The Great Depression dominated the 1930s. The despair of the poor and unemployed eventually turned to hope as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt initiated the New Deal, an "alphabet soup" of programs designed to boost the economy through public works programs and other federal intervention. The failed experiment of Prohibition would end in 1934.
Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party came to power in Germany; Benito Mussolini's Fascists expanded Italy's empire, and Francisco Franco's Falangists brought their own version of fascism to Spain. Before the decade ended, Europe would descend into war for the second time in the century. The United States claimed neutrality, but supported the British.
The 1930s has been called the "Age of the Columnists." The form of the signed, regular editorial spot for writers on social and cultural issues of the day included everyone from comedians to First Ladies. It was also the decade which saw the rise of 35mm photography and photojournalism, and the heyday of newsreels. Radio journalism became the dominant elecronic medium for news and entertainment, while the newly invented television technology would have to wait until for another decade before it's potential could be realized,
Widely respected editor of The New Republic, an independent liberal journal of opinion, which relied on donations and grants instead of advertising for revenue. Lippman helped President Woodrow Wilson draft his Fourteen Points, though he would later argue against the League of Nations and the Allies' postwar demands. In the 1930s, Lippman began his nationally syndicated column, "Today and Tomorrow", which would remain popular with readers for the next 30 years.
Murrow's long and influential career in broadcasting started with a radio report from Vienna when Adolf Hitler's Germany annexed Austria. He would go on to gather the most illustrious team of broadcast journalists the next decade saw, and continue to be an important journalistic voice into the early 1960s.
Kaltenborn began his career in radio with CBS in the 1930s, making a name for himself with broadcasts from the front during the Spanish Civil War. He gained greater fame for covering the Munich Crisis when Germany, England and France negotiated the fate of Czechoslovakia in 1938. During this time, he worked closely with Edward R. Murrow; but in 1940, Kaltenborn would move to NBC. His career in radio would continue into the 1950s, despite garnering the ire of a victorious Truman following the 1948 presidential election. Truman mocked the radio man's premature projection of a Dewey victory, but Kaltenborn laughed, saying "we can all be human with Truman. Beware of that man in power who has no sense of humor."
Winchell began his career covering Broadway as a gossip columnist in New York city. In the 1930s, Winchell moved to the growing medium of radio, expanding his coverage to political gossip. An early critic of both Adolf Hitler and Communism, Winchell would be a staple of both radio and print until the 1950s. Though Winchell would enjoy a lucrative paycheck as narrator for the television show The Untouchables, it would be Winchell's support of Joseph McCarthy that ended his success as a columnist and radio personality.
"'Good Morning, Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea." -- Walter Winchell radio show greeting.
Luce began publishing Time, the first weekly news magazine, in 1923. In 1930, he introduced the prototypical business magazine, Fortune. In 1936 Luce pioneered the photojournalism magazine genre with Life. His empire also included radio and newsreel journalism with the March of Time series.
Documentary photographer who depicted the plight of Dust Bowl migrants in California for the Federal Emergency Relief Agency. Later for the Farm Service Administration, she photographed the depopulated Great Plains and the lives of rural Americans throughout the Southern and Midwestern United States.
Bourke-White's photo of a TVA dam project would be used as the first cover of Life magazine. She was the first woman war photographer, the first woman to fly on a combat mission, as well as the first American to document in pictures the lives and industry of Soviet Union.
A leading magazine reporter of her day, she covered the Spanish Civil War as well as World War II as a "literary journalist." She wrote several novels, met Ernest Hemingway while in Spain, married him, then left him to cover World War II.
Coughlin, a Catholic priest with a charismatic preaching style, became a popular radio personality during the late 1920s and 1930s. Originally a supporter of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Coughlin broke with the president in 1934, believing that FDR had moved too far to the left. An ardent anti-communist, Coughlin applauded Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini for their tough stand against communists and Jews. Following the United States entry into the war, Coughlin disappeared from the media stage.
A charismatic politician, Huey Long became governor — some would say dictator — of Louisiana in the late 1920s and would eventually run for president during the 1936 election cycle. Long owned newspapers and used radio to build support for his populist viewpoints. Huey Long seemed to thrive on controversy, and his progressive ideas proved too radical for some. On September 10, 1935, Long died of wounds suffered at the hands of a lone gunman.
In 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt defeated Herbert Hoover in a landslide election for the U.S. presidency, due mainly to the nation's struggles of the Great Depression. Many of the voters blamed Hoover and "Hoovervilles" became a common nickname for the migrant shantytowns popping up around the country.
Following his inauguration, Roosevelt immediately introduced legislation for a wide range of liberal reforms — collectively known as the New Deal — intended to stimulate the economy. These programs, along with Roosevelt's deft media manipulation, would help him win the presidency four times, the only person to win more than two. He achieved this feat despite the fact that he had suffered from polio as a child and did not have the use of his legs — a fact that the media kept secret from the public.
For more information on Roosevelt's presidency, review the 1940s.)
In Germany, a political maelstrom was brewing. By the early 1930s, the president and other U.S. officials had learned of Hitler's power and domination in Europe. Under Hitler, the Nazi regime stripped away the rights of Jews and other citizens, killed the innocent, sterilized people with genetic defects and vied for German world domination. Leni Riefenstahl, German actress-turned-director, captured the 1934 Nazi rally in Nuremberg and the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, among others.
In Italy, Mussolini continued in power, eventually becoming absolute ruler of a fascist state. His armies would eventually invade the African nation of Ethiopia. His interest in media continued to flourish, though he was chiefly concerned with controlling the message and censoring dissent.
The stock market crashed on October 24, 1929, initiating the Great Depression. By 1933, corporate profits sank to one-tenth of their 1929 levels, the gross national product declined by 50 percent. and 13 million unemployed men and woman — one in four workers — struggled to make ends meet. Social unrest grew among the populace, culminating in marches by unemployed veterans of World War I demanding assistance from the federal government. They were met with tear gas and riot batons.
Roosevelt's New Deal created government projects that employed people to build roads and dams, in the hopes of stimulating the economy. The Dust Bowl drought eroded nine million acres of Midwestern farmland, driving hundreds of thousands of farmers to abandon their land and head west for California. John Steinbeck depicted this exodus in his masterpiece novel The Grapes of Wrath.
Due to the state of the economy, union membership increased dramatically, and communism attracted many who saw big business greed as responsible for the Depression. Many of these people would come to regret such affiliations in the McCarthy era of the 1950s.
Amos 'n' Andy, by far the most popular radio program, relied on two white men imitating (and helping to define) a stereotype of African-Americans for its humor.
In Hollywood, Busby Berkeley produced several spectacular, fabulously choreographed musicals, with innovative cinematography and lavish sets and costumes. Frank Capra spoke to a dispirited nation with movies like American Madness. In 1938, the Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind, both directed by Victor Fleming, were released.
Mexican border radio stations featured hillbilly music shows, which introduced to the country such influential artists as the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. Woody Guthrie moved to New York, bringing his songs of "Okie" travails and social protest to the city. Important blues musicians such as Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton and Son House cut several records and toured mostly in the South.
Roosevelt used the media as well as any media-savvy president of the 20th century. His most important innovation in communicating with the American public was his weekly radio broadcast. Known as "Fireside Chats," these radio speeches and his warm, earnest speaking style reassured a citizenry jittery over the wrecked economy and the future of the country, and won the public over to his New Deal agenda.
Spain's Civil War was similar to the United States Civil War, in that it offered a testing ground for new warfare strategies and technologies, while also being very brutal and destructive. Foreign nationals from all over the world descended on Spain to fight in the conflict, some with the leftists, others with the fascists. Pro-leftist Americans formed the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, while fascist Germany sent tanks and planes to perfect techniques that would later prove so successful in Poland, France and the Soviet Union during World War II.
The crash of the huge German airship was the first major catastrophe to be covered by on-the-spot broadcast reporting. Herb Morrison, a radio reporter for the Chicago station WLS, was covering the zeppelin's mooring in Lakehurst, N.J. His naked, emotional reactions, caught on a recording device he was trying out, would forever color memory of the disaster in the public mind. But in Nazi Germany, the crash of the Hindenberg would be downplayed; considered bad publicity.
On March 13, 1938, Murrow and William Shirer reported for CBS on the German annexation of Austria as the Nazi army marched in. The broadcast is significant because it marks both the beginning of the use of broadcast news correspondents (specifically Murrow and his "boys"), and the first part of Hitler's plans for world domination.
Orson Welles' (pictured at left) use of the news report format in his October 30, 1938, radio dramatization of a Martian invasion proved so convincing that a Princeton University study conducted shortly thereafter concluded that one out of six listeners out of a total estimated audience of six million believed it was a real news broadcast.
Following a fabricated report of Polish terrorists crossing the border, Adolf Hitler unleashed German military. Having practiced new tactics and tested new equipment in the Spanish Civil War, Poland was still able to hold out for six weeks before falling a combined attack by Germany and the Soviet Union. Though Britain and France were unable to send troops, their allegiance with Poland was enough to start a war the would last for six years and kill millions of soldiers and civilians.
On March 1, 1932, shocked Americans learned that the 20-month-old baby of the world's biggest celebrity and hero, Charles Lindbergh, had been abducted. The dead baby was found near the Lindbergh's home a month after the first, secret ransom payment was made.
A trail of cash used to pay the ransom eventually led to a German immigrant carpenter named Bruno Richard Hauptmann. The subsequent trial was a prime candidate for "the trial of the century." Hauptmann was all but convicted by the newsreels and public opinion before the jury's verdict was read. Despite some holes in the prosecution's case, Hauptmann was convicted and executed in 1936.
The development of photography as a way to document human experiences for news consumption began with the portable Leica camera and success of Life magazine. Robert Capa took memorable photos while his partner Gerda Taro shot newsreel footage of Republican soldiers fighting in the Spanish Civil War.
Dorothea Lange captured the Okie migrant experience, as well as those of other Americans not previously considered important or pretty enough for the camera.
The newsreel first appeared in the 1900s, and soon newsreels showed before the main feature in more than 15,000 U.S. theatres each week. Relying on melodramatic music scores and staged re-creations of events, newsreels were the technological predecessors of television news. The most popular of these in the 1930s, when the medium hit its stride in popularity, was the March of Time series. Unlike so many of its competitors, this series dealt with controversial subjects, but was not squeamish about recreating events staged for its cameras.
The Federal Communications Act passed by Congress in 1934 re-created the Federal Radio Commission as the Federal Communications Commission, adding telephone and telegraph lines to the commission's responsibilities. The Act granted commercial radio broadcasters continued hegemony over the airwaves, but did include provisions requiring stations to give equal time to opponents of political candidates who were afforded airtime. The same section denied broadcasters the right to censor a candidate's material.
Radio continued to grip the imagination of listeners in America and around the world. During the hard years of the Great Depression, radio programs would entertain, inform, and distract listeners from the troubles of their day. However, radio could also cause panic, as Orson Wells' production of The War of the Worlds would prove.
Batman "The Caped Crusader", and Superman, the "Man of Steel", arrived, respectively, in the DC comics series Detective Comics in 1937, and in Action Comics in 1938. They each got their own comic book in the next few years, spawned hosts of imitators, and later enjoyed translation into every other kind of media. (Read more about comics in the 1940s).