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1941 4th of July Parade Was a Slice of Pure Americana

Independence Day isn’t just about the fireworks in the evening. The whole day, for most Americans, is a time to relax, maybe go swimming, and definitely eat some good food. But, for generations of Americans, the 4th of July parade was an integral part of the day’s festivities.

For a long time very little about these parades changed. These days, however, the hometown parade is less important than it was in days past, partially because of parking and other logistical issues. But, in 1941 the Independence Day parade was going strong in many towns. Have a look at a slice of Americana in these photos from the 1941 4th of July parade in Watertown, Wisconsin.

Less than a year before the U.S. entered World War II following the Attack on Pearl Harbor, this 4th of July holiday was unencumbered by the international conflict in Europe at the time. Just one year later, rationing on food and fuel had already begun, with the first ration books issued in May of 1942 and that summer a new 35 MPH speed limit was introduced to save on gasoline.

By the end of the war 16 million Americans had served in the Armed Forces, under the Selective Service Act which had been created in 1940.

But, in the summer 1941 the U.S. was not yet involved in the war, and families gathered on the main drag in Watertown, a small town with a population at the time of just over 11,000 people. At the time many communities were still recovering from the effects of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression.

Photographed by Farm Security Administration employee, John Vachon, the town’s celebrations and jubilations are beautifully caught on film.

Many of the FSA photographers were sent into rural areas to document how farm relief programs were either needed or how they had helped once implemented. But, many times they ended up capturing the daily lives of many different kinds of people -in cities, towns, and everywhere in between.

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