1940: England and France were at war with Germany, Italy and Japan: later that year France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark, Norway, and Romania fell to the Germans, but the United States did not join World War II until Pearl Harbor was bombed in December of 1941. Today: Having been elevated to the status of world power as an outcome of World War II, the United States is almost certain to be involved in any major worldwide conflict.
1940: The first Social Security checks were mailed out to Americans. The first payout to American pensioners totaled $75,844. Today: After decades of workers paying into the system, the amount paid out annually by the Social Security Administration is nearly $400 billion.
1940: Plutonium, the radioactive element that fueled the nuclear bombs used in 1945 to end World War II, was first discovered. Today: Now that the Soviet Union has disbanded, there are fears that the nuclear bombs they stockpiled between the 1940s and 1990s might fall into the hands of terrorists.
1940: In the South, blacks and whites were not allowed to eat or drink at the same establishments, stay at the same hotels, or ride on public transportation together. At the same time, the persecution of European Jews by the Nazis made government support of racial hatred conspicuous. Today: Because of progress made toward civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s, some groups argue that minorities are over-privileged.
1940: Most Americans had radio receivers that provided them with news and entertainment; television broadcasting had been introduced during the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, but there were only about 100 to 200 sets to receive it. During World War II little was done to expand on the television experiment. Ten years later, just nine percent of U.S. households had television sets, but twenty years later, that number had jumped to 85 percent. Today: Television’s immense popularity has created a market for literally hundreds of networks, catering to diversified tastes.