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THE DECADE 1930 - 1940 | by (The) Appleman
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THE DECADE 1930 - 1940

The background picture is entitled: St. Louis, May 1940. "Downtown street on Sunday morning." and is the property of The original picture can be viewed here


* Obviously the following commentary is quite lengthy and makes for difficult reading "on screen". (If) you care to take to trouble of reading the entire text, my suggestion would be to copy the text and paste it into a Word document.

........... and you think the world is in chaos today?..............


The New York Stock Exchange crashed in October 1929 throwing the nation into the grips of poverty and financial despair. 1930 was the beginning of the Great Depression. It would last a decade in the United States, where, at its nadir in 1933, 25 percent of all workers and 37 percent of all nonfarm workers were completely out of work. Some people starved; many others lost their farms and homes. Homeless vagabonds sneaked aboard the freight trains that crossed the nation. Dispossessed cotton farmers, the “Okies,” stuffed their possessions into dilapidated Model Ts and migrated to California in the false hope that the posters about plentiful jobs were true. Although the U.S. economy began to recover in the second quarter of 1933, the recovery largely stalled for most of 1934 and 1935. A more vigorous recovery commenced in late 1935 and continued into 1937, when a new depression occurred. The American economy had yet to fully recover from the Great Depression when the United States was drawn into World War II in December 1941. Because of this agonizingly slow recovery, the entire decade of the 1930s in the United States is often referred to as the Great Depression.


Socialism declared the Death of Capitalism; Hitler rose to power; From July 1936 to April 1939 Spain was ravaged by a Civil War, In 1931, the Japanese Kwangtung Army attacked Chinese troops in Manchuria. Ominous clouds of impending war loomed on the horizon. In the United States, the majority of its citizens were too preoccupied with trying to survive another day under the strains of the depression to notice.


But all of this drove technology forward: Radio was now the dominant mass medium in the so-called civilized world; the first commercial intercontinental airline flights began.


Some inventions and innovations of the 1930s and 40’s that shaped the culture:

1930: Planet discovered: Pluto, by Clyde W. Tombaugh at Lowell Observatory

1930: Photoflash bulb

1930: Freon invented by Midgley et al.

1930: Artificial fabric polymerized from acetylene (J. Walter Reppe, Germany)

1930: High-octane gasoline invented by Ipatief (Russia)

1931: Cyclotron invented (Ernest O. Lawrence, USA)

1931: Neoprene (synthetic rubber) developed by Julius A. Nieuwland

1931: Synthetic resin, invented by Hill (England)

1931: Electronic microscope, Lroll & Ruska (Germany)

1932: Vitamin D discovered

1933: Electronic television invented by Philo Farnsworth (USA)

1933: Pure Vitamin C synthesized by Tadeusz Reichstein

1934: Launderette, invented by Cantrell (USA)

1935: Aircraft-detecting radar, by Robert Watson Watt

1935: First sulfa drug (Prontosil) for streptococcal infections (G. Domagk, Germany)

1936: Artificial Heart invented by Dr. Alexis Carrel

1937: Nylon patented for DuPont by Wallace H. Carothers

1937: First jet engine, built by Frank Whittle

1938: Fiberglass invented at Owens-Corning

1938: Teflon invented at Du Pont

1938: Vitamin E identified

1938: Fluorescent lamp, at General Electric

1939: First nylon stockings

1939: Polyethylene invented

1939: First helicopter, built by Igor Sikorsky (Russian-American)

1939: FM (Frequency Modulation) radio invented by Edwin H. Armstrong

1940: First USA helicopter flight, Vought-Sikorsky Corporation

1940: Penicillin perfected by Howard Florey as useful antibiotic

1940: Cavity Magnetron developed (key to Radar)

1940: First transuranic element (Neptunium) discovered (Philip Abelson & Edwin McMillan)

1940: First electron microscope, RCA


Meanwhile, Hitler's Nazi party gained power (in 1930), and soon led to the annexation of Austria (1938) and the invasion of Poland (1939), which drew France and Great Britain into World War II, despite the dithering of Neville Chamberlain. In June of 1940 the rapidly advancing German Army captured Paris. Franklin Delano Roosevelt is U.S. president (1932 into the next decade). Great Britain sees three kings in the decade: Edward VIII, George V, and George VI.


1930 – 1940 (what were we reading, what were we watching and what were we listening to)



1932 Aldous Huxley: "Brave New World"

1932 “Tobacco Road” by Erskine Caldwell is published. It is about Georgia sharecroppers.

1938 Ayn Rand: "Anthem”

1939 James Joyce: "Finnegans Wake"

1939 “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck is published.



1931 “Frankenstein”

1932"The Mummy" - With Boris Karloff.

1933 “Deluge” - New York is wiped out by tsunami. Based on 1928 novel of same name by S.

Fowler Wright. (Plot sound familiar?)

1933 “The Invisible Man” - with Claude Rains as Dr. Jack Giffin, John Carradine, Walter Brennan,

directed by James Whale.

1933 “King Kong” - with Leslie Fenton, Conrad Veidt, Jill Esmond, George Merritt. Directed by Karl Hartl.

1934 "The Thin Man" - With William Powell, Myrna Loy, Maureen O'Sullivan. Based on the book by

Dashiell Hammett.

1935 "Top Hat" - With Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Edward Everett Horton, Eric Blore.

1936 “Flash Gordon” (many sequels to follow)

1936"The Charge of the Light Brigade" - With Erroll Flynn, Olivia DeHavilland, Donald Crisp, Nigel

Bruce, Patric Knowles, David Niven.

1937 "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"

1938 "The Adventures of Robin Hood" - With Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, Claude

Rains, Eugene Pallette, Alan Hale. Directed by Michael Curtiz.

1939 "Gone With the Wind" - With Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard, Olivia DeHavilland,

Thomas Mitchell, Hattie McDaniel.

1940 "The Grapes of Wrath" - With Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, John Carradine. Directed by John


1940 "The Bank Dick" - With W.C. Fields, Cora Witherspoon, Una Merkel, Franklin Pangborn, Shemp

Howard, Grady Sutton.


MUSIC – 1940

“When You Wish Upon a Star” - Glenn Miller

“In The Mood” - Glenn Miller

“When The Swallows Come Back To Capistrano” - Ink Spots

“Frenesi” - Artie Shaw

“Beat Me Daddy, Eight To The Bar” - Will Bradley

“Tuxedo Junction” - Glenn Miller

“Body and Soul” - Coleman Hawkins

“I'll Never Smile Again” - Tommy Dorsey

“Sierra Sue” - Bing Crosby

“Blueberry Hill” - Glenn Miller

“Careless” - Glenn Miller

“Ferryboat Serenade” - Andrews Sisters

“The Woodpecker Song” - Glenn Miller

“Only Forever” - Bing Crosby

“Imagination” - Glenn Miller



Although the origins of television can be traced back as far as 1873 the discovery of the photoconductivity of the element selenium by Willoughby Smith, the first regularly scheduled television service in the United States was not available until July 2, 1928 and yet then it was in its infancy and certainly not perfected and not a widely accepted form of media. Radio was the media of the time. Most Americans, although barely able to put food on the table or clothes on their backs, had some type of radio in their living quarters.


1932, November 7th - the First radio broadcast of "Buck Rogers"


What followed was a whole host of Science fiction, mystery, comedy, westerns, detective and music programs. During the mid to late 30’s and 40’s millions of American families gathered around their radios in the evening listening to their favorite radio shows. Radio broadcasts continued well into the late 50’s when eventually television became readily accessible and affordable to most Americans.


A few of the earliest radio shows:

“Flash Gordon” – September, 1935:

“The Town Crier” 1929 - 1942:

“Sam Bass, Death Valley Days” 1930 – 1945:

“The Aldrich Family” – 1939 - 1953:


If you would care to delve a little further into the world of radio entertainment (before the days of sex, graphic violence and endless commercials on TV), I suggest you check out this excellent site -


Notable events:

1931 - Empire State Building opens in New York City

1931, September – Japanese invade Manchuria

1932 - Ford introduces the Model B, the first low-priced car to have a V-8 engine

1933 - Franklin Delano Roosevelt sworn in as President; he is the last president to be inaugurated on

March 4.

1933, February - Less than a month after Hitler became chancellor, the Reichstag burns down. When the police arrive they find Marinus van der Lubbe on the premises. Upon being tortured by the Gestapo van der Lubbe confesses to starting the fire. However he denies that he was part of a Communist

Conspiracy. Hitler later gives orders that all leaders of the German Communist Party "will be

hanged that very night." Hermann Goering announces that the Nazi Party plans "to exterminate" German communists.

1934 Chancellor Dollfuss of Austria assassinated by Nazis. Hitler becomes führer. USSR admitted to League of Nations.

1934 - John Dillinger is killed in Chicago

1935 - Mussolini invades Ethiopia; League of Nations invokes sanctions. Roosevelt opens second

phase of New Deal in U.S., calling for social security, better housing, equitable taxation, and farm assistance. Huey Long assassinated in Louisiana.

1935, September - The Nuremberg Race Laws deprive German Jews of their rights of citizenship, giving them the status of "subjects" in Hitler's Reich. The laws also make it forbidden for Jews to marry or have sexual relations with Aryans or to employ young Aryan women as household help. The Nazis settle on defining a "full Jew" as a person with three Jewish grandparents. Those with less were designated as Mischlinge or a "mixed blood."

1937, May - the German passenger airship, the Hindenburg, catches fire and is destroyed while attempting to dock during a electrical storm at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station. Of the 97 people on board, 15 are killed along with people killed on the ground. The exact cause for this disaster is still unknown.

1936, August – The 1936 Summer Olympics officially known as Games of the XI Olympiad, are held in Berlin, Germany. Jesse Owens wins four gold medals: the 100m sprint, the long jump, 200m sprint and after he was added to the 4 x 100 m relay team, he won his fourth on August 9.

* Owens was allowed to travel with and stay in the same hotels as whites, while at the time blacks in many parts of the United States were denied equal rights. After a New York City ticker-tape parade of Fifth Avenue in his honor, Owens had to ride the freight elevator at the Waldorf-Astoria to reach the reception honoring him.......... a sad chapter in the history of the United States. Owens said, "Hitler didn't snub me – it was FDR who snubbed me. The president didn't even send me a telegram." On the other hand, Hitler sent Owens a commemorative inscribed cabinet photograph of himself. Jesse Owens was never invited to the White House nor were honors bestowed upon him by president Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) or his successor Harry S. Truman during their terms. In 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower honored Owens by naming him an "Ambassador of Sports."

1936 - Germans occupy Rhineland. Italy annexes Ethiopia. Rome-Berlin Axis proclaimed (Japan to join

in 1940). Trotsky exiled to Mexico.

1937 - Hitler repudiates war guilt clause of Versailles Treaty; continues to build German power. Italy withdraws from League of Nations. U.S. gunboat Panay sunk by Japanese in Yangtze River.

Japan invades China, conquers most of coastal area. Amelia Earhart lost somewhere in Pacific

on round-the-world flight. Picasso's Guernica mural – an abstract depicting the chaos and human calamity of the Spanish Civil War.

1938, November - The Kristallnacht or the "Night of Broken Glass" is a night when the Gestapo and the SS go through towns of Austria and smash the windows of Jewish occupations. Thousands of homes and businesses are ransacked, 91 Jews are murdered and 25,000 to 30,000 are arrested and placed in concentration camps.

1938, March - The Anschluss, Germany takes over Austria. The German speaking part of Austria wanted to unite with Germany and Hitler states that this was his purpose for the annexation of Austria. However, this is against the Treaty of Versailles.

1939, September - Nazi-Germany attacks Poland, essentially the beginning of World War II. Many

countries around Germany declared war on Germany but do not take overt action against the Third Reich. Recently, Adolf Hitler had agreed in the Munich Agreement that he would not invade Poland. Great Britain and Poland have a mutual aid treaty that requires either country to come to the aid of the other in the event of war. When Germany invades Poland, Britain (and the Commonwealth) is obligated to come to the aid of Poland by declaring war on Germany. The United States, however, does not officially declare war against Germany. Many countries rise up and voiced anger over Hitler’s betrayal but only Britain and the Commonwealth take overt actions to try and stop Hilter’s military aggression.

1939 - President Roosevelt, appears at the opening of the 1939 New York World's Fair, becoming the first President to give a speech that is broadcast on television. Semi-regular broadcasts air during the next two years

1940, August - The Battle of Britain begins. The German Luftwaffe attempts to take over British airspace and destroy the Royal Air Force with the intention of eventually invading England. Against all odds, Britain and The Royal Air Force resist the Luftwaffe aggression causing Hitler to abandon the idea of invading Britain and to turn his attention to Russia.

1940, March - "Lend/Lease" is the name of the program under which the US supplied the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, China, France and other Allied nations with vast amounts of war material in return for military bases in Newfoundland, Bermuda, and the British West Indies. It

was intended to promote the defense of the US. This act also ended the neutrality of the United States.

1940, May (This picture) – A mostly vacant downtown area of St. Louis on an early Sunday



As this picture suggests, the United States lay basically asleep, as many Americans are either unaware , or prefer to ignore the ominous winds of war swirling all around them. In a few short months, the hammer would fall and Americans would find themselves anxiously gathered around their radios listening to the President of the United States announce:


“Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.


The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.

Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleagues delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.


It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.


The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.


Yesterday, the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.

Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island.

And this morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.


As commander in chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.

But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.


I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.


With confidence in our armed forces - with the unbounding determination of our people - we will gain the inevitable triumph - so help us God.


I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.”


From this day forward, life as American’s knew it, will be drastically and forever changed.


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Taken on August 28, 2011