With the exception of the absence of the electronics-based innovations, basic life in the 1930s differed little from the present day. We had our cars, trains and airplanes. People went on vacation. They probably saw more movies than people do today. According to a Cornell University website, “At the height of the Depression 85 million people a week went to the movies.” We even had a few color movies, the 1939 “Wizard of Oz” being one of the first. People attended concerts and community movies in the city park. We had the Fall Festival with carnival rides for the kids.
Cars were not as fast or as comfortable as they are now but they would get you to your destination. Around 1930, before I was born, my parents traveled in their car to Florida and the Grand Canyon. The interstate highway system was not yet built, so they traveled at a much more leisurely pace. The west then, still tended to be a little wild, so they purchased a gun to take with them.
My parents, my grandparents, my sister and my cousin all traveled to the Grand Canyon in an old Hudson sedan. This was before the days of motels. I recall the tale of all six people sleeping in the car, in Yellowstone National Park and being scared to death by the bears looking in the car windows and rummaging through the garbage cans nearby.
The trains were a sight to behold. They were all the huffing and puffing steam locomotives, which were much more spectacular and interesting than the mundane diesel locomotives we have today. Trains still run on tracks and pull cars. The loss of the red caboose is also a shame. My longest train ride with a steam locomotive was about 100 miles, traveling from Columbus, Ohio through southern Ohio. The only thing I really disliked was the constant odor of rotten eggs, which was caused by the sulfur in the coal smoke.
The country had air passenger service. It was not as safe or as fast as today, but it certainly was available. Also, you did not need to submit to a full-body x-ray or a strip-search. Passenger service across the Pacific was available in the form of a 4-engine seaplane, called the ‘China Clipper.’ The name was a misnomer because it only flew as far as Manila in the Philippines. Today, jet engines have been substituted for reciprocating engines but otherwise the plane is basically the same.
Kitchen appliances are basically the same, today. Except for the addition of some automatic controls, gas ranges are the same: four burners and an oven. Except for automatic defrosting and more doors, refrigerators are the same.
The Servel company made a lot of gas refrigerators. The main problem with the company business model was that their refrigerators rarely wore out, so there were few repeat sales. An electric refrigerator may last about 15 years.
Our small Appalachian town even had airmail pickup. This is a unique story. Two poles were erected at one end of our local airport, which resembled a cow pasture. A cable was stretched between the two poles and the mail bag was attached to the cable. A single engine plane swooped down low over the poles. If the plane was in the right position, a hook attached to a cable trailing from the plane, would engage the mailbag cable and the mailbag would be pulled into the plane. I watched the plane many times.
Sometime the pickup would go awry and a search would be conducted for the missing mailbag. The pickup was understandably a risky maneuver at an airspeed of 100 MPH and several pilots were killed during the 10 year duration of the service. I do not believe our present day-culture would accept the risk. Most people are much more risk-averse today.
Naturally, life today is much safer, more convenient and full of electronic wonders, but life in the 1930s had its pleasures.
Cornell University/”John Steinbeck The Grapes of Wrath”/Cornell University