At a Century of Progress: 1920-1950

Teachers Level Two

Note: It is a good idea to print Level Two for easy reference.

Voices and Choices

Theo Finley has just gotten married in Springfield and wants to build a house for his new family. Because of World War II, lumber is still scarce and Theo may not be able to build the house of his dreams.


These themes can be explored with either a social studies or language arts curriculum. Use these themes to tie in other resources to your class discussion, i.e., other books, other cultures, students' own lives.


What do you think?

These questions, which come at the end of each story (minus "the answer"), can be used to start class discussions or be assigned as homework.

Theo Finley plans to build his own home. What skills and abilities will he need? What skills and abilities does he possess?

Theo Finley has the necessary skills to design and build a house. He has a background in electrical engineering and is a gifted artist. He ran his own sign and poster art shop in Chicago. He can utilize his drawing skills to create an architectural plan for his home. With his knowledge of electrical engineering he will be able to wire his house for electricity and heat. He might need some help with the plumbing and the manual labor of actually building the house.

In what ways would you consider Theo Finley a successful man? What attributes does he possess that have helped him earn his success?

He is well educated, has owned his own businesses, and is now a husband and father. He owns land and has the necessary skills to be able to build his new family a home inspired by the Taj Mahal. From the way his life has seemed to unfold, we can make a guess at some of the attributes that have helped him to be successful: intelligence, an ability to set goals for himself, and the confidence to persevere and realize those goals.

How much education does Theo have? How do you think his education has helped him get ahead?

He has a college degree from Southland College in Arkansas, a degree in applied electrical engineering from the Chicago School for Engineering, and coursework in lettering and poster art. His education has been both practical and diverse. We know that in Chicago he owned and operated Finley Cab Company and his own sign and poster art shop. While he may not have spent his career as an electrical engineer, he had the confidence and ability to start two businesses. Sometimes higher education can help develop a person's self-confidence and heighten his or her ability to manage and direct others.

What has been the direct effect of World War II upon Theo and his family? How is he providing the best that he can for his family?

After World War II ended, the country experienced severe shortages in everything from lumber to food. So many resources and raw materials had been used for the war effort that America was depleted of reserves. It was not until the 1950s that America experienced an economic resurgence. By this time factories that had been built to mass-produce guns, and ammunition had been successfully channeled into the mass production of domestic appliances such as washing machines and vacuum cleaners.

Why has the war created scarcity at home? What is scarcity? Give an example from the story and one from your own life.

All economic resources were channeled into fighting the war. During World Wars I and II, the government imposed rations on household goods. Americans were limited in what they could buy, including gas, food, and clothing. New fashions, such as short skirts, replaced old fashions that used more cloth. In this story, Theo Finley can buy enough lumber for only a 1200 foot house. His original plan was to build an 1800 foot house.

Theo Finley has to compromise his plans to build a large house because of the shortage of lumber. Have you ever had to change your plans because of factors outside your control? What kind of compromise did you make?

Have students discuss the limits to personal choice. Help them understand that personal choice is often a juggling act between what one wants to do and what one can do. Through compromise, one can still achieve what one wants, even if the final result is modified.

Who do you think should propose first, the man or the woman? Do you intend on getting married one day? When do you want to start a family?

This could be the start to a good discussion of the difference between social mores in Finley's time--when it was unusual for a woman to propose to a man--and social mores today. It might also lead to an interesting discussion about family planning and the risk of starting a family before one has the ability to support the family financially.



These are suggested classroom activities and student projects that you may want to use with your students or as models to create your own.

1. Oral interviews

The theme of this interview will be World War II reminiscences. Like Theo Finley, many Americans experienced scarcity during and after World War II.

Interview your grandparents or older members of your community about World War II and their memories of life at that time. You might ask them the following kinds of questions:

You can submit your interview to the website "World War II Stories" at:
Remote Link under New War Stories.

"World War II Stories" is part of a larger website "World War II -- Keeping the Memory Alive" at:
Remote Link Refer to this site for primary-source material about World War II.

2. Psychology in Advertising

As production of goods increased dramatically during the 1920s, the advertising business took on the problem of convincing consumers to buy the commercial goods and services now available. Advertisers turned to psychology to learn about their customers' desires and fears. With this information they created ads to promote the item they were trying to sell, for example a radio, as the solution to consumer fears or as the key to consumer dreams.

Look at the advertisement for the Atwater Kent Radio in Clues to the Past Maps Follow up: Do advertisers today use psychology to sell their products?

Find an advertisement that you like:

3. World War I and World War II Posters

During World War I and World War II, the government published posters to motivate American citizens to participate in the war effort. Some of the posters encouraged men and women to join the army, the navy, and even the workforce. Other posters cautioned Americans to conserve needed resources, such as gasoline, to grow their own food, and even to be careful about what was said in public or written in letters to their loved ones that the enemy might intercept.

Like advertisements in the 1920s that used psychology to sell commercial goods, the posters of World War I and World War II used psychology to motivate Americans to behave in a certain way.

Poster View six examples of posters created during World War I and World War II from the Illinois State Museum Collection.

Analyze one of the posters from World War I and one of the posters from World War II by looking at each element. Make a chart to organize your findings. Your chart might look like this:

Subject Words Colors Pictures Feelings
World War I Poster - - - -
World War II Poster - - - -

You will find more examples of World War II posters at the site "World War II Propaganda Posters" at:
Remote Link


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