1.6. New England (1925-1965): Depression, War and Cultural Nationalization




1920
(48 states)
1940
(48 states)
1960
(50 states)
Maine
768,014
35th
847,226
35th
969,265
36th
New Hampshire
443,083
41st
491,524
44th
606,921
45th
Vermont
352,428
44th
359,231
45th
389,881
47th
Massachusetts
3,852,356
6th
4,316,721
8th
5,148,578
9th
Rhode Island
604,397
38th
713,346
36th
859,488
39th
Connecticut
1,380,631
29th  
1,709,242
31st
2,535,234
25th
Region's % of US pop.
7.0%

6.4%

5.9%


Key events that shaped law and culture:

  • The Great Depression (1929-1941) struck New England hard.  The region’s legislatures passed a broad variety of relief measures such as mortgage “moratoriums” and laws designed to regulate business competition, encourage labor unions, provide rural electrification and improve the economy in other ways. New England recovered from the Depression more slowly than many other regions. 
  • During World War II, southern New England took advantage of the sudden demand for war material to develop a variety of defense-oriented industries such as Sikorsky and Pratt & Whitney in Connecticut, specializing in aviation, and Raytheon in Massachusetts, specializing in electronics.  After the war these states took advantage of their strong educational systems to recalibrate their defense industry for the Cold War era.  Massachusetts Route 128, encircling Boston, became a national hub for cutting-edge technological industries.  Like New Jersey, Connecticut became increasingly linked economically and culturally to New York City, and it shared in the New York metropolitan area’s population surge in the 1950s and 1960s.
  • Northern New England, which lacked comparable resources, fell behind economically.  But underdevelopment had a silver lining:  Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont became increasingly attractive to Americans seeking vacations and refuge from overcrowding and the modern world generally. 
  • American culture became increasingly nationalized during this era, due to unifying events such as universal military service and a strong sense of national solidarity during World War II; the educational opportunities the federal G.I. Bill (1946) offered to veterans after the war; the rise of national radio and television networks; and not least, the development of air conditioning, which transformed Southern life and helped bring that region into the national economy.  Elements of nationalization also appeared in American legal culture:  for example, the Uniform Commercial Code was adopted by every state except Louisiana.  New England participated fully in the cultural nationalization process.  

Boston, 1930 - courtesy German Federal Archives

Bath Iron Works, Maine - courtesy Kai Kowalewski and Wikimedia Commons