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10 Ways Americans Had Fun During the Great Depression

July 22, 2019 in History

By Becky Little

The in Pennsylvania and pieces of phonograph records at Harvard and the University of Chicago. These other swallowing challenges never caught on, and the goldfish-swallowing fad faded soon after it began.

5. Seeing High-Tech Hollywood Movies

The Wizard of Oz came out in 1939.

The Great Depression was a largely successful decade for Hollywood. Tickets on average cost under a quarter for the whole of the 1930s, down from 35 cents in 1929, so spending time in the cinema was an affordable form of escapism for many.

The era’s films were revolutionary, too: Those were the years in which the film industry fully transitioned from “silent films” to “talkies.” Hollywood began investing in new soundstages and movie concepts that could make the most of new sound technology, and this ushered in big-budget musicals with original songs like 42nd Street (1933) and The Wizard of Oz (1939). It was also the decade when Walt Disney released the first-ever full-length animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).

People also bought tickets to comedies with the Marx brothers, screwball rom-coms starring heartthrobs like Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant or melodramas like A Star Is Born (1937). And before Hollywood started enforcing the Hays Code in the summer of 1934 to keep movies “clean,” movie-goers could see Marlene Dietrich kiss a woman in Morocco (1930) and Barbara Stanwyck sleep her way to the top in Baby Face (1933). Film attendance did dip with the onset of the Great Depression, but with movies like these, the percentage of people who went to the movies on an average weekly basis never dropped below 40 percent.

6. Building Soap Box Cars and Racing Them

Flashback: Soap Box Derby Mania (TV-PG; 3:00)

Soap Box Derbys started in the 1930s as a competition for kids that didn’t require a lot of money. In 1933, a journalist named Myron Scott noticed some kids in Dayton, Ohio, were racing in soap box cars they’d made themselves. He took some pictures of them and started helping them organize bigger races. By the end of the summer that year, these races were drawing up to 40,000 spectators.

The next year, Scott got Chevrolet to sponsor the first All-American Soap Box Derby for boys (girls couldn’t compete until 1971). After holding local races in the Midwest, the 34 winners of those races came to Dayton to compete for the …read more


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