty was another invention of the forties, a serendipitous discovery stemming from government research into synthetic rubber polymers. It didn’t take long for every child in America to have a gob of the stuff.