5.5. The Midwest, 1925-1965: Depression, War and a New National Culture

Key events that shaped law and culture:

  • The Great Depression (1929-1941) struck the Midwest hard.  Midwestern legislatures passed a broad variety of relief measures such as mortgage “moratoriums” and laws creating new agencies designed to regulate business competition, encourage labor unions, provide rural electrification and improve the economy in other ways.
  • The Midwest regained prosperity after the Depression and World War II, but by then population growth had begun to shift to the South and West.  As a result, after 1945 the Midwest was not as influential in national politics and law as it had once been.
  • Midwesterners continued to adjust to an increasingly complex and diverse society after 1925.  During the early years of the “Great Migration” of Southern blacks to northern states (1910-1940), Chicago and Detroit had gained significant black populations for the first time; during the second phase (1940-1960), other Midwestern cities did also.  The region was far from a racial haven, but Midwestern states gradually granted blacks and women additional rights during the era.   
  • 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.  Midwestern states participated fully in the cultural nationalization process.  

Antiaircraft shell assembly line, Cincinnati, 1942 (courtesy Library of Congress)

1958 Ford Motor Co. auto ad (Courtesy Library of Congress)