Posted by Juliana Szucs on April 2, 2014 in Ask Juliana, Moments in Time

WWII Government PosterWith the upcoming release of Captain America, I thought it would be timely to take a look at what was going on in the real world during the year the original comic was released, 1941.  

The year opened with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s famous Four Freedoms Speech. In this State of the Union address, the president told Congress and the country that “the future and the safety of our country and of our democracy are overwhelmingly involved in events far beyond our borders.” Following World War I, the U.S. had reverted to isolationism, with the majority of the public not favoring involvement in foreign disputes, but the tide was slowly turning as many Americans began to ponder the impact of Axis victories in Asia and Europe and wonder about the extent of their ambitions.

The Four Freedoms Speech would inspire Norman Rockwell to create four paintings depicting these freedoms, which would later be used as posters to help sell war bonds.

In March, Roosevelt signed the Lend-Lease Act into law, which allowed the U.S. “To manufacture in arsenals, factories, and shipyards under their jurisdiction, or otherwise procure. . . any defense article for the government of any country whose defense the President deems vital to the defense of the United States.” This made the way for the shipment of much-needed supplies to allies like Great Britain and Russia, including food, aircraft, ships and land vehicles. In a press conference, Roosevelt compared the program to lending a neighbor whose house was on fire a garden hose to help extinguish the flames, saying that he wouldn’t want to charge that neighbor for the hose, but rather, he would just like the hose returned when the fire was out.

Also in 1941, Germany attacked and occupied Yugoslavia and Greece, and in June, invaded Russia. After the invasion, mobile units of Einsatzgruppen, or death squads, followed and performed mass executions of primarily Jewish victims in the invaded areas of the USSR. This year also saw the establishment of death camps in Birkenau and Chelmno, as well as the massacre of 34,000 Jews at Babi Yar.

The year would end with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. declaring war on Japan and Germany. National Geographic has an interesting online exhibit of first-hand accounts, photos and footage on the Pearl Harbor attacks.

In the entertainment world, popular movies included Citizen Kane, The Maltese Falcon and Sergeant York. The USO was born in 1941 and in May, Bob Hope performed in his first USO show. The USO continues to serve as a bridge between Americans and American servicemen and women through USO centers, clubs and shows to boost morale and as a vehicle of American support for troops. Soldiers at the USO canteens would have likely danced to the Chattanooga Choo-choo, Green Eyes, and We Three.

The year 1941 and the U.S. entrance into World War II would bring changes to all families in the U.S. As my dad recalls, in the ensuing war years, his family would follow the progress of the war through newspapers and plot locations on maps, and his coloring books would have a military theme, depicting planes, tanks, soldiers and snipers. His family also grew a victory garden and collected tin cans for recycling.

What are your memories or what stories have you heard about 1941?


Juliana Szucs

Juliana Szucs has been working for for more than 19 years. She began her family history journey trolling through microfilms with her mother at the age of 11. She has written many articles for online and print genealogical publications and wrote the "Computers and Technology" chapter of The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Juliana holds a certificate from Boston University's Online Genealogical Research Program.


  1. Rebekah Mendoza

    On a good note I was born in 1941. On a less good note my husband had a 19 year old first cousin that had been in the Navy for a little over a year and was stationed aboard BB-39, the USS Arizona. His remains are in Pearl Harbor along with his many shipmates that went down with the ship when she was sunk by the Japanese. They are memorialized on the marble wall in the USS Arizona Memorial. We always remember him on the anniversary of that day of infamy.

  2. Connie Stringfellow

    I was born in 1947. My father was the tenth child of eleven. Eight boys and three girls. As families go, they all had their own lives. By 1944 all but one of the boys was in the service, either Army or Marines. I was lucky, they all came home. I got to know some great people. Just recently my Mother passed away. She was friends with the wife of my Father’s best friend. I called her to see how she was doing. She related the story about how my Father and three friends joined the military. Seems her husband Al, told one of the boys, Jimmy, that Stan had joined the Marines. Jimmy immediately went down and joined. My father heard the story and joined the next day. Stan followed. Al was the last. Said it was all his fault and he couldn’t stay behind. He joined the Marines. These men came hone and went on with their lives, but made a point to meet once a year on Dec 7, to toast those who did not come home.

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