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Archive for '- Great Depression'

Thanksgiving with the Presidents

Today’s guest post comes from Susan Donius, Director of the Office of Presidential Libraries at the National Archives. This post originally appeared on the White House blog.

Did you know that before the 1940s, Thanksgiving was not on a fixed date but was whenever the President proclaimed it to be?

George Washington issued the first Presidential proclamation for the holiday in 1789.  That year he designated Thursday, November 26 as a national day of “public thanksgiving.”  The United States then celebrated its first Thanksgiving under its new Constitution.   Seventy-four years later, in 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday on the last Thursday in November.

By the beginning of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Presidency, Thanksgiving was not a fixed holiday; it was up to the President to issue a Thanksgiving Proclamation to announce what date the holiday would fall on.  Tradition had dictated that the holiday be celebrated on the last Thursday of the month, however, this tradition became increasingly difficult to continue during the challenging times of the Great Depression.

Roosevelt’s first Thanksgiving in office fell on November 30, the last day of the month, because November had five Thursdays that year. This meant that there were only about 20 shopping days until Christmas and statistics showed that most people waited until after Thanksgiving to begin their holiday shopping.  Business leaders feared they would … [ Read all ]

The Greatest Athlete of the First Half of the Century

Jim Thorpe was stripped of his Olympic gold medals in 1913, but it was not because of illegal drugs, cheating, or bribery. It was because of baseball.

Thorpe was a Native American from Oklahoma. He went to the Sac and Fox Indian Agency school in Stroud, OK, but dropped out. Later he attended the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, PA, where he was coached by “Pop” Warner, one of the most influential coaches of football history. But Thorpe’s skills went beyond football. He ran track and field and played lacrosse and baseball. In 1912, Thorpe led Carlisle to a 27–6 victory over Army, whose team included a young Dwight Eisenhower.

In 1912, Thorpe competed in the Summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden. He was part of both the decathlon and pentathlon teams. For the pentathlon, he competed in the long jump, javelin throw, 200-meter dash, discus throw, and 1500-meter run. In the decathlon, Thorpe earned 8,412 points and established a world record. Thorpe won gold medals in both events. When he returned home, there was a ticker-tape parade in his honor in New York City.

In addition to the track and field events in Stockholm, Thorpe also played some baseball in 1912. It was the first time baseball was included in the Olympics, and the exhibition game was played between the United States and host … [ Read all ]

Facial Hair Friday: The Enumerated Mustache

Don’t be fooled by the sleepy demeanor of this mustachioed man. It’s 1933, and the world is changing. And the Federal Government would be recording these changes on April 1, 1940.

Over 120,000 enumerators would fan out across 48 states and 2 territories, with copies of this Federal Decennial Census Population Schedule. They would use sled dogs in Alaska. They would go to homes in railroad cars. They would talk to famers, veterans, lodgers, women, and men.

They would count this man (and his ‘stache) and anyone else at home at the time. And since he was a farmer, they would ask him 232 questions as part of the Farm Schedule.

And all this personal information on 132.2 million citizens been kept private and secure for the last 72 years.

But on Monday, April 2, at 9 a.m., we’re releasing the 1940 census!

The 3.8 million images that make up the 1940 census will be available online to search for free at http://1940census.archives.gov/.

There are so many reasons that this is significant—it’s the first time we are releasing our information online through a gov website. It’s the first time there was a supplemental series of questions for 1 in 20 people. It’s the first time that the census did not include a question asking if someone in the household was a veteran of the Civil War. … [ Read all ]

A Public Enemy’s Life in the Fast Lane

The National Archives is known for maintaining and preserving documents like the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. But among America’s historic documents, there are also records of bank robbers, bootleggers, and gangsters.

In this week’s “True Crime at the Archives” spotlight is America’s first public enemy—John Dillinger.

A cunning and sophisticated bank robber, Dillinger led a string of violent robberies during his short yet infamous criminal career.

So why did auto theft prove to be his most costly crime?

It all began in 1933, when Dillinger was paroled from the Indiana State Prison after serving eight and a half years for robbing a grocery store. Within months, Dillinger organized a group of his closest criminal associates and began a notorious crime spree.

From September 1933 until January 1934, Dillinger and his fellow outlaws managed to evade law enforcement. And while  Americans struggled during the height of the Great Depression, the gang stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from Midwestern banks.

After a robbery of the First National Bank of East Chicago turned violent, national publicity intensified. The gang then fled to Arizona, where they were caught by local police on January 23.

Dillinger was extradited to Indiana to await trial for the murder of a police officer. But while he was sequestered in what officials called an “escape proof” jail, Dillinger deceived two guards and broke out.… [ Read all ]

Prohibition and the Rise of the American Gangster

As Prohibition commenced in 1920, progressives and temperance activists envisioned an age of moral and social reform. But over the next decade, the “noble experiment” produced crime, violence, and a flourishing illegal liquor trade.

The roots of Prohibition date back to the mid-19th century, when the American Temperance Society and the Women’s Christian Temperance League initiated the “dry” movement. In 1917, Congress passed a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to implement nationwide Prohibition.

After the 18th Amendment was ratified in 1919, Congress followed with the National Prohibition Act. Commonly referred to as the Volstead Act, the legislation outlawed the production, distribution, and transportation of alcohol. Prohibition officially went into effect on January 16, 1920.

But while reformers rejoiced, famous gangsters such as Al Capone capitalized and profited from the illegal alcohol market.

From Los Angeles to Chicago to  New York, organized crime syndicates supplied speakeasies and underground establishments with large quantities of beer and liquor. These complex bootlegging operations used rivers and waterways to smuggle alcohol across state lines. Eventually, other criminal enterprises expanded and diversified from the bootlegging profits.

As organized crime syndicates grew throughout the Prohibition era, territorial disputes often transformed America’s cities into violent battlegrounds. Homicides, burglaries, and assaults consequently increased significantly between 1920 and 1933.

In the face of this crime wave, law enforcement struggled to keep up. Although three Federal agencies were … [ Read all ]