The Thirties was the first site in the Decades Project - before I even had the mad idea of doing the entire century. It happened for a banal reason: I got some old stuff from the Thirties. Some magazines, and a sheaf of copied microfilm ads I pulled off the reels at the newspaper. It had, I think, 30 pages.
The original iteration of the site is still one of my favorite designs. It prompted an angry email from someone who felt I was sugar-coating the decade. There was poverty and prejudice! You don’t say. I think I responded by saying this was original source material that . . . sugar-coated the decade, and hence was interesting as a sign of the times, no?
I think so.
It’s a misunderstood era. The story we got in school was just Depression, Depression, Depression - constant breadlines, brokers selling apples on street corners, gaunt Okies choking in the Dust Bowl, and so on. But here’s the thing: if you have 20% unemployment, that’s bad, bad, bad - but it also means that you have 80% employment. Not really, I know, but the economy did continue to stumble along. It wasn’t a complete collapse, and as the ads show, people bought things.
Like gum, and cigarettes! Okay, not exactly luxury items. But the ads show a hopeful place that either more can attain when things improve, or they were targeted at the stratum that was still doing okay, or they went for ordinary simple pleasures. At the same time the extraordinary futurism of the World’s Fairs showed a new type of civilization, and the popular press became wilder and more interesting, and movies got brash, and -
It was a decade like no other, but in many ways, not a complete break from the one before or after. It was harder, smarter, snappier - and perhaps it toughened up the nation just in time for the trials to come.
Off the top of my head, that’s what I’d say about it. In fact, off the top of my head, that’s what I just did.