Whether it’s around the corner or a few years away, a majority of financial experts seem to agree that America is likely to get gut-punched with another recession in the not-too-distant future. But as Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence taught us with their playbook of silver linings, great things can emerge from strife. Financially uncertain times are often the mother of invention, and though past recessions have brought us killer products like the iPod and the BK Whopper, no economic slump has spawned as many classic consumer goods as the Great Depression.
One such product, the Kit-Cat Clock, was created in 1932 by Oregonian designer Earl Arnault to help bring some much-needed mirth to one of the country’s bleakest eras. The now-iconic clocks’ rolling eyes and wagging pendulum tails were an instant hit and the company only grew in popularity over the following decades. Today, Kit-Cat Clocks are still ticking along and, more importantly, partnering with The Hundreds on a, shall we say... “timeless” collabo. To celebrate the new merch, we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite other products borne of the Great Depression that probably helped cheer up the poor proletariat taking an unfair beating from Wall Street fat cats.
Rocky Road Ice Cream
While there may have been some undocumented earlier iterations, the rocky road ice cream flavor we know and love is most commonly attributed to William Dreyer, whose last name should tell you all you need to know about his bona fides. As the official story goes, Dreyer was messing around with his wife’s sewing scissors in March of 1929 and thought it’d be cool to chop up some marshmallows and walnuts to add to a batch of chocolate ice cream in an effort to mimic the chocolate bars made by his candy producing partner, Joseph Edy. A few months later when the stock market crashed, he gave the concoction its current name “to give folks something to smile about in the midst of the Great Depression.” Fortunately, the company dropped that weird strain of negative flavor naming logic before the Vietnam War and 9/11.
Originally created by Elizabeth Magie in 1903 as “The Landlord’s Game” as a fun cautionary tale about the dangers of unfettered capitalism, the original board game spread around the East Coast organically in the following decades, getting augmented and modulated along the way. Sadly, Magie and the game were victims of the very forces of greed they sought to admonish and in 1935, a Philly man named Charles Darrow ripped off the concept and sold “his” creation to Parker Brothers, getting public credit for the popular board game up until evidence from a 1970s court case revealed the full story and gave Elizabeth her due credit.
As if the economic crisis at home wasn’t bad enough, Americans in the late 1930s were also forced to reckon with the ever-growing threat of fascisms ascension in Europe. Sensing the country’s desperate yearning for a hero with the superhuman traits that could tackle the world’s threats with ease, two young comic book and creators reworked a character from their ‘zine days into the noble Kryptonian we know and love today. His first official appearance in 1938’s Action Comics #1, Superman was an instant hit and quickly graduated from thwarting street thugs to taking on the evil syndicates plaguing the real world like the KKK and Nazis, which means that Superman is canonically Anitfa. The all-American immigrant didn’t just offer escapism for those feeling powerless to the ills of the world. He also served as the nation’s unofficial moral compass, presenting a virtuous example of what America can and should be.
Though iterations of shades have popped up throughout the course of human history, modern sunglasses only became a permanent staple of functional fashion thanks to Sam Foster and Bill Grant, who began manufacturing the accessories to hock on the Atlantic City boardwalk in 1929. Beachgoers loved the tinted spectacles and the product was soon selling around the country by the million. By 1938, Life magazine had dubbed these “dark glasses” the hottest new fad. Thankfully, sunglasses had more staying power than Life.
Annoyed by the cumbersome chore of lathering with shaving cream, Jacob Schick spent a good 20 years—with just a short pause for WWI—brainstorming a handheld shaving device that would harness the power of electricity to combat dry-faced stubble. After much trial and error, he finally patented his device in 1930. It would take a few years before the public got on board with his idea, but Schick was ultimately vindicated and electric razors enjoyed many a decade of prominence. And now, of course, everyone has gone back to the safety razors reveloped almost a century before Schick’s idea.
Pork companies needed a way to sell their scraps and less-desirable cuts of meat and consumers needed inexpensive, non-perishable eats so, in 1937, the fine folks at Hormel delivered tins of nitrate-soaked ham to the world, their new product’s name a mash-up of “spiced” and “ham.” Spam didn’t truly pop off until World War II, where it was shipped over to GIs across the Pacific theater. And thank goodness it made its way overseas, where Asians and Pacific Islanders incorporated the product into their own cuisines, because who would want to live in a world without musubi?
During the Depression, the US unemployment rate reached a staggering 25 percent. On top of that, the Dustbowl was ravaging the heartland. Americans were desperately seeking escapism from the struggles and horrors confronting them on a daily basis. Recognizing this, Universal Studios began releasing a slate of wildly successful horror films that featured fantastical monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, and The Invisible Man who offered weary audiences less existential threats to be scared of. Other studios also found success tapping into this vein, like Paramount’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and RKO’s King Kong, but it’s really these classic Universal monsters that paved the way for much of the horror genre’s best moments like the slasher villains of the ‘70s and ‘80s.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
In what may have been the best recipe screw-up of all time, the owner of Toll House Inn made history in 1933 when she tried to mix some cut-up chocolate bar pieces into a Colonial cookie recipe that called for baker’s chocolate to be mixed in. Rather than working as intended, the cookies came out of the oven with the morsels still intact and the entire world has been housing those happy accidents non-stop ever since.
Sure, thanks to intentional starving of the program, and lots of dumb voters, today’s younger Americans will likely never get to collect Social Security checks, but when signed into law by FDR in 1935, the Social Security Act was a figurative and literal lifesaver for the country. Beyond giving citizens funds to keep paying their rent and buying food during a time when it was nigh impossible for a huge percentage of the nation to do so, this program helped (temporarily) dispense with the barbaric notion that having a job should be a prerequisite for deserving to live.