From Depression to War: American Society in Transition--1939

From Depression to War: American Society in Transition--1939

From Depression to War: American Society in Transition--1939

From Depression to War: American Society in Transition--1939


Poised on the verge of World War II, America in 1939 was a land of contrasts. The nation was finally pulling out of the Great Depression, but war-clouds gathered on the horizon. Scientific developments offered promising new advances, yet they would soon become the tools of war. This study offers a detailed look at life in this watershed year to determine how Americans understood the conditions of their day and how they turned to escapism when their burdens became too heavy. From the royal visit to the World's Fairs, most Americans looked ahead to a brighter future. Professional athletics, Hollywood films, and the Big Bands were a welcome diversion from hard times and troubling events abroad in Europe and Asia. This account highlights the most important political, economic, and social concerns of 1939.


The obvious question is, why write about 1939? A simple answer is that it was a great time to be alive. For most Americans, it was a time of calm and more optimism, although conditions "over there" were worsening. We escaped by listening to and dancing to big bands; by tuning in to soap operas, comedies, and dramas on radio; and by going to ball games that cost pennies to attend.

When I attended the fiftieth reunion of my graduation from Mechanic Arts High School in Boston (now Boston Technical), several speakers stressed the special nature of the graduates and highlighted the unusual events of that year. It was surely a golden year for radio and for Hollywood, a golden time for sports and a golden period for science (much of it on parade at the New York World's Fair). But whereas these happenings were serene, war came to Europe. It was a war that was an extension of events that led up to it: the Japanese invasion of China, the Spanish Civil War, Russia's invasion of Finland, and Italy's grab of Albania.

Readers will learn that I have defined 1939 broadly, because no subject exists in isolation, and I have chosen to fill in biographical information where it is relevant. A note on my search for sources: Once again, I bow to the librarians at The Catholic University of America, who willingly led me to materials about 1939, and to those faceless persons on the Maryland Telephone Reference Service, who came up with answers to my most esoteric questions.

I must thank my wife T. J. for doing the bibliography, for editing the entire manuscript, for doing some of the word processing, and for being my best supporter in this effort. I must also thank my son Gregory for formatting all the chapter files and for preparing the final manuscript for the publisher.

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