Ask Aunt Ruthie FAQ on Leisure/Media


Ask Aunt Ruthie

Ask Aunt Ruthie FAQ Index

This page contains Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) and answers regarding liesure activities and media-related items in the 1930s time period. The questions are organized by sub-category as best as possible.

Question Index






Sports, Games and Toys



Questions and Answers


Q: What can you tell me about 1930s/1940s music?

A: There was a lot of big band music as well as Dixieland and Jazz. Singers like Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald, Rudy Valee (very popular in their time). The 40's came in strong with the Big Band Sound as well as blues, jazz and dixieland. Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, The Dorsey Brothers, Sammy Kaye, etc. Jitterbugging was the dance of choice to the fast tunes. There was romantic slow songs as well.

The 40's gave birth to many war songs such as There'll Always be An England. White Cliffs of Dover. There used to be a lot of the big bands that played at the dances at the Palace Pier on the Toronto waterfront. We had sing songs on our picnics at Kew Beach and sang our golden oldies. "You are My Sunshine" "Smile The While" "A Nest, The West and You Dear" "Someone's In The Kitchen With Dinah" to name a few.

Q: Where can I find music from the 1930s?

A: Any good cassette and CD shop would carry some of the old stuff from the 30's.  Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway are some examples.  They have digitally reproduced a lot of the old stuff.

Look also elsewhere at the website - the Big Band Trio puts out great jazz.

Q: Do you remember some songs that might have been sung around a camp fire?

A: Most of the music I remember was at sing songs at the park near the beach  These songs were oldies such as "Down By The Old Mill Stream," "Shine On Harvest Moon," "I've Been Working On The Railroad," "You Are My Sunshine," "The West A Nest And You Dear," "I've Got Sixpence," "Old Black Joe," "Someone's in The Kitchen With Dinah," "Margie,"  and "Smile The While" to name a few.


Singalongs around a campfire is sort of a lost art.  To even have a radio in this era was a luxury to those who were hit badly by the Depression.


Q: What was TV like in the 1930s/1940s?

A: TV was bandied about in the 30's and it took about a decade to reach some potential. Radio personalities such as Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy were well received on radio.  However, when they made it to TV Bergen was a passable ventriloquist and you could see his lips move perceptably.  Our TV was acquired in the late 40's and it only broadcast a few hours a day. Mostly all you saw was the test pattern.  Nevertheless we thought this was a pretty terrific invention.


Q: What was radio like back then?

A: Radios of the 30"s were not the most sophisticated and the programming left a little to be desired. However, it was all we had to entertain ourselves and it most certainly stirred our imagination while listening.

There was a few "Soaps" at that time, and weekly serials for kids such as "Jack Armstrong The All American Boy". "Let's Pretend" was another favorite and I believe this aired on Saturday mornings. "Singing Sam" was another popular program and it would come on about 11:45 a. m. My folks would listen to this most days and then the noon news. You must be aware that these were very lean years and there were not too many big productions. We did not glue ourselves to radio like the people of today watch TV However, once the war broke out in 1939 we went from newscast to newscast keeping track of what was occurring on the front.


Q: What can you tell me about 1930s movies?

A: Movies were all black and white. Romantic stories such as "Maytime" with Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. There was Charlie Chaplin movies some westerns and there was always a moral to the story and no bad language.

More: Movies before the 30's were really in their infancy and there was no audio.  In the 30's  "talkies" became possible and certainly drew large audiences.  They were black and white and not as long as movies are today.  In 1939 the epic movie "Gone With The Wind" hit the screen  in color and is still a favorite with many people.

The language was clean and there was no sex in these movies, but somehow, they were well received and enjoyed.

Q: Who were some movie stars of the time?

A: Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, Greta Garbo and Mary Pickford to name a few.  Musicals such as Maytime starring Jeannette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy were well received.

Q: What were flappers?

A: The Flapper Era was in the 1920's. We in the Americas were happy the War was over and forged ahead with our lives.  Flappers were dancers and dressed in silk or satin dresses,beaded at the top, heeled shoes with a strap across the instep.  Hairdos were soft and curly. People were happy and carefree but this ended with the Stock Market Crash of 1929.  This ruined many people and drove many to suicide.


Q: What sort of stuff did newspapers cover?

A: Newspapers covered local events from accidents to local government - Everyone was trying to fix the economy and the break out of the war was essentially the beginning of financial recovery.

Want Ads - Much the same as today in many respects but on a less grander scale.  Houses for rent (our house rented for $8 a month)  Articles for sale used and new. Very little employment offered as jobs were scarce. The reporting was far more responsible than today and certainly there was no use of bad language or being indiscreet to sell copy.

Q: What products were advertised?

A: I do not recall any products that were advertised a lot. One comes to mind though for Masons 49 which was a cough medicine.  It was sung (cant relate to what tune) and went like this:

Stop that cough, stop that cold in the nick of time, Now don't delay, it doesn't pay take Masons 49 Wheeze and sneeze and even freeze, you'll soon be feeling fine So stop at your drug store and be sure to ask for Masons 49.

Silverwoods Dairy had a slogan "You can whip our cream but you can't beat our milk."

Check magazines of the period such as Life or Saturday Evening Post if you want to see the ads of the time.

Q: What effect did the book "How to Win Friends and Influence People" have?

A: The book "How to Win Friends and Influence People" did have a great impact on people because it had a common sense approach to human relationships both personal and in business.  Some people have great talent but lack confidence in the area of social intercourse and that can produce a sad waste of knowhow.  Carnegie was able to suggest simple but positive ways to improve a person so that he was functioning to his full potential.

The 30's were very desperate years financially and this book was received as a ray of hope that people could forge ahead once again and claim a little corner of the world. by using the innate power that is within all of us.  I know this book is used by some companies today when they single out the potential of some workers that just need to work on how they present themselves. at work and in various social situations., I would add at this point that there was acute unemployment  in the 30's and basically people were just grateful if they could find any work at all.

Sports, Games and Toys

Q: What sorts of toys and games existed?

A: Boys would have mechano sets, toy metal soldiers. They would make their own scooters from orange crates with roller skate wheels on the bottom.

Girls would have dolls made of plaster, doll carriages. We played pick up sticks, and bolo bats were quite popular. We had dish sets and tables and chairs but most of all we had imagination to invent our own playtime. Tag, hide and go seek, Simon says to name a few. Sleighs, bicycles, wagons. No trendy stuff like there is today but we managed to have fun and good times.

More: There was a lot of unemployment and very little money to spread around.  Therefore, kids depended mostly on their imaginations to create games etc.  There is no comparison with the 30's and the life kids lead today. 

There was no TV, very few movies (not easily afforded) no computers with Nintendo games to entertain.  We had a few favorite radio programs that we listened to.  Reading would include comic books and we traded these with our friends, as well as what was called "big little books" These books were about 6" square and very thick and a favorite with the guys. 

Bolo bats were a popular toy the cheaper one costing 10 cents and the best 25 cents. We made the most of what we had and actually were reasonably happy.  Another toy my brothers made was a scooter made from oranges crates with roller skate wheels on the bottom.

See also other answers below.

Q: What kind of sports did people play?

A: Baseball, hockey were played in the 30's - but certainly not on the organized money level of today. Boxing and wrestling were well attended sports.

At the school level we played baseball, volley ball, ring toss - and that is about it.

Q: What do you recall about the 1936 olympics?

A: The most memorable thing I can recall from the Olympics in 1936 and held in Germany, was the fact that a black runner by the name of Jesse Owens won but Adolf Hitler refused to acknowledge this feat and give him his medal.

Q: What games or activities would children play?

A: First let me explain that there was not much money around in the 30's for most families so fun on the weekends would be to get a game of baseball together (this could be mixed) We did a lot of pretend games and stretched our imagination to the fullest.  Played a lot of hide and go seek: and for those who were lucky enogh to have dolls, we played house. Kids were more like kids back then and certainly not as knowing as they are now. 

Q: What were some toys for kids?

A: To start with there was very little money for toys in the 30's and people had a very hard time to eke out a living.  But people were inventive.  Boys would carve out guns from wood.  Scooters were made by dads with an orange crate box resting on a 2 x 6 board and roller skate wheels on the bottom.  There was wooden wagons for boys and wooden table and chair sets for girls.

Boys who were lucky enough would get a mechano erector set. This was a set of metal slats with holes placed strategically to accept a nut and bolt. You could design a crane or other types of equipment. Girls would play with porcelain faced dolls but most of the time we played on the street.

We would have games of baseball, hide and seek and any other game we could invent.  Bolo bats became quite popular and we would save any pennies we could scrounge to buy one.  Cheap ones cost 10 cents and the deluxe model cost 25 cents. We had a lot of comic books (used) and traded them with our friends. There was what was called Big Little Books and they were quite popular. Red Ryder BB guns were another specialty for the boys and it is a wonder that more kids did not get their eye shot out.  You could buy a big bag of metal army soldiers for a very low price. And to top it all off we would get games of checkers or chinese checkers , snakes and ladders and these games are still around today.

I do not recall any silly putty in those days and most toys were made out of wood or metal.  No plastics back then.


Q: What were some of the fads in the 1930s?

A: The biggest fad of these years was to survive. Not many jobs or money around Many people had been wiped clean by the Crash of 29 so these years were just put in as best we could. The songs we sang at gatherings were "Down By The Old Mill Stream" comes to mind "The West, A Nest And You Dear" to name a couple. We learned these at a young age and I still remember the words etc. Music in general was pretty subdued - maybe a little Dixieland, or Blues.

What I am stressing here is that frivolity was non existent and these were also the years that built up to The Great WW of 1939.

Q: How about some of the fads for kids specifically?

A: The fads for children probably were based on their good imaginations.  In other words we made up our own games as again there was no money for entertainment.  The Bolo bat was very popular and cost 10 cents or a deluxe heavy wooded one for 25 cents.This is the only fad I recall.

I guess when our city decided to give out money and clothes for relief of the poor would have had a decidedly big effect on kids.  We were not as aware of world situations, or even our own situation, as kids of today are.  This allowed us to be kids without the stress of today.  However, in 1939 the world went to war and this was a very trying time for kids and parents alike, due to the young men being shipped overseas.


Q: What were urban/suburban lifestyles like?

A: Suburban lifestyles in the 30's was mostly hard, hard work to make ends meet.  People that owned farms at least could count on eating and a lot of the workers on these farms were migrants looking for employment.  These were not easy times for anyone that was a blue collar worker.

Urban lifestyles were equally as hard.  Jobs were very hard to come by and the really needy were helped by City Relief supplying them with chits for food and clothing. Houses, for those who could afford them. ranged in and around $2000.  My family rented mostly because we just did not have any extra money.  We paid $8.00 a month rent for a two story house. Farms were oftimes leased and sometimes owned.  To price these homes would naturally depend on the acreage. Itis hard for me to give you comparisons because lifestyles in this decade were not even close to what we enjoy today.

Ask Aunt Ruthie

Ask Aunt Ruthie FAQ Index

Last updated: May 5, 2005


© Terry Cumming, 2000-2005