The Great Depression, World War II, and the 1930s

The 1930s were dominated by the Great Depression in the United States and the rise of Nazi Germany in Europe. The FBI under J. Edgar Hoover went after gangsters, and Franklin D. Roosevelt became synonymous with the decade with his New Deal and "fireside chats." This momentous decade ended with the beginning of World War II in Europe with Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland in September 1939.


Mahatma Gandhi, Indian nationalist and spiritual leader, led the Salt March in protest against the government monopoly on salt production. Central Press / Getty Images

In 1930, Pluto was discovered, Josef Stalin began collectivizing agriculture in the Soviet Union, and  ​Mahatma Gandhi's Salt March, an act of civil disobedience, took place.


Christ the Redeemer
Christ the Redeemer. Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images

The year 1931 saw gangster Al Capone imprisoned for income tax evasion, the completion of the Empire State Building, the Scottsboro Boys accused of rape, and the Christ the Redeemer monument built in Rio de Janeiro.

It was also the year that the National Anthem became official.


Amelia Earhart
Amelia Earhart. FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

in 1932, Charles Lindbergh's baby was kidnapped, and the story riveted the U.S. Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, air conditioning was invented, scientists split the atom, and Zippo lighters hit the market.


Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated as president in 1933. Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images

The year 1933 was one for the history books: New President Franklin D. Roosevelt launched the New Deal, Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany, and the first Nazi concentration camp was established. Prohibition ended in the U.S., Wiley Post flew around the world in eight and a half days, and the Loch Ness monster was first spotted.


Mao Zedong
Mao Tse-tung led about 100,000 communists over 5,600 miles to escape Nationalist Government troops on the Long March. De Agostini Picture Library / Getty Images

In 1934, the Great Terror began in the Soviet Union and Mao Tse-tung began the Long March in China.

The Dust Bowl in the Great Plains made the Great Depression worse as families lost their livelihoods. 

Alcatraz became a federal prison, and notorious bank robbers Bonnie Paker and Clyde Barrow were gunned down by police.

But there was at least one piece of great news: The cheeseburger was invented.


Monopoly board game
Parker Brothers' Monopoly. Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images

In 1935, John Maynard Keynes suggested a new economic theory, which would have a significant impact on economic thought for generations; Social Security was enacted in the U.S.; Alcoholics Anonymous was founded; and the architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed his masterpiece, Fallingwater.

The gangster known as Ma Barker and a son were killed in a shootout with police, and Sen. Huey Long was shot in the Louisiana Capitol Building.

Parker Brothers introduced the iconic board game Monopoly, and Penguin brought out the first paperback books.

Wiley Post and Will Rogers died in a plane crash, and in a harbinger of the horror to come, Germany issued the Anti-Jewish Nuremberg Laws.


Nazi Olympics
Nazi salutes at the Olympics of 1936. © Hulton-Deutsch Collection / CORBIS / Corbis via Getty Images

In 1936, the road to war expanded, with all German boys required to join Hitler Youth and the formation of the Rome-Berlin axis. The Spanish Civil War began, and the so-called Nazi Olympics took place in Berlin. Elsewhere in Europe, Britain's King Edward VIII abdicated and Stalin began his Great Purge.

The Hoover Dam was completed, the RMS Queen Mary made her maiden voyage, the prototypical superhero Phantom makes his first appearance, and the Civil War novel "Gone With the Wind" was published.


Hindenberg explosion
The Hindenberg explosion took 36 lives. Sam Shere / Getty Images

In 1937, Amelia Earhart vanished along with her co-pilot over the Pacific Ocean. Japan invaded China, and the Hindenberg burst into flames upon landing in New Jersey and killed 36 of the 97 people onboard.

Good news that year: The Golden Gate Bridge opened in San Francisco.


Superman. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

The broadcast of "The War of the Worlds" caused widespread panic in the U.S. when it was believed to be true. 

Britain's Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announced  "Peace for Our Time" in a speech after he signed a pact with Hitler's Germany. (Almost exactly a year later, Britain was at war with Germany.)

Hitler annexed Austria, and The Night of Broken Glass (Kristallnacht) rained horror down on German Jews.

The House Un-American Activities Committee (a.k.a. the Dies Committee) was established, the March of Dimes was founded, and the first Volkswagen Beetle came off the production line.

Superman burst onto the comic book scene, and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" made its debut as the first full-length animated feature.


Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein. MPI / Getty Images

In this most momentous year of the decade, World War II began when Hitler's Nazis invaded Poland on Sept. 1, and Britain and France declared war on Germany two days later.

Also in 1939, Albert Einstein wrote a letter to FDR about building an atomic bomb, the first commercial flight over the Atlantic took place, the helicopter was invented, and a major earthquake in Chile killed 30,000.

The Nazis began its euthanasia program (Aktion T-4), and German Jewish refugees on the ship St. Louis were refused entry into the U.S., Canada, and Cuba and ultimately returned to Europe.

As an antidote to the war news, the classic movies "The Wizard of Oz" and "Gone With the Wind" premiered in 1939.

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Rosenberg, Jennifer. "The Great Depression, World War II, and the 1930s." ThoughtCo, Aug. 20, 2017, Rosenberg, Jennifer. (2017, August 20). The Great Depression, World War II, and the 1930s. Retrieved from Rosenberg, Jennifer. "The Great Depression, World War II, and the 1930s." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 18, 2018).