The Year Was 1939

Bird's-eye view of New York World's Fair, showing the Soviet and Czechoslovakian Pavillions--At the left is the Lagoon of Nations The year was 1939 and World War II began in September with the German invasion of Poland. Two days after the invasion, Britain and France declared war on Germany, and other countries would follow, choosing sides in a war that would eventually ravage much of Europe and Asia and kill more than 52 million people. 

Spain had seen nearly three years of Civil War by 1939 and in April, General Francisco Franco, took over as dictator of the country, declaring the Civil War over. He would rule until his death in 1975, when Prince Juan Carlos took over, restoring the monarchy.

In Victoria, Australia, 1939 was a year of disaster as on Black Friday, 13 January, wildfires raced across Victoria, killing seventy-one people. Small sawmill villages within the forests suffered the worst of the firestorm that came after weeks of extreme high temperatures.

The U.S. was still in the grips of the Great Depression but in the fall of 1939, rains end the drought that persisted throughout the Dust Bowl years. 

In New York City, a World’s Fair was held and although the investors lost money on the event, it brought development in Queens. With the theme of the future, industrial giants like General Motors, GE, Eastman Kodak, and AT&T allowed depression-weary visitors to take a glimpse into what might be.

The movie industry gave audiences a glimpse into another time with the release of Gone with the Wind, which won eight Oscars that year. In another landmark film, a young girl from Kansas finds herself in an imaginary land with the Wizard of Oz.

And finally, 1939 was a year of confusion when it came to Thanksgiving. Since Abraham Lincoln declared it a national holiday in 1863, Thanksgiving had always been celebrated on the last Thursday in November. But in 1939, there were five Thursdays, and this put Thanksgiving on November 30th. Even back then people started their Christmas shopping after Thanksgiving and with only twenty-four days to shop, businesses feared it would affect sales negatively–a serious concern during the Depression years. So in 1939, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed November 23rd to be Thanksgiving. The last-minute decision was a problem for schools that had already scheduled vacation time and football games. Some defied the proclamation which meant that families in one place may have had a day off on the 23rd, while other family members had the 30th off. Calendar-makers, who created their products years in advance, had the wrong date. The confusion continued until Congress passed legislation in 1941 that settled the issue–the second to last Thursday in November became Thanksgiving. 
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9 thoughts on “The Year Was 1939

  1. Aren’t we back to 4th Thursday of November for Thanksgiving? My calendar for next year (2008) gives Nov 27 as the date, the 4th Thursday, for Thanksgiving. Just curious.

  2. Thanksgiving is now the second to the last day of November.

    I’ve also added the link now. Sorry!
    Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. I think Lelia is right – Thanksgiving is the 4th Thursday of November. This year is the earliest it can be; the 29th is the latest 4th Thursday.

  4. The latest date on which Thanksgiving can occur is November 28! The 29th of November would be the 5th Thursday of the month; that is why Thanksgiving is being held on the 22nd this year (the 4th Thursday!).

    Happy Thanksgiving to all!

  5. How could you overlook the 1939 World Fair in San Francisco, in celebration of the completion of the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge? Yerba Buena Island was extended to make “Treasure Island” as a setting for the beautiful, glorious display. Our slogan was “We build a magic city to match our bridges.”

  6. I see no reference to my birth in June, the 2nd to be precise. It was such a notable date that Elizabeth later chose it as the date for her Coronation as Queen of England.

  7. As others did, I caught the inaccuracy about the date for Thanksgiving, but I’m surprised that several of the commentators still got it wrong! Thanksgiving is always on the fourth Thursday in November–which is still the last Thursday except when there are five Thursdays, as is the case in 2007. That means that Thanksgiving is never earlier than 22 Nov or later than 28 Nov.

    I was interested to learn that the change came as early as 1941. I thought I remembered the change occurring when I was a child, but I wasn’t born until 1945.

  8. 1939 was the year three denominations – The Methodist Episcopal Church, The Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and The Methodist Protestant Church unified to form The Methodist Church. THat represented six per cent of the population of the United States at that time.
    (In 1968 The Methodist Church and The Evangelical United Brethren Church merged to form The United Methodist Church.)
    Rev. Roy Howard, retired, Chattanooga TN

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