What hot topics did your grandparents chat about with their neighbors over the back fence? What popular songs did Mom whistle as a teen? How much did Uncle Fred spend to fuel up his car?
These unremarkable aspects of everyday life for our ancestors are fascinating facts to us. Knowing these details helps us get to know our ancestors. It adds color to our family trees.
This accounting of whos, whats, whens and wheres of the 20th century comes from our latest book, Remember That? A Year-by-Year Chronicle of Fun Facts, Headlines, & Your Memories. From headlines and government affairs to technology and discoveries to new products and pop culture, here’s a sampling of what was on the minds of your friends and family (and maybe you!).
This material is excerpted from Remember That? A Year-by-Year chronicle of Fun Facts, Headlines, & Your Memories, available for $16.99 from Family Tree Shop or (800) 258-0929.
- 1930: 4.5 million Americans are unemployed. More than 1,300 banks fail. The worst-ever drought leads to the Dust Bowl.
- 1932: Lindbergh baby is kidnapped. Police in Dearborn, Mich., fire into a crowd of demonstrators outside Ford Motor Co. plant. Between 13 and 17 million Americans are unemployed.
- 1935: Feds kill Fred and “Ma” Barker outside of Ocklawaha, Fla.
- 1936: Sit-down strikes spread across the nation. General Motors accepts the United Auto Workers as the bargaining agent for striking workers.
- 1938: A science fiction radio show, The War of the Worlds, causes widespread hysteria. Unemployment reaches 19 percent.
- average annual income: $1,612
- milk: 65 cents/gallon
- gas: 25 cents/gallon
- new home: $7,146
- the science-mocking Fortean Society
- first drive-in movie theater (opened in 1933)
- jive talk
- strapless evening gowns
- goldfish swallowing popular on college campuses
- Bird of Paradise
- The Mummy
- Tarzan, The Ape Man
- Alice in Wonderland
- King Kong
- Little Women
- Bringing Up Baby
- A Christmas Carol
- Too Hot to Handle
- Scotch tape
- chocolate chip cookie
- Zippo lighter
- 3 Musketeers bar
- Fritos corn chips
- Skippy peanut butter
- metal beverage cans
- precooked frozen foods
- nylon stockings
- 1941: Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, drawing America into World War II. Unemployment is at 10 percent.
- 1943: US standard of living is one-third higher than in 1939.
- 1945: World War II ends when Germany surrenders May 8 and Japan surrenders Sept. 2.
- 1947: The “Hollywood 10” are imprisoned for refusing to affirm or deny membership in the Communist Party.
- 1948: United States begins the Berlin Airlift after the Soviets seal off the city.
- Average income: $1,906/year
- Minimum wage: 30 cents/hour
- Milk: 51 cents/gallon
- Gas: 18 cents/gallon
- New home: $6,558
- “Blueberry Hill” by the Sammy Kaye Orchestra
- “In the Mood” by Glenn Miller
- “You Are My Sunshine” by Jimmie Davis
- “I’m Making Believe” by Ella Fitzgerald and the Ink Spots
- “Swinging On a Star” by Bing Crosby
- “Rum and Coca-Cola” by the Andrews Sisters
- “Sentimental Journey” by Les Brown and Doris Day
- “Till the End of Time” by Perry Como
- “Buttons and Bows” by Dinah Shore
- “Nature Boy” by Nat King Cole
- “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” by Gene Autry
- “Some Enchanted Evening” by Perry Como
- 1941: Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Martha Stewart
- 1943: Chevy Chase, Janis Joplin, Christopher Walken
- 1945: Eric Clapton, Diane Sawyer, Tom Selleck, Carly Simon
- 1948: Billy Crystal, Cat Stevens
- 1949: Bruce Springsteen, Meryl Streep
- 1950: The Korean War begins. Puerto Rican nationalists attempt to assassinate President Truman.
- 1952: The hydrogen bomb is tested in the Marshall Islands. A polio epidemic afflicts 50,000 Americans.
- 1953: A Korean armistice is signed.
- 1955: Rosa Parks refuses to sit at the back of the bus, breaking a Montgomery, Ala., segregated seating law and leading to a black boycott of the local bus system.
- 1957: Federal troops desegregate Central High School in Little Rock, Ark. Russia launches Sputnik I, the first earth-orbiting satellite.
- Average income: $3,815/year
- Minimum wage: 75 cents/hour
- milk: 82 cents/gallon
- gas: 27 cents/gallon
- New home: $14,500
- The African Queen
- An American in Paris
- The Day the Earth Stood Still
- A Streetcar Named Desire
- From Here to Eternity
- Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
- Peter Pan
- The War of the Worlds
- Around the World in Eighty Days
- The King and I
- The Forbidden Planet
- The Ten Commandments
- Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
- North by Northwest
- Some Like It Hot
- first oral contraceptive
- RCA color TVs
- silicon transistors
- stainless steel razor blades
- Comet cleanser
- first weather satellite
- 1950: Charles Shultz’s “Peanuts” comic strip and Mort Walker’s “Beetle Bailey” begin publication. Saturday morning children’s TV programming begins.
- 1953: L. Ron Hubbard founds the Church of Scientology. Popular TV shows include “General Electric Theatre,” “The Jackie Gleason Show,” “The Loretta Young Show,” and “Romper Room.”
- 1955: The Presbyterian Church approves ordination of women ministers. Disneyland opens in Anaheim, Calif. James Dean dies in a car wreck. Jim Henson creates Kermit the Frog.
- 1957: The sack dress, Hula Hoop and Frisbee debut. Jimmy Hoffa becomes head of the Teamsters union. “West Side Story” opens on Broadway.
- 1959: Berry Gordy founds Motown Records. Scandal exposes advance coaching of TV quiz show contestants.
- 1961: Alan Shepard is the first American in space. After the failed “Bay of Pigs” invasion, the United States severs relations with Cuba.
- 1962: Cuban Missile Crisis brings the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of war. Marilyn Monroe dies from a drug overdose.
- 1965: Vietnam War escalates; antiwar protests break out. State police attack civil rights demonstrators in Selma, Ala. Malcolm X is assassinated.
- 1967: 474,000 US troops are in Vietnam; 700,000 antiwar protesters march in New York City. Three astronauts die in the Apollo I fire.
- 1968: Robert F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are assassinated.
- Average income: $6,227/year
- Minimum wage: $1/hour
- milk: $1.04/gallon
- gas: $0.31/gallon
- New home: $18,500
- “Georgia on My Mind” by Ray Charles
- “The Twist” by Chubby Checker
- “Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen
- “My Boyfriend’s Back” by the Angels
- “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash
- “Surfin’ USA” by the Beach Boys
- “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones
- “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” by the Four Tops
- “Mr. Tambourine Man” by the Byrds
- “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers
- “Yesterday” by the Beatles
- “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye
- “Love Child” by Diana Ross and the Supremes
- “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon and Garfunkel
- “(Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding
- “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong
- “Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In” by the 5th Dimension
- “Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies
- laser eye surgery
- Kodak Instamatic camera
- first commercial communications satellite
- touch-tone phone
- first successful human heart transplant
- first message sent over internet forerunner ARPANET
- beehive and afro hairdos
- Beatles-style long hair for men
- “Flower Power”
- psychedelic posters
- Granny glasses
- Nehru jackets
- women’s pantsuits
- bell bottoms
From the November 2011 issue of Family Tree Magazine
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