My Dad’s story begins in 1933, and as he often said to me when he was conveying his memories, “Things were different then.” Here are a few interesting facts about the 1930s.
The 1930s is often thought of in terms of hardship. The Great Depression was in full swing after Wall Street’s crash in October of 1929. At the start of the decade, banks began to fail, jobs were lost, thousands became homeless, and shanty towns constructed out of wood and cardboard known as Hoovervilles sprouted up everywhere.
The 1930s was the decade of the Midwest dust bowls. Erosion from poor farming practices was accelerated by a continuing drought until most of the fertile top soil of the Great Plains simply lifted up from the ground and blew away in severe dust storms, causing destruction, illness, and death. Millions of people were forced to leave their farms in the Great Plains where they could no longer earn a living from the land.
It was the decade of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.
Perhaps it was the hardships of this decade that gave birth to the criminal legends who at times were seen more as celebrities than villains. Bonnie and Clyde, with their gang, traveled the central United States from 1931 until spring of 1934 robbing banks, small stores and gas stations, and killing whoever got in their way. In May of 1934 Bonnie and Clyde’s streak of havoc ended when they were ambushed and killed on a rural road in Louisiana.
After his parole in May of 1933, John Dillinger went on a crime spree robbing banks in Indiana and Ohio. He was captured, jailed, and then escaped. Dillinger’s spree ended when the FBI shot him down outside of a theatre in Chicago in July of 1934.
In December of 1933, prohibition was repealed, allowing the sale of 3.2% beer and wine, and ultimately bringing an end to Al Capone’s and other gangsters’ controlled speakeasies and Bootlegging from which they made millions of dollars.
For the average American, the income fell from $1970/yr in 1930 to $1730/yr in 1939. But prices of goods stayed the same or increased. A gallon of gas remained at 10 cents throughout the decade. The cost of a car went from $640 in 1930 to $700 in 1939.
The economic problems of the time were not confined to the United States, but were worldwide, and contributed to the radical politics that emerged. The 1930s saw the rise of Fascism, Nazism and Stalinism.
The 1930s was a decade of flight. In 1937 the Hindenburg exploded and Amelia Earhart vanished. In 1939 the helicopter was invented and the first commercial flight over the Atlantic occurred.
In the 1930s the Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs were shown in movie theaters and Superman appeared in comic books. The National Baseball Hall of Fame began. Among the first players to be chosen were Ty Cobbs and Babe Ruth. The NFL draft was introduced and the championship game between Eastern and Western divisions was introduced.
The jet engine, tea bags, ball point pens, nylon, BBC television, electric razor, electron microscope, radar for aircraft, Drive-in movie theater, chocolate chip cookie, Monopoly, and sticky tape were invented.
In 1933, at the peak of the Great Depression, the average wages were $1550/yr and the cost of a new house was $5,750. Rent was $18.00/month. A loaf of bread cost 7 cents, a pound of hamburger was 11 cents and silk ladies stocking were a luxury at 39 cents. Hot water rubber warmers, used to warm beds in the 1930s home without central heat, cost 98 cents.
In 1933 Hitler became chancellor of Germany, gave birth to the Third Reich, and opened Dachau, the first concentration camp, on the grounds of an abandoned munitions factory.
In March of 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt became president of the United States with his New Deal with its plan of relief, recovery, and reform. He established government agencies that created four million public works jobs. The Golden Gate Bridge was started in 1933 and opened in 1937.
In 1933 Chicago opened A Century of Progress International Exposition and the first major league all-star game was held as part of the world’s fair.
In 1933, Shirley Temple signed a contract with Fox when she was 5 years old. Joan Collins, Larry King, Yoko Ono, Willie Nelson, James Brown, Shari Lewis, and my father Jerry A. Smith were born.