Great Depression - Your Ancestors Knew How to Have Fun

For many Americans including your ancestors, during the Great Depression – 1930s, they struggled to survive. They were out of work or reduced wages, farmers west of the Mississippi River saw their farmland dry up, it was all a hard life for years. Yet, surprising people adapted and found things and activities that brought some joy to their lives.

Look at just a few of that helped bring fun to the 1930s.

The Marathon craze – it had started in the 1920s but became very popular in the 1930s. There was the dance marathon, where couples continued to dance together and the one who lasted the longest won money, groceries or prizes. They would get breaks to rest, just 15 minutes. As popular as they were, because there was some danger, not eating right or any sleep because some lasted a week, by the late 1930s the dance marathons faded due to the increased criticism and laws banning them in many areas.

One very weird contest was goldfish-swallowing. The contest started at Harvard University in 1939 when some students bet a freshman $10 that he couldn’t swallow a live fish. On March 3, the freshman fulfilled his end of the bet by chewing and swallowing a live goldfish in the dining hall in front of a group of students. The fad spread to see who could break any records. The first month the record was 42 goldfish, then by late April it was 101 goldfish. Not just goldfish but the contest also used baby white mice, angle worms and pieces of phonograph records. Yet the very popular goldfish swallowing soon ended.

Not everything was a contest. A fun activity was going to the movies. Going to the movies in the 1920s cost about 35 cents. During the Great Depression, the price dropped to 25 cents. The 1930s now had talkies instead of the silent films of the 1920s. Some famous movies then: ‘Wizard of Oz’, ‘Gone with the Wind’, ‘King Kong’, ‘Snow White’, and ‘A Star is Born’ attracted huge audiences. It was figured that the population – about 40 to 50% went to the movies at least once a week.

A fun activity at home was the board game of Monopoly. The idea for the game was sold to Parker Brothers Co. in 1935. It became a quick huge success. The game was inexpensive and could be reused countless times. Another home games were Easy Money in 1935, Sorry in 1934 and Scrabble introduced in 1938. Putting together jigsaw puzzles with hundreds of pieces was a great family activity and could remain set up for weeks.

Also done at home was the reading of young and old alike the comics. Everyone read Dick Tracy, the detective, Flash Gordon, and Little Orphan Annie. Comic books were popular to collect and read. Favorites were comic books; Superman in 1938, and Batman in 1939.

Radio shows became popular as radio sets were acquired in the home. That is one item that did increase, from 40% of households having a radio to 83%. All types of shows, music, sports, entertainment and news were on the air.

Also, a fun activity during the 1930s was mini-golf. Some 30,000 miniature golf courses were now across the nation in the 1930s. The price to play a round was from 25 to 50 cents.

If you can learn which type of activities were popular with your parents, grandparents, it would make a great addition to the family history.

Photos: Dance marathon winners; Entertainment of the 1930s; Monopoly board game and radio entertainment in the home.

Related Blogs:

The New Deal and Your Ancestors

What was New in the early 1900s for your Ancestors?

Popular Baby Names of the 1930s

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