Games Learning Resources Visit the Museum
America on the Move
Collection Exhibition Themes
Transportation in America before 1876 Community Dreams: Santa Cruz, California, 1876 Delivering the Goods: Watsonville, California, 1895 A Streetcar City: Washington, D.C., 1900 Suburban Strip: Sandy Boulevard, Portland, Oregon, 1949 On the School Bus: Martinsburg, Indiana, 1939 People on the Move The Connected City: New York, New York, 1920s Crossing the Country: Somewhere in Wyoming, 1903 Americans Adopt the Auto Lives on the Railroad: Salisbury, North Carolina, 1927 The People's Highway: Route 66, 1930s-1940s Roadside Communities: Ring's Rest, Muirkirk, Maryland, 1930s Family Camping: York Beach, Maine, 1930s On the Interstate: I-10, 1956-1990 Transforming the Waterfront: San Francisco and Oakland, California, 1960-1970 Going Global: Los Angeles Introduction The Automobile Shapes the Suburbs Moving In The Automobile and the City Chicago's L Taking the Bus O'Hare International Airport
15: City and Suburb: Chicago and Park Forest, Illinois, 1950s

The Automobile Shapes the Suburbs

After World War II, suburban housing developments spread across the landscape on a scale never before imagined, at a distance from the city never before acceptable. Park Forest, Illinois, one of the largest privately built communities in the country, opened in 1948. It was more than 30 miles from the jobs and services of downtown Chicago. The car influenced both the physical layout of the development and the daily lives of its residents.

Aerial view of Park Forest, Illinois, 1952

Phillip Klutznick (a former commissioner of the Federal Public Housing Authority) and his American Community Builders created the planned community of Park Forest. Second in size only to Levittown, New York, Park Forest opened its rental “townhomes” in 1948 and offered its first homes for sale in 1951.

More family advantages
More personal comfort and security
More friends and fun
More home for a woman to enjoy
And more for a man to come home to.
In Park Forest

—From Park Forest marketing brochure, about 1955

Aerial view of Park Forest, Illinois, 1952

Suburban Family Life

The family car played a pivotal role in the daily life of America’s postwar suburbs. Most early Park Foresters were young couples with small children and one car. Fathers commuted long distances every day, mainly to jobs in downtown Chicago. Many commuters traveled by company-sponsored vans, car pools, and rush-hour-only public transportation in order to leave the car with the family. The car gave women more mobility and more power to structure their own days.

Commuters returning from Chicago on the Illinois Central, 

Park Forest, Illinois, 1954
Commuters returning from Chicago on the Illinois Central,
Park Forest, Illinois, 1954
Park Forest was a bridge between the old railroad and the new automobile suburbs. Many early residents took the train to jobs in Chicago. But by 1960 more than half of Park Forest's downtown commuters traveled by car. Park Forest developers tried to convince the Illinois Central to build a spur into the center of the community, but the railroad argued that commuter service wasn't profitable enough.
Kids in the tot lot, Park Forest, Illinois, 1954
Unlike older cities, towns, and suburbs, with their mix of people of all ages, the new postwar suburbs were inhabited primarily by young families. There were few older people or even older children in
the early years.
Kids in the tot lot, Park Forest, Illinois, 1954
Kaffeeklatsch, Park Forest, Illinois, 1954
Kaffeeklatsch, Park Forest, Illinois, 1954
In the 1950s, one-third of Park Forest wives were college-educated, but few worked outside the home or even left the neighborhood during the day. Many women met over coffee, attended self-improvement classes, and became involved in local community issues. Life could be lonely and isolated for women who didn’t become part of a group.
Launch Video
Remember Leave It to Beaver? Viw a shortened episode of Leave it to Beaver, and experience the suburbs and mom being in charge while dad is away. Also includes a 1950s car commercial geared toward the woman of the house.

Diversity in the Suburbs

One of the most striking features of the new suburbs was their uniformity: they were filled with young, white families. Black families, even those who could afford to move to the suburbs, were often unwelcome.

Park Forest was not officially segregated, but developers gave preference to white World War II veterans with families. The first African American family moved into Park Forest in 1959, more than a decade after the village was founded.

Although Park Forest didn’t integrate until 1959, many of its residents worked to attract and reassure black families. The Social Action Committee of the Park Forest Unitarian Church wrote a memo to village employees, offering guidance about how to deal with integration.

Yvonne Robinson, an educator in a nearby suburb, moved to Park Forest with her family in 1963. Only about a half-dozen black families lived in Park Forest at that time, and the Robinson children were the first to integrate their elementary school.

Before the Robinsons moved in, the Park Forest Social Action Committee canvassed the neighborhood, calming concerns and getting an idea of how neighbors would accept the family. This level of community involvement was important to Mrs. Robinson. Protesters had burned down her brothers' house in a nearby suburb the year before.

Yvonne and Leonard Robinson, about 2000
Yvonne and Leonard Robinson, about 2000
The Robinsons' Park Forest home, about 1994
The Robinsons' Park Forest home, about 1994

Suburban Critics

Suburbs like Park Forest seemed to embody the American dream of safe, clean, affordable houses. But social critics and novelists were quick to observe that there were social costs to suburbanization. The debate over the effects of suburban living would continue for decades.

The Organization Man, by William H. Whyte, 1956
The Organization Man, by William H. Whyte, 1956
William H. Whyte’s groundbreaking study of America’s new, mobile, white-collar middle class was set in Park Forest. Whyte praised many aspects of the suburb, but worried about residents’ rootlessness and their need to conform to neighborhood expectations.
The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan, 1963
Betty Friedan, author of the classic feminist work, The Feminine Mystique, disapproved of the new suburbs. She believed that many women were suffocated by their isolated suburban lifestyles and that they became depressed or turned to alcohol and drugs.
The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan, 1963
Continue
National Museum of American History About This Site | Sponsors | Buy the Book | E-mail Signup | Credits