Life in 1936: Roosevelt election to the telephone

Jo Fredell Higgins
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While cleaning out book shelves and taking books to resale, I came across the Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia year books I had forgotten were in my possession. Remember when our information came from such encyclopedias?

I remember sitting in the library carels at Illinois State University in Normal, on a Saturday morning with index cards in hand to research the next due paper. I would spend the Saturday morning writing on the index cards with pencil. I liked the quiet of a library then. I liked the research. And I like writing with sharpened pencils. Some things never seem to change, do they?

How many of you reading were born in 1936, or prior? Let us take a trip down memory lane to 1936 and see if society has changed, or if it is pretty much the same.

The year 1936 was essentially a political one in which the Franklin Roosevelt administration sought and won a vote of popular approval and second term in power. Closely interwoven with the election was the pre-payment of the World War I veterans’ bonus which was the highest single gratuity ever paid from the U.S. Treasury at one time. The advancement cost the government (read taxpayers) about $1 Million.

In 1936 the American Library Association had a membership of 13,300. Today the ALA has 65,000 members and 37 standing committees and is a 501-c3 non-profit organization with headquarters in Chicago. Some of its new publications in 1936 included a History of Children’s Literature and an index of Folk Dances and Singing Games. ALA now has $40.5 Million in assets.

Building in the USA increased 45% over the previous year and included the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center as well as many PWA (Public Works Administration) school buildings, in an economic depression. One of the most salient apartment houses was erected on Astor Street in Chicago using contemporary materials and bay windows. Today, Astor House includes condos which rent for about $2,000 a month. An unheard of sum in 1936, wouldn’t you think?

The tendency in 1936 was toward large airports nationally with $70 Million allotted to their development from WPA funds. Across the Big Pond, London’s Gatwick was opened that year as well as plans for a new Paris location to replace Le Bourget.

In the motion picture industry comedies were the most popular, notably “Mr. Deeds Goes To Town” and other noteworthy comedies, included “Modern Times” with Charlie Chaplin, “Libeled Lady” with William Powell and Myrna Loy and Harlow and Tracy. “Sing, Baby, Sing” was a burlesque on John Barrymore’s romance with Elaine Barrie. Turner Classic Movies runs “Libeled Lady” all the time now and I have enjoyed watching it. William Powell was a magnificent master actor.

The New York Yankees defeated the New York Giants in the World Series of 1936. The Yankees’ star was young Joe DiMaggio. Lou Gehrig captured home run honors of the American League. Basketball continued its popularity and was for the first time a regular sport of the Olympic Games. Swimming competitions included both indoor and outdoor races. England held its annual Wimbledon tennis tournament.

In the United States there were 17,423,871 landline telephones in 1936! Americans could call on the telephone 68 nations. Proceedings of the political conventions of 1936 were carried by telephone circuits to 200 radio stations. Today, 50% of Americans still use landline telephones, as do I. The number of cell phones now exceeds the U.S. population! One in four car accidents is caused by usage of a cell phone while driving.

So the names have changed and life proceeds with new challenges and opportunities, just as the leaders in 1936 did just as today’s top thinkers might do. Be your best. Do your best. Hope for the rest.

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