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Celebrate the Century:

Search the Web for
U.S. History of the 1930s


Search the Web to learn the stories behind the stamps issued by the United States Postal Service commemorating the people, places, events, and trends of the 1930s. Explore Web sites related to the Empire State Building, Superman, the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Monopoly board game, and more!

Celebrate the Century Graphic Superman, the legendary man of steel, returned to planet Earth on September 10, 1998, when 15 new stamps saluting the 1930s were issued by the U.S. Postal Service in Cleveland, Ohio -- where the super hero was "born."

"From the Great Depression and the New Deal programs to architectural marvels and heroes of fact and fiction, the 1930s stamps portray a time when Americans worked together to overcome great hardship in hopes of a better day," said Deputy Postmaster General Michael Coughlin, who dedicated the stamps, part of the USPS's Celebrate the Century program, at the foot of Cleveland's Terminal Tower. When it opened in June 1930, the 52-story tower was among the tallest buildings in the world. It was the tallest building west of New York for 40 years.



As the text from the 1930s Celebrate the Century stamp sheet reads:

"By 1933 the average wage was 60 percent less than in 1929 and unemployment had skyrocketed to 25 percent. Dust storms forced many farmers to give up their land.

"Americans escaped harsh realities by playing Monopoly, reading adventures of 'Buck Rogers' and 'Flash Gordon,' and listening to Hoagey Carmichael's 'Stardust.' Popular films included King Kong and It Happened One Night. For the first time, African-American athletes became national idols; Joe Louis in boxing and Jesse Owens in track and field.

"Prohibition was repealed in 1933. President Franklin Roosevelt fought the Great Depression with his New Deal programs. The 'Star-Spangled Banner' was chosen as the national anthem. The Empire State Building rose above the Manhattan skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge spanned the San Francisco Bay. Back on the ground, the parking meter made its first appearance in 1935.

"As the decade closed, many Americans were anxious about the growing war in Europe. New words -- all-star, oops, pizza, and racism -- were entering the American vocabulary."



So sets the stage for the fifteen stamps commemorating the decade of the 1930s.

The activities that follow will engage students in exploring Web sites as they search for information related to ten of the 1930s stamps. For each stamp, a question is posed and a Web site URL is presented. Challenge students to use the listed Web sites to answer all ten questions. Click here for the answers to the questions.

Franklin D. Roosevelt Image



Eight days after taking office, President Franklin D. Roosevelt made the first of his radio "fireside chats." As if speaking directly to each listener, he explained complex issues and measures being taken to deal with them.

Question 1:
President Roosevelt was related to a man who had served as President of the United States before him. Who was that man, and how were the two men related?

The Web site:
You can find the answer to that question at the Franklin D. Roosevelt page on the White House Web site.

Empire State Building Image



Completed in 1931, New York City's Empire State Building has 102 stories and rises 1,250 feet above the ground. For more than 40 years it was the tallest building in the world.

Question 2:
How long did it take workers to complete construction of the Empire State Building?

The website:
You can find the answer to that question on the official Empire State Building website.

Jesse Owens



On the afternoon of May 25, 1935, Ohio State University's track star Jesse Owens was credited with setting five world records and tying another. The following year he earned four gold medals in international competition at Berlin.

Question 3:
When Jesse Owens was born, he wasn't named "Jesse." Nor was he named "John Cleveland" or "James Cleveland," as recorded in many biographies of the track hero. What name did Jesse's father give to him at birth?

The website:
You can find the answer to that question on the official Jesse Owens website. Read the "Jesse Owen's Story" on that site.

Golden Gate Bridge Image



After more than four years of construction, the Golden Gate Bridge opened to vehicular traffic May 28, 1937. Boasting a 4,200-foot-long main span, the "International Orange" bridge carried the moderate price tag of $35 million.

Question 4:
The designer of the Golden Gate Bridge worked many hours to convince citizens that the bridge could be built and that it could pay for itself with tolls paid by travelers. Who was that famous bridge designer?

The website:
You can find the answer to that question on the official website of the Golden Gate Bridge. Read about the "History" of the bridge at that site.

Great Depression Image



Dorothea Lange's 1936 photograph of Native American Florence Owens Thompson symbolizes the courage of Americans as they tried to survive the hard times of the Great Depression.

Question 5:
During the Depression years, people who were lucky enough to have jobs were paid very low wages. About how much was an accountant paid each week during the Depression? About how much is an accountant paid each week today?

The website:
You can find the answers to those questions on the Then and Now: Prices page of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment site. (Do some more comparing: Study the chart at that Web site to learn what some common store-bought items cost during the Depression. Check store ads in today's newspapers to see how much those items cost today.)

Monopoly Game Image



Produced commercially for the first time in 1933, the Monopoly game became the world's most famous board game. In a period of economic depression, players enjoyed amassing fortunes and driving opponents bankrupt.

Question 6:
Most of the places on the Monopoly board game were named by the game's inventor for places in a real U.S. city. What city is that?

The website:
You can find the answer to that question on The Authorized Story of Monopoly website.

Life Magazine Image



Established in November 1936, LIFE magazine opened a new era of photojournalism. With limited text, and photographs on almost every page, it expanded our awareness of current events and the human race.

Question 7:
What was pictured on the cover of the very first issue of LIFE magazine, on November 23, 1936?

The website:
You can find the answer to that question here (scroll down the page to see the magazine cover).

Household Items



Showing faith in new technology, household purchases focused on electric mixers, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners, irons, and pop-up toasters. The 1930s also saw the spread of sliced bread and packaged frozen foods.

Question 8:
The pop-up toaster was one of the household conveniences that became commonplace in kitchens across America in the 1930s. "This amazing new invention makes perfect toast every time!" proclaimed ads in the Saturday Evening Post. "Without turning! Without burning!" The pop-up toaster was invented some years before it became popular. In what year was it invented, and by whom?

The website:
You can find the answer to that question on the Toaster Museum website. Just check out the years 1920-1940 in "The Cyber Toaster Museum."

Superman Image



Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Superman first appeared in 1938. The Man of Steel was the world's first comic book super hero. His sensational powers and dynamic deeds changed forever the content and style of the comic book.

Question 9:
How much money were Siegel and Shuster paid for each page of their first Superman comic book?

The website:
You can find the answer to that question at The Big Red S website.

Eleanor Roosevelt Image



Eleanor Roosevelt was an extremely vocal, active, and influential First Lady. During press conferences for women reporters and in her syndicated column, she championed the rights of women, youths, minorities, and the disadvantaged.

Question 10:
Unlike First Ladies before her, Eleanor Roosevelt spoke her opinions freely in lectures, radio broadcasts, and in a daily newspaper column. What was her newspaper column called?

The website:
You can find the answer to that question on the Anna Eleanor Roosevelt Roosevelt page of the official White House website.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 2010 Education World


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Updated 06/08/2010