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The Great Depression
aka: The Thirties

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"They used to tell me I was building a dream
With peace and glory ahead
Why should I be standing in line
Just waiting for bread?"
E. Y. "Yip" Harburg, "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"

The Great Depression / The Dirty Thirties: Home to dust bowl farmers, reedy-voiced folk singers and rail-riding hobos. Life pretty much sucks unless you're lucky enough to be a rich socialite, in which case you should expect to get involved in a wacky screwball comedy, which may or may not involve either three short, bumbling men named Moe, Larry and Curly or two fast-talkers named Groucho and Chico and their mute accomplice Harpo. (As the Depression drove prices plummeting through the floor, those who had been able to avoid getting wiped out in the crash suddenly found their money increasing in value.) Or, if you're a woman, you could ditch the Dust Bowl and head off to Hollywood, become a movie actress, dye your hair platinum blonde, and don long, sexy gowns on premiere night, showing off some tanned skin.

Otherwise, you would be scraping to survive, as John Steinbeck wrote about in The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men. For some, it was a time to run wild and take what they wanted from the fat cats who exploited the people, as one of the Public Enemies like John Dillinger or the bank-robbing couple Bonnie and Clyde. Others found more constructive paths, such as the folk singer Woody Guthrie, who rode the rails Bound for Glory, giving voice to the underprivileged, or the many pulp-novel writers and newspaper-strip artists who were busily concocting Proto-Superhero stories. Meanwhile, two Jewish teenagers from Cleveland managed to sell their seemingly-preposterous story of a titanically powerful hero dressed in blue tights and red cape, in the process changing the burgeoning comic book medium forever with a whole new fantasy genre.

Against this, President Herbert Hoover found himself completely in over his head, refusing to accept the reality of how bad the times were, while blindly mouthing absurd statements like "Prosperity is just around the corner."note  He was replaced by Franklin D. Roosevelt, who attempted to pull America out of the economic ruin with his New Deal.

The period extends from the Wall Street Crash of 1929 up until the beginning of World War II and the New York World's Fair in 1939 (the war being the political endpoint, the fair the cultural one), although in the U.S. the holdovers would last until December 1941 (see Chandler American Time). Also, due to the country's industry becoming devoted almost exclusively to wartime production, America's civilian economy didn't fully recover until roughly 1950. Note that in Real Life there were several sub-periods; the Hoover years, the New Deal years up to 1937, and a second recession and subsequent 1939–41 recovery that was just picking up steam when the war build-up started. Also, large European countries experienced the worst, most nightmarish part of the Depression during 1930–32, with unemployment and widespread poverty being used as a springboard to power for fascist dictators who scapegoated minority groups for the populace's problems (while also dismantling worker unions).

It should also be noted that the mass suicides of financial professionals (jumping from office buildings or hanging) of 1929 are a long-standing Urban Legend — only about twenty people killed themselves immediately after the Crash and about one hundred in all. 23,000 people did kill themselves over the Depression's first year, though.

Also see: The Roaring '20s, The '40s, The '50s, The '60s, The '70s, The '80s, The '90s, Turn of the Millennium, The New '10s, and The New '20s for more decade nostalgia.

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    Thirties Slang 

As the decade before, slang is a Serious Beeswax, and it sticks on to-day.

  • "Abercombie" - a know-it-all
  • "Abyssinia" - I be seein' ya, get it?
  • "All the way" - for Sweet Tooths, it's chocolate cake of fudge
  • "Apple" - any big town or city, like the Big Applesauce
  • "Babe", "broad", "doll", "dame", "muffin" or "kitten" - just some of the many ways to call a woman
  • "Baby" - milk
  • "Bacon" or "bread" - something you bring home after work. It's a cabbage and is given by your big cheese.
  • "Beat" - broke
  • "Bean shooter" - gun
  • "Behind the grind" - Behind in one's studies
  • "Big house" or "hoosegow" - prison
  • "Blinkers", "peepers" or "shutters" - eyes
  • "Blow your wig" - getting excited
  • "Booze", "hooch", "giggle water" - whiskey
  • "Brodie" - a mistake
  • "Brunos", "goons", "hatchetmen", "torpedoes", "trigger men" - Hired Guns
  • "Bulge" - take advantage
  • "Booping gums" or "booshwash" - talking applesauce or nothing useful at all
  • "Butter and egg fly" - a hot babe
  • "Butter and egg man" - the money man
  • "Buzzer" - police badge
  • "Cabbage" - the colour of money
  • "Canary" - female vocalist
  • "Cats" and "alligators" - swing fan
  • "Cave" - your house
  • "Check" - a buck
  • "Chicago overcoat" - coffin
  • "Chicago typewriter" - Tommy Gun
  • "Chisel" - swindle or cheat
  • "City juice" - glass of water
  • "Clam-bake" - wild swing
  • "Clip joint" - the nightclub
  • "Copper" - policeman
  • "Crumb" - a loser by social standards
  • "Crust" - to insult
  • "Cute as a bug's ear" - very kawaii
  • "Dead hoofer" or "cement mixer" - bad dancer
  • "Dick", "gumshoe", "flatfoot" - detective
    • "Cinder dick" - railroad detective
    • "House dick" - house detective
  • "Dig" - think deeper
  • "Dingy" - silly
  • "Dizzy with a dame" - crazy in love, sometimes risky if she's a moll
  • "Dog house" - string bass
  • "Doggy" - Sharp-Dressed Man
  • "Dollface" - name for a woman when a man is pleading his case or apologizing
  • "Drilling", "plugging", "throwing lead" - shooting a gun
  • "Drumsticks" or "gams" - legs
  • "Dukes", "grabbers", "meat hooks" - hands
  • "Egg" - crude person
  • "Egg harbor" - free dance
  • "Eggs in coffee" - run in smoothly
  • "Fem", "filly", "flame", fuss - constant girl companion to a boy
  • "Five spot" or "a Lincoln" - five bucks
  • "Genius" - dumbass
  • "G-man" - federal agent
  • "Gobble-pipe" - saxophone
  • "Greaseball", "jelly bean", "wet sock" - an unpopular person
  • "Grifter" - Con Man
  • "Gumming the works" - opposite of "eggs in coffee"
  • "Hocks" or "plates" - feet
  • "Honey cooler" - a kiss
  • "Hog", "jolly up", "rag" or "romp" - a dance, party or dance party!
  • "Hotsquat" - electric chair
  • "Joe" - average guy
  • "Juicy" - enjoyable
  • "Keen" and "kippy" - very neet and very good
  • "Low down" - all the information
  • "Make tracks" or "dangle" - leave in a jiffy
  • "Meat wagon" - ambulance
  • "Micky" - drink with drugs
  • "Mitt me kid" - congratulate me!
  • "Murder!" - WOW!
  • "Nuts!" - telling someone they are full of booping gums and applesauce
  • "Off the cob" - corny
  • "Packing heat" - carrying a gun
  • "Pally" - friend or chum, sometimes used sarcastically
  • "Pitching woo" - making love
  • "Platter" - a record
  • "Ring-a-ding-ding" - someone having a good time at a hog
  • "Sawbuck" - ten bucks
  • "Scat singer" - improvising vocalist
  • "Scrub" - poor student
  • "Shake a leg" - hurry up
  • "Skin tackler" - drummer
  • "Sourdough" - counterfeit money
  • "Squat" - nothing
  • "Stool pigeon" or "snitch" - someone who informs the cops
  • "Take the rap" - taking responsibility of the crime
  • "The kiss off" - the final goodbye
  • "Tin ear" or "ickie" - someone who does not like popular music, much not unlike the hipster a decade later.
  • "Togged to the bricks" - dressed up
  • "Whacky" - crazy
  • "What's the story, morning glory?" - what do you mean by that?
  • "Wheat" - Country Mouse
  • "Yo!" - Yes
  • "You and me both" - And how!
  • "You shred it, wheat" - You said it.

    Popular tropes from this time period 
  • '20s Bob Haircut: Short hair for women was still the rage throughout the decade, although it's less Louise Brooks style sleek and more wavy and permed. Eventually, hairstyles grew longer by the end of the decade ranging from updos to pageboy style bobs.
  • Adventurer Archaeologist: Before Indiana Jones, there were Two-Fisted Tales of headstrong adventurers venturing into scorching deserts and deep jungles in search of artifacts.
  • The Alleged Car: The worn-out, dented jalopies that carried people west from the Dust Bowl. The Joads' is an example.
  • Art Deco in its sleek, streamlined form.
  • Blackface: Still very popular during this era.
  • Boom Town: Despite the economic situation, and an upcoming war, cities like Los Angeles, Shanghai, Singapore and Manila flourished in this decade.
  • Cool Car: The sweeping, chrome-awash designs of the 1933-1940 age.
  • Crapsack World: Pretty much mandatory if you're portraying the common peoples' life — it basically was.
  • Curtain Clothing: In an austere time, where fabric was a commodity, some women resort to sewing clothes out of feed sacks, hence they are called "feedsack dresses."
  • Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster!: Even more so after the repeal on Prohibition in America. Just ask Bonnie and Clyde, or the Barker family.
  • Dance Sensation: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers ruled this trope. And swing.
  • Dancing Is Serious Business: Dance marathons raged across the Dust Bowl with a myriad of couples dancing their way to exhaustion just to get their prize worth only a handful of money. The longest marathon lasted for 10 months.
  • Deadly Dust Storm: This was busy happening in the Dust Bowl — the dust storms blew so thick and long that people and animals would be permanently blinded or choke to death on them. They could generate such high amounts of static electricity that car motors would short out if not grounded, leading to people living in the Dust Bowl attaching lengths of chain to the undercarriage that would drag on the ground. A particularly massive dust storm blew all the way to Washington DC, further cementing this trope into the minds of Americans around the country at the time.
  • Diesel Punk: Adding to the nit and grit of futuristic machines is the nit and grit of the Dirty Thirties.
  • Everyone Loves Blondes: Hollywood kickstarted the platinum blonde as an ideal of beauty, with Jean Harlow, Carole Lombard, Ginger Rogers, Marlene Dietrich, and Greta Garbo as endearing icons of fair hair.
  • Foreign Culture Fetish:
    • For the people whose fortunes had survived during this economic atmosphere, and for those who could afford it, they would venture out to faraway destinations like Africa with its savannahs, jungles, wild beasts, and the occasional feral man in leopard print, or to the beaches in the Mediterranean and the South Pacific where they would bask their fair skin to the sunlight.
    • In the late 1930s up to the onset of war, inspired by the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Alpine-themed stuff like alphorns, lederhosen, full-skirted dirndls, yodeling, and skiing came into fashion.
  • From Bad to Worse: The Crash of '29 was merely the appetizer, while the main course is still out there, sizzling in the pan.
  • The Gay '90s: A very popular Nostalgia Filter of the era.
  • Genteel Interbellum Setting: The '30s steadfastly becomes less and less genteel as war on the horizon, but the parties go on with the men in fine tuxedos and the women in long slinky backless dresses, with the occasional mystery case handled by Hercule Poirot.
  • Giant Poofy Sleeves: With the influence of Joan Crawford's frilly sleeved evening dress in Letty Lynton in 1932, frilly puff sleeves became a thing, first in evening dresses, then in day dresses, and finally becoming more robust with shoulder pads at the end of the 1930s.
  • Girliness Upgrade: Androgynous flapper fashion becomes unfashionable due to the socio-economic situation. In response, the fashions reverted back to femininity, with the waistlines going up and hemlines going down. Floral prints and polka dots on frilly or puffy sleeved dresses of dusty pink, sea foam green, mauve, navy blue, and steel blue, topped with a hat, gloves, and scarves resembling oversized bows, became the rage of the era.
  • The start of the golden ages of film, animation, and comics
  • Hobos: In Deep South settings a popular trope.
  • Morally Bankrupt Banker: In lieu of the economic crash, it was common for bankers to be depicted as having a bias for the upper class.
  • Mundane Luxury: In spite of the economic downturn, sales of lipstick rose in this decade. Some have criticized the buyers for wasting money, while others saw it as a way to boost spirits. Thus, the term "lipstick effect" was coined.
  • Music of the 1930s: As the atmosphere was tense during the decade, music became a form to unwind the worries away, with jazz becoming more mainstream and more sophisticated, and with the radio and the cinema boosting it up to the masses.
    • Big Band: Many jazz bands were lead by a band leader: Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller.
    • Bluegrass and Country Music: Very popular during this era, though only in the USA.
    • Blues: Delta Blues music was very prominent in the USA, with Robert Johnson as the most iconic example, but would only get extraordinarily popular in the 1960s.
    • Jazz: Just like the 1920s jazz was still enormously popular worldwide. It got a bigger explosion when swing came around to cut the rug.
    • The Musical: Many of Hollywood's films tended to be musical and upbeat, because it wasn't called "The Great Depression" for nothing, people needed to be cheered up. Because of this, the motion picture industry was one of a small few disposal income industries that not only survived but thrived in the Great Depression. note 
  • Screwball Comedy: Very popular genre in the 1930s. Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn being the prime stars.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: This is the era of glamorous Hollywood stars in shiny tuxedos, like Clark Gable, Maurice Chevalier and Cary Grant.
  • Simple, yet Opulent: Gone are the beads and the boxy look of the flappers, but the Pimped Out Dresses of silk, satin and velvet flared with a bias-cut trimming and occasional prints and frills make them equally elegant on the silver screen.
    • Fashionable Asymmetry: the bias cut look, the angled necklines and the off-balanced hats make them fashionable.
    • High-Class Gloves: For daywear, gloves for women became a must, giving accent to any length and type of the sleeve. Unless you were part of the royal family or a high-society club, or the occasion requires gloves, the arms were usually bare for evening wear.
    • Sexy Backless Outfit: The trend for women exposing their backs on bias-cut and halter-neck long gowns started during this decade. It's even more pimped out thanks to Coco Chanel and rising designers like Adrian and Elsa Schiaparelli.
  • Slapstick: The worldwide success of Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, The Marx Brothers, W. C. Fields, The Three Stooges made this a golden era.
  • Smoking Is Glamorous: Hollywood movies made cigarette smoking look incredibly stylish. Trendsetters are Marlene Dietrich, Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart.
  • Surrealism: Became very popular in this decade as a remedy for the Depression. It gave us melting clocks by Salvador Dalí, floating apples on faces and an early case of manbabies by René Magritte, and hot pink lobster dresses by Elsa Schiaparelli.
  • Thieves' Cant: Traveling vagrants developed a cant of symbols to leave messages for other vagrants. A symbol might mean someone in a nearby house is willing to provide a meal or a place to sleep, for instance.
  • Trope Makers and Trope Codifiers of the decade. Thanks to radio and Hollywood, we got:
  • Vagabond Buddies: What could emphasize "misery loves company" than the (mis)adventures of The Tramp or Lennie and George?
  • War Is Hell: The horrors of the wars of the later half of the 1930s, such as the bombing of Guernica in Spain, the chemical bombing of Ethiopia by Italy and the Rape of Nanking were a grim foreboding that the Second World War was going to be even more destructive than the first.
  • Zipperiffic: The decade made zippers more innovative in many things like bags and clothes.

Works set in this time period:

    Anime & Manga 
  • Hetalia: Axis Powers had a strip about the Great Depression, explaining it in a very simple way; America got sick and spread it to the other European countries. In the end, however, Russia was unaffected due to the fact that Russia was socialist, America, England, and France were helped out by their colonies, but Germany, Italy, and Japan, not having as much colonies, got the shorter end of the stick and suffered throughout.
    • In actual history, Germany probably would have still suffered, Depression or no Depression, because of the WWI reparations that the nation was being forced to pay.
    • In fact, part of Germany's motivation behind becoming an Axis Power was mentioned as a combination of both the Depression and Versailles reparations.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Battle Tendency is set in 1938.
  • Montana Jones, a clear takeoff on a certain adventuring archeologist starring anthropomorphic animals, is set in 1930.
  • Night Raid 1931 is set in 1931 China, right before the Japanese invasion of Manchuria which ultimately led to the Second Sino-Japanese War.
  • Tenrou Sirius the Jaeger takes place in 1930s. Specifically before the World War II started.

    Comic Books 

    Comic Strips 
  • Mickey Mouse Comic Universe. Most of these characters were introduced in the comic strip by Floyd Gottfredson.
    • Mickey Mouse. Adapted to the medium in January, 1930.
    • Minnie Mouse. Adapted to the medium in January, 1930.
    • Clarabelle Cow. Adapted to the medium in April, 1930.
    • Horace Horsecollar. Adapted to the medium in April, 1930.
    • Pete. Adapted to the medium in April, 1930.
    • Sylvester Shyster. First appeared in April, 1930.
    • Uncle Mortimer. First appeared in April, 1930.
    • Pluto the Pup. Adapted to the medium in July, 1931.
    • Captain Nathaniel Churchmouse. First appeared in May, 1932.
    • Mortimer ("Morty") and Ferdinand ("Ferdie") Fieldmouse. First appeared in September, 1932.
    • Professors Ecks, Doublex and Triplex. First appeared in November, 1932.
    • Goofy. Adapted to the medium in January, 1933.
    • Captain Doberman. First appeared in February, 1933.
    • Gloomy. First appeared in February, 1933.
    • Tanglefoot. First appeared in June, 1933.
    • Eli Squinch. First appeared in July, 1934.
    • Mortimer Mouse. First appeared in January, 1936.
    • Detective Casey. First appeared in July, 1938.
    • Chief O'Hara. First appeared in May, 1939.
    • The Phantom Blot. First appeared in May, 1939.
  • Blondie (1930). First appeared in September, 1930. Still ongoing (and updated via Comic-Book Time).
  • Li'l Abner. First appeared in August, 1934.
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe. Most of these characters debuted in the comic strips written by Ted Osborne and drawn by Al Taliaferro.
    • Donald Duck. Adapted to the medium in September, 1934.
    • Huey, Dewey and Louie. First appeared in October, 1937. Adapted for Animation in April, 1938.
    • Bolivar. Adapted to the medium in March, 1938.
    • Gus Goose. First appeared in May, 1938. Adapted for Animation in May, 1939.
  • Dick Tracy. First appeared in October 4, 1931.
  • Little Lulu. First appeared in February, 1935.
  • Little Orphan Annie. First appeared in August, 1924.
  • The Phantom. First appeared in February, 1936.
  • Terry and the Pirates. Appeared in October, 1934.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 


    Live-Action TV 


  • Baffle Ball. Released in 1931 and became the Trope Maker of pinball as a whole.
  • Contact. Released in 1933, it introduced electro-mechanical mechanisms, bell chimes, and the TILT.

    Pro Wrestling 


    Tabletop Games 


    Video Games 
  • The 1991 beat-em-up 64th Street: A Detective Story takes place on October 3, 1939. A very futuristic version of 1939, at least; the robotic enemies in the later levels take cues from steampunk, while the multitude of mooks sporting mohawk hairdos, sunglasses, and bandanas take cues from 1980s punk.
  • Agent Armstrong is a PlayStation game released in 1997, but set in 1935. It's deliberately styled to resemble 1930s adventure comic strips.
  • Telltale's Back to the Future game mostly takes place in the year 1931, with a few segments in 1986.
  • BloodRayne: Story kicks off in 1933.
  • The Cliffhanger: Edward Randy is an Indiana Jones-style adventure game set in the '30s, stylized as 193X in-game.*
  • Cuphead is a video game that pays homage to the 1930s cartoons of Max and Dave Fleischer. According to the Credits Gag, the game is even set in 1930, at the time of the Crash, when the protagonists Cuphead and Mugman made a gamble with the Devil and are now fighting for their lives in a Deal with the Devil.
  • Made by Seibu Kaihatsu, Empire City: 1931 is a 1986 shooter arcade game set in...well, 1931. You're pit against the NYC Mafia here.
    • In 1988, Seibu Kaihatsu released a follow-up game called Dead Angle, set at an unknown point in the 1930s. You're still taking on mobsters, but now you travel to different cities to do it.
  • Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven is set during this time period and focuses on what was the Mafia was doing during the Depression.
  • Pathway is set in 1936 and consists in leading a team of adventurers through North Africa and Middle East to prevent Nazi expeditions to gain archaeologic artifacts (it's basically Indiana Jones: The Roguelike).
  • Prehistoric Isle: First game is made in 1989 but is set in 1930.
  • Power Strike II is set during an Alternate History version of Depression-era Italy, in which the mass layoffs of the Depression cause people to take to sky piracy in desperate need of cash. The protagonist is a Bounty Hunter who neutralizes these pirates to make a living of his own.
  • Pulp Adventures is set in an unspecified date during the Thirties and its story is a typical Two-Fisted Tales involving a Massive Multiplayer Crossover of fictional characters created during this era (Doc Savage, The Spirit, The Shadow, The Avenger, and dozen of others).
  • While the first Rail Chase game heavily implies this is the setting with its strong Indiana Jones vibe, the year is never stated. The second, on the other hand, is explicitly set in 1938, with enemies that are Nazis in all but name.
  • Rule of Rose is set in 1930, the time of the Crash, possibly explaining why the events in the story didn't get any outside attention; the authorities were stretched too thin to worry about a few alleged disappearances.
  • The prologue to Sakura Wars (2019) is set in an alternate 1930.
  • Shadow Hearts: From The New World takes place shortly before the Crash, but doesn't really deal with it.
  • Spartakus: World in Revolution is set in an alternate 1932 where communists overthrew the Weimar government and established the Free Socialist Republic of Germany as a result of a more organized Spartacist uprising known as the May Revolution. The Great Depression in this timeline is caused not by America but by Britain instead since there was no Treaty of Versailles and war reparations.
  • Squad 51 vs. the Flying Saucers, inspired by Orson Welles' broadcast of The War of the Worlds (1938), except in the game's timeline the Alien Invasion happened for real. The whole game is even in black-and-white to reflect the era.
  • Where the Water Tastes Like Wine has its protagonist travelling across Depression-era America to learn the histories, myths and legends of its people. A few characters seem to come from eras preceding or succeeding the 1930s, and the Dire Wolf who sent you out into the country explains this by saying his "family" experience time as "fluid".

    Web Animation 
  • The final episode of The Strangerhood indicates Tovar was taken from Wall Street just around this time. His Evil Twin, ignorant of the coming depression, ends up going back with plans to make millions on asbestos.
  • The short The Backwater Gospel takes place in an isolated and forgotten town in the Dust Bowl.

    Web Comics 
  • Monsieur Charlatan
  • Daniel is set in 1934. The titular character himself is said to have been laid off from a job due to the Wall Street Crash.
  • For Love Nor Money: A period crime drama which begins in 1930s Ireland, a country reeling in the wake of the 1929 Wall Street Crash.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 

Works made in (but not necessarily set during) the thirties:


    Comic Strips 

    Comic Books 
  • Adventure Comics: The second anthology comic made by DC. Series started (as New Comics before being renamed) in December, 1935.
  • Detective Comics: Series started in March, 1937.
  • Marvel Mystery Comics: The first superhero comic anthology made by Marvel (then known as Timely Comics) in late 1939.


    Tabletop Games 
  • Monopoly: Parker Brothers published the game in 1935, though variants of the game date back further.
  • Scrabble (1938)

    Western Animation 


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): The Thirties, The Dirty Thirties, The30s, The Dirty30s


Ominous Beginnings

Babylon Berlin shows the 1929 stock market crash from the German perspective, describing how it was kicked off by the speculative bubbles created by many banks' irresponsible loan and investment practices.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (12 votes)

Example of:

Main / Ponzi

Media sources: