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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The American Home in the Post-WWII Era

1940 marks a pivotal moment on the U.S. Homeownership Rate graph: looking to a post-war America, architects, designers, and planners saw home as the foundation to national growth and betterment. 

The Veterans Administration Mortgage Program guaranteed low down payments and an increased loan-to-mortgage ratio to returning soldiers, which accounted for significant bump in homeownership during the decades following World War II. 

In addition to this amendment of the G.I. Bill, homeownership grew rapidly in the post-WWII era due to the increase in incomes caused by the strong expansion of the U.S. economy and the new institution of affordable, long-term, fixed-rate, self-amortizing mortgages.[i] 

The subsidy of homeownership at the end of World War II reaffirmed American rights to those who had fought for the ideals of freedom and liberty and the country transformed from a nation of urban renters to suburban homeowners.

Serving as a testament to this is the 1948 film Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.

In this film, starring Cary Grant and Myrna Loy, a man and his wife decide they can afford to have a house in the country built to their specifications… though it turns out to be a lot more trouble than they think.

As a promotion for the film, the studio built 73 “dream houses” in various locations in the United States, most of which were equipped with General Electric appliances.[ii]

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House  (besides being a highly entertaining movie) engages in a fascinating discourse that encompasses issues of homeownership, national identity, consumerism, popular culture, postwar planning (or reconversion), and so much more…

Written by Marieke Van Der Steenhoven
University of Southern Maine, American and New England Studies

[i] Richard K. Green and Susan M. Wachter, “The American Mortgage in Historical and International Context,” Journal of Economic Perspectives 19, no. 4 (Fall 2005): 97.
[ii] “General Electric has made your Dream House come true!” (advertisement), Life Magazine 24, no. 26 (June 28, 1948): 78.


  1. Apparently the dream, cinematic and real, continues. See "Up, Up, And Away: Utah Builder Brings Film's Home to Life, With Disney's Blessing," New York Times, Aug. 24, 2011. For $400,000 you can purchase the "real-life" replica of the house in which the "hero" of the recent Disney film "Up, Up, and Away" lived. Complete with fake chimney, the 2,800 sq. foot house mirrors the cinematic version down to its party-mint (some might say "ticky-tacky") colors. The house remains unsold.

    A thought about the other end of the spectrum, is the interesting "downsizing" trend for empty-nesters and early 60-plus retirees, many of whom can't sell because their properties are too expensive. Perhaps this marks the collision of the American Dream of up-and-comers and the American Dream of the long, happy, and materially-prosperous retirement. So many dreams with so little time--always a quintessentially American problem.

  2. Mara's comments remind me of two things:

    First is how the concept of the "dream" home has expanded into the "dream" community. Manufactured communities attempt to mimic actual thriving communities and an absolutely fascinating phenomenon: see the documentary "Radiant City" directed by Gary Burns and Jim Brown for a great examination of how empty the word "community" can become. For an example of a master planned community, check out Celebration, FL a Walt Disney suburbia (http://celebrationtowncenter.com/)

    My second thought was triggered by the mention of house size... one of my latest fascinations is with tiny houses. Here's an NYT article about the trend http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/11/garden/11tiny.html, but I encourage you to check out some videos on youtube... so cool.