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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

Moving In

After the hardships and deprivations of World War II, the 1950s promised prosperity and a better life for many Americans. More families earned more money, bought cars, and bought or rented their own homes. New government home construction and mortgage programs helped draw builders and white residents away from aging cities. Massive new developments such as Park Forest, Illinois, promised affordable housing, open spaces, safe streets, and similar neighbors.

Depression and war had created a postwar housing crisis. To help make decent, affordable housing available, the federal government passed laws that encouraged suburban housing development. Middle- and working-class families rushed to buy or rent homes in the new developments. Early Park Forest residents found unfinished houses and muddy streets, but that didn’t deter the moving vans. By 1950, more than 8,000 people lived in the two-year-old development. By 1960, Park Forest had nearly 30,000 residents.

Ford Country Squire station wagon, 1955
Ford Country Squire station wagon, 1955
In the 1950s, U.S. station-wagon production rose from less than 3 percent to almost 17 percent of the total number of cars built. The station wagon became a symbol of postwar suburban life. Suburban parents came to rely on these large cars to commute, cart the family, shop, and haul household goods.
Kidillac pedal Car
The open spaces and kid-friendly environment of suburbs like Park Forest made large outdoor toys like this pedal car increasingly popular.
Kidillac pedal Car
Schwinn Panther bicycle, 1953
Schwinn Panther bicycle, 1953
Owning a bicycle gave children a certain amount of freedom. This was especially true in the suburbs, where roads were less crowded and drivers were used to large numbers of children moving through the neighborhood.
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