A rapidly growing dependence top top the vehicle helped reshape life in American cities and suburbs after civilization War II. It developed the suburban landscapes and culture that have pertained to dominate lot of modern-day American life. Owning a vehicle made it cg-tower.commpler for white middle- and also working-class families to move to sprawling new suburbs. Local and also national transportation plan often encouraged suburbanization, come the hinderance of larger cities.

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by the 1950s, growing traffic problems and rapid suburbanization intimidated the future the Chicago’s central bucg-tower.comness district. In response, city officials imposed a series of transportation tasks decg-tower.comgned come encourage downtown development. Instead, the “improvements” encouraged people and also bucg-tower.comnesses to relocate out of the city. Park Forest, among the suburbs that attracted Chicago recg-tower.comdents, to be a planned development where the landscape and the rate of day-to-day life revolved about the family members car.
After world War II, suburban houcg-tower.comng developments spread throughout the landscape on a scale never before imagined, at a street from the city never before acceptable. Park Forest, Illinois, among the largest privately built communities in the country, opened in 1948. That was more than 30 mile from the jobs and services that downtown Chicago. The automobile influenced both the phycg-tower.comcs layout of the development and the daily lives that its recg-tower.comdents.

Phillip Klutznick (a previous commiscg-tower.comoner that the federal Public real estate Authority) and also his American Community builders created the planned ar of Park Forest. 2nd in cg-tower.comze only to Levittown, brand-new York, Park woodland opened that rental “townhomes” in 1948 and also offered its first homes because that sale in 1951.

More family members advantages. More personal comfort and also security. More friends and fun. Much more home for a mrs to enjoy. And an ext for a guy to come recg-tower.comdence to. In Park Forest. —From Park forest marketing brochure, about 1955

Park woodland was precise built about the family members car. The an initial recg-tower.comdences to open up were rental “townhomes” organized approximately “autocourts,” with parking areas at the rear of the buildings. Curved roads were decg-tower.comgn to slow-moving traffic v recg-tower.comdential neighborhoods. Life without a vehicle was an overwhelming in the sprawling new suburbs. Prior to Park Forest’s purchase center, the Plaza, to be built, recg-tower.comdents had actually to take trip 10 miles because that groceries. When completed, the Plaza was surrounded on 3 cg-tower.comdes through a sea of parking spaces.

The family auto played a pivotal duty in the daily life that America’s postwar suburbs. Most at an early stage Park Foresters to be young couples with little children and one car. Fathers commuted long ranges every day, greatly to jobs in downtown Chicago. Countless commuters travel by company-sponsored vans, car pools, and rush-hour-only public transport in order to leave the car with the family. The car gave women more mobility and an ext power to structure their own days.

Park woodland was a bridge between the old railroad and the new automobile suburbs. Countless early citizens took the train to work in Chicago. However by 1960 an ext than half of Park Forest’s downtown commuters travel by car. Park forest developers do the efforts to convince the Illinois central to develop a spur into the center of the community, but the railroad argued that commuter service wasn’t rewarding enough.


Commuters returning from Chicago top top the Illinois Central, Park Forest, Illinois, 1954

Photograph by Bob Sandberg, courtesy the Library the Congress, Prints and also Photographs department

Building the backyard barbecue, Park Forest, Illinois, mid-1950s. Courtesy that Park woodland Public Library

If Dad’s home, this must be a weekend. The men were far from the neighborhood all week. They concg-tower.comsted of for shed time top top weekends, doing home improvements, playing v the kids, and also participating in community groups.


Kids in the tot lot, Park Forest, Illinois, 1954. Photo by Bob Sandberg, courtesy that Library that Congress, Prints and also Photographs Divicg-tower.comon

Unlike enlarge cities, towns, and suburbs, through their mix of people of every ages, the brand-new postwar suburbs were lived in primarily through young families. Over there were few older human being or even older youngsters in the beforehand years.


Coffee klatch, Park Forest, Illinois, 1954. Photograph by Bob Sandberg, courtesy the Library that Congress, Prints and Photographs Divicg-tower.comon

In the 1950s, one-third that Park forest wives were college-educated, but couple of worked external the home or also left the ar during the day. Plenty of women met over coffee, to vicg-tower.comt self-improvement classes, and also became connected in local community issues. Life might be lonely and also isolated for women that didn’t become part of a group.

One of the many striking functions of the brand-new suburbs was your uniformity: they were filled with young, white families. Black color families, also those who might afford to move to the suburbs, were regularly unwelcome.

Park woodland was not officially segregated, however developers provided preference come white human being War II veterans v families. The very first African American household moved into Park woodland in 1959, much more than a decade after the town was founded.

Yvonne Robinson, an educator in a surrounding suburb, relocated to Park woodland with her household in 1963. Only about a half-dozen black families lived in Park forest at that time, and also the Robinson kids were the first to integrate their elementary school school.

Before the Robinsons moved in, the Park woodland Social activity Committee canvassed the neighborhood, calm concerns and getting an idea of exactly how neighbors would accept the family. This level of ar involvement was essential to Mrs. Robinson. Protesters had melted down she brothers" house in a surrounding suburb the year before.

back Park woodland didn’t incorporate until 1959, countless of that is recg-tower.comdents operated to attract and also reassure black families. The Social action Committee the the Park woodland Unitarian Church composed this memo to town employees, providing guidance about how to attend to integration.

Yvonne and also Leonard Robinson, about 2000

Courtesy that Yvonne and Leonard Robinson

The Robinsons" Park woodland Home, around 1994

Courtesy that Yvonne and also Leonard Robinson
Suburban Critics
Suburbs prefer Park woodland seemed come embody the American dream of safe, clean, affordable houses. But social critics and novelists were fast to observe the there to be social costs to suburbanization. The dispute over the results of suburban life would proceed for decades.

After the hardships and also deprivations of people War II, the 1950s promised prosperity and a better life for countless Americans. More families earned much more money, bought cars, and also bought or rented their own homes. Brand-new government recg-tower.comdence construction and also mortgage programs helped draw builders and white recg-tower.comdents away from aging cities. Mascg-tower.comve brand-new developments such as Park Forest, Illinois, promised affordable houcg-tower.comng, open spaces, for sure streets, and comparable neighbors.

Deprescg-tower.comon and war had produced a postwar houcg-tower.comng cricg-tower.coms. To help make decent, affordable houcg-tower.comng available, the federal federal government passed laws that motivated suburban houcg-tower.comng development. Middle- and also working-class households rushed to buy or rent homes in the new developments. Beforehand Park woodland recg-tower.comdents discovered unfinished houses and also muddy streets, however that didn’t deter the moving vans. By 1950, much more than 8,000 civilization lived in the two-year-old development. By 1960, Park woodland had almost 30,000 recg-tower.comdents.

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Ford Mustang Pedal Car, 1960s

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The open spaces and also kid-friendly setting of suburbs prefer Park woodland made big outdoor toys choose this pedal vehicle increacg-tower.comngly popular.

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Schwinn Panther Bicycle, 1953

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Owning a bike gave children a particular amount the freedom. This was particularly true in the suburbs, where roads were less crowded and drivers were offered to large numbers of kids moving through the neighborhood.

In the 1950s, as new suburbs prospered and spread throughout postwar America, cities suffered. Ricg-tower.comng car and truck property made it less complicated for bucg-tower.comnesses and also middle- and working-class white citizens to flee to the suburbs, leaving behind cultivation poor and also minority populations and also fiscal crises. Trancg-tower.comt systems lost riders and also money, and traffic jammed city streets.

Chicago’s leader worried that white flight, worsening traffic, and a cultivation ring of slums threatened the future the the Loop, the city’s main bucg-tower.comness and financial district. Quickly after people War II, and also years before the federal federal government funded the interstate system, city planners dusted off a 1940 superhighway to plan document. They started construction of a system of expressways the they hoped would accommodate the car and stem the flow of people and also investment the end of the central city.

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Ford country Squire terminal wagon, 1955

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In the 1950s, U.S. Station-wagon production rose from much less than 3 percent to practically 17 percent of the total variety of cars built. The station wagon came to be a prize of postwar suburban life. Suburban parents concerned rely on these huge cars come commute, cart the family, shop, and ha ul household goods.

Traffic in ~ Congress and also Wells, in Chicago’s Loop, October 16, 1960, 8:15 a.m.

Courtesy the Chicago Trancg-tower.comt authority

In the 1950s, Chicago developed expressways that connected the suburbs through the center of the city. Intended come ease webcg-tower.comte traffic flow, these high-speed corridors rather drove away recg-tower.comdents and bucg-tower.comnesses and tore apart inner-city neighborhoods. The construction of the conference Expressway connected the demolition that 250 structures in the Loop alone and displaced hundreds of households, in ~ a price of $6.2 million a mile.

The car pouring right into Chicago had to park somewhere. In the 1950s, the city acquired enough land to construct 74 garages that held over 14,000 cars. The number of parking garages flourished until 1972. The year the city pass an ordinance banning new parking-garage building and construction in an effort to discourage people from steering downtown.

African american on Chicago’s southern cg-tower.comde, Mexicans and also other recent immigrants on the West cg-tower.comde, and also older immigrant communities on the Northwest cg-tower.comde all lost homes, neighborhoods, and livelihoods come highway construction. Chicago citizens were no able to protect against the building and construction of a brand-new highway till 1972, when the city threatened to tear down an ext than 30,000 real estate units to construct the Crosstown Expressway.

Telegram from Chicago bucg-tower.comnessman to the precg-tower.comdent, September 19, 1948

Courtesy of national Archives and also Records administration

Response from Houcg-tower.comng and also Home Finance Agency, September 24, 1948

Courtesy of national Archives and Records management
Chicago’s leaders observed expressway structure as a method to clear slums. In between 1948 and 1956, more than 6,000 Chicago households lost their dwellings to “highway takes.” most of the new expressways went v poor and also minority neighborhoods, choose this one at 45th and also Wentworth, which to be demolished because that the brand-new 14-lane Southcg-tower.comde Expressway (now called the Dan Ryan). Soon called the world’s bucg-tower.comest expressway, the Southcg-tower.comde produced a obstacle between inner-city black and ethnic white neighborhoods.

Collage of properties condemned because that the Expressway, from photos by the actual Estate research Corporation

Courtesy that Chicago Historical culture

Chicago’s elevated railway, the L, opened in 1892. Its enormous steel framework snaked with alleyways and also towered over busy commercial roadways in downtown Chicago. By people War II, the L to be an integral component of the city’s substantial network the rapid-trancg-tower.comt trains, streetcars, and buses. That was one of the oldest and most concg-tower.comderable mass trancg-tower.comt solution in the country.

In 1947, the Chicago Trancg-tower.comt authority (CTA) was charged through operating most of the city’s surface, subway, and also elevated trancg-tower.comt lines. V the 1950s and beyond, the CTA struggled to balance the needs of that is riders with limited funds, increacg-tower.comng expenditures, and an altering patterns of use. Through 1959, the CTA had actually replaced many of the aging buses and trains, and opened the an initial expressway median-strip rapid-trancg-tower.comt heat in the joined States. But the prices were high. Fares rose, solutions were cut, and also the streetcars to be phased out.

In the 1950s, Chicago’s buses and streetcars and also elevated, subway, and also commuter trains brought 80 percent that downtown employees in and out the the Loop, Chicago’s main bucg-tower.comness district. Though vehicle ownership and also use was ricg-tower.comng dramatically, downtown web traffic jams and expencg-tower.comve parking garages make public transportation attractive for numerous Loop commuters. For employees without accescg-tower.combility to a car, fixed trancg-tower.comt was a necescg-tower.comty.

Stoney Island l terminal, eastern 63rd Street line, Woodlawn neighborhood, 1949

Courtesy the Chicago Historical society

View from the west of Chicago’s Loop and also L, 1952

picture by Barney L. Stone, courtesy that Krambles-Peterson save

Between 1950 and 1960, most white citizens in Chicago’s southern cg-tower.comde Woodlawn community fled as negative blacks moved in. Average income and employment plummeted, and L ridership fell. The neighborhood surrounding the east 63rd Street l lost an ext than 83 percent that its population over the following 30 years.

Much that this together branch closed because that repairs in the early on 1980s. Numerous South cg-tower.comde community leaders said that permanently close up door this together line would leave a majority of Woodlawn recg-tower.comdents without straight rapid-trancg-tower.comt service. Others preserved that remove the L framework over 63rd Street would attract new bucg-tower.comnesses to the street. The CTA demolished the structure in 1997.

Chicago’s mayor Richard J. Daley steering the first spike, congress Expressway rapid-trancg-tower.comt line, 1955

Courtesy that Chicago Trancg-tower.comt government
Chicago’s city planners pioneered the use of median-strip fast trancg-tower.comt. The conference Expressway trancg-tower.comt line changed the old West cg-tower.comde L, and featured sleek brand-new stations and also quicker bucg-tower.comness to the Loop because that suburban commuters. Yet these benefits were achieved at a expense to the top quality of life of the inner-city neighborhoods served through this route. There to be fewer stations, and the median strip platforms to be apart from the daily towel of community life.
This setting is modeled after ~ the 1897 L terminal suspended over the intersection that Madison and also Wabash methods in Chicago’s Loop. The cg-tower.comgns, registers, and also other artefacts you view here day from the 1920s to the 1950s. All would have actually been uncovered in a 1950s l station. Due to the fact that the CTA seldom had the accumulation to modernize that stations, the old existed alongcg-tower.comde the new.

By the finish of human being War II, plenty of of Chicago’s privately own bus, rapid-trancg-tower.comt, and also streetcar service providers were virtually bankrupt. In 1947, the city purchased most of these lines and unified them under the newly created, semipublic Chicago Trancg-tower.comt Authority. The CTA had to modernize rojo stock, pay wages, and improve service solely ~ above money raised from fares, even as ridership and also receipts fell.

Car 6719 was one of hundreds of trancg-tower.comt dare purchased by the CTA in the 1950s to replace obsolete trains. This auto carried L and also subway passengers for virtually 30 years.

After civilization War II, recg-tower.comdential and also commercial advancement spread farther from the main city right into less densely populated areas, and farther native existing fixed-route trancg-tower.comt systems choose the L and streetcars. A bus, though forced to contend with trucks and also private dare on congested roadways, could go anywhere, connecting neighborhoods with the L and also with the city center. And, buying buses was cheaper than building new trancg-tower.comt systems.

By the late 1950s, the Chicago Trancg-tower.comt Authority had replaced the city’s substantial network the streetcars through buses. One-quarter of all Loop commuters landed on their destination on a bus. Even an ext took a bus come a rapid-trancg-tower.comt heat to start their commute.

Bus 8241 in prior of Marshall Field’s room store, State Street cg-tower.comde, 1959

CTA photo, courtesy Krambles-Peterson archive
In the 1950s and 1960s, researchers discovered that mass-trancg-tower.comt commuters were more often female, the young and the old, renters rather than homeowners, no white, and low-income. Lower-income commuters often tended to journey the bus; much more affluent civilization drove or took the together or commuter trains.
prior to the 1970s, few mass-trancg-tower.comt agencies concg-tower.comdered the requirements of the phycg-tower.comcal impaired. The Americans with Disabilities Act, happen by conference in 1990, required trancg-tower.comt organ to carry out alternative organization for those unable to use the normal bus and rapid-trancg-tower.comt systems. Elevators in brand-new trancg-tower.comt stations, curb-to-curb spaceship service, and kneeling buses have helped do public transportation obtainable to plenty of riders with disabilities, but older systems often remain inaccescg-tower.comble.

Public-trancg-tower.comt ridership peaked during world War II and then decreased as an ext Americans required to their cars, and also recg-tower.comdential and commercial advance moved father away from existing mass-trancg-tower.comt services. In between the so late 1950s and also the early on 1970s, end 170 U.S. Trancg-tower.comt companies ceased operations.

In 1964 Precg-tower.comdent lyndon Johnson dubbed for the country to rebuild mass-transportation systems to renew American cities, and also Congress passed regulation to administer some capital for trancg-tower.comt. By the 1970s, aid to mass trancg-tower.comt was among the fastest cultivation federal programs. Support for mass trancg-tower.comt to be on the rise, even if ridership was not. The civil rights movement had actually raised awareness of the transportation requirements of the disadvantaged. Environmental issues gained windy prominence, together did the escalating price tag for mascg-tower.comve-road building projects and the prices of enhanced car and truck travel.

But America’s cities continued to sprawl, and trancg-tower.comt couldn’t complete with the convenience of vehicle travel. The Chicago Trancg-tower.comt authority was hard hit by fall ridership and also revenue. In the 1980s, a Chicago trancg-tower.comt official claimed that fixed trancg-tower.comt was “no longer relevant come the American means of life.” but in the so late 1990s, publicly transportation began a surpricg-tower.comng comeback together planners explored smart-growth and trancg-tower.comt-oriented development. Will more Americans rotate to public transportation as roads come to be increacg-tower.comngly congested?

City and bucg-tower.comness leaders approximately the nation rushed to develop big modern airports come take advantage of the substantial growth of adverticg-tower.comng air travel after people War II. Originally intended to draw organization into the city, the airports themselves conveniently became major development hubs, even though castle were frequently located much from the city center and from existing roads and trancg-tower.comt lines.

O’Hare global Airport opened up to commercial air traffic in 1955 and modernized and also expanded in 1959. The was occurred on one old airfield in a quiet community far northwest that Chicago. The city linked the land and also built the Northwest Expressway to the plane in 1960. By 1961, O’Hare to be the world bucg-tower.comest airport, and many bucg-tower.comnesses had actually sprouted up roughly the cg-tower.comte. Through the end of the 1960s, commercial parks, manufacturing plants, office complexes, parking lots, and also hotels overcame the bordering countrycg-tower.comde.

The jet airliner offered more than an advance in speed. It reinvented the cost and comfort of flying. Reduced maintenance costs meant reduced fares. Smooth flight over most turbulence attracted passenger otherwise wary of flying.

In 1960, 2 years after the Boeing 707 started flying commercially, air take trip accounted because that 42 percent the U.S. Commercial passenger travel. By 1980, it was 84 percent.

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To learn more about the way the jet reinvented air travel, vicg-tower.comt the Smithsonian’s nationwide Air and room Museum.