1937 National News

1937: FCHS’s Founding Year
Presented by
Louis Reed
Franklin County Historical Society
75th Anniversary History Symposium
April 2012

 National News as found in The Ottawa Herald:
The very first Cotton Bowl game in Dallas, Texas was played in 1937. It was held at the Texas State Fair Grounds. The event was funded by Texas oil executive J. Curtis Sanford, who financed the first one out of his own pocket. In this historic first ever Cotton Bowl, Texas Christian University took on Marquette, with TX winning 16-6. The game lost money in spite of the 17,000 people that turned up to watch. In just two years the crowd had grown to 40,000 and the rest is history.

Billionaire Howard Hughes died in 1976, a 70-year-old eccentric recluse whose strange behavior stemmed from a severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. During the last few years of his life he only cut his hair and trimmed his nails once a year and avoided contact with people. As a young man, however, Hughes was an enormously successful film producer, industrialist, engineer and aviator. In 1937 he was a dashing and daring aviator in his 30’s, designing and building his own aircraft and setting many air speed records. On Jan 19, 1937 Howard Hughes set the transcontinental speed record, flying across the country in 7 ½ hours at an average speed of 332 miles per hour.

To those living today the inauguration of the U.S. President has always occurred at noon on January 20th, but if you were alive in 1937 this was a change brought about by the ratification of the 20th amendment to the Constitution in 1933, changing the date from March 4th where it had been since the beginning, to noon on January 20th.

In 2012 we see the struggle between the legislative and judicial branches as we see the U.S. Supreme Court take on the constitutionality of the Portability and Affordable Health Care Act. With President Obama’s warning to the Supreme Court justices not to meddle in the affairs of a duly elected congress, we were told that it was unprecedented for a President to interfere with the workings of the Supreme Court. But in 1937 President Roosevelt attempted to do the very same thing. Article III of the United States Constitution leaves it to Congress to fix the number of Supreme Court justices. The Judiciary Act of 1789 called for the appointment of six justices, and as the nation’s boundaries grew, Congress added justices to correspond with the growing number of judicial circuits: seven in 1807, nine in 1837, and ten in 1863. In 1866, at the behest of Chief Justice Chase, Congress passed an act providing that the next three justices to retire would not be replaced, which would thin the bench to seven justices by attrition. Consequently, one seat was removed in 1866 and a second in 1867. In 1869, however, the Circuit Judges Act returned the number of justices to nine, where it has remained to this day. In 1937 President Franklin D. Roosevelt attempted to expand the Court. In Roosevelt’s first term in office he had not had the opportunity to appoint any Supreme Court justices. President Roosevelt had become frustrated over the Court striking down portions of the New Deal. Roosevelt’s proposal envisioned the appointment of one additional justice for each incumbent justice who reached the age of 70 years and 6 months and refused retirement, up to a maximum bench of 15 justices. The proposal was ostensibly to ease the burden of the docket on elderly judges, but the actual purpose was widely understood as an effort to pack the Court with justices who would support his New Deal. The plan, usually called the “Court-Packing Plan”, failed in Congress. Nevertheless, the Court’s balance began to shift within months when Justice Willis Van Devanter retired and was replaced by Senator Hugo Black. By the end of 1941, Roosevelt had appointed seven justices and elevated Harlan Fiske Stone to Chief Justice.

It was in 1937 when the United Auto Workers union, the UAW, became a major force. Formed in 1935, by the latter part of 1936 and early 1937, there were only 122 union members out of 45,000 autoworkers in Flint, Michigan. The UAW discovered that General Motors had only two factories that produced the dies from which car body components were stamped, one in Flint and one in Cleveland. They knew if they would take control of these plants they would have leverage over GM. At noon on December 30, 1936 the workers began a sit-down strike. This was something new. In a conventional strike the union takes its members outside the plant and attempts to prevent the employer from operating by discouraging other employees from entering. In a sit-down strike, the workers physically occupy the plant, keeping management and others out. The Flint sit-down strikers did just that, electing their own “Mayor” and other civic officials and maintaining the plant throughout the strike. The union kept up a regular supply of food to the strikers inside while sympathizers marched in support outside. A state court judge issued an injunction ordering the strikers to leave the plant. The UAW investigated, and they discovered that the judge held roughly $200,000 in GM stock, which disqualified him from hearing any case involving GM. The police attempted to enter the plant on January 11, 1937. The strikers inside the plant turned the fire hoses on the police while pelting them with car parts and other miscellany as members of the women’s auxiliary broke windows in the plant to give strikers some relief from the tear gas the police were using against them. The police made several charges, but withdrew after six hours. GM obtained an injunction against the strike on February 1, 1937. The union not only ignored the order, but spread the strike to another plant. GM was forced to bargain with the union. The parties finally reached agreement on February 11, 1937 with a one page agreement that recognized the UAW as the exclusive bargaining representative for GM’s employees who were members of the union for the next six months. As short as this agreement was, it gave the UAW instant legitimacy. The UAW capitalized on the opportunity, signing up 100,000 GM employees and building the union’s strength through grievance strikes at GM plants throughout the country. In the next year the UAW saw its membership grow from 30,000 to 500,000 members.

To the ladies in the room an important change would be the invention of nylon. “Nylons,” as they were soon called, eventually replaced silk stockings. Covering only about two-thirds of a woman’s leg, from the feet to mid-thigh, stockings were fastened with garters and a belt. They were knitted on highly complex machines. Women could buy them in either “full-fashioned” form with seams at the back or “seamless.” One-piece sheer “panty hose” were not developed until the 1960s.

Daffy Duck first appeared on April 17, 1937, in “Porky’s Duck Hunt.”  The cartoon was a typical animated cartoon of the time, but Daffy, barely more than an unnamed bit player in the cartoon, was something new to moviegoers. Daffy was an assertive, completely unrestrained, combative protagonist. At that time, audiences weren’t accustomed to seeing a cartoon character do these things. So when it hit the theaters, it was an explosion. People would leave the theaters talking about this daffy duck. Daffy’s slobbery, exaggerated lisp was developed over time—it’s barely noticeable in the early cartoons. In “Daffy Duck & Egghead,” Daffy does not lisp at all except in the separately drawn set-piece of Daffy singing “The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down,” in which just a slight lisp can be heard.

Gone with the Wind, first published in 1936, was a romance novel written by Margaret Mitchell. The book received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1937. The story set in Clayton County, Georgia and Atlanta during the American Civil War and Reconstruction, depicts the experiences of Scarlett O’Hara, the spoiled daughter of a well-to-do plantation owner, who must use every means at her disposal to come out of the poverty she finds herself in after Sherman’s March destroys the area. The book was made into the famous movie in 1939.

Many wanted to build a bridge to connect San Francisco to Marin County, California. San Francisco was the largest American city still served primarily by ferry boats. Because it did not have a permanent link with communities around the bay, the city’s growth rate was below the national average. Many experts said that a bridge couldn’t be built across the 6,700 ft strait. It had strong, swirling tides and currents, with water 372 ft in depth at the center of the channel, and frequent strong winds. Experts said that ferocious winds and blinding fogs would prevent construction and operation. Although the idea of a bridge spanning the Golden Gate was not new, the proposal that eventually took hold was made in a 1916 San Francisco Bulletin article by former engineering student James Wilkins. San Francisco’s City Engineer estimated the cost at $100 million, impractical for the time, and fielded the question to bridge engineers of whether it could be built for less. One, who responded, Joseph Strauss, was an ambitious but dreamy engineer and poet who had, for his graduate thesis, designed a 55-mile long railroad bridge across the Bering Strait. At the time, Strauss had completed some 400 drawbridges—most of which were inland—and nothing on the scale of the new project. Strauss’s initial drawings were for a massive cantilever on each side of the strait, connected by a central suspension segment, which Strauss promised could be built for $17 million. Local authorities agreed to proceed only on the assurance that Strauss alter the design and accept input from several consulting project experts. A suspension-bridge design was considered the most practical because of recent advances in metallurgy. Strauss spent more than a decade drumming up support. The bridge faced opposition, including litigation, from many sources. The Department of War was concerned that the bridge would interfere with ship traffic; the U.S. Navy feared that a ship collision or sabotage to the bridge could block the entrance to one of its main harbors. Construction began on January 5, 1933. The project cost more than $35 million. It was finished by April 1937, $1.3 million under budget. The bridge-opening celebration began on May 27, 1937 and lasted for one week. The day before vehicle traffic was allowed, 200,000 people crossed by foot and roller skate. Strauss remained head of the project, overseeing day-to-day construction and making some groundbreaking contributions. He innovated the use of movable safety netting beneath the construction site, which saved the lives of many otherwise-unprotected steelworkers. Of eleven men killed from falls during construction, ten were killed when the net failed under the stress of a scaffold that had fallen. Nineteen others who were saved by the net over the course of construction became proud members of the (informal) Half Way to Hell Club. When completed in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge had the longest suspension bridge main span in the world. At 4,200 feet, the total length of the Golden Gate Bridge, including approaches from abutment to abutment, is 8,981 feet.  At 692 feet above water, the Golden Gate Bridge also had the world’s tallest suspension towers when built.

A mystery that lives on to this day occurred in 1937. That was the disappearance of Amelia Earhart. Earhart was a noted American aviation pioneer and author. She was the first woman to receive the U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross, awarded for becoming the first aviatrix to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She set many other records, wrote best-selling books about her flying experiences and was instrumental in the formation of The Ninety-Nines, an organization for female pilots. Earhart joined the faculty of the Purdue University aviation department in 1935 as a visiting faculty member to counsel women on careers and to help inspire others with her love for aviation. She was also a member of the National Woman’s Party, and an early supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment. Early in 1936, Earhart started to plan a round-the-world flight. Not the first to circle the globe, it would be the longest at 29,000 miles, following a grueling equatorial route. With financing from Purdue, a Lockheed Electra 10E was built to her specifications in July 1936 at Lockheed Aircraft Company.  The design included extensive modifications to the fuselage to incorporate a large fuel tank, and Earhart dubbed the twin engine monoplane airliner her “flying laboratory.” Although the Electra was publicized as a “flying laboratory,” little useful science was planned and the flight was arranged around Earhart’s intention to circumnavigate the globe along with gathering raw material and public attention for her next book. On St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1937, Earhart and her crew flew the first leg from Oakland, California to Honolulu, Hawaii. In Hawaii the plane developed problems with the landing gear and the flight was called off. The aircraft was shipped by sea to California for repairs. While the plane was being repaired Earhart secured additional funds and prepared for a second attempt. This time flying west to east, the second attempt began with an unpublicized flight from Oakland to Miami, Florida, and after arriving there Earhart publicly announced her plans to circumnavigate the globe. The flight’s opposite direction was partly the result of changes in global wind and weather patterns along the planned route. Fred Noonan was Earhart’s only crew member for the second flight. They departed Miami on June 1 and after numerous stops in South America, Africa, the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, arrived at Lae, New Guinea, on June 29, 1937. At this stage about 22,000 miles of the journey had been completed. The remaining 7,000 miles would all be over the Pacific. On July 2, 1937 Earhart and Noonan took off from Lae in the heavily loaded plane. Their intended destination was Howland Island, a flat sliver of land 6,500 ft long and 1,600 ft wide, 10 ft high and 2,556 miles away. Their last known position report was near the Nukumanu Islands, about 800 miles into the flight. The United States Coast Guard cutter Itasca was on station at Howland, assigned to communicate with Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E and guide them to the island once they arrived in the vicinity. Through a series of misunderstandings or errors, the final approach to Howland Island using radio navigation was not successful. Fred Noonan had earlier written about problems affecting the accuracy of radio direction-finding in navigation. Some sources have noted Earhart’s apparent lack of understanding of her Bendix direction-finding loop antenna, which at the time was very new technology. Another cited cause of possible confusion was that the USCG cutter Itasca and Earhart planned their communication schedule using time systems set a half hour apart. During Earhart and Noonan’s approach to Howland Island the Itasca received strong and clear voice transmissions from Earhart but she apparently was unable to hear voice transmissions from the ship. At 7:42 am Earhart radioed “We must be on you, but cannot see you—but gas is running low. Have been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet.” Her 7:58 am transmission said she couldn’t hear the Itasca and asked them to send voice signals so she could try to take a radio bearing (this transmission was reported by the Itasca as the loudest possible signal, indicating Earhart and Noonan were in the immediate area). They couldn’t send voice at the frequency she asked for, so Morse code signals were sent instead. Earhart acknowledged receiving these but said she was unable to determine their direction. In her last known transmission at 8:43 am Earhart broadcast “We are on the line 157 337. We will repeat this message. We will repeat this on 6210 kilocycles. Wait.” However, a few moments later she was back on the same frequency with a transmission which was logged as a “questionable”: “We are running on line north and south.” Earhart’s transmissions seemed to indicate she and Noonan believed they had reached Howland’s charted position, which was incorrect by about five nautical miles (10 km). The Itasca used her oil-fired boilers to generate smoke for a period of time but the fliers apparently did not see it. The many scattered clouds in the area around Howland Island have also been cited as a problem: their dark shadows on the ocean surface may have been almost indistinguishable from the island’s subdued and very flat profile.

The Toyota Corporation, maker of the Toyota automobile came in to existence in 1937. In 1924 Sakichi Toyoda invented the Toyoda Model G. Vehicles were originally sold under the name “Toyoda”, from the family name of the company’s founder, Kiichiro Toyoda. In April 1936, Toyoda’s first passenger car, the Model AA, was completed. The sales price was 3,350 yen, 400 yen cheaper than Ford or GM cars. In September 1936, the company ran a public competition to design a new logo. Out of 27,000 entries the winning entry was the three Japanese katakana letters for “Toyoda” in a circle. But Risaburo Toyoda, who had married into the family and was not born with that name, preferred “Toyota” because it took eight brush strokes (a lucky number) to write in Japanese, was visually simpler (leaving off the diacritic at the end) and with a voiceless consonant instead of a voiced one (voiced consonants are considered to have a “murky” or “muddy” sound compared to voiceless consonants, which are “clear”). The newly formed word was trademarked and the company was registered in August 1937 as the “Toyota Motor Company.”

The children’s novel “there and back again,” by J.R. R. Tolkien, came out in 1937. Better known by its abbreviated title “The Hobbit”, it was published on September 21, 1937 to wide critical acclaim, being nominated for the Carnegie Medal and awarded a prize from the New York Herald Tribune for best juvenile fiction. The book remains popular and is recognized as a classic.

After opening its 1937 season by completing a single round trip passage to Rio de Janeiro in late March, the Hindenburg departed from Frankfurt on the evening of May 3 on the first of its 10 round trips between Europe and the United States scheduled for its second year of commercial service. The United States’ American Airlines, which had contracted with the operators of the Hindenburg, was prepared to shuttle fliers from Lakehurst to Newark for connections to airplane flights. Except for strong headwinds which slowed its passage, the Hindenburg’s crossing was otherwise unremarkable until the airship’s attempted early evening landing at Lakehurst three days later on May 6. It was carrying only half its full capacity of passengers (36 of 70) and 61 crew members (including 21 training crew members), although the Hindenburg’s return flight was fully booked with many of those passengers planning to attend the festivities for the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in London the following week. The airship was hours behind schedule when it passed over Boston on the morning of May 6th, and its landing at Lakehurst was expected to be further delayed because of afternoon thunderstorms. Advised of the poor weather conditions at Lakehurst, Captain Max Pruss charted a course over Manhattan, causing a public spectacle as people rushed out into the street to catch sight of the airship. After passing over the field at 4 p.m., Captain Pruss took passengers on a tour over the seaside of New Jersey while waiting for the weather to clear. After finally being notified at 6:22 p.m. that the storms had passed, the airship headed back to Lakehurst to make its landing almost half a day late. As this would leave much less time than anticipated to service and prepare the airship for its scheduled departure back to Europe, the public was informed that they would not be permitted at the mooring location or be able to visit aboard the Hindenburg during its stay in port. Around 7:00 p.m. local time, at an altitude of 650 feet, the Hindenburg approached the Lakehurst Naval Air Station. This was to be a high landing, known as a flying moor, because the airship would drop its landing ropes and mooring cable at a high altitude, and then be winched down to the mooring mast. This type of landing maneuver would reduce the number of ground crew, but would require more time. At 7:09 the airship made a sharp full speed left turn to the west around the landing field because the ground crew was not ready. At 11 minutes past it turned back toward the landing field and valved gas. All engines idled ahead and the airship began to slow. Captain Pruss ordered all engines full astern at 7:14 while at an altitude of 394 ft, to try to brake the airship. 7:17: The wind shifted direction to southwest, and Captain Pruss was forced to make a second, sweeping sharp turn, this time towards starboard. 7:18: The airship made another sharp turn and dropped 300, 300, and 500 kg of water ballast in successive drops because the airship was stern-heavy. Six men were also sent to the bow to trim the airship. These methods worked and the airship was on even keel as it stopped. 7:21: At altitude 295 feet, the mooring lines were dropped from the bow, the starboard line being dropped first, followed by the port line. The port line was overtightened as it was connected to the post of the ground winch; the starboard line had still not been connected. At 7:25 p.m. local time, the Hindenburg caught fire and quickly became engulfed in flames. Where the fire started is unknown. Although there were five newsreel cameramen and at least one spectator known to be filming the landing, no camera was rolling when the fire started. Wherever it started, the flames quickly spread forward. Instantly, a water tank and a fuel tank burst out of the hull due to the shock of the blast. This shock also caused a crack behind the passenger decks, and the rear of the structure imploded. Buoyancy was lost on the stern of the ship, and the bow lurched upwards as the falling stern stayed in trim. As the Hindenburg’s tail crashed into the ground, a burst of flame came out of the nose, killing nine of the 12 crew members in the bow. The airship’s gondola wheel touched the ground, causing the bow to bounce up slightly as one final gas cell burned away. At this point, most of the fabric on the hull had also burned away and the bow finally crashed to the ground. Although the hydrogen had finished burning, the Hindenburg’s diesel fuel burned for several more hours. The disaster is well recorded due to the significant extent of newsreel coverage and photographs, as well as Herbert Morrison’s eyewitness radio report for station WLS in Chicago, which was broadcast the next day. Heavy publicity about the first transatlantic passenger flight of the year by Zeppelin to the U.S. attracted a large number of journalists to the landing. (The airship had already made one round trip from Germany to Brazil that year.) Morrison’s broadcast remains one of the most famous in history. Parts of it were later dubbed onto the newsreel footage, giving the impression that the words and film were recorded together. His plaintive “Oh, the humanity!” has been widely used in popular culture. Part of the poignancy of his commentary is due to its being recorded at a slightly slower speed, so that when it is played back at normal speed, it seems to have a faster delivery and higher pitch. When corrected, his account is less frantic sounding, though still impassioned. The spectacular film footage and Morrison’s passionate reporting shattered public and industry faith in airships and marked the end of the giant passenger-carrying airships. Also contributing to the Zeppelins’ downfall was the arrival of international passenger air travel and Pan American Airlines. Aircraft regularly crossed the Atlantic and Pacific oceans much faster than the 130 km/h of the Hindenburg. The one advantage that the Hindenburg had over aircraft was the comfort it afforded its passengers, much like that of an ocean liner.

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