1946 Reconsidered: The Ohio Valley in the Post-World War II Era

The Filson Historical Society, supported by the C.E. and S. Foundation and an anonymous friend of the Filson hosted its 2021 biennial conference, 1946 Reconsidered: The Post-WWII Ohio Valley, on October 22 and 23, 2021.

In 1950, WWII veteran and Louisville architect Stratton Hammon wrote to a colleague at Better Homes & Gardens magazine:

Before the war, Louisville was one of the lowest building cost markets in the country because its economy was largely based on agriculture, horses, corn for whiskey and tobacco. The war, however, changed all this. Because we have a hydroelectric dam here, a tremendous number of large plants located here—rubber, aircraft, aluminum, International Harvester, etc. This at once changed our non-union town to a union town and the price of building is, I believe, much above the balance of the country because of the high wages and because we have never yet caught up with the industrial building program.

Hammon accounted for the sea changes he had seen in his professional field, but the social, demographic, spatial, institutional, and environmental changes wrought by the war went beyond the recounting of any one individual. What changes did the soldiers, defense workers, and families notice when they returned home to the Ohio Valley—or came for the first time? What new ideas and perspectives did they bring home, and what would come of them? What new promises and hidden dangers did the factories, suburbs, and highways of the postwar landscape hold? In what visible and subtle ways have the years immediately after WWII shaped life in Louisville and its region for the past 75 years?

Like in 1946, we are struggling to find paths forward after a world-historical event. We have experienced grief and loss on a catastrophic scale. The foundations of our economy have been disrupted and need reassessment. We have experienced both transnational unity and deep, internal division. We have been here before. History gives us the capacity to reflect, learn, and grow. The Filson is committed to using its perspective on the past to empower those in our community who seek to create a healthier, more equitable, and more prosperous future.

The Filson is committed to ensuring that this conference has a long afterlife with diverse audiences. The editors of Ohio Valley History will produce a thematic special issue from some selected papers given at this conference.

Recorded Sessions

Higher Education in the Ohio Valley Roundtable

Featuring experts on campuses in Kentucky and Ohio, this roundtable explores questions about post-WWII campus life. Important topics include integration of the university, the role of women as students and faculty, the physical expansion of campuses, the influx of veteran students, and the role of suburbanization in university funding, and the changes to curriculum and mission brought about by significant federal investment in scientific and engineering research.

John McNay, Moderator, Professor of History, University of Cincinnati-Blue Ash
Terry Birdwhistell, Senior Oral Historian and former Dean of Libraries, University of Kentucky
Carrie Daniels, University Archivist and Director of Archives & Special Collections, University of Louisville
John Hardin, Professor Emeritus of History, Western Kentucky University
David Stradling, Zane L. Miller Professor of History, University of Cincinnati


The Year of Peril: America in 1942

Based in his recent book, The Year of Peril: America in 1942 (Yale, 2020), and current teaching of a seminar on the history of misinformation and disinformation, Campbell reflects on research and the process of discovering a relevant history over the life of a book project.

Tracy Campbell is the E. Vernon Smith and Eloise C. Smith Professor of American History at the University of Kentucky. He is a native Kentuckian who received his undergraduate degree from UK, and his Ph.D. from Duke University. He has taught at UK since 1999, where he teaches recent American and Kentucky history.


Heart of the American Bomb: Building the Atomic Valley

The U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) embarked upon a series of facility expansions beginning in 1947 designed to meet the burgeoning demands for ever increasingly powerful nuclear weapons from the Defense Department. While public attention focused on plant constructions in the American West and South, the AEC built the largest concentration of nuclear weapons’ related sites in the Ohio River Valley. Local politicians, community boosters, union leaders, and newspaper editors in the river valley competed to secure plant sites in what many came to describe as America’s new atomic Ruhr Valley.

Jason Krupar is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Cincinnati. He joined the History Department in March 2010. Prior to that, he was a faculty member of the Department of Humanities, Media and Cultural Studies at the OMI College of Applied Science of the University of Cincinnati for eight years. His specializes in Technology and Engineering Policy Histories, Cold War History, 20th Century American History, Historic Preservation, and History of the Manhattan Project and Cold War Weapons Complex.


A Brief History of Rubbertown: Linchpin of WWII, Titans of Industry, and the Fight for Environmental Justice

From being underwater during the flood of 1937 to being the site of the largest federal industrial investment during WWII outside of the Manhattan Project, Louisville’s Rubbertown neighborhood on the western edge of Jefferson County has been the site of ongoing struggles over housing and environmental justice.

Austin C. Hall is a doctoral student at the University of Cincinnati focusing on three areas of study – North American Nazism, Public History, and Rural/Urban Development. He completed his undergraduate degrees in English and History from Thiel College in Greenville, PA and his M.A. in History from Miami University.


Fungo Bats, Fat Monroe, and Howdy Doody: Re-imagining the Happy Days of Post World War II Ohio Valley

Set in the wake of World War II, ABC’s Happy Days portrayed a relatively sweet image of life in America of the 1950s and early 1960s, focusing as it did on the period as a mainly innocent and tame moment before the social revolutions of the 1960s. How true to life, though, was such a saccharine portrayal? As a precursor to a fuller exploration of the countercultural revolution of the 1960s, “Fungo Bats, Fat Monroe, and Howdy Doody” aims to explore life in the Ohio Valley in the few years immediately after World War II by allowing the largely fictional work of Kentucky authors Ed McClanahan, Wendell Berry, James Baker Hall, Gurney Norman, and Bobbie Ann Mason to offer possible ways to re-imagine the moments between the end of the Second World War, the rise of the Cold War, and the advent of the social and cultural revolution known as the Counterculture Movement.

Richard A. Bailey is Fitzpatrick Professor of History at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York. A native of north Alabama, he is the author of Race and Redemption in Puritan New England (OUP, 2011). While he continues to write and lecture about “race” and religion in colonial New England, Richard is also currently working on several projects about the life and writings of some prominent Kentucky authors.