Illinois at War, 1941-1945
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives
DOCUMENT 45COMMUNICATION FROM THE OFFICE OF PRICE ADMINISTRATION CONCERNING THE POSTWAR TRANSITION
August 20, 1945
The United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945 and another one on Nagasaki three days later. Japan announced its intention to accept unconditional surrender on August 14 and on September 2 its representatives signed a formal treaty aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
For most American civilians the Office of Price Administration (OPA) was the most visible federal bureaucracy of the war years. It rationed food and scarce consumer goods, set ceiling prices, and controlled rents. Government officials in Washington issued elaborate regulations and local boards composed of volunteers implemented them in their respective communities. Although the OPA never functioned perfectly it did a reasonably good job in holding down prices during a period in which there was almost full employment and wages were at an all time high. During and for some years after the war a popular phrase of derision for someone who was assuming too much authority was "who do you think you are, Chester Bowles?"
With the war over Americans were anxious to free themselves of any controls which could slow a reconversion to civilian production. But at the same time most had lived through the Great Depression and consequently they were fearful of large economic dislocations. Ten million soon to be discharged servicemen were poised to reenter the work force and government economists were predicting the same number of unemployed by the end of 1946.
Remarkably by November 1945, ninety-three percent of war plants had converted back to civilian production. Americans during the war had accumulated 136.4 billion dollars in personal savings and war bonds and were eager to purchase homes, automobiles, and other goods that they had been forced to do without. As the servicemen returned home women, children, and the elderly, who had filled in for the duration, withdrew from the work place. This circumstance combined with the assistance afforded by the "G.I. Bill of Rights" caused less than three million persons to be unemployed at the close of 1946. In the middle of that year Congress had caused price controls to lapse.
Points to Consider
What was the "awesome invention" referred to in this document?
Why had production not kept up with civilian demand?
Why was there concern about a transition from a wartime to a peacetime economy?
What role had the Office of Price Administration served during the war?