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The Second World War affected life on the American home front in a multitude of ways. One such way World War II changed life on the home front was the creation of nuclear weapons and the fear they caused. In August 1945, the United States deployed two nuclear bombs on Japan, one on Hiroshima and one on Nagasaki. In 1949, the Soviet Union would test its first successful nuclear bomb. The U.S. and the Soviet Union were tentative allies in World War II, not really trusting one another; the U.S. was manufacturing nuclear weapons in the Manhattan Project but did not tell the Soviet Union what it was up to, so the Soviet Union used spies to infiltrate the Project and to alert Soviet scientists as to what the U.S. was doing. With the knowledge of nuclear weapons held by both superpowers, both began to build up their arsenals, and an arms race emerged in the post-war years, becoming a major aspect of the Cold War, which began almost as soon as World War II ended, with the dawn of the nuclear age. A result of the creation of the nuclear weapons, as well as the growing suburban way of life and disposable income for families, came something that Americans would take for granted, and is now slowly going by the wayside—the American shopping mall. Yes, the American shopping mall was a post-war creation, and one that would change American society and the post-war home front.
After the successful launch of the Soviet nuclear bomb, Americans sought ways to protect themselves and their families, and turned to bomb shelters; some of these bomb shelters were underground, similar to steel-and-concrete reinforced foxholes, while others were inconspicuous public places such as schools and hospitals. As America was growing increasingly prosperous with its new status as a major industrialized complex and a global superpower, families experienced an increase in disposable income. This meant that more people would be shopping for pleasure rather than necessity.
The first shopping mall in America was designed by Victor Gruen, who had immigrated to the United States from Austria in 1938 to escape Nazi persecution. He was an architect and would design many small shops and boutiques in the U.S.; he would also design the first shopping mall and it would opened in Edina, Minnesota in 1956, and the mall, the Southdale Mall, would be commissioned by the Dayton family, the owners of Target. Gruen's shopping malls were designed to be self-contained downtown centers where any Americans could spend their leisure time, but with the devastation that nuclear weapons were capable of during World War II, and the Cold War being in full-swing at the time he was designing the first mall and several others to come, Gruen also wanted shopping malls to act as nuclear fallout shelters. Obtaining advice from numerous civil defense contractors, the Southdale Mall, and the others Gruen would design, would have features similar to shopping malls we see today—food courts, ample water fountains and restroom access, locking gates on store entrances, stores facing one another, numerous entrances and exits and even "hidden" hallways and access points, a central arboretum with real plants, at least two anchor stores, and other features. However, the most important feature in nearly all shopping malls in the U.S. as a result of World War II, which is still a major feature today, is where the mall is located—ten miles away from the city centers; if a hydrogen bomb were to be dropped on the major cities in any given state, those outside its eight-mile blast radius would survive. Malls tend to be outside the city centers so if a nuclear strike does occur, the people inside the malls at the time would survive the strike.
The idea of shopping malls operating as nuclear fallout shelters never really became popular, but it is interesting to think about the effects of World War II on our lives even today.
David Nye, "Shopping malls were created with nuclear war in mind", Business Insider Oct. 30, 2015, http://www.businessinsider.com/shopping-malls-were-created-with-nuclear-war-in-mind-2015-10, accessed November 6, 2017.
Marni Epstein-Mervis, "How the Cold War Shaped the Design of American Malls", Curbed June 11, 2014, https://www.curbed.com/2014/6/11/10090762/how-the-cold-war-shaped-the-design-of-american-malls, accessed November 6, 2017.
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