Topics in the News
The Golden Age of the Movies.
Many businesses suffered severe losses during the Depression. The movies were not among them; in fact, they were so popular and so successful that many historians consider the 1930s to be their golden age. Full-length motion pictures were most popular, but short animated films were also audience favorites.
Adding Sound to Cartoons.
Animated cartoons had existed since the 1910s, and during the 1920s successful silent-cartoon characters included Otto Messmer's Felix the Cat, Max and Dave Fleischer's KoKo the Clown, and Walt Disney's Oswald the Rabbit. In 1928 Disney and Ub Iwerks created a new...
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Comic Strips and the Birth of the Comic Book
The first comic strip, Richard Outcault's The Yellow Kid, appeared in the New York World in 1895. In the next twenty-five years comic strips became one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the United States thanks to the talents of such writer-artists as Outcault,
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Communications Act of 1934
The Radio Act of 1927.
The regulation of the burgeoning broadcasting industry began with the Radio Act of 1927, which for a few years brought order to chaos. But the 1927 act treated radio broadcasting differently from telephone and telegraph communications and set up a confusing range of federal agencies with control over different aspects of the industry. During the first few years of the Radio Act of 1927 it became clear that, while the legislation had done a good job with the radio portion of the industry—especially with the formation of the Federal Radio Commission—it had failed by not including the telephone and telegraph industries within its scope,
By 1929 many of the ideas later incorporated into the 1934 act had been discussed and agreed upon by members of Congress but not passed into law. During the first several years of the Great Depression, Congress was more concerned with the economic collapse than with regulatory tinkering. With the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 and a new activist attitude toward government regulation, the Communications Act of 1934 took its place among the other regulatory milestones of the New Deal—the Securities Act of 1933, the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, and the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938. Like many of these...
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Born in the Depression.
Esquire: The Quarterly for Men made its debut on 15 October 1933, near the trough of the Great Depression. The idea of a new men's fashion magazine for the public came from C. F. Peters, a Scandinavian fashion artist, who told three men associated with the trade paper Apparel Arts that a magazine that could be sold or given away to clothing customers would be successful. The three men—David A. Smart, William H. Weintraub, and Arnold Gingrich—worked for nearly a year before coming up with a design for the new magazine, which would combine fashion illustrations and advice with cultural writing.
The 5,000 copies of the first quarterly issue reserved for newsstand sales sold out within five hours. The Esquire staff scrambled to recall 95,000 of the 100,000 copies presold to menswear stores so they could be shipped to newsstands. The success of the magazine was so great and such a shock that Smart, Weintraub, and Gingrich quickly retooled Esquire into a monthly, which began publication with the issue dated January 1934. That issue sold more than 60,000 copies. By the end of 1934, sales had reached more than 135,000. With Smart as publisher and Gingrich as editor, sales of Esquire rose to more than 700,000 copies in 1938.
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The Golden Age of Radio
The Broadcast Center.
The 1930s were truly the golden age of radio. Radio had been a nationwide phenomenon during the 1920s, broadcasting jazz; it was a fixture of the 1940s, connecting the home front to the war; but during the Depression era of the 1930s radio was something more than an entertainment or communications medium. It was a source of solace, of relief from everyday troubles; a means of escaping hardship, if only for a few minutes. It also embodied the political tensions of the decade. President Franklin D. Roosevelt reassured the nation by radio during his "fireside chats"; H. V. Kaltenborn's broadcasts from Munich in 1938 focused the nation's anxieties on Europe. During the 1930s radio was at the center of American culture.
The Depression affected the radio business much as it did other industries. Large radio manufacturers and broadcasters were hurt slightly; small radio manufacturers and broadcasters were driven out of business. Small radio stations, when they did not fold, weathered the Depression by occasionally trading air time to advertisers in return for room and board for their personnel. Wealthy entrepreneurs unaffected by the Depression increasingly bought up local radio stations, forming chains of broadcast sites and radio networks. If anything the Depression was good for the radio business....
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The Martian Invasion
The Mercury Theatre on the Air.
On 30 October 1938, a Sunday evening, the United States was invaded by Martian hordes—or so hundreds of thousands of people believed. Howard Koch's radio adaptation of H. G. Wells's 1898 novel The War of the Worlds was performed on CBS radio by the Mercury Theatre on the Air, directed by twenty-four-year-old Orson Welles. CBS took great pains to ensure that the broadcast seem fictional, including changing real names of institutions to made-up names in the script and announcing at the beginning that the program was an adaptation of The War of the Worlds. Nonetheless, the clever narrative strategy of Koch and Welles and the verisimilitude of the production caused listeners who did not hear the opening of the show to panic when they heard that Martians had landed in New Jersey and were spreading across the country.
The Dangers of Verisimilitude.
Welles and Koch so successfully imitated other types of radio broadcasting—weather reports, dance music, news bulletins—that much of the audience was convinced that they were actually hearing a series of news reports, regardless of their patently fantastic nature. Listeners purportedly heard reporters from Grover's Mill, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere describe Martian spacecraft and weaponry; some reports were cut off in the middle,...
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While the 1930s were a difficult decade for many businesses, magazine publishing flourished during the period. From the pulp magazines to the more respectable "slicks," magazines of widely varying content found a ready market among Americans who wanted either to read about, or, more usually, to distract themselves from, the troubles of the times. General magazines founded before the 1930s, such as the Saturday Evening Post and Reader's Digest, did well, as did Henry Luce's newsweekly Time. Several narrow-interest magazines also succeeded. Though the Depression would hardly seem an ideal time to launch a new business venture, many magazines that have lasted until the end of the twentieth century got their starts in the 1930s,
Luce's business magazine Fortune, for instance, made its debut in 1930 and quickly offered some of the best contemporary treatments of the Depression. Its generous use of photographs and stylish design influenced Luce's later creation, Life, and many other magazines as well. Family Circle, introduced in 1932, was one of the first women's magazines to be distributed exclusively through grocery stores. The marketing strategy worked. Like its similarly distributed competitor Woman's Day, introduced in 1937, it offered a combination of food and...
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A Popular Medium.
Inexpensive magazines publishing fiction that appealed to a popular audience dated back to the end of the nineteenth century. The pulp magazines—so named for the thick, inexpensive pulpwood paper on which they were printed—got their start early in the twentieth century. The pulps flourished in the 1930s, along with radio shows and motion pictures, as a reasonably priced form of escapist entertainment. Hundreds of these magazines appeared between the 1920s and the 1950s, when they disappeared because of competition from paperbacks and television. At their peak pulps were purchased by millions of readers.
The pulps were more adventuresome than radio or movies, which catered to family audiences. The world of the pulps was generally a violent place, whether the stories dealt with cowboys and Indians, crime fighters and gangsters, spacemen and bug-eyed monsters, or warriors such as Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian in Weird Tales. Crime was on the minds of many Americans during the 1930s, and the pulps offered plenty of brave, capable men who could fight it successfully. Colorful heroes abounded, including The Shadow (introduced in 1931) and Doc Savage and The Spider (both introduced in 1933). More down-to-earth were the hard-boiled private eyes who appeared in such magazines as...
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The 1930s were the heyday of the radical journal. Magazines and newspapers of political opinion, cultural criticism, science, and literature, the radical journal was an important forum for expression during the decade. Although radical journals never had substantial readership, their influence on American intellectual and political life was great. Published primarily in New York City, journals such as Partisan Review, The New Masses, and Modern Monthly shaped opinion far from Manhattan, even influencing political opinion abroad, The journals also provided many writers outlets for work that might otherwise have gone unpublished during the Depression, and they gave writers and critics who would become well known in subsequent decades their first experience in political journalism. Most radical journals were exceptionally critical of capitalism, and almost all advocated some type of reform. But they also analyzed, criticized, and introduced new art and literature, Especially in New York, the radical journals of the 1930s were at the center of a vibrant literary culture.
From Masses to New Masses.
Most radical journals of the 1930s followed the stylistic precedent set by the groundbreaking journal The Masses (1911-1918). A combination of socialist advocacy, muckraking journalism, poetry, and art, The...
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The Rise of the American Newspaper Guild
A White-Collar Union.
A union of newspaper reporters and editors, the American Newspaper Guild (ANG) was founded in 1933 as a result of the Depression; by 1936 it had affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. One of the nation's first white-collar unions in the United States, it protected the job security of members and agitated for higher wages and better working conditions. The rise of the guild was highly controversial and was accompanied by conservative charges that the ANG was a communist agency seeking to take over the nation's press. The growth of the union was nonetheless striking. and by the end of the decade the ANG had become a permanent feature of the news business.
Romance and Reality.
Although newspaper work was often romanticized during the 1930s, with movies and novels portraying the reporter's life as adventurous and exciting, the reality was far less glamorous. Most newspaper reporters were poorly paid, with small-town and suburban reporters earning as little as six dollars per week or one dollar per day. Working hours were long, ten to twelve hours per day, six days a week. Reporters were regularly told to "stick with" a story even if it meant working fifteen-hour days or longer. So poor was the pay and so long were the hours that many newspapers discouraged their reporters from marrying, aware that such a...
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Annenberg, Moses 1875-1942
NEWSPAPER PUBLISHER AND RACING-NEWS ENTREPRENEUR
Th e son of Prussian Jewish immigrants, Moses Annenberg rose from poverty to become a powerful newspaper publisher and racing-news entrepreneur. In 1900, after a meager education and jobs as a junkman, a Western Union messenger, a livery stable boy, and a bartender, Annenberg became a subscription solicitor for the Chicago Evening American newspaper, recently purchased by William Randolph Hearst. In 1904 Hearst started a morning newspaper, the Examiner, and appointed Annenberg circulation manager to establish a place for the paper in the highly competitive morning market. It was Annenberg's job to obtain prime sales locations on street corners. The competition quickly erupted into gang warfare, and Annenberg, along with his brother Max, were deeply involved in the violence. His involvement colored Annenberg's reputation throughout his life.
Wisconsin and Success.
In 1907 Annenberg moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and started an agency to distribute all the Chicago newspapers. The agency was successful, and he started similar businesses in twenty other cities. He also earned a large amount of money with a promotion idea devised by his wife. With the newspapers he distributed coupons offering teaspoons decorated with state seals....
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Armstrong, Edwin Howard 189O-1954
INVENTOR OF FM RADIO
Last Great Inventor.
Edwin Howard Armstrong ranks with Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison as one of the greatest of American inventors. Like them, he was a gifted and original thinker, as responsible for modern radio as Edison was for the electric light or Bell for the telephone. Like them, Armstrong worked obsessively and held himself to high moral standards, Unlike them, Armstrong was born in a century when science was rapidly moving from the inventor's shed to the corporate laboratory. In a sense Armstrong was the last of the great nineteenth-century inventors, an individualistic genius who fit poorly into the modern technocracy. While Bell and Edison reaped the rewards of their skills in wealth and prestige and built modern corporations on their inventions, Armstrong spent his life defending his inventions from corporations and had his wealth and prestige stripped from him. By 1954, despondent, bankrupt, his life and marriage shattered by four decades of lawsuits, he killed himself. It was a tragic end...
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Capp, Al 19O9-1979
Famous Comic-Strip Artist.
At age twenty-five Al Capp created the comic strip Lit Abner, which he wrote and drew until he ended it forty-four years later. During his career Capp was one of the best-known comic-strip creators in the United States, and he courted the media attention that came his way. John Steinbeck hailed him as "the best satirist since Laurence Sterne/' adding, "He has taken our customs, our dreams, our habits of thought, our social structure, our economics, examined them gently like amusing bugs. Then he has pulled a nose a little longer, made outstanding ears a little more outstanding, described it in dreadful folk poetry and returned it to us in a hilarious picture of our ridiculous selves."
Early Life and Career.
Born Alfred Gerald Caplin in New Haven, Connecticut, he grew up experiencing hunger and want, which he made humorous in the hillbilly setting of Lil Abner, At age nine he lost his left leg after being run over by an ice truck; as a result he read voraciously and took an interest in art at an early age. In his mid teens he hitchhiked through the South, visiting Memphis and the Ozarks, where he gained impressions of backwoods life that would later fuel his career. He studied art at several schools before dropping out to join the Associated Press...
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Farnsworth, Philo T. 19O6-1971
The Importance of Technology.
The real pioneers of television were not entertainers or financiers; they were scientists. One of the most important was Philo Farnsworth, who when only a teenager designed the basic system needed to transfer moving pictures over the air waves,
Farnsworth was fifteen years old, and a high-school student, when he read of the research being carried out in the Soviet Union by Boris Rosing on transmitting moving images by electricity. He quickly designed a schematic drawing of the required system. Farnsworth entered Brigham Young University the next year and remained for two years until the death of his father. A San Francisco banker named William H. Crocker built a laboratory for Farnsworth so that he could continue his research into the practical development of his television system.
Patents and Corporations.
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Gould, Chester 19O0-1985
A Unique Comic Strip.
Introduced on 12 October 1931, Did Tracy quickly became one of the most popular comic strips of the 1930s and beyond. Its creator, Chester Gould, tapped into a contemporary fascination with crime and gangsters through the popular medium of the comic pages to invent one of the most durable characters in American culture. While other comic-strip creators dealt with crime or detectives, none did so with the visual flair for the urban violence and grotesque villains.
Gould was born in Pawnee, Oklahoma, in 1900. His father published a weekly newspaper, and although Gould studied business administration in Chicago, where he moved in 1921, he went from college to a job drawing for newspapers. An avid fan of comic strips in his youth, he drew his own strips during the 1920s while working for newspaper art departments. In creating Fillum Fables he became one of several cartoonists at the time who offered comic treatments of popular movies, including detective stories. That influence—combined with his youthful admiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and his experience with gangsters in contemporary Chicago—led Gould to create Dick Tracy, "a comic strip character who would always get the best of the assorted hoodlums and gangsters."...
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Shaw, Joseph T. 1874-1952
EDITOR OF BLACK MASK, 1926-1936
Joseph T. Shaw made Black Mask one of the most respected pulp magazines of the 1920s and 1930s. By publishing the early work of such note-worthy writers as Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Erie Stanley Gardner, the magazine helped to define a whole style, commonly known as hard-boiled detective fiction.
Born in 1874 in Gorham, Maine, Shaw edited the campus newspaper at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. Graduating in 1895, he was briefly employed at the New York Globe and worked for a wool company. He served in World War I, earning the rank of captain and the nickname "Cap." He was also a champion fencer, and when he later lived in New York he was licensed to carry a sword cane. Shaw remained in Europe for five years after the war, distributing food for the American Relief Administration. When he returned to the United States, he did some freelance editing and writing for popular magazines such as Field and Stream and the Saturday Evening Post. From the editor of Field and Stream he learned in 1926 that Black Mask needed a new editor; he got the job.
Founded in 1920 by H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan, both of whom distanced...
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Thomas, Lowell 1892-1981
On the Radio.
Lowell Thomas made his debute as a newsreader and commentator in September 1930 and continued daily broadcasts until 14 May 1976. Before he became a radio personality, Thomas was already famous as an author, traveler, and lecturer, best-known for With Lawrence in Arabia (1924), the story of his time with T. E. Lawrence during World War I. Thomas's radio job was the result of CBS Radio president William S. Paley's attempt to convince the Literary Digest to sponsor a news broadcast on CBS instead of the news show it had on NBC. Once Thomas made a trial broadcast. Literary Digest publisher R. J. Cuddihy immediately fired his present reader, Floyd Gibbons, and hired Thomas. For six months Thomas's fifteen-minute nightly broadcasts were heard on NBC in the East and on CBS in the West. After that Thomas was heard only on NBC until 1947.
An American Voice.
Thomas had an American voice, without a trace of a foreign or patrician accent. His commentary was balanced politically though always pro-American. His first broadcast included commentary on Benito Mussolini and a little-known German named Adolf Hitler: "There are now two Mussolinis in the world.… Adolf Hitler has written a book in which this belligerent gentleman states that the cardinal policy of his powerful...
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Winchell, Walter 1897-1972
JOURNALIST, RADIO COMMENTATOR
Walter Winchell was the most famous, most popular, and most controversial "gossip" columnist in twentieth-century American journalism. He made a career of printing scoops about celebrities and making "informed" predictions (many of which did not come true). In the 1930s he also began to make partisan political pronouncements.
Winchell was born in 1897 and left school in 1910 to work as a vaudeville performer. After years of minimal success he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1917 and worked in New York City as a receptionist for Adm. Marbury Johnston at the New York Customs House. In 1919 he returned to vaudeville and started a newsletter that featured light vaudeville news and punnish quips such as "You tell'em Quija, I'm bored." In 1922 the Vaudeville Newsy a paper run by a vaudeville circuit, hired Winchell at the salary of twenty-five dollars a week.
In 1924 Winchell became a dramatic critic and Broadway columnist for the New York Evening Graphic. He worked for the Evening Graphic until 1929, his salary rising from one hundred dollars a week in the beginning to three hundred dollars a week before he left for William Randolph Hearst's New York Daily...
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Zworykin, Vladimir 1889-1982
The Importance of Technology.
Along with Philo Farnsworth, Vladimir Zworykin developed the technology that made television possible. Because of the success of his technology and the company who produce d it, Zworykin is known as the father of television.
A Russian Beginning.
Zworykin was born near Moscow in 1889, graduating from the equivalent of high school in 1906. He received his electrical engineering degree in 1912 from the Saint Petersburg Institute of Technology, where he remained to study under Boris Rosing, one of the early scientists who developed the idea of television. Later in 1912 he traveled to France, where he studied physics until the outbreak of World War I. After the war, during which he was a signal officer working on radio, Zworykin escaped the Russian Revolution by immigrating to the United States. He eventually found work at the Westinghouse unit of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA),
Because of his background with Rosing, Zworykin worked at developing television. In 1923 he filed his first patent application, for a transmitting tube called the iconoscope. He displayed his invention to Westinghouse management in 1924, but they informed him that while his "demonstration had been extremely...
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People in the News
In April 1930 Frank R. Birdsall, editor and publisher of the Yazoo City Sentinel in Mississippi, was shot and killed by Mayor John T. Stricklin because Birdsall had published damaging reports about Stricklin just before the local mayoral election in February.
In February 1937 Walter J. Black introduced Book Digest magazine, which published condensed versions of nonfiction best-sellers; he developed the idea after noticing the immense popularity of Reader's Digest condensed books.
In 1938 O'Brien Boldt, editor of the Daily Dartmouth, developed a plan to send Adolf Hitler a Christmas present of four test tubes containing samples of Jewish, Negro, Mongolian, and "Aryan" blood contributed by undergraduates and to challenge Hitler to tell the difference. The plan fell through when no "pure Aryan" blood could be found.
In July 1939 colorful, well-known New York World-Telegram columnist Heywood Broun advertised for a job because his contract expired in December and would not be renewed. With thirty-one years' newspaper experience, he ended up at the New York Post, working for one-quarter of his previous salary.
American Fiction Guild President Arthur J. Burks gave encouragement to pulp writers hurt by the Depression when he announced in early...
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PULITZER PRIZES FOR JOURNALISM
1930 Meritorious Public Service: No award
Reporting: Russell D. Owen, The New York Times
Correspondence: Leland Stowe, New York Herald Tribune
Editorials: No award
Editorial Cartoons: Charles R. Macauley, Brooklyn Eagle
Meritorious Public Service: Atlanta Constitution
Reporting: A. B. MacDonald, Kansas City Star
Correspondence: H. R. Knickerbocker, Philadelphia Public Ledger and New York Evening Post
Editorials: Charles S. Ryckman, Fremont (Nebr.) Tribune
Editorial Cartoons: Edmund Duffy, Baltimore Sun
Meritorious Public Service: Indianapolis News
Reporting: W. C. Richards, D. D, Martin, J. S. Pooler, F. D. Webb, and J. N. W. Sloan, Detroit Free Press
Correspondence: Walter Duranty, The New York Times, and Charles G. Ross, Saint Louis Post-Dispatch
Editorials: No award
Editorial Cartoons: John T. McCutcheon, Chicago Tribune
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Ernest Hamlin Abbott, 61, editor of the religious magazine Outlook 8 August 1931.
John Alden, 73 ? editor and poet, 4 March 1934.
Paul Y. Anderson, 45, journalist; his articles on the Teapot Dome and Elk Hills oil leases resulted in the reopening of a Senate investigation and won him the 1928 Pulitzer Prize for reportorial work, 6 December 1938.
Benjamin Harris Anthony, 69, became president of E. Anthony and Sons, publishers of the New Bedford Evening Post and the New Bedford Morning Mercury after the death of his father in 1906; also served as second vice president of the Associated Press and as president of the New England Daily Newspaper Alliance, 16 October 1932.
Daniel Reed Anthony Jr., 60, congressman and editor of the Leavenworth (Michigan) Times, 4 August 1931.
Elbert H. Baker, 79, director of the Associated Press after 1916, director (1907-1924) and president (1912-1914) of the American Newspaper Publishers Association, 26 September 1933.
Hugh Bancroft, 54, lawyer and publisher; president of the Boston News Bureau Co, and of Dow, Jones and Co., publishers of the Wall Street Journal, 17 October 1933.
Charles Eugene Banks, 80, editor and author,...
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Waldo Abbot, Handbook of Broadcasting: How to Broadcast Effectively (New York 8c London: McGraw-Hill, 1937);
John E. Allen, Newspaper Makeup (New York & London: Harper, 1936);
Gleason L. Archer, Big Business and Radio (New York: American Historical Co., 1939);
Eric Barnouw, Handbook of Radio Writing: An Outline of Techniques and Markets in Radio Writing in the United States (Boston: Little, Brown, 1939);
Silas Bent, Newspaper Crusaders: A Neglected Story (New York & London: Whittlesey House, McGraw-Hill, 1939); '
Simon Michael Bessie, Jazz Journalism: The Story of the Tabloid Newspapers (New York: Button, 1938);
Karl A. Bickel, New Empires: The Newspaper and the Radio (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1930);
F. Fraser Bond, Breaking Into Print: Modern Newspaper Technique for Writers (New York 8c London : McGraw-Hill, 1933);
Herbert Brucker, The Changing American Newspaper (New York: Columbia University Press, 1937);
Ben H. Darrow, Radio: The Assistant Teacher (Columbus, Ohio: R, G. Adams, 1932);
Charles Kellogg Field, The Story of Cheerio, By Himself (Garden City, N.Y.: Garden City Publishing, 1937);...
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Important Events in the Media, 1930–1939
- The Smart Set magazine ceases publication.
- The first issues of Astounding Science-Fiction are published.
- On January 13, the Mickey Mouse daily comic strip, drawn by Floyd Gottfredson until 1975, makes its debut. A Sunday page is added on January 10, 1932.
- On January 20, radio station WXYZ in Detroit airs the first episode of the drama The Lone Ranger.
- In February, the first issue of Henry Luce's Fortune magazine is published.
- In April, Ham Fisher's comic strip Joe Palooka makes its debut, reflecting a contemporary interest in boxing and in adventure comics.
- On July 30, Death Valley Days debuts on the NBC-Blue Network. The series moves to CBS in 1941 and continues until 1945.
- On September 8, Chic Young's Blondie first appears in newspapers.
- On September 29, Lowell Thomas begins a nightly radio news program. NBC carries the program until 1946, when it moves to CBS, which carries it until 1974.
- The first issues of Apparel Arts (later Gentleman's Quarterly, or GQ) are published.
- On February 7, New York publisher George Putnam marries aviator Amelia...
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