1939: rays and wrath

What was America really like in 1939? Well the experts behind the New York World’s Fair of 1939 with its theme of “the world of tomorrow” thought they knew, and could also predict the future. America was on the threshold of a new era…

…For one thing, although the depression might be on its way out, its remnants were still to be seen everywhere. Unemployment had crept downward year by year from the 1933 high of nearly thirteen million persons, or a quarter of the labor force; nevertheless, it still stood at nine and half million, or 17 percent of the labor force., and wretched tar-paper shacks were still to be seen under the bridges and on similar scraps of public land. One day that February, two hundred and thirty-nine women, ranging from recent college graduates to gray-haired matrons, showed up at the Armory on Fourteenth-Street in New York City in response to an ad for twelve laboratory helpers at $960 a year; the women arrived twenty-four hours early, and were fully prepared to stay in line on the sidewalk through a midwinter night,although a compassionate and worried management let them them move inside to wait.

---One of the items purchased through the generosity of Mr. Wolfson is a collection of four German Communist Fairy Tales for Workers’ Children translated into English and published in Chicago by the Daily Worker Publishing Company. The children’s book is illustrated with drawings and color plates by Lydia Gibson, a frequent contributor to The Masses, The Liberator, and other left-wing publications.---click image for source...

—One of the items purchased through the generosity of Mr. Wolfson is a collection of four German Communist Fairy Tales for Workers’ Children translated into English and published in Chicago by the Daily Worker Publishing Company. The children’s book is illustrated with drawings and color plates by Lydia Gibson, a frequent contributor to The Masses, The Liberator, and other left-wing publications.—click image for source…

Works Progress Administration rolls varied during the year from 1.7 million to 2.9 million persons. Strike accompanied by violence were still a familiar part of the national scene, and it was in 1939 that the city of Flint, Michigan, headquarters for Chevrolet, got around to passing an ordinance to protect workers from intimidation inside or outside local plants. The average farm family, which had an annual income of around a thousand dollars, kept expenses down through participation in one or more of the 10,700 farm co-operatives, which had membership of three and a half million persons and aggregate annual sales of two billion dollars.

The plight of the sharecroppers of the South and West, which was brought home to the whole country that year with the publication of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, was still acute; in New Madreid, Missouri, a thousand tenant farmers deliberately encamped outdoors that January, and remained there through a brutal snowstorm, to dramatize sharecropper poverty.

---Dorris Bowden, Jane Darwell and Henry Fonda in The Grapes of Wrath film (1940) Photograph: Allstar/Cinetext/ I read The Grapes of Wrath in that fierce span of adolescence when reading was a frenzy. I was all but drowned in the pity and anger John Steinbeck evoked for these people, fleeing Oklahoma to seek work but finding nothing save cruelty, violence, the enmity of immoral banks and businesses, and the neglect by the state of its own people in the Land of the Free. The novel was published in 1939 and delivered a shock to the English reading world.---click image for source...

—Dorris Bowden, Jane Darwell and Henry Fonda in The Grapes of Wrath film (1940) Photograph: Allstar/Cinetext/
I read The Grapes of Wrath in that fierce span of adolescence when reading was a frenzy. I was all but drowned in the pity and anger John Steinbeck evoked for these people, fleeing Oklahoma to seek work but finding nothing save cruelty, violence, the enmity of immoral banks and businesses, and the neglect by the state of its own people in the Land of the Free. The novel was published in 1939 and delivered a shock to the English reading world.—click image for source…


Others of course, were doing a good deal better. In April, the Treasury announced to Congress that in 1937, the most recent year for which figures were available, Louis B. Mayer or Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer had been paid $1,161,753; Major Edward Bowes, impressario of Amateur Hour on radio, $427,817; Thomas J. Watson of IBM, $419,398; and George Washington Hill of the American Tobacco Company, $380,976- all at low tax rates… ( to be continued)…

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