FACTS about this Decade
- Population: 123,188,000 in 48 states
- Lynchings: 21
- Unemployment rises to 25%
- Average salary: $1,368
- Car Sales: 2,787,400
- Food Prices: Milk, 14 cents a qt.; Bread, 9 cents
a loaf; Round Steak, 42 cents a pound
- Life Expectancy: Male, 58.1; Female, 61.6
- Huey Long propses a guaranteed annual
income of $2,500
By the 1930s money was scarce because of the depression, so people did what they could to make their lives happy. Movies were hot, parlor games and board games were popular. People gathered around radios to listen to the Yankees. Young people danced to the big bands. Franklin Roosevelt influenced Americans with his Fireside Chats. The golden age of the mystery novel continued as people escaped into books, reading writers like Agatha Christie, Dashielle Hammett, and Raymond Chandler.
In the Great Depression the American dream had become a nightmare.
What was once the land of opportunity was now the land of desperation.
What was once the land of hope and optimism had become the land of despair.The
American people were questioning all the maxims on which they had based
their lives - democracy, capitalism, individualism. The best hope for a
better life was California. Many Dust Bowl farmers
packed their families into cars, tied their few possessions on the back,
and sought work in the agricultural fields or cities of the West - their
role as independent land owners gone forever. Between 1929 and 1932 the income
of the average American family was reduced by 40%, from $2,300 to $1,500.
Instead of advancement, survival became the keyword. Institutions, attitudes,
lifestyles changed in this decade but democracy prevailed. Democracies
such as Germany and Italy fell to dictatorships, but the United States
and its constitution survived.
politics in the 1930's. The decade began with shanty towns called
Hoovervilles, named after a president who felt that relief should be left
to the private sector, and ended with an alphabet soup of federal programs
funded by the national government and an assortment of commissions set up
to regulate Wall Street, the banking industry, and other business enterprises.
The Social Security Act
of 1935 set up a program to ensure an income for the elderly. The Wagner Act of 1935
gave workers the legal right to unionize. John L. Lewis founded
the Congress of
Industrial Organizations (CIO) and conditions for blue-collar workers
P. Kennedy, a Wall Street insider, was appointed Chairman of the Securities and
Exchange Commissions. By the beginning of the next decade the United States had gone from a laissez-faire economy that regulated its own conduct to a regulated economy overseen by the federal government. The debate over which is the best course of action still rages today.
The Presidents of the 1930s were Herbert Hoover
The arts, like everything else
in the 30's, were dominated by the Great Depression. In the 1930's this discipline
was supported by government programs such as the Public Works of Art Project
and later the Federal
Art Project. The artists employed by these projects (over 5,000 at one
period of time) chose themes based on American culture and history. The
sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, was abe to complete hisMount
Rushmore Memorial with funds supplied by the WPA. Other "starving artists"
were able to survive the hard times by painting murals on the lobby walls
of government buildings. There were some of these individuals who became
artists of note, such as Jackson Pollock and
This decade saw the beginning of the American
regionalist style with Grant Wood's famous work, "American Gothic".
Artists that adoped this style include John Steuart Curry, Thomas Hart Benton, Georgia O'Keeffe with
her southwestern themes, and Edward Hopper with his realistic scenes from
Many of the nation's most memorable skyscrapers
(the Empire State Building,
Building, and Rockefeller
Center) were completed in the early 30's. In 1937 the Frank Lloyd Wright
masterpiece of home design, "Falling Water",
was built. In 1932 the word "mobile" was coined to describe the kenetic
sculpture created by Alexander
Calder. In 1935 Andrew
Mellon gave his $25 million dollar art collection to the American people
and contributed $10 million to the construction of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
The 1930's were a perilous time for public
education. With cash money in short supply parents were unable to provide
their children with the necessary clothes, supplies, and textbooks (which
were not furnished in some states) to attend school. Taxes, especially
in rural areas, went unpaid. With the loss of revenue, school boards were
forced to try numerous strategies to keep their districts operating. School
terms were shortened. Teachers' salaries were cut. One new teacher was
paid $40 a month for a five month school year - and was very glad for the
job! When a rural county in Arkansas was forced to charge tuition one year
in order to keep the schools open, some children were forced to drop out
for that year. One farmer was able to barter wood to fuel the classrooms'
potbellied stoves for his four children's tuition, thus enabling them to
continue their education.
The famous Dick and Jane books that
taught millions of children to read were first published in 1931. These
primers introduced the students to reading with only one new word per page
and a limited vocabulary per book. All who learned to read with these books
still recall the "Look. See Dick. See Dick run."
With the reduction of spendable income, people had to look
to inexpensive leisure pursuits. President Roosevelt helped make
stamp collecting a popular hobby.
Parlor games and board games became the rage.
In 1935 Parker Brothers introduced the game of Monopoly and 20 thousand sets
were sold in one week. Gambling increased as people sought any means
to add to their income. Between 1930 and 1939 horse racing became
legal in 15 more states bringing the total to 21. Interest in spectator
sports such as baseball grew. Stars like Lou Gehrig
and Joe DiMaggio drew fans
into the stadium, and those who could not attend the games gathered around
their radios to listen to the play-by-play. The 1932 Winter
Olympics, held at Lake Placid, New York, renewed interest in winter
sports. The Civilian
Conservation Corps, a New Deal work project for youths, built ski runs
and jumps on public land as well as recreational facilities in the national
Paris fashions became too expensive for all but the very
rich, and American designers came into their own. Hollywood movie stars
such as Bette Davis and Greta Garbo set fashion trends in dresses designed
and Muriel King and
hats designed by Lily
had to last a long time so styles did not change every season. The
simple print dress with a waist line and longer hem length replaced the flapper
attire of the 1920's.
The use of the zipper
became wide spread for the first time because it was less expensive than
the buttons and closures previously used. Another innovation of the
30's was different hem lengths for different times of the day - midcalf for
day wear, long for the evening. Men's pants were wide and high waisted.
Vest sweaters were an alternative to the traditional matching vest of the
three piece suit. Hats were mandatory for the well dressed male.
Many of America's most distinguished writers produced works of fiction
during the thirties. The list includes such names as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, John
Dos Passos, and Thornton
Wilder. Some of the novels of this period explored what was happening
in the country during the Great Depression. John Steinbeck's
of Wrath chronicled the life of a displaced Oklahoma family who had
lost its farm to the drought of the Dust Bowl. James T. Farrell wrote
a trilogy of novels about an Irish-American named Studs
Lonigan and his attempt to rise above his poor beginnings. Richard Wright took on the issue of racial
prejudice and the plight of blacks in Native Son. Erskine Caldwell's
novel Tobacco Road
described the life of poor whites in the rural South.
All four of these works were cited on the recent Modern
Library list of the top 100 novels, in English, of the 20th century.
There were notable works in other forms of literature. The poet Carl Sandburg published his poem "The People, Yes" in 1936.
Ogden Nash wrote light verse
for the New Yorker magazine. Dr. Seuss delighted
children with his rhyming books for youngsters learning to read.
collection of poetry, The Man With the
Blue Guitar was published in 1937. The public speaking instructor,
in 1936 penned the book whose title How to Win Friends and Influence
People was to become a part of the language.
It Don't Mean a Thing
(if it Ain't Got Swing). The title of this Duke
Ellington song sums up the "in" music of the thirties. There were
popular songs such as "Brother,
Can You Spare a Dime" that spoke to the hardships of the time, but the
young people flocked to hear and dance to the big bands
of Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington,
Dorsey. In this same
era Broadway produced some of the most famous and lasting American musicals.
George and Ira Gershwin
wrote the hits Strike
Up the Band, Girl Crazy,
and Of Thee
I Sing.Cole Porter produced such works as
Hot and Blue. Songwriters and lyricists like Irving Berlin, Johnny Mercer, and Richard Rodgers
composed melodies still being played and sung today.
The Federal Music Project (FMP)
supported the musical arts and sponsored performances of both
classical and popular compositions.
The FMP emphasized American music and promoted the works of Aaron
Copland, Roy Harris
and Virgil Thomson.
In 1936 the Department of the Interior hired
Woody Guthrie to travel throughout the Northwest and perform his folk
songs. During this tour he wrote twenty-six songs in twenty-six days.
By 1938 Guthrie was making appearances in support of labor unions and wrote
such songs as "I Ain't Got
No Home", inspired by visits to migrant labor camps.
It was in 1935 that George Gershwin's American
folk opera Porgy
and Bess was first performed. In 1931 Congress designated "The Star Spangled
Banner" as the national anthem. In 1938 Kate Smith sang Irving
Bless America" and made the song her own. There have been many
proponents of making this the national anthem, replacing the hard to sing
"Star Spangled Banner". In the same year a young Mary Martin captivated
theatergoers with her rendition of
"My Heart Belongs to Daddy" in Cole Porter's Leave It to Me.
Radio reached its zenith
of popularity in this decade.By 1939 about 80 percent of the population
owned radio sets. Americans loved to laugh at the antics of such comedians
as Jack Benny, Fred Allen,George Burns and Gracie
Allen, Amos and
Andy, and Fibber McGee
and Molly. The soap opera dominated the daytime airwaves.Our Gal
Sunday began each episode with the question, "Can a girl from
a little mining town in the west find happiness as the wife of a wealthy
and titled Englishman?' Many a woman's ear was glued to her radio
every day in hopes of learning the answer. The heroics of the
Hornet, the Shadow,
Armstrong, All-American Boy, thrilled listeners both young and old
and sold countless boxes of cereal. News broadcasts by commentators
like H. V. Kaltenborn and Edward
R. Murrow kept the public aware of the increasing crisis in Europe.
Franklin Roosevelt used the medium in his "Fireside Chats" to influence
public opinion. One of the most dramatic moments in radio history
occurred on May 6, 1937, when the German airship Hindenburg burst into
flames as it was about to land in Lakehurst, New Jersey. The horror
of the incident was conveyed live by the reporter Herb Morrison. His
reaction to what was happening in front of him still enthralls today. On
October 30, 1938, a twenty-three-year-old Orson Welles' broadcast on his
Mercury Theater of the Air the H.G. Wells storyWar of the Worlds.
Despite the disclaimer at the end of the program, the tale of a Martian
invasion of Earth panicked a million listeners who mistook the play for a
newscast. Such was the influence of radio in this its golden age.
York's World Fair of 1939 - true to its theme of "The World of Tomorrow"
- gave its estimated 25.8 million visitors a glimpse of the future.
The fairgoers marveled at the flickering images of a TV set and were
amazed at the General Motors exhibit of a seven-lane cross-country highway
system. Many of the innovations demonstrated did not become a part
of every day life until after World War II, but there was a peek at the technology
to come. Medical advances in the thirties included a new and safer
way to do blood transfusions. An advance that was to save many a soldier's
life in the upcoming war. In 1937 Chicago's Cook County Hospital opened
the first blood bank
that stored blood given by live donors. This, with improved anesthesia,
made the chances of surviving major surgery on vital organs much greater.
research suffered from the lack of funding. Nevertheless, in physics
ground breaking experiments in atom smashing were being conducted at such
institutions as Columbia University and the California Institute of Technology.
Albert Einstein immigrated
to the United States in 1933 and became a professor at the Institute for
Advanced Studies at Princeton University. From here in 1939 he wrote
his famous letter to President
Rooseveltrecommending the development of the atomic bomb. In the
field of astronomy the ninth major planet, Pluto,
was discovered in 1930.
led to better refrigeration for foods, a variety of products made from synthetic
materials such as plexiglass, nylon, and cellophane, and improved manufacturing
techniques such as polymerization, which increased production of gasoline
by nine million gallons a year. In 1938 American physicist Chester F. Carlson
made the first copy by an electrostatic process called xerography.
flourished in this fourth decade of the twentieth century. In addition
to musicals, Broadway marquees lit up with play titles like Green Pastures
Man Who Came to Dinner by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, The Children's
Hour by Lillian
Abe Lincoln in Illinois by Robert Sherwood,
and Waiting for Lefty by Clifford
Odets. In 1936 the foremost American dramatist Eugene O'Neill
won the Nobel prize for literature for such works as Anna Christie and Mourning
out movie after movie to entertain its Depression audience and the 30's
are often referred to as Hollywood's
Movie goers wanted mainly escapist fare that let them forget their everyday
troubles for a few hours. They swooned over such matinee idols as Clark Gable, Bette Davis, Greta Garbo,
and Errol Flynn. They laughed
at the likes of W. C. Fields,
Bob Hope, and the Marx Brothers. America fell
in love with the little curly headed moppet Shirley Temple and flocked to
see her tap dance and sing to the song "The
Good Ship Lollipop". Busby
Berkeley's elaborate dance numbers delighted many a fan. Fred
Astaire and Ginger Rogers tapping and ballroom dancing across the screen
enthralled the audience. Notable writers like William Faulkner
and F. Scott
Fitzgerald penned screneplays. Not all movies were fantasy and
lightness. The picture version of John Steinbeck's The Grapes
of Wrath brought to film the story of the Joab family and its migration
from the Dust Bowl of Oklanhoma to the agricultural fields of California.
One of the top money makers of all time Gone With the Wind
debuted in Atlanta, Georgia in 1939. Walt Disney produced the
first full-length animated movie, Snow White and
the Seven Dwarfs in 1937.