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1940s swing shift dance crowd

The 1940s in Harris County were dominated by World War II. The devastation and loss resulting from the war included injuries and loss of life for both civilians and soldiers, the internment of U.S. citizens and post-war unemployment for women who had joined the labor force in large numbers during the war. Despite all this, great books, music and movies were still being produced, and when I was in high school, I developed a fascination with them that was a contributing factor in my decision to pursue an undergraduate degree in history.

It started with the movies!
Despite Technicolor having been around for quite a while, most popular films of the 1940s were still released as black and white. There was a lot of controversy in the 1980s & 1990s about the colorization of classic films, and I have to admit that I prefer the original black and white.

his girl friday




the lady eve


mr. and mrs. smith


philadelphia story


I might have been obsessed with Cary Grant and screwball comedies, but check out our HCPL Centennial: 1940s playlist on Kanopy and you can start developing your own obsessions in relation to 1940s cinema!

Then there was the music!
Swing Kids was released my junior year in high school. My brother and his friends teased me mercilessly about my love of this movie, but that did not stop my best friend and I from cruising around in my 1982 Buick Skylark listening to the soundtrack on cassette tape! We expanded beyond the soundtrack to some of the other big-name musicians of the 1940s. 

tommy dorsey
Tommy Dorsey


duke ellington
Duke Ellington


Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald


Benny Goodman
Benny Goodman


billie holiday
Billie Holiday


These artists and many more are featured on our HCPL Centennial: 1940s Popular Music playlist on Freegal, and if you're more coordinated than I am, maybe you can jitterbug while you listen!

And let's not forget the books!
Despite eventually becoming a librarian, I can't say that my interest in the movies and music of the 1940s led me to also seek out books that were written during that decade. However, I am happy to say that some great books were published during that time period, many of which are still beloved (or required school reading - I'm looking at you 1984!) today.

all the king's men


black boy


for whom the bell tolls


goodnight moon


stuart little


You can find even more in our HCPL Centennial: 1940s collection on Overdrive. So whether you're donning a zoot suit, a service uniform, or the New Look, take advantage of 21st century technology to experience some 1940s culture.

Image Credits: 
Jitterbugs, Swing Kids, and Lindy Hoppers at Digital Public Library of America
William P. Gottlieb Collection at Library of Congress

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