1940 Fun Facts, Trivia and History

1940 Fun Facts, Trivia and History 

Quick Facts from 1940

  • Miraculous Event: The British completed the Miracle of Dunkirk (between May 26 and June 4) by evacuating 338,226 allied troops from France via a flotilla of over private and 800 military vessels.
  • Influential Songs include When You Wish Upon A Star, Down Argentine Way, and Beat Me Daddy Eight To The Bar.
  • The Movies to Watch include The Great Dictator, Fantasia, The Philadelphia Story, The Grapes of Wrath, His Girl Friday, Gaslight, My Little Chickadee, and Pinocchio.
  • The Most Famous Person in America was probably Pablo Picasso.
  • Notable books include For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway, Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss, and Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt.
  • A 40-hour working week was implemented by amending the Fair Labor Standards Act.
  • Price of a loaf of bread in 1940: 10 cents
  • The discovery of element 93 – Neptunium – was announced
  • The Funny Trio were Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Dorothy Lamour
  • Hattie McDaniel became the first African-American to win an Academy Award.
  • The Conversation: “Cheese!” People started saying cheese when smiling for the camera. In the earliest days of photography, they reputedly said “prunes” to keep from smiling.
  • Take our 1940 Quiz!

Top Ten Baby Names of 1940

Mary, Barbara, Patricia, Judith, Betty, Carol, Nancy, Linda, Shirley, Sandra
James, Robert, John, William, Richard, Charles, David, Thomas, Donald, Ronald

United States Stats:

US Life Expectancy: (1940) Males: 60.8 years, Females: 65.2 years
Federal spending: $9.47 billion
Federal debt $50.7 billion
Consumer Price Index: $14
Unemployment: 14.6%
A gallon of Gas: 11 cents
Issue of Life Magazine: 10 cents
Cost of a first-class stamp: $0.03

The Stars

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

Entertainment History: The Oscars

The 12th Academy Awards occurred on February 29, 1940, at the Coconut Grove at The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. The ceremony had Bob Hope as the host, marking his first time hosting the Oscars. Gone with the Wind was the evening’s star, clinching an impressive eight awards, including Best Picture, Best Director for Victor Fleming, and Best Actress for Vivien Leigh. Hattie McDaniel made history by becoming the first African American to win an Oscar, claiming the Best Supporting Actress award for her role as Mammy in Gone with the Wind. The evening was also remarkable for The Wizard of Oz, which won two Oscars, including Best Original Song for Over the Rainbow. The eligibility year was from January 1, 1939, to December 31, 1939.

Miss America

Frances Burke (Philadelphia, PA)

Time Magazine’s Man of the Year

Winston Churchill

Firsts, Inventions, and Wonders

The Three Stooges short comedy film You Nazty Spy! was released. It was the first Hollywood parody of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.

Pop Culture History

Robin, the Boy Wonder, debuted in Detective Comics #38. (April cover date)

The Superman radio show debuted.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike opened (First US Superhighway)

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was held for the first time in Sturgis, South Dakota.

Brenda Starr, the first newspaper comic strip by a woman, Dale Messick, appeared for the Chicago Tribune Syndicate.

First televised baseball game, WGN-TV (White Sox vs Cubs, an exhibition game)

May 15, 1940 – The first McDonald’s restaurant opened in San Bernardino, California.

Tom & Jerry cartoon shorts, created by William Hanna & Joseph Barbera, debuted by MGM in theaters.

People yell Geronimo! when jumping from things due to a private, Private Aubrey Eberhardt, who claimed he wasn’t scared while testing parachutes in 1940. He yelled the name when he jumped to prove this. The rest of the platoon did not want to be shown up, so they yelled it, and it quickly caught on.

Pop Culture Facts & History

Bugs Bunny was born in Brooklyn, New York; although a similar, unnamed rabbit was in several Warner Brothers cartoons in 1938 and 1939, his first actual appearance is considered A Wild Hare with long-time frenemy Elmer Fudd.

In 1940, scientists concluded that consumption of ice cream was the leading cause of the polio epidemic, solely based on the stats that there were more cases of polio in the summer, which was also when children ate the most ice cream.

The Lascaux prehistoric cave paintings were discovered in France.

W2XAB (now WCBS-TV) channel 2, premiered as the flagship station of the CBS television network, located in New York City.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park was dedicated.

Booker T. Washington became the first African American to be depicted on a United States postage stamp.

The Philadelphia Story, directed by George Cukor, based on the Broadway play of the same name and starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, was released.

The ‘America First Committee’ was founded, and had nearly 1,000,000 members. The peace organization was designed to keep the U.S. from World War II. They disbanded on December 11, 1941.

Glenn Miller’s 1940 big band hit Pennsylvania 6-5000 is still a working telephone number (possibly the longest still in use) and calls the Hotel Pennsylvania across from Penn Station in NYC (212-736-5000). The Hotel Pennsylvania address is 401 7th Ave New York, NY 10001-3463.

Pachelbel’s Canon was written in the 1690s but forgotten. It survived in only two manuscripts, was first published in 1919, and first recorded in 1940.

When Vegemite was invented in 1922, it almost failed as a product. By 1940, it was so central to the Aussie diet that it became mandatory in their WWII military rations.

Frank Mars and Bruce Murrie manufactured candy-coated chocolate in six colors – red, green, yellow, brown, and violet. In 1949, violet was replaced by tan. M&Ms survived the red dye scare of 1976 and the rumored amourosity of the green ones.

London’s Richmond Golf Club didn’t stop playing when the Nazis were bombing them in 1940; they just adjusted their rules. “A player whose stroke is affected by the simultaneous explosion of a bomb may play another ball from the same place. Penalty one stroke.”

The Great Dictator released: a satire/ social commentary film by and starring Charlie Chaplin.

Chiune Sugihara was the Japanese consul general in Lithuania. Against tradition, and specific orders, he gave thousands of visas to nearly anyone who asked for them, and many did ask so that they could escape from the Nazi regime. He was fired, of course, and lost his entire career. Why? He later said, “They were human beings, and they needed help. I’m glad I found the strength to give it to them.”

Popular Quotes

“Now I’m going to tell you something I’ve kept to myself for years. None of you ever knew George Gipp. He was long before your time, but you all know what a tradition he is at Notre Dame. And the last thing he said to me, ‘Rock,’ he said, ‘sometime when the team is up against it, and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to go out there with all they’ve got and win just one for the Gipper. I don’t know where I’ll be then, Rock,’ he said, ‘but I’ll know about it, and I’ll be happy’ ” – Pat O’Brien in Knute Rockne All-American

“We shall not flag or fail. We shall fight on the beaches… on the landing grounds… in the fields and the streets… We shall never surrender.” – Winston Churchill.

“I’ll be all around in the dark; I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look, wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be there in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be there in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry, and they know supper’s ready, and when people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they built – I’ll be there, too” – Henry Fonda, in The Grapes of Wrath.


The Rhythm Club fire at a dance hall in Natchez, Mississippi, killed 198 people.

Popular and Best-selling Books Popular in 1940

The Family by Nina Fedorova
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss
How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn
Kitty Foyle by Christopher Morley
Mrs. Miniver by Jan Struther
The Nazarene by Sholem Asch
Night in Bombay by Louis Bromfield
Oliver Wiswell by Kenneth Roberts
Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt 
Stars on the Sea 
by F. van Wyck Mason

Nobel Prize

Physics – not awarded
Chemistry – not awarded
Physiology or Medicine – not awarded
Literature – not awarded
Peace – not awarded

The Number One Hits of 1940

November 25, 1939 – January 26, 1940
Frankie Masters – Scatter-Brain

January 27, 1940 – February 9, 1940
Tommy Dorsey – All The Things You Are

February 3, 1940 – March 2, 1940
Glenn Miller – Careless (5 weeks*)

February 12, 1940 – May 3, 1940
Glenn Miller – In The Mood (12 weeks*)

February 24, 1940 – March 2, 1940
Tommy Dorsey – Indian Summer

March 16, 1940 – March 23, 1940
Benny Goodman – Darn That Dream

March 30, 1940 – May 3, 1940
Glenn Miller – When You Wish Upon A Star

May 4, 1940 – July 19, 1940
Glenn Miller – Tuxedo Junction (9 weeks*)

May 4, 1940 – June 28, 1940
Glenn Miller – The Woodpecker Song (7 weeks*)

June 22, 1940 – July 4, 1940
Glenn Miller – Imagination

July 10, 1940 – July 19, 1940
Artist – Song

(effective July 20, 1940, dates became (mostly) more consistent)

July 20, 1940 – July 26, 1940
Glenn Miller – Fools Rush In (Where Angels Fear To Tread)

July 27, 1940 – August 23, 1940
Tommy Dorsey – I’ll Never Smile Again

August 24, 1940 – September 6, 1940
Charlie Barnett – Where Was I?

September 7, 1940 – September 13, 1940
Jimmy Dorsey – The Breeze and I

September 14, 1940 – October 18, 1940
Bing Crosby – Sierra Sue

October 19, 1940 – November 22, 1940
Bing Crosby – Only Forever

November 23, 1940 – November 27, 1940
Glenn Miller – Blueberry Hill

November 28, 1940 – December 20, 1940
Andrews Sisters – Ferryboat Serenade*

November 28, 1940 – December 20, 1940
Bing Crosby – Trade Winds

December 21, 1940 – March 14, 1941
Artie Shaw and His Orchestra – Frenesi

1940 United States Census

Total US Population: 132,164,569
1. New York, New York – 7,457,995
2. Chicago, Illinois – 3,396,808
3. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – 1,931,334
4. Detroit, Michigan – 1,623,452
5. Los Angeles, California – 1,504,277
6. Cleveland, Ohio – 878,336
7. Baltimore, Maryland – 859,100
8. St. Louis, Missouri – 816,048
9. Boston, Massachusetts – 770,816
10. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – 671,659


World Series Champions: Cincinnati Reds
NFL Champs: Chicago Bears
Stanley Cup Champs: New York Rangers
U.S. Open Golf: Lawson Little
U.S. Tennis (Men/Ladies): Donald McNeill/Alice Marble
Wimbledon (Men/Women): not held
NCAA Football Champions: Minnesota
Basketball Champions: Indiana
Kentucky Derby Winner: Gallahadion
Boston Marathon Winner: Gérard Côté Time: 2:28:28

More 1940 Facts & History Resources:

Most Popular Baby Names (BabyCenter.com)
Popular and Notable Books (popculture.us)
Broadway Shows that Opened in 1940
1940 Calendar, courtesy of Time and Date.com
Fact Monster
Forties Nostalgia
1940s, Infoplease.com World History
1940 in Movies (according to IMDB)
Retrowaste Vintage Culture
1940s Slang
1940 US Census Fast Facts
Wikipedia 1940
WW II Timeline (US Dept. of Defense)