1930s

Literary Neighbors: The Folger and the Library of Congress

The lot where the Folger would eventually be built, with the Library of Congress in the background. Image courtesy of LUNA: Folger Digital Image Collection

After years of acquiring important books and manuscripts, and a few more years planning and acquiring land, the Folger Shakespeare Library was almost bumped out of Washington thanks to a bill to expand the Library of Congress. But instead of fighting the other library, the two would work in close cooperation to ensure the Folger Shakespeare Library came to Washington and flourished.

Police removing sit-in participants from the Alexandria Library (Source: Wiikpedia)

Alexandria Library Sit-In, 1939

In 1939 -- decades before Virginia schools were integrated, and sit-ins emerged as a primary strategy for protesting segregated businesses and public facilities in the South -- Alexandria, Virginia lawyer Samuel Tucker organized a successful sit-in to demonstrate against the Alexandria Library's "whites only" policy. It is believed to be the first sit-in for desegregation in American history.

Elizabeth Smith Friedman Photograph (Source: National Security Administration)

Elizebeth Friedman: Coast Guard Code Breaker

By the end of her life, Elizebeth Smith Friedman was renowned for her work deciphering codes from civilian criminals. She cracked the codes that sent members of what one prosecutor called “the most powerful international smuggling syndicate in existence” to jail, took down a Vancouver opium ring, and caught a World War II Japanese spy.

A Plane for Every Garage

Ercoupe plane. (Source: The Peter M. Bowers Collection/The Museum of Flight)

In the early days of aviation, aircraft designers and manufacturers like Henry Berliner envisioned a future in which everyone would have the opportunity to own and operate their own planes. Berliner struck out on his own in 1930 and founded the Engineering and Research Corporation (ERCO). Headquartered in northwest Washington, D.C., the company’s intent was to build tools for the manufacture of airplanes. Berliner’s real dream, though, was to make air travel accessible to the masses. In 1937, Berliner purchased 50 acres of land near the airport in College Park, Maryland where he built an airstrip and a large factory to manufacture ERCO’s new plane, the Ercoupe. It was a machine that might have made George Jetson proud.

No "Monopoly" on Monopoly

Elizabeth Magie comparing a copy of “Monopoly” to “The Landlord’s Game.” (Image source: “Designed to Teach,” Evening Star, January 28, 1936.)

The official history of Monopoly states that the game was invented in 1935 by Charles Darrow, a man down on his luck during the Great Depression, who was catapulted to fame and fortune through his invention of a simple board game. The game was hugely popular, selling two million copies in its first two years in print. However, the game would have already seemed very familiar to intellectuals, leftists, and Quakers across the Northeast. And for good reason: the Monopoly we know today is a near-carbon copy of an earlier game, The Landlord’s Game, designed by a Maryland stenographer named Elizabeth Magie - except that while Monopoly’s goal is to bankrupt your opponents, The Landlord’s Game was intended to show players the evils of monopolies.

Oscar Winning Films of Washington, D.C.: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington movie poster

When people think of movies and Washington, D.C., the first film that often comes to mind is “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” The 1939 drama starring Jimmy Stewart as a country boy who gets a quick lesson in dirty D.C. politics is now considered an American classic. At the time of its release, however, “Mr. Smith” didn’t have many fans in the nation’s capital.

Commissioner Melvin Hazen and William Van Duzer, putting the first nickel in the parking meters ordered by Congress for a test in Washington in November 1938.

When Parking Meters Were a Hot Controversy in Washington

Washington, D.C., has 17,000 parking meters, and the necessity of feeding them is one of those annoyances that urban drivers grudgingly accept. Though it may be difficult to fathom today, there was a time in the early 20th century when the idea of collecting fees for parking spaces was opposed by the American Automobile Association and motorists who saw it as unfair taxation. As a result, it took several years to get approval to install the first meters on District streets.

 

Damaged records from the 1890 census. Most of these records ended up being destroyed. (Image source: National Archives)

Just Stick It in the Basement: Before the Archives

Today, the founding documents of America - the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights - are on display at the Charters of Freedom exhibit in the Rotunda of the National Archives. Tourists from across America and the world make pilgrimages to see the most revered documents in American history. Extensive preservation measures have been put in place. But this wasn’t always the case. For most of our nation’s history, these charters, now considered priceless, were kept with the United States’ other government documents - that is, shoved wherever officials could find space. Before the National Archives was founded in 1934, these documents were stored essentially at random, in basements, on walls, or even piled in hallways.

Now abandoned, Glenn Dale Hospital and Sanatorium was Washington's response to its Tuberculosis problem in the 1930s. (Photo source: Wikipedia)

DC's TB Problem

Tonight at 9pm, WETA TV 26 and WETA HD premiere the new American Experience film The Forgotten Plague, which details the impact of Tuberculosis on American society. TB was a problem everywhere. But, the disease hit few places as hard as it hit Washington, D.C. In fact, according to a 1934 report by the District Medical Society, only Memphis, San Antonio and New Orleans had higher death rates among large cities in the United States.

The stats were alarming. They were also somewhat surprising, at least according to some. As the DMS report noted, since D.C. “is less congested and the economic situation is better than in any other city in this country, we should have one of the lowest death rates.” However, the rate in the nation’s capital was “higher even than that of Baltimore, where congestion and the economic situation are notoriously unfavorable.” (Sorry, Baltimore, apparently you were the measuring stick for terrible public health in the 1930s.)

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