The Year That Was 1939
By Tom Morrow
To me, something of significance happened 80 years ago this month – I made my debut. The world was coming out of the Great Depression and the industrial nations were gearing up for what would be a world war.
In Seymour, Iowa, life represented the typical farming community in the Middle West. My father was the owner of a Sinclair Oil Co., gas station. Gas was .11 cents to .15 cents per gallon, depending whether or not you bought regular or premium “Ethyl.”
Mom was a housewife. We lived in a 5 year-old two-bedroom square-frame house at 501 Winston St. Dad bought it for $2,000. The average home in 1939 cost $3,800. Our family car was a 1936 two-door Chevrolet. Dad bought it used for less than $300.
Inflation over the past 80 years has taken its toll.
Driving a car back 80 years ago was pretty inexpensive compared to today’s driving. You could buy a new Ford for less than $700; A new Plymouth Roadking sold for $685. New Firestone tires were less than $4 each. General Motors introduced the revolutionary “Hydra-Matic” (automatic) transmission, which was an option for their new 1940 Oldsmobile. (a radio and heater were also optional on most new cars).
Now you might think these prices were ridiculously low, but when you realize the “minimum wage” was .30 cents per hour, things begin to come in perspective. The median yearly earnings for the average American worker was $1,730.
Compared to today’s prices, eating was a pretty good deal. In my hometown, hamburgers were .10 cents; a pork tenderloin sandwich was .15 cents. A “blue plate” special at Clark Stafford’s café, (usually a roast beef sandwich with potatoes and gravy, along with a small portion of green beans, was .25 cents. Coffee was a nickel. So was a bottle of Coke or Pepsi.
At the grocery store a dollar would buy enough food to last a week, depending upon the average family of four. A 10-pound bag of potatoes was .18 cents; 10-pounds of sugar, .49 cents (a 25-pound bag was $1.25). A can of pork & beans was .05 cents; a beef chuck roast was .15 cents per pound. A nice piece of steak was .22 cents a pound. A can of Campbell’s soup was four (4) cans for .25 cents. Peas were .04 cents per pound. Cabbage, .03 cents per pound.
Swiss cheese was .23 cents per pound. Oranges were .25 cents for two dozen.
For entertainment, Bob Kane and Bill Finger introduced their “Batman” comic book character in Detective comics (No. 27 of the May 1939 cover).
And, 1939 was a big year for movies – today, consider one of the best of the 20th century. Premiered were: “The Wizard of Oz,” “Gone With The Wind,” “Son of Frankenstein,” “Gunga Din,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “Destry Rides Again,” and “Stagecoach.” Today, all of these films are considered classics.
The popular female film stars of 1939 were: Ingrid Bergman, Claudette Colbert, Olivia de Haviland, Betty Grable, Rita Hayworth, Katharine Hepburn, Hedy Lamar, Vivien Leigh, Myrna Loy, Ginger Rogers, Barbara Stanwyck, Irene Dunne, Jean Arthur, and Lana Turner.
Clark Gable, John Wayne, Fredric March, James Stewart, Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, were among the leading men on the silver screen. Movie admission ticket were an average of .10 cents for young people, and .25 cents for adults.
Lou Gehrig was the nation’s most popular celebrity. He would bow out as the Yankees’ first-basemen, declaring during his retirement speech in Yankee Stadium he considered himself “…the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
Agatha Christie’s “And Then There were none,” and John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” were best-selling books.
Amelia Earhard was officially declared dead after being lost in her 1937 attempt at circumnavigating the globe.
The 1939 World Fair opened in New York where many of the “marvel” products of tomorrow were showcased.
President Franklin Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving Day officially to the fourth Thursday of November in order to give merchants a longer period to sell Christmas goods, thus increasing the opportunity for merchants to increase profits.
Girl Scouts introduced the popular thin mint cookies, and Carl Stotz founded the Little League Baseball in Williamsport, PA.
Life expectancy was 62.1 years for males; 65.4 years for females. I guess that at 80, I’m way ahead of the game of life.
The scientific and technical advancement made during the last 80 years surpasses any and all progress in the history of the world.
SCAG SEZ: “Genius is he who saves stipends faster than she can spend.” – Cecil Scaglione, Mature Life Features