1930s Facts: Pop Culture & Historical Trivia

Family history is more than just names and dates – it’s the stories of your ancestors’ lives, as well as the times they lived in, the news they talked about, and the events that affected them. In this second article in a series, we’re looking at the Top 10 Facts about the 1930s.

The 1930s was a period marked, unfortunately, by chaos and dismay. This was due to the Great Depression and the start of World War II at the closing of the decade.

Despite this, there were still plenty of fascinating and fun occurrences that happened during this era. The 1930s weren’t as decadent as the 1920s, but the events of this time were just as significant.

Here’s a glimpse at what happened in the U.S. in 1930 and the decade that followed.

Photo: Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” depicts destitute pea pickers in California, centering on Florence Owens Thompson, age 32, a mother of seven children, in Nipomo, California, March 1936
Photo: Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” depicts destitute pea pickers in California, centering on Florence Owens Thompson, age 32, a mother of seven children, in Nipomo, California, March 1936. Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

1) The Great Depression

One of the more bitter 1930s facts is the Great Depression. It was the most devastating economic depression in the history of the world. While no nation was spared, the U.S. felt the biggest shock, with widespread unemployment at 23%. At the peak of the disaster, Global GDP dropped by 15%. When you compare this to the 1% drop caused by 2008’s Great Recession, you can begin to understand the scale of this event.

2) World War II Began

A 1930s fact sheet wouldn’t be complete without mention of a major event: the beginning of World War II. In 1939, Nazi Germany invaded the Polish defenses at Westerplatte, reaching the capital of Warsaw just eight days later. It signaled the beginning of one of the most horrific wars in history.

3) Soccer’s World Cup Was Founded

This is one 1930s fact that will be interesting to sports fans: the FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) World Cup, one of the most prestigious football (soccer) competitions in the world, began in 1930. The inaugural contest was hosted by Uruguay – and they were also the first nation to win the trophy, beating Argentina 4-2 in the Estadio Centenario in Uruguay’s capital city of Montevideo.

Photo: Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale in “The Wizard of Oz,” 1939
Photo: Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale in “The Wizard of Oz,” 1939. Cropped screenshot from the trailer for the film. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

4) The Wizard of Oz Premiered

This fun fact from 1939 deals with a beloved classic. This was the year that The Wizard of Oz premiered in front of American audiences. The film adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s children’s novel featured Judy Garland in the lead role of Dorothy. It went on to win six Academy Awards and is regarded as one of the greatest films ever made. One 1930s fun fact about the film is that it failed to turn a profit for MGM until its 1949 re-release.

5) The Hindenburg Disaster

The Hindenburg Disaster is one of the most tragic air accidents of the 1930s. The ill-fated airship LZ 129 Hindenburg burst into flames as it attempted to dock at the Naval Air Station Lakehurst in Manchester Township, New Jersey, on 6 May 1937. It led to the deaths of 35 of the 97 passengers on board. The event was well covered with dozens of photographs and eyewitness reports. This single disaster marked the end of the airship era.

6) Clothing Styles Were Not as Extravagant as the Roaring ’20s

The Great Depression dominated life in the 1930s, and this was reflected in the fashion sense of the time. Compared to the more flamboyant styles of the 1920s, clothing during the ’30s was more subdued. The trend for companies was to look for cheaper base materials. This led to breakthroughs and innovations that would end up being featured in consumer clothing for decades to come.

7) Scotch Tape Was Invented

This 1930s fact deals with an iconic invention: Scotch Tape. It was first developed by engineer Richard Drew, who called it the Scotch Brand Cellulose Tape. You’ll be surprised to learn that 3M, the company that Drew worked for, began as a mining venture. After all, it’s in their name: the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (or 3M).

8) Amazing 1930s Facts about Aviation

The 1930s had incredible accomplishments and tragic news in the world of aviation. In 1933, Wiley Post became the first person to fly solo around the world. Amelia Earhart, who was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic a decade earlier, disappeared over the Pacific Ocean during an attempt to fly around the globe in 1937. Just a year later, American business magnate Howard Hughes broke Post’s around-the-world record time, completing the flight in 91 hours – beating Post’s record by almost four full days.

Photo: at the 2014 New York Comic Con, Vincent Zurzolo of Metropolis Collectibles displays the copy of Action Comics #1 that his firm paid $3.2 million for (cover dated June 1938 and copyrighted 18 April 1938)
Photo: at the 2014 New York Comic Con, Vincent Zurzolo of Metropolis Collectibles displays the copy of Action Comics #1 that his firm paid $3.2 million for (cover dated June 1938 and copyrighted 18 April 1938). Credit: Gary Dunaier; Wikimedia Commons.

9) An Iconic Superhero Was Born

On 18 April 1938, writer Jerry Siegel and comic book artist Joe Shuster introduced one of the most iconic superheroes ever: Superman. The hero first appeared in Action Comics #1 and went on to become the most financially successful comic book character in American history.

10) Innovative Inventions

The period from 1930-1940 saw the origin of many iconic and innovative inventions. The ballpoint pen, for example, was invented during this era by the Hungarian-born Laszlo Biro. The electric razor first saw use in 1931, thanks to Jacob Shick. Other inventions during the decade included the photocopier, polaroid, and nylon.

Explore 1930s History with GenealogyBank

The years that made up the 1930s were a challenge for many people, but they were also full of hope and resilience. Have you ever wondered how your ancestors were doing during this time? Well, you can see for yourself with GenealogyBank. Discover one of the world’s largest collections of obituaries, newspaper archives, and other historic data like 1930s census records. Get started and discover your family story!

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