Whether you experienced the 1930s or are just curious, Life in the 1930s – A Trip Down Memory Lane will give you insight into some of the events, fads, and lifestyles that mark that decade.
The decade of the 1930s was filled with much despair and economic turmoil. Unemployment and poverty were rampant throughout the United States. The Stock Market Crash of 1929 was followed by The Great Depression lasting through much of the 1930s.
The Dust Bowl led to an agricultural crisis across the plains (mainly Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, Colorado, and New Mexico). Many families were forced to leave their farms to look for other employment. However, the Great Depression made it even more challenging to find work that would sustain families. With the Dust Bowl, the decade became known as the “Dirty Thirties.”
The decade ended with the beginning of World War II.
Video: Life in the 1930s
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
President Franklin D. Roosevelt would become the only president in American history to be elected to four terms in a row, entering office in early 1933. The Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II would be two of the country’s greatest challenges, and President Roosevelt would lead through them.
Other Notable Events
- In 1930, Pluto was the ninth and last planet discovered in our solar system.
- The world’s tallest building (for the next 35 years) was constructed, opening as the Empire State Building on May 3, 1931, in New York City.
- In 1931, the Star Spangled Banner became the country’s official national anthem.
- Airships LZ127 Graf Zeppelin and LZ129 Hindenburg operated regular transatlantic passenger flights between Germany and both North and South America.
- Amelia Earhart becomes the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Sadly in 1937, she disappeared over the Pacific Ocean while attempting to become the first woman to complete a circumnavigational flight of the globe.
- In 1934 the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, also known as “The Rock,” opened near San Francisco and is used to hold some of the more dangerous and well-known U.S. criminals.
- On October 1, 1934, the New York Stock Exchange was registered as a national securities exchange with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, with a president and a thirty-three-member board.
- The federal government began to assist in the care for dependent children and the disabled under the Social Security Act of 1935, which also guaranteed pensions to some older Americans and established a system of unemployment insurance.
- The Boulder Dam (today known as “Hoover Dam”) used to tame the Colorado River was completed on March 1, 1936.
- The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco was constructed, opening on May 27, 1937.
- Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, creating a 44-hour workweek which was later changed to a 40-hour week. The minimum wage started at 25 cents an hour and, within six years, increased to 40 cents per hour.
- On April 30, 1939, the New York World’s Fair opened in New York City. The opening ceremony featured speeches by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and New York Governor Herbert Lehman, ushered in the first day of television broadcasting in New York.
- In 1936 the Baseball Hall of Fame began. The first players to be inducted were Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, and Babe Ruth.
- Joe DiMaggio started his career with the New York Yankees in 1936
- Jesse Owens wins four gold medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He set new Olympic and world records. The African American achievements were rejected by German dictator Adolph Hitler. Hitler had declared that the superior German Aryan race would dominate the games.
Though there were numerous models of cars, six new models of cars were introduced in the 1930s:
- Bentley 8 Litre
- Cadillac V-16
- Chevrolet Series AD Universal
- Mercedes-Benz 770
- Volvo TR670 Series
- Wolseley Hornet (1930)
It was during the 1930s that radios and heaters became common in automobiles. Automatic transmissions were also introduced during this time.
In the 1930s, with the economic hardships being experienced, the clothing industry changed. Garments were now being made in factories being mass produced compared to the made-to-order fashion of earlier times.
Women’s fashion in dresses changed from the boyish fit of the 1920s to the soft, feminine silhouette of the 1930s. There became a more tailored, modest style of dress while accentuating the female curves. The natural waistline, skirts flaring slightly, fitted hips, and high neckline were the fashion statement of the decade.
For both men and women, hats were a definite fashion accessory of the 1930s.
- Popular Hat Types for Men
- Popular Hat Types for Women
- Berets – Marlene Dietrich was known for wearing this type of hat with men’s suits
- Map cap
- Slouch made famous by Greta Garbo
- Popular Women’s Shoes
- Saddle Shoes
- Sandles – Ghillies Lace
- Popular Men’s Shoes
- Monk Strap
In the 1930s, women went to a more feminine hairstyle than in the previous decade of the 20s. For women, the most popular hairstyles were that of finger waves and pin curls parted both in the center and side.
Hollywood stars such as Carey Grant, Jimmy Stewart, and Clark Gable heavily influenced hair cuts for men. It was the norm for men to have short hair around the ear that tapered down to nothing at the nape.
- Popular Dances Included:
The Jazz style of music popular in the 1920s evolved into two popular music genres of the 1930s – Swing music and Big Band. The silky-voiced crooner singers remained popular throughout the decade.
- Popular Songs of the 1930s Include:
- A Tisket, A Tasket – Ella Fitzgerald with Chick Webb’s Orchestra
- Boogie Woogie – Tommy Dorsey
- In The Mood – Glenn Miller
- God Bless America – Kate Smith
- Moonlight Serenade – Glenn Miller
- Over the Rainbow – Judy Garland/Glenn Miller
- Pennies From Heaven – Bing Crosby
- Putting on the Ritz – Harry Richman with Earl Burtnett
- Sing, Sing, Sing – Benny Goodman
- Silent Night, Holy Night – Bing Crosby
- Popular Swing Musicians Included:
- Artie Shaw
- Benny Goodwin
- Billie Holiday
- Cab Calloway
- Ella Fitzgerald
- Glenn Miller
- Louis Armstrong
- Tommy Dorsey
- Popular Crooners of the 1930s Included:
- Bing Crosby
- Frank Sinatra
- Fred Astaire
- Nat King Cole
- Perry Como
- Rudy Vallee
In 1935 a new radio program, “Your Hit Parade”, highlighted the most popular songs of the week. Shortly after, in 1936, Billboard Magazine published Hit Parade, a list of the most popular songs of the time.
Many classic movies came out of the 1930s. The Drive-In Movie was introduced in 1933 by Richard Hollingshed, making it easier for families to watch the newest releases.
- Popular Movies Included:
- It Happened One Night (1930) Starring Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable.
- Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) Starring Frederic March.
- King Kong (1933)
- Little Women (1933), Starring Katherine Hepburn
- Cleopatra (1934) Starring Claudette Colbert and directed by Cecil B. DeMille.
- Gone With The Wind (1939) Starring Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Olivia de Havilland, and Leslie Howard.
- The Wizard of Oz (1939) Starring Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, and Margaret Hamilton.
For the first time, citizens did not have to wait until the evening paper to get the latest news — radios brought breaking news right into people’s living rooms. The airwaves carried talk about jobs and the economy during the Great Depression, but Americans also heard the news about incredible advances in science and technology, celebrities of aviation exploration, and political changes afoot in Europe.
Many of the games we love and play today originated in the 1930s.
- Popular Games Originating in the 1930s Include:
- Monopoly (1935)
- Sorry (1934)
- Go to the Head of the Class (1936)
- Canasta Card Game (Introduced in 1939)
- Betsy Wetsy – The popular doll that would drink and wet herself. (1934)
Fads of the 1930s
Swallowing goldfish became a college phenomenon in 1939. The fad is thought to have begun as a $10 bet at Harvard University as part of a bid for a freshman running for class president. It then went on to become a competition between various universities.
In taking a look at Life In The 1930s – A Trip Down Memory Lane, I hope you were able to revisit some fond life events. If you didn’t live during that time, my hope is you were able to learn something new about the decade.
If you have any memories of the 1930s you would like to share, I would love to read them; please comment below.