The Year Was 1934

Dust storm SD 1934.bmpThe year was 1934 and in Europe the seeds of World War II were being sown. On 30 June, the “Night of 1,000 Knives,” Hitler and his SS forces assassinated hundreds of members of the SA (Germany’s storm troopers), many of whom had helped Hitler in his rise to power. In August, Hitler declared himself “der Fuehrer”–the leader–of Germany.

In the years preceding 1934, the U.S. was experiencing increasing numbers of dust storms. For years now, the prairies of the Great Plains had been over-farmed and over-grazed. In the midst of drought, the winds picked up the loose topsoil devastating the farming region.

After a particularly strong May 1934 dust storm, the San Antonio Express (San Antonio, Texas) reported the following:

“Engineers who counted the particles in the Middle Western air yesterday estimated that a total of 300,000,000 tons of dust, previously Minnesota, Dakota, and Illinois top soil in which wheat and oats had been planted, had been lifted by the stiff winds and taken fog-like across the country.”

According to that same newspaper, the storm traveled all the way to the East Coast, “almost obscuring the sun with its eerie haze.” The cloud was estimated to be 1,500 miles long and 900 miles wide and stretched from Boston to Washington.

The newspapers that year also carried the stories of several notorious underground figures who met their deaths. After being imprisoned in Crown Point, Indiana, “Public Enemy Number One,” John Dillinger, was gunned down in front of the Biograph Theater in Chicago by FBI agents. In November, one of his partners in crime, Lester M. Gillis (a.k.a., “Baby Face Nelson”), died from injuries he received in a shoot-out with FBI agents near Barrington, Illinois. 

Gangster Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd also fell victim to FBI bullets in a field near Clarkson, Ohio. 

Further south, a murderous pair of thieves, Clyde Champion Barrow and Bonnie Parker, were shot by Texas and Louisiana police officers after a widespread manhunt.

Moviegoers were entertained that year by Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night, which won all five top Academy Awards in 1935. Donald Duck made his first appearance on the big screen in 1934, in the short cartoon, The Wise Little Hen.

Click here for a printer friendly version of this article.

(Image from the Library of Congress Photo Collection at

5 thoughts on “The Year Was 1934

  1. Jan. 1, 1934 our family in Greensburg, IN was at wits end–Dad had no job–so we started talking of going to Visalia California to live on Uncle Fletcher Ayres’ (mother’s brother) fruit ranch. 8 of us, 6 children born 1915 to 1931–I was 4 and the next to youngest. We left in February in the 1927 Buick, visited family in Kansas and then to Ft. Worth and the southern route. We all finished growing up in Visalia. We two youngest are left and have relatives spread far and wide.

  2. My grandmother Martha Hardin Smith and I were visiting Aunt Lillion in Oklahoma–I can remember how odd the sky looked==and people holding hankerchiefs across their faces when they were out side

  3. I, then age 14, vividly remember that day! The Hill County Texas schools were having a special county school meet day in the county seat–Hillsboro. Suddenly the north sky beacame an odd color, and the father who drove his daughter and me to the gathering found us and told us we must go home. “Just look at the sky!” he said. For me, that was the “beginning of the dust bowl!” Now at age 88, know that such things can happen!

  4. How well I remember the Dust Bowl days, as they began with that terrible dust storm, but for the next few years, we had repeated dust storms come over us. Mother would tell my sister and me to get out rags and stuff them around the windows and doors as the dust seemed to sift in everywhere and you felt like you had a mouth full of grit and everything would end up with reddish dust all over it. The storms usually hit our area in North Missouri about 2 p.m. The sun would be blotted out and the sky would be an eerie, reddish color. The temperatures soared well above 100 degrees both day and night and there was no relief from the heat and the dryness. The winters were no better, for we had the year of the ice storm, which started on New Year’s day and left us with several inches of ice all over everything. Then there was the grass hopper year. Dad had just “laid by” our beautiful field corn on a Saturday afternoon, the grasshoppers arrived on Sunday and by Monday afternoon, all we had in the field were a few stubs. The hoppers even ghawed on anything wooden, such as wagon tongues, etc. We had another scorcher of a year in 1036, then floods on the Ohio and Mississippi and their contributaries came in 1937.
    I’ve often said I wouldn’t take a million dollars for my experiences in those terrible years, but I also wouldn’t take a million dollars, if I were offered that, to go through the ordeal again.

  5. Another event that happened in 1934 was Longshoremen Strike from May to July and General Strike in San Francisco. This was about the Longshoremen’s union striking for better working conditions. On July 2 there was a battle between the Longshoremen and their supporters and police in San Francisco. This resulted in a General Strike by all the unions supporting the Longshoremen some days later.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *