1939 Trivia, History and Fun Facts

1939 Fun Facts, Trivia and History

Quick Facts from 1939:

  • A World-Changing Event: General Motors introduced the Hydra-Matic drive, the first mass-produced, fully automatic transmission, as an option in 1940 model year Oldsmobile automobiles.
  • Another World-Changing Event: Batman, created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger, made his first appearance in Detective Comics #27 (May cover date)
  • Influential Songs include Over The Rainbow by Judy Garland and God Bless America by Kate Smith.
  • The Movies to Watch include The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, Son of Frankenstein, Gunga Din, Mister Smith Goes to Washington, Destry Rides Again, and Stagecoach.
  • The Most Famous Person in America was probably Lou Gehrig.
  • Notable books include And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie and The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.
  • Minimum Wage in 1939: 30 cents/hour
  • Amelia Earhart was officially declared dead after her 1937 disappearance.
  • Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood debuted on the radio with gossip columnist Hedda Hopper as host.
  • The 1939 New York World’s Fair opened on April 30th.
  • The Conversion: In 1939, Thanksgiving was moved to give merchants a more extended period to sell goods before Christmas to increase profits and spending.

Top Ten Baby Names of 1939

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

US Life Expectancy

(1939) Males: 62.1 years, Females: 65.4 years

The Stars

Ingrid Bergman, Claudette Colbert, Olivia de Havilland, Betty Grable, Rita Hayworth, Katharine Hepburn, Hedy Lamarr, Vivien Leigh, Myrna Loy, Brenda Marshall, Ginger Rogers, Barbara Stanwyck, Lana Turner

Entertainment History The Oscars

The 11th Academy Awards unfolded on February 23, 1939, at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. For this ceremony, the host was none other than Frank Capra. The evening’s big winner was You Can’t Take It with You, directed by Capra, which bagged the Best Picture award. Spencer Tracy took home the Best Actor statuette for his role in Boys Town, making it his second win. Meanwhile, Bette Davis claimed Best Actress for her performance in Jezebel. This was the first time the Best Picture nominee pool was limited to 10 films, a rule that lasted until 1943. The film eligibility year was from January 1, 1938, to December 31, 1938. To spice it up with a trivia fact: Walt Disney received an Honorary Award this year for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, recognized as a “significant screen innovation” that “pioneered a new form of entertainment.”

Miss America

Patricia Donnelly (Detroit, Michigan)

Time Magazine’s Man of the Year

Joseph Stalin

Firsts, Inventions, and Wonders

The first Thin Mint cookies were baked by the Girl Scouts in 1939.

Founded by Carl Stotz, the first Little League Baseball game was played in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

In the 1939 film The Women, no men or even male animals or portraits appear on-screen. The only visibly male creatures are a drawing of a bull and an advertisement.

The Westinghouse Time Capsules are two time capsules prepared by the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company: “Time Capsule I” was created for the 1939 New York World’s Fair, and “Time Capsule II” was created for the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Both are buried 50 feet below Flushing Meadows–Corona Park, the site of both world’s fairs; the 1965 capsule was placed ten feet north of the 1939 capsule. The capsules will be opened simultaneously in 6939, five thousand years after the first capsule was sealed.

Winston Churchill coined “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma” during his The Russian Enigma broadcast.

The Wizard of Oz, based on L. Frank Baum’s novel, starring Judy Garland as Dorothy, premiered at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. In the original story, Dorothy wore silver slippers to protect her from the Wicked Witch of the West, but this was changed to Ruby Slippers in the film to take advantage of the new Technicolor process.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum was officially dedicated in Cooperstown, New York.

Ernest Vincent wrote the book Gadsby, which contains over 50,000 words, all without the letter ‘e.’

The Quote

David Sarnoff, the president of RCA, declared television would allow “Americans (to) attain the highest general cultural level of any people in the history of the world.”

Pop Culture Facts & History

Playing Card Game Canasta was created by Segundo Santos and Alberto Serrato in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1939. It spread to the US by the late 1940s.

In 1939, the New York Times predicted that television would fail because the average American family would not have enough time to sit around watching it.

The Magna Carta was on display at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, but WWII had broken out, and the Magna Carta was moved to Fort Knox for safekeeping until the end of the war.

The Cowardly Lion costume from The Wizard of Oz was made from the skin and fur of a real lion.

Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving from the last week in November to the 4th week in November to boost retail sales during the Great Depression.

Penicillin, discovered in 1925, was tested on humans, curing many diseases, including tuberculosis and gonorrhea. It was the first proper antibiotic.

The First World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) was held in the Caravan Hall in New York from July 2 to July 4, 1939.

The American Humane Association is in charge of stating that “no animals were harmed during the making of this film.” They became involved in films because of the 1939’s Jesse James, which included a blindfolded horse forced to jump off a 70-foot cliff.

NBC broadcast its first black-and-white television images. Only approximately 1,000 homes had television sets in the New York area.

The current world record holder for the world’s oldest dog was Bluey, who lived from 1910 to 1939 and died at the age of 29 years and five months.

Bob Feller pitched a game against the White Sox on Mother’s Day, 1939, with his family in attendance. One of his pitches was fouled off into the seats, into his mother’s face right above the right eye, resulting in her needing seven stitches. Feller went on to win the game.

Futurama is named after a 1939 World’s Fair exhibit that showed what they thought the world would be like in 1959.

The Los Angeles Times got the Oscar winner’s names before the official presentations. That’s why Price Waterhouse gained control of holding the winner’s names, although they had been tabulating the votes since 1935.

On March 3, 1939, Harvard freshman Lothrop Withington, Jr, became the first goldfish swallower, winning a $10.00 bet. Other, less adventurous people, were reading John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath or watching Gone With The Wind in movie theaters.

The release of Gone With the Wind on December 15th was so big that the mayor of Atlanta declared a 3-day festival that concluded with a state holiday on the day of release.

AT&T made a working answering machine in 1939 but suppressed it, thinking public fear of being recorded would lead to widespread abandonment of the telephone.

Lina Medina, a 5-year-old Peruvian girl, gave birth to a baby boy, becoming the youngest confirmed mother in medical history.

In 1939, 20,000 people (Americans) attended a Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden.

Nobel Prize Winners

Physics – Ernest Lawrence
Chemistry – Adolf Friedrich Johann Butenandt, Leopold Ružicka
Physiology or Medicine – Gerhard Domagk
Literature – Frans Eemil Sillanpää
Peace – not awarded

Broadway Show

Life With Father (Play) Opened on November 8, 1939, and closed on July 12, 1947

Popular and Best-selling Books From 1939

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
All This, and Heaven Too by Rachel Field
Disputed Passage by Lloyd C. Douglas
Escape by Ethel Vance
Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo
Kitty Foyle by Christopher Morley
The Nazarene by Sholem Asch
Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
The Tree of Liberty by Elizabeth Page
Wickford Point by John P. Marquand
The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings


World Series Champions: New York Yankees
NFL Champs: Green Bay Packers
Stanley Cup Champs: Boston Bruins
U.S. Open Golf: Byron Nelson
U.S. Tennis (Men/Ladies): Bobby Riggs/Alice Marble
Wimbledon (Men/Women): Bobby Riggs
NCAA Football Champions: Texas A&M
NCAA Basketball Champions: Oregon
Kentucky Derby Winner: Johnstown
Boston Marathon Winner: Ellison Brown Time: 2:28:51

More 1939 Facts & History Resources:

Most Popular Baby Names (BabyCenter.com)
Popular and Notable Books (popculture.us)
Broadway Shows that Opened in 1939
1939 Calendar, courtesy of Time and Date.com
Fact Monster
The Great Depression EconLib
1930s, Infoplease.com World History
1939 in Movies (according to IMDB)
Retrowaste Vintage Culture
1930s Slang
Wikipedia 1939
WW II Timeline (Historic UK)