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7 Levittown, New York

Abraham, William, and Alfred Levitt, 1947

Levittown brought assembly-line construction concepts to the American suburb. Photo credit: Levittown Public Library

Brothers William and Alfred Levitt, together with their father Abraham, saw an opportunity to create much-needed postwar housing quickly, efficiently, and profitably. Photo credit: Levittown Public Library

The Levitts purchased thousands of acres of former potato farms on Long Island. Photo credit: Levittown Public Library

They filled the former farmland with quickly constructed, mostly identical homes, many in a simple Cape Cod style. Photo credit: Jon Smith

The Levittown East Village Green. Photo credit: Jon Smith

Federal mortgage underwriting helped Levittown to boom. Photo credit: Jon Smith

The Levittown swimming pool signified a new kind of lifestyle-one not previously available to the town's first residents. Photo credit: Jon Smith

With no central downtown, strip malls housed businesses. Photo credit: Jon Smith

The lack of a central downtown tied Levittown to another postwar trend: dependence on the automobile. Photo credit: Jon Smith

Levittown today. Photo credit: Jon Smith

Levittown, New York

Levittown, New York

After World War II, ten million veterans came home to a massive housing shortage. Many of them were marrying and starting families.

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Decent apartments were scarce, and single-family homes were too expensive for many vets. In New York, where it was common for multiple generations of families to live together in urban apartment buildings, the time was ripe for another option that offered something new, modern, and accessible by the masses.

Enter the Levitts. Brothers William and Alfred, together with their father Abraham, set about developing a neighborhood on former farmland in Nassau County, Long Island.

Their approach owed much to Henry Ford - and not only for the increased mobility made possible by the rise of the automobile. The Levitts also applied Ford's principles of mass production to home building, innovating assembly-line construction methods that allowed homes to be constructed quickly and inexpensively. By the middle of 1948, the company was building 30 houses a day in Levittown.

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William Levitt, himself a returning Navy man, brought to the project his wartime experience constructing military bases - efficiently and in a manner that in the private sector could be quite profitable. The Levitts' innovative approach made it possible to offer a home with modern conveniences such as a washing machine, refrigerator, and dishwasher for less than $7,000.

Federal Housing Administration loans took this accessibility a step further, offering no-down-payment mortgages with monthly payments lower than most rents. Thanks in large part to this federal underwriting, Levittown was so successful that two more Levittowns took shape - one in Pennsylvania and one in New Jersey.

But if Levittown was symbolic of the American dream, it was also symbolic of American segregation of the time. Levittown, under the Levitts' direction, attempted for years to enforce restricted covenants that excluded non-white residents and remains infamous for this discrimination.

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