General Motors and 1949

1949 was a year of millions for America and General Motors. After having sacrificed dearly during the Great Depression and World War II, Americans were ready to indulge themselves and flaunt their newly found wealth as citizens of one of the world’s two great superpowers. “Postwar” was the word on every advertisers tongue, now a synonym for prosperity.

After 1945, Americans moved into over a million new homes a year and bought roughly 7 million cars a year. In 1949, the millionth postwar Buick rolled off the line, and Cadillac celebrated its millionth ever car at the same time Pontiac was celebrating its three millionth.

“A new car looks like a million dollars when it shines,” read one Buick ad.

In wonderful, full-color images, well-dressed men and women in nice hats zoomed past idyllic lakes out in the boonies, destined for a golf course or an elegant countryside manor. The cars all had steel tops and a laundry list of modern engineering advances – Chevrolet claimed that its 1949 models contained over twenty changes in styling and mechanical improvements. Though that was short of the fifty engineering advances Chrysler claimed for some of its models, it was still quite impressive. Common refinements that year included reconfigured dashboards, more steel, smoother transmissions, and smaller cars with bigger interiors – to fit the “modest family budget as it fits modest-size garages.”

V8s were a big hit, too, with the new “Oldsmobile Rocket” engine upping the compression ratio, displacement, torque, and fuel economy. Even the Sultan of Kuwait got caught up in era’s exuberant spirit, purchasing a $30,000 “desertized” peach-pink convertible from Cadillac with extra-wide tires, while Pontiac sold cars in fanciful colors like “Mayan Gold” and “Wellington Green” for a couple grand to the average consumer, about a year’s pay.

1949 was truly an incredible and incredibly innocent year. White men were firmly in the driver’s seat, and for them and their families, the future was as bright as a chrome grille. The mythologized “golden age” of America had begun. The romantic sentiments of “Don’t Fence Me In”, a massive hit during the last months of World War II, presaged with a cutting accuracy the coming transformation of the American landscape:

Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above
Don’t fence me in

Let me ride through the wide open country that I love
Don’t fence me in

Let me be by myself in the evenin’ breeze
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever, but I ask you, please
Don’t fence me in

The suburbs were here to stay.


2 thoughts on “General Motors and 1949

  1. Whenever I hear older white people make statements along the lines of “things were so much better back in the good ol’ days,” I think to myself, “better for who?”.

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