Abstract: The Post-World War II Insurance Industry and the Reshaping of the American Landscape

Caley Horan


During the years following World War II, the American landscape changed significantly. Widespread suburbanization was accompanied and aided by a number of other spatial transformations, including the "shopping center boom," the birth of the suburban corporate campus, and the construction of new infrastructural networks like interstate highways and natural gas pipelines. Most historical accounts cite either public demand or federal funding as the primary factors driving the postwar reworking of the nation's spatial landscape. This paper contributes to this conversation through a study of insurance industry investment practices during the years following World War II, arguing that insurance companies were instrumental players in reshaping the built environment of the United States during this period. Through massive investments in urban housing projects, suburban subdivisions, shopping centers, and infrastructure projects, postwar insurance companies became key participants in a large-scale restructuring of the American landscape. Insurers exercised a large degree of control over these investments and gained through them unprecedented influence over the living arrangements, consumption patterns, and daily movements of millions of Americans. This new influence substantially expanded the governing reach of insurance as an institution and fundamentally altered the postwar economy and social life.