The 1930s

The 1930s

The 1930s

The 1930s


Most historical studies bury us in wars and politics, paying scant attention to the everyday effects of pop culture. Welcome to America's other history- the arts, activities, common items, and popular opinions that profoundly impacted our national way of life. The twelve narrative chapters in this volume provide a textured look at everyday life, youth, and the many different sides of American culture during the 1930s. Additional resources include a cost comparison of common goods and services, a timeline of important events, notes arranged by chapter, an extensive bibliography for further reading, and a subject index.

The dark cloud of the Depression shadowed most Americans' lives during the 1930s. Books, movies, songs, and stories of the 1930s gave Americans something to hope for by depicting a world of luxury and money. Major figures of the age included Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Irving Berlin, Amelia Earhart, Duke Ellington, the Marx Brothers, Margaret Mitchell, Cole Porter, Joe Louis, Babe Ruth, Shirley Temple, and Frank Lloyd Wright. Innovations in technology and travel hinted at a Utopian society just off the horizon, group sports and activities gave the unemployed masses ways to spend their days, and a powerful new demographic- the American teenager- suddenly found itself courted by advertisers and entertainers.


Any study of the 1930s must begin not with January 1930, but with October 1929—Thursday, October 24, to be precise. That autumn day saw the collapse of the stock market—the traditional indicator of the nation's economic health—and signaled the onset of the Great Depres- sion. Those grim years shaped the 1930s, and because popular culture is a reflector of its times, advertising, books, magazines, movies, music, radio, theater, and all the other outlets for mass entertainment re- sponded.

On a similar note, the decade itself may have technically concluded on December 31, 1939, but it really ended, symbolically, four months earlier, on September 1, 1939. That was the date of the German invasion of Poland. When Nazi armies smashed across the Polish border, the false peace of the late 1930s was forever laid to rest, and World War II began in earnest. It also marked the end of American innocence, a refusal to believe that the nation could be lured into yet another European conflict. Some of the spirit of the thirties, however, hung on until October 27, 1940, and the final day of the New York World's Fair. When “The World of Tomorrow” shut its gates for the last time, the world was already at war, and the fair itself closed bankrupt. It was a fitting conclusion to a spectacle drenched in optimism, but one that turned away from reality. Whatever date is chosen, the thirties must be seen as a remarkable dec- ade, full of energy and despair, contradictions and confirmations, humor and pathos.

This work focuses on the general content of mass entertainment. It discusses the movies, the discovery of the teenager as a marketable en- tity, the increase in leisure time and travel, the innumerable dance fads . . .

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