1930: A blistering heat wave
When the stock market crashed in October 1929, many Americans may have thought things couldn’t possibly get worse. Unfortunately, they were mistaken. July 1930 saw an unprecedented heatwave that set all-time records and destroyed crops from the Great Plains to the Eastern Seaboard, ultimately killing thousands of people across the country and causing the Dust Bowl.
1931: The Emerson iron lung
In July 1931, John Haven Emerson, an American inventor, debuted a new biomedical machine he called “the iron lung.” Designed to help polio patients breathe after their own muscles failed, the machines ended up saving thousands of lives over the course of the next 20 years. Emerson’s invention was first used at Providence City Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island that same summer.
1932: The Emergency Relief and Construction Act
July 27, 1932, President Herbert Hoover signed The Emergency Relief and Construction Act, the first major-relief legislation in the U.S. since the start of the Great Depression. The act appropriated federal funds for public works and relief loans to all states. While the money for public works didn’t do much to help the economy, the $300 million that was distributed as relief became the first large-scale public welfare program in American history, and had a major impact on individual families and communities, especially those in more-rural areas.
1933: The first solo flight around the world
Wiley Post, a Texas-born aviator, became the first solo pilot to fly around the world when he landed safely in Brooklyn’s Floyd Bennett Field on July 22, 1933. His flight, which remains the fastest on record, took seven days, 18 hours, and 49 minutes, with stops in Berlin, the Soviet Union, Alaska, and Canada. Even more impressive, Post completed the entire feat with only one eye, after losing his left eye in an oil field accident.
1934: Bonnie, Clyde, and Dillinger’s deaths
The summer of 1934 was bookended by the deaths of some of the country’s most infamous criminals. On May 23 Bonnie and Clyde, who were wanted for murder, robbery, and kidnapping, were killed in a shootout with the FBI in Bienville Parish, Louisiana. Nearly two months later, July 22, 1933, John Dillinger—a mobster and bank robber—was shot by the FBI in front of the Biograph theater in Chicago.
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1935: The signing of the first Neutrality Act
With the threat of international conflict looming large on the horizon, American citizens were desperate to avoid another devastating conflict. As a result of this pressure, Congress signed the first Neutrality Act Aug. 31, 1935, which explicitly prohibited the exportation of arms, ammunition, and implements of war from our country to any foreign nation. Originally opposed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the act was designed to ensure that the U.S. would limit its involvement in foreign wars.
1936: Jesse Owens dominates the Olympics
The 1936 Summer Olympics were held in Berlin, which was by then firmly under the hold of Adolf Hitler. The dictator intended to use the games to show the dominance of the Aryan race, but he found himself embarrassed when Jesse Owens, a Black track and field athlete, took home four gold medals and set nine Olympic records over the course of several days. Owens won the title in the 100-meter race, the 200-meter race, the 4x100-meter race, and the long jump.
1937: Amelia Earhart goes missing
On July 2, 1937, Amelia Earhart—the first female pilot attempting to circumnavigate the globe—and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. The duo was not declared legally dead until 18 months later. To this day, no one knows exactly what happened to the pair, although theories abound about their final resting place.
1938: The signing of the Fair Labor Standards Act
Perhaps the most important event to take place in the summer of 1938 was the signing of the Fair Labor Standards Act into law by President Roosevelt on June 25. The act established a minimum wage (of 25 cents an hour), set a standard workweek (of 44 hours), and banned oppressive child labor. Considered a revolutionary bill at the time, the Act was one of the most defining aspects of Roosevelt’s New Deal, and one of the most important Great Depression-era laws.
1939: Lou Gehrig retires
Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig announced his retirement on July 4, 1939, in a heartbreaking speech where he called himself “the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” Gehrig had played 2,130 consecutive games, earning him the nickname “the Iron Horse,” before the nerve disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis began to eat away at his body. Almost two years later, on June 2, 1941, Gehrig would die in his upstate New York home.
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