Boomers Lived Through and Celebrated Presidential History

Another Presidents Day is here. Mister Boomer has noted how the federal holiday came to be, and that boomers remember a time before Presidents Day (Boomers Said, “Hail to the Chief”). At this point in history, boomers have been living through the terms of fourteen presidents. However, the man who was POTUS when the first Baby Boomer was born in 1946 was Harry Truman, and not many boomers know much about this president.

If you are a boomer like Mister B, you were not taught much about President Harry Truman, other than he made the decision to drop first one, then another atomic bomb on Japan in an effort to end World War II. Germany had previously surrendered in May of 1945 following the suicide death of Hitler one month earlier. Two weeks prior to Hitler’s death, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died suddenly, thrusting his Vice President, Harry Truman, onto the international stage. The fight with Japan continued.

It was surprising for Mister B to learn that the Vice President of the United States was kept in the dark about the program to develop the atomic bomb — the Manhattan Project. Historians record that Truman only learned of it after becoming President. The Russians, however, did know about it in great detail, due to a network of spies in the U.S. and around the world. Thus, the Russians were working to develop an A-bomb of their own, which ultimately led to the Cold War.

As boomers recall their history lessons, President Truman, when faced with the prospect of a prolonged bloody conflict with a ground invasion of Japan, ordered the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. When Japan failed to surrender after the destruction of that city, the president ordered a second bomb to be dropped on Nagasaki on August 9. Together, nearly a quarter million Japanese citizens were killed in the bombings. Japan signaled surrender, and on August 15, Emperor Hirohito announced it, ultimately signing a formal surrender declaration on September 2.

In 1946, President Truman dissolved the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), the Central Intelligence Group (CIG) and other war-related agencies that were created to gather intelligence during the War. To replace them, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), National Security Council (NSC) and others were created under The National Security Act of 1947. The purpose of these agencies was to oversee the gathering and sharing of intelligence that both military and political figures felt was necessary to protect a post-war America.

In early 1950, paranoia over the rise of the Soviet Union in the wake of the War led some American political figures, notably Senator Joseph McCarthy, to conduct hearings under the authority of the House Un-American Activities Committee. McCarthy, in a speech in West Virginia, specifically charged that the State Department was harboring Communist “traitors.” A reporter asked President Truman for comment, and Truman stated, “I think the greatest asset that the Kremlin has is Senator McCarthy.” The official response to the committee from the Truman Administration, residing in the National Archives, calls the charges rumors, lies, or based on no evidence.

An in-depth look at this underpublicized president is far beyond the scope of a boomer blog; Harry Truman was a complex man filled with contradictions and human emotions. His penchant for speaking his mind is why the phrase, “Give ’em hell, Harry” was attached to him when he began his political career. Records show, in his personal life, he was conflicted by ideas of racial equality. Yet in 1948 he ended segregation in the military, and supported civil rights legislation soon after the War.

In 1950, Truman’s fear of the threat of the spread of Communism led him to bring the U.S. into what was called a “police action” in Korea. Truman’s administration assembled a group of international allies to serve alongside United Nations troops. With the involvement of China and the Soviet Union, it became apparent that victory in Korea was far from a sure thing. Truman was advised to again use nuclear weapons. A World War I veteran himself, and in the wake of his overseeing the end of hostilities in World War II, he refused to do so. Ultimately, the U.S. and U.N. troops retreated to the 38th Parallel, which became the basis for the DMZ that marked the division between North and South Korea.

In January of 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower was sworn in as the 34th President of the United States. Boomers then began witnessing a new era of presidents.

Do you have any memories of learning about President Harry Truman, boomers?

Boomers Spend at Christmastime

Recently, Mister Boomer came across a statistic that stated the average American would spend more than $900 on gifts and holiday decorations this year. On the surface, it seems like a staggering sum for one individual, but on examination and comparison to what was happening in the boomer years of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, it’s all relative.

In 1940, before the War and before the beginning of the Baby Boom, the U.S. population was 132 million. Ten years later, the War was over and the Baby Boom was in full gear. The population grew to 159 million. That meant a lot of new families were celebrating Christmas in what they perceived as a modern way. Prior to World War II, nostalgia surrounding Christmas was dominated by scenes and traditions which originated in the Victorian era. By 1950, America was redefining its own identity along with the Baby Boom. Consequently, iconic Christmas imagery, like the Coca-Cola Santa Claus, flourished. That vision of Santa has now become the ultimate image of Old Saint Nick for the generations that followed. The commercial market greatly influenced the spending behavior of boomer parents.

In 1960, the population had ballooned to 180 million. The average income was just over $13,000, and boomer parents spent just over $300 on gifts that year. By the end of the boomer years, the population had crossed 190 million, but Christmas spending did not increase much, just to around $320 on average.

Regardless of how much boomer parents spent, though, they were determined to give their children a different Christmas experience than what they had. The parents of boomers had lived through the Great Depression and a World War. Why wouldn’t they spend whatever they felt they could manage? It turns out what they could manage amounted to between one and two weeks’ salary.

Many recall the 1960s and ’70s as a golden age for toys. Combined with television, which made dramatic inroads in sales during the 1950s and ’60s, toy makers could advertise directly in the homes of the boomers. Absorbing the commercials, boomers asked for the toys, and parents wanted to give them to their kids. At the same time, home decor became a thing for the average person, and that included modernizing the way Christmas was celebrated. Artificial trees, updated lighting, and shiny glass ornaments joined traditional family heirloom decorations to help create a new Christmas era for a new generation.

Mister Boomer recalls times when his brother and sister asked for the brand name toys advertised on TV (like an Erector set for Brother Boomer and a Chatty Cathy for his sister), and there were times when his parents did buy the brand (which obviously increased the spending). Still, the general rule for the family was to try to save whenever possible, and that often meant off-brand toys. In Mister B’s household, where his parents did spend more freely, was in food and beverages for guests. It was a time when family and friends would visit, and in those times, Mister B’s parents wanted to see to it that there was plenty to eat and drink.

Christmas spending this year, by comparison, also amounts to approximately one to two week’s of the average salary. So, the generations that followed boomers have continued to maintain similar levels of holiday spending. Regardless of spending, there is no doubt that the boomer years helped change the way Christmas is celebrated in the U.S. Whether one feels that is for the better or worse, is a question for each individual.

How about you, boomers? Were you aware of what level your parents were spending on gifts and decorations when you were a kid?