The Year Was 1930

The year was 1930 and the world was sliding into a depression. In the U.S., unemployment rose from 3.3 percent in 1929 to 8.9 percent in 1930. Things would only get worse when prices rose as a consequence of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act. The protectionist tariff had a negative impact worldwide as international trade declined. 744 banks failed in the first ten months of 1930. For those who had money in those banks, it was gone forever. There was no deposit insurance at that time.

One of the most lucrative industries of the time was an illegal one. The Eighteenth Amendment banning the manufacture and sale of alcohol was still in effect, but many Americans were in defiance of Prohibition. Liquor was smuggled into the country, and those who could afford it continued to drink, fueling organized crime machines. Home brew and moonshine were in abundance, but bootleg liquor was could be dangerous. Blindness, nerve damage, and death could result from drinking tainted moonshine.

Some Americans began mixing a Jamaican ginger extract with their drinks. Known as “Jake,” it was relatively inexpensive and contained nearly 70 percent alcohol. In 1930, manufacturers diluted it with an industrial chemical–an additive that made it toxic. An outbreak of “Jake paralysis” or “Jake foot” broke out, afflicting an estimated 50,000 people with partial paralysis, mainly in the feet and legs.

The U.S. population at the time of the 1930 census was 123,202,624 with 56.1 percent of the population living in urban areas, versus 43.9 percent in rural areas. Of the nearly 30 million families enumerated, roughly 40 percent (12 million) owned radio sets, and many of those sets began tuning in to The Shadow when it premiered on 31 July 1930.

Also in 1930, Betty Boop made her first appearance in Dizzy Dishes, and the first Looney Tunes cartoon, Sinkin’ in the Bathtub starring Bosko and Honey was released.

The food industry was about to be transformed when in 1930, Birds Eye frozen foods began appearing in eighteen stores in Springfield, Massachusetts, and by 1934 frozen food was available nationwide.

Another notable culinary innovation of 1930 continues to be a staple in lunchboxes–the Hostess Twinkie.

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3 thoughts on “The Year Was 1930

  1. My family was one of the statistics on persons owning a radio. We had a “crystal” radio and only two persons could listen at a time, for one had to sit with a headphone to hear the radio. Later, we had a radio, which was powered by a car battery and then dry cell batteries came into existence and we had a “tuning eye” radio, which was powered by dry cell batteries. My parents didn’t get electricity in their area until 1948 and they got their first electric powered radio at that time.
    We had a neighbor, who had “Jake foot,” and I had forgotten about it until I read this article. My family members were teetotalers, as they were called back then, which meant we used NO alcoholic beverages. I’m an old lady now and I still don’t use alcoholic beverages. It doesn’t make me “any better or any worse” than anyone, who imbibes. It was the choice my family and I made.

  2. I liked reading this. I have been finding my relatives in the 1930 census and this helps give a concise historical perspective. ….and only a few mores years to wait for the 1940 census.


  3. “Jake Paralysis Article”

    When I was in my teens (born in 1939) my mother would often comment about my increasing consumption of coffee. She would say that I was becoming a regular “coffee jake.” I never asked her what she meant, and I wish I had, but maybe this helps explain where she got the expression.

    PS I never got “Paralysis!”

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