Family activities in the 1930s

Written by christopher rogers
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Family activities in the 1930s
Unemployment and low wages left little money for family activities. (J Gaiger/Valueline/Getty Images)

By necessity, family activities in the 1930s were scaled back compared to the freewheeling 1920s. Financial constraints caused by the Great Depression led to more stay-at-home activities, such as board games or listening to the radio. Families with disposable income went to movies in large numbers -- between 60 and 90 million Americans attended weekly movies in the 1930s.

Inexpensive Entertainment

Low wages and widespread unemployment brought on by the Depression left families looking for inexpensive entertainment. Popular activities included cards, jigsaw puzzles, and board games like Monopoly. Dime-store magazines proliferated during the 1930s, offering readers a wide selection of detective, western, romance and adventure stories. Crime novels starring contemporary gangsters like John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd enjoyed wide circulation.

Family activities in the 1930s
Books and magazines were popular and inexpensive entertainment. (George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images)

Radio Shows

From the large jazz and dance orchestras of the 1920s, radio programming in the 1930s moved to syndicated content and radio shows as opposed to performances. Comics like Eddie Cantor, Joe Penner and "Amos 'n' Andy" kept Depression-era audiences laughing. Dramatic programs like Great Northern Railroad's "Empire Builders" featuring Don Ameche broadcast weekly, while Sherlock Holmes made his first radio appearance on The Colliers Hour.

Family activities in the 1930s
Serial cliffhanger dramas broadcast new adventures weekly. (George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images)


Hollywood produced an unprecedented number of movies in the 1930s, including several classics like "Gone with the Wind" and "The Wizard of Oz." Sound was a recent addition and colour film was developed in 1935. Movie stars of the 1930s included Jean Harlow, W.C. Fields, Shirley Temple and the Marx Brothers. Local movie theatres screened serial adventures starring Tarzan, Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers that were popular with families and children. The Hays Production Code, introduced in 1934, promoted family-friendly films for general audiences.

Baseball and Fairs

Low-cost outdoor activities included picnicking, dances and spectator sports. Boston baseball fans could watch Babe Ruth bat for the Red Sox in his final season as a player in 1935. Fairs and carnivals were also popular family activities and several major exhibitions occurred during the decade, including the Chicago World's Fair in 1933 and the New York World's Fair in 1939.

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