This is for a RPG story, so I don't need too much accuracy, but the common stuff would be very useful :)

I've already found this site: http://www.paper-dragon.com/1939/ but would like more suggestions!

2 Answers 2


The following video should give you an overview of the working class experience of the 1930s in the United States, combined with a basic look at the material culture of the era. youtube: US Dept. Labor

For an depth accounts, I have to immediately recommend social history. ABC-CLIO publishes a ten volume account of the United States in the 20th century, but these volumes are priced at $1000 for the set—refer to your local library. Correspondingly, the United States is viewed as the "model" society for the study of "Fordism," and historical works on Fordism as a theoretical phenomena will discuss the 1930s.

From a concrete perspective: US material culture in the 1930s was dictated by the expansion of consumer industries in the 1920s combined with the recession of the 1930s. In urban life housing stock was dominated by dormitory apartments built during previous housing booms, these were poorly watered and sewered, if sewered at all. If you are familiar with the "ghettos" of the 1970s, this was the standard of urban housing. Suburban life did not exist in the 1930s, there was a stark urban/rural divide. Far more small shop keepers and professionals existed in the 1930s than today. Most commodities would be purchased through small locally owned stores. Workers bought on local credit far more than today, as they did not hold bank accounts or credit cards.

Widespread poverty dictated the life of most Americans in the 1930s, while the "well to do" who had enough to eat and did not live in slums lived in fear of penury. Only a few super rich, then as now, were secure in their lives. Incidentally, apart from a small number of well known movie actors, and the voices of a few radio stars, the super rich made up US celebrity culture, which was far less developed.

Most urban people had tap water within walking distance. Prepared food items were increasingly sold as commodities (bottled soda, etc) replacing the on site manufacture of similar goods in specialist stores. A wide spread consumer culture existed in the sense that advertised and packaged goods existed, with marked consumer preference for items varying in little respect. Tobacco was far more widely used. Clothing was a major purchase, as was furniture, equivalent in many ways to "big ticket consumer items." People wore hats.

The rich owned and wore devices or implements made out of fine metal (watches, paper openers, cuff links). The material culture of the working class was dominated by iron and tin goods, and paper and glass in recycled packaging.

Radios were replacing pianos as the method of domestic entertainment, and had often been purchased previously in a period of boom. Electricity was mainly for lighting.

Technologies which have now disappeared which existed in the 1930s include: postal mail within cities (it was the equivalent of a very formal text message), telegraphy (a long distance SMS), the cinema (acted like television), radio plays, iron stoves, street cars / trams.

  • I'll study the Fordism in depth, thanks! You focused a lot on the social aspect, which is paramount for what I'm doing! May 29, 2012 at 12:48

Regarding technology in the 1930's:

Steam-powered or electric train locomotives (very few diesels).
Propeller-driven aircraft (no jets yet); dirigibles were also in use.
All electronics was driven by vacuum tubes (no transistors yet).
Only AM radio (no FM), most radios were pieces of furniture.  No TV.
Most movies were still in black & white.  Exceptions were mostly musicals 
    (Wizard of Oz, Singing in the Rain) and Disney animated features 
    (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs). 
All phonograph records were 78 rpm -- no 33's, 45's yet.
Either dial phones (mostly in cities) or phones without dials at all ("Number Please").
All long-distance calls went through an operator, often required a reservation.
Telegrams were the e-mail of its day.
No dishwashers, garbage disposals, etc.
Electric refrigerators were not common place in homes (many still had ice delivery).
    Those that existed didn't have freezer compartments like today.
    No frozen foods yet.
Homes were often heated by coal, and used steam heat (radiators) rather than 
    forced air.
Air conditioning was only just starting to be used, mostly in commercial buildings.
  • 1
    Welcome to History.SE Great first answer.
    – E1Suave
    May 29, 2012 at 2:52

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