1938 Fun Facts, Trivia and History

1938 Fun Facts, Trivia and History

Quick Facts from 1938

  • World Changing Event: First appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1 (cover-dated June).
  • Influential Song was Sing, Sing, Sing (With A Swing) by Benny Goodman.
  • The Movies to Watch include The Adventures of Robin Hood, You Can’t Take It With You, Test Pilot, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Angels with Dirty Faces, Boys Town, Room Service and The Terror of Tiny Town.
  • The Most Famous Person in America was probably Clark Gable
  • Notable books include Our Town: A Play by Thornton Wilder
  • Price of 24 oz of salt in 1938: 3 cents
  • The March of Dimes was established as a foundation to combat infant polio.
  • The Funny Duo was Abbot & Costello
  • The Conversation: Orson Welles’s radio broadcast War of the Worlds caused national hysteria.

Top Ten Baby Names of 1938

Mary, Barbara, Patricia, Betty, Shirley, Robert, James, John, William, Richard

US Life Expectancy

(1938) Males: 61.9 years, Females: 65.3 years

The Stars

Claudette Colbert, Olivia de Havilland, Betty Grable, Hedy Lamarr, Myrna Loy, Ginger Rogers, Barbara Stanwyck, Lana Turner

Entertainment History The Oscars

The 10th Academy Awards occurred on March 10, 1938, at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. This year, Bob Burns was the host, and The Life of Emile Zola took home the Best Picture trophy. Spencer Tracy won Best Actor for his performance in Captains Courageous, while Luise Rainer captured Best Actress for The Good Earth. This was the first ceremony where an animated short film was honored; Disney’s The Old Mill won in the Best Animated Short Subject category. An interesting nugget of trivia is that this event marked the debut of the Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress categories. The Oscars for this year focused on films released between January 1, 1937, and December 31, 1937.

Miss America

Marilyn Meseka (Marion, OH)

Time Magazine’s Man of the Year

Adolf Hitler

The Quote

“Kill one man, and you are a murderer. Kill millions of men, and you are a conqueror. Kill them all, and you are a god.” – Jean Rostand.

Firsts, Inventions, and Wonders

The Addams Family started as single-panel comics in The New Yorker, in 1938.

Samsung was formed in 1938 as a company that sold noodles.

The chocolate chip cookie was ‘invented’ by Ruth Graves Wakefield in 1938 as a treat for those who stayed at her tourist lodge, the Toll House Inn.

John Deering agreed to have himself monitored on an electrocardiogram as he was executed to see the effects on his heart.

1938’s Bringing Up Baby was the first film to use the word ‘gay’ to mean homosexual. In one scene, Cary Grant was wearing a lady’s nightgown. When asked about it, he responds, “Because I just went gay.” At the time, most audiences thought it meant he was “being carefree”.

The Coelacanth, a prehistoric fish more related to reptiles and mammals than modern fish, was thought to have gone extinct 65 million years ago until fishermen caught one in 1938.

The term “Gaslighting” comes from a 1938 stage play (and 1944 film) called Gas Light, in which a husband tries to make his wife think she’s going insane through mental manipulation.

The fastest speed achieved on the German Autobahn was 268mph (432 kph) in a Mercedes-Benz W125 1938.

Sandy Point Island in Rhode Island did not exist before the Hurricane of 1938.

Boardgame Scrabble was created in 1938 but did not become popular until 1952 when the president of Macy’s played it while on vacation. Surprised that Macy’s did not carry it, he placed a large order, and within two years, four million games were sold.

Pop Culture Facts & History

Helen Hulick, a Kindergarten teacher who witnessed a burglary, was jailed for five days because she wore a pair of slacks for the second time after being warned and rescheduled by the court. “I’ll come back in slacks, and if he puts me in jail, I hope it will help to free women forever of anti-slackism.”

American auto-maker Henry Ford, received Germany’s highest honor for a non-German, The Order of the German Eagle, along with a personal note from Adolf Hitler.

The concept of a Diamond engagement ring started in 1938 as an advertising campaign to shore up sagging sales for the De Beers Diamond Group.

US Assistant Secretary of the Interior ended the Cherry Tree Rebellion Protest in Washington DC in 1938 by serving the 150 women protesters free “never-ending cups of coffee”. A big bathroom break ended the protest.

The screenplay for John Carpenter’s The Thing was based on a 1938 science-fiction novella entitled Who Goes There? by Don A. Stuart (John W. Campbell, Jr.). The character names and main plot points are almost identical, and the creature is called “the Thing” within the story.

National Donut Day (June 1) was created by the Salvation Army in 1938 to honor the “Doughnut Dollies”, women volunteers who served donuts to soldiers in France during WWI.

George Bernard Shaw is the only person to win a Nobel Prize AND an Oscar. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925 and an Oscar for Pygmalion in 1938.

Walt Disney won a special Oscar in 1938 for Snow White that had one regular-sized statuette and seven miniature Oscars.

In The Adventures of Robin Hood, the producers wanted a realistic look when arrows killed people. Instead of SFX or editing tricks, they hired an expert archer to shoot extras wearing padding. Extras were paid $150 each time they were shot.

British Hero John Logie Bard invented color television in London’s West End.

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act prohibits confectionery products containing a “non-nutritive object” unless the object has functional value. Essentially, the Act bans “the sale of any candy that has embedded in it a toy or trinket.”

Tokyo was scheduled to host the 1940 Olympics. In 1938, the Japanese rejected hosting the games because they saw the Olympics and its pacifist values as “an effete form of European culture.”

Assassin’s Creed is based on a 1938 Slovenian novel, Alamut, by Vladimir Bartol.

After the real von Trapp family left Austria in 1938, the Nazis used their abandoned home as Heinrich Himmler’s headquarters.

The BBC broadcast its first multi-episode television show, a crime drama called Telecrime, in 1938. After five episodes, the show went on a seven-year hiatus due to WWII and resumed in 1946, when the remaining 12 episodes were broadcast.


The city of Milton, Washington, elected a Republican named Boston Curtis to a local office—only to find out later that the candidate was a mule put on the ballot by the town’s Democratic mayor.

The Rumor

Some people say that Orson Welles’ radio adaptation of War of the Worlds never actually caused a mass panic, and newspaper journalists created the rumor to discredit radio as a medium because they felt threatened by it.

The Mystery

In 1938, an impostor accepted the Academy Award for Best Supporting Role for Alice Brady (In Old Chicago), absent from the ceremony. To this day, Oscar has never been recovered, and the thief’s identity is unknown.

Broadway Show

Hellzapoppin (Review) Opened on September 22, 1938, and closed on December 17, 1941

Nobel Prize Winners

Physics – Enrico Fermi
Chemistry – Richard Kuhn
Physiology or Medicine – Corneille Jean François Heymans
Literature – Pearl S. Buck
Peace – Nansen International Office for Refugees, Geneva

Popular and Best-selling Books From 1938

Action at Aquila by Hervey Allen
All This, and Heaven Too by Rachel Field
And Tell of Time by Laura Krey
The Citadel by A. J. Cronin
The Mortal Storm by Phyllis Bottome
My Son, My Son! by Howard Spring
Northwest Passage (novel) by Kenneth Roberts
Our Town: A Play by Thornton Wilder
The Rains Came by Louis Bromfield
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings


World Series Champions: New York Yankees
NFL Champs: New York Giants
Stanley Cup Champs: Chicago Black Hawks
U.S. Open Golf: Ralph Guldahl
U.S. Tennis (Men/Ladies): J. Donald Budge/Alice Marble
Wimbledon (Men/Women): Don Budge/Helen Moody
NCAA Football Champions: TCU
Kentucky Derby Winner: Lawrin
FIFA World Cup (Soccer): Italy
Boston Marathon Winner: Leslie S. Pawson Time: 2:35:34

Only 5 NFL Games have ended with a 2-0 score:

More 1938 Facts & History Resources:

Most Popular Baby Names (BabyCenter.com)
Popular and Notable Books (popculture.us)
Broadway Shows that Opened in 1938
1938 Calendar, courtesy of Time and Date.com
Fact Monster
The Roosevelt Recession (1937-1938)
1930s, Infoplease.com World History
1938 in Movies (according to IMDB)
Retrowaste Vintage Culture
1930s Slang
Wikipedia 1938
WW II Timeline from Brown University