Two World’s Fairs distracted the country from distressing headlines, but Americans enjoyed other sources of entertainment in 1940—they flocked to movie palaces, stayed glued to their radios, attended the fights or the races, and talked about new books like John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath or Raymond Chandler’s latest, Farewell, My Lovely.


Two American athletes could best sum up the hopes and aspirations of the Depression-era public: the plucky,  knobby-kneed, and great-hearted Seabiscuit, one of the century’s most remarkable thoroughbreds and beloved as “the common man’s” race horse; and Joe Louis, whose victory over German national Max Schmeling in his 1938 title bout symbolized much more than a boxing match. Louis smarted from his earlier defeat by Schmeling, and his performance devastated his opponent, whose trainer threw in the towel after two minutes and four seconds.

Seabiscuit Defeats War Admiral (1938)



Broadway Melody of 1940 Trailer

His Girl Friday Trailer

The Grapes of Wrath

The Letter

Radio Shows

Radio was the primary home entertainment medium in 1940. Through consoles, table-top models and car radios, America listened to news, music, and every genre of program imaginable. From the Metropolitan Opera to the Grand Ol’ Opry, from adaptations of classic literature to adaptations of the latest movies, radio offered something for everyone. Soap operas, sports broadcasts, situation comedy, variety shows, game shows, quiz programs, suspense and horror series, and adventure serials were all part of the daily diet of programming in the world’s first mass medium.

  1. 40-03-05 - Fibber McGee and Molly - Cleaning the Hall Closet
  2. 40-03-31 - Campbell Playhouse - Jane Eyre
  3. 40-06-13 - Band Remote - Glenn Miller, from the Civic Theater in Chicago, Illinois
  4. 40-06-17 - Lux Radio Theater - After the Thin Man
  5. 40-07-21 - CBS Forecast - The Lodger
  6. 40-09-30 - Captain Midnight - First Show

Books and Magazines

People read more in 1940 … and not just books. Newspapers, magazines, pulps, comic books, pages and pages of yellowed paper and faded ink entertained the populace and fueled later paper drives during the war.

Among the notable printed events of the year:

Raymond Chandler’s second novel, Farewell, My Lovely
Agatha Christie publishes Sad Cypress and One, Two, Buckle My Shoe
Walter Van Tilburg Clark publishes The Ox-Bow Incident
Where There’s a Will  
by Rex Stout is released
Horton Hatches the Egg
(Dr. Seuss) sees print

Life magazine celebrates its third year of publication
Batman finds a sidekick (Detective Comics #38)
Mickey Rooney, Winston Churchill, Benito Mussolini and Ethel Merman appear on the cover of Time—Joseph Stalin is Man of the Year

The Grapes of Wrath (published in 1939) wins the Pulitzer Prize for John Steinbeck
The Time of Your Life
(William Saroyan, 1939) wins the Pulitzer for Drama