“Little Boxes” and Suburbia

This song pokes fun at the soul-deadening conformity of suburbia. You will hear the writer of the song– Malvina Reynolds sing this song in class. Pete Seeger also became famous for singing this song, and here is a video of his version (sorry it’s a little blurry):

I will include the Claymation version that we watched in class on Friday at the bottom of this post.

During World War II, the building of new homes pretty much ground to a halt due to the demands placed upon labor and materials for the war effort. After the war ended, however, ten million veterans returned home. Many of them had or would marry and want to buy a house. There just weren’t enough homes available, however. So the idea of “prefabricated” houses was resurrected and expanded (remember, some catalogs such as Montgomery Ward had sold house kits even in the late 19th century).  These houses had parts that were pre-assembled, and then shipped to each lot and then put together on the spot by crews of construction workers who would move from lot to lot repeating the same action over and over mimicking assembly-line techniques that had previous been used to make cars, planes, and tanks. Go to this link to find out about pre-fab houses: http://exhibits.mannlib.cornell.edu/prefabhousing/prefab.php?content=seven

The construction was fast, uniform, and cheap. Subdivisions sprang up on former farmland all over the country, and veterans’ families were grateful and proud of these pieces of the American Dream. However, as time wore on, some people criticized the rigid uniformity that these neighborhoods represented. Would everyone growing up in the suburbs we little copies of each other?

What were they criticizing? See for yourself. The first Levittown in New York was built on former vegetable fields:

The original Levittown in New York, early 1950s

Marketing the American Dream

Here’s a family happy that they have a house after the housing shortage of the early postwar era:

1948: Mom, Dad, and the required three children

You had four different models to choose from! The Levitt Brothers applied Henry Ford’s principles to home-building, and it was very efficient (read this link for the full information: http://en.allexperts.com/e/l/le/levittown,_new_york.htm). At their peak, the builders could complete one house every FIFTEEN minutes:

Workers would move from site to site, performing the same small task repeatedly

And they came equipped with appliances! Turquoise appliances, in this case!!!!!

And people loved it! For instance, there is this website: http://www.iheartlevittown.com/ . Now it is rare (and exciting) to find a original Levittown home.

Here is the Claymation version we watched in class on Friday– I know sometimes it is hard to see on the screen:

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