The Pre-War Years: 1941

The year that saw the U.S. enter World War II was bookended by two momentous speeches by President Franklin Delanor Roosevelt. The first took place on January 6, and is now known as the “Four Freedoms” speech. The full transcript (with mp3 file) is here, and the relevant excerpt is below:

“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called “new order” of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.

To that new order we oppose the greater conception — the moral order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.”

The Supreme Court, meanwhile, affirmed the law that set the first minimum wage and maximum hours worked, which was passed in response to the economic imbalances that led to the Great Depression. According to PBS,

“The Court unanimously upholds the Fair Labor Standards Act. The act, which is the last major piece of the New Deal legislation, establishes minimum wage and maximum hour labor standards in all industries producing goods to be shipped in interstate commerce. The decision in Darby Lumber Co. v. United States reverses several prior decisions, most notably the 1918 case Hammer v. Dagenhart.”

1941 was also the year that Duke Ellington recorded “Take the A Train,” written by Billy Strayhorn a few years before – listen here and look at original documents here.

In another momentous cultural event, one of the greatest movies ever made, the Orson Welles film Citizen Kane, premiered in 1941.

In major league baseball, Ted Williams set a record that has yet to be matched again by finishing the 1941 season with a .406 batting average. In 2011, Bill Pennington wrote for the New York Times:

“Williams, concluding his third season with the Boston Red Sox, went 6 for 8 in the two games to finish at .406, and no one has since hit .400 or better for a season. No one, in fact, has hit higher than .390, and that was 31 years ago.

As another regular season winds toward a close — with no batter above .350 — it may be time to more fully appreciate Williams’s profound, singular achievement. For 70 years, Williams’s .406 season has often been a baseball accomplishment positioned just to the edge of the brightest spotlight.

It was insufficiently acknowledged in 1941 largely because five players had hit better than 400 seven times in the previous 20 years. Only 10,268 fans attended the doubleheader in Philadelphia, and out-of-town newspapers like The New York Times published only brief wire-service accounts.”

Finally, of course, came December 7, 1941, and the Pearl Harbor attack. A letter from December 1 notifying President Roosevelt of unexplained Japanese troop movements can be viewed here, and more information about the attack can be found here.

The next day, on December 8, President Roosevelt gave another speech:

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that Nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its Government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to the Secretary of State of form reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or armed attack.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces — with the unbounded determination of our people — we will gain the inevitable triumph — so help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December seventh, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.”

And with those words ended the pre-war years. America was again at war.

Do you remember the Lord Baltimore Hotel during the 1940’s or 50’s? Email and share your memories with us!


The Pre-War Years: 1940

In 1940, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad was extolling the virtues of passenger trains. Some more familiar cultural works appeared that year, including the novel “Native Son” by Richard Wright, and the groundbreaking comic strip “Brenda Starr”, which would run for 70 years:

“The redheaded comic heroine, whose first appearance came in a June 1940 Chicago Tribune insert, is putting the notebook away for good next month. Tribune Media Services, which owns Brenda Starr, announced Thursday that it’s ending the feature’s newspaper syndication.

The cartoon is a rarity in the world of comics, with a strong female lead role and a female-dominated creative team, originating in a time when the workplace wasn’t as friendly to women. Messick was a New York greeting-card artist who changed her name from Dalia in the 1940s so her work would be better noticed.”

However, across the oceans, Europe was moving quickly into a continental war, and Asia also continued its slide into hostilities. Notably, the Olympic Games were supposed to be held in Tokyo in 1940, and ended up being cancelled:

“Under these circumstances it became questionable whether the 1940 Tokyo Olympic Games would ever take off. But what finally sealed their fate was the expanding war in China, which had broken out in July 1937. At first, the Japanese hoped that the hostilities would end in a short time and they would be able to stage the Olympic Games as scheduled. But as the war situation intensified and required more and more lives and materiel, the prospects of the games started to look dim….

…Meanwhile, the IOC had chosen Helsinki to host the 1940 Olympic Games, but the Second World War, which broke out in September 1939, led to the cancellation of both the 1940 and 1944 Olympiads.”

In Poland, what would become the largest concentration camp in Europe, Auschwitz, opened.

In France, a random wandering resulted in an breathtaking discovery of early art:

“Near Montignac, France, a collection of prehistoric cave paintings are discovered by four teenagers who stumbled upon the ancient artwork after following their dog down a narrow entrance into a cavern. The 15,000- to 17,000-year-old paintings, consisting mostly of animal representations, are among the finest examples of art from the Upper Paleolithic period.

First studied by the French archaeologist Henri-Édouard-Prosper Breuil, the Lascaux grotto consists of a main cavern 66 feet wide and 16 feet high. The walls of the cavern are decorated with some 600 painted and drawn animals and symbols and nearly 1,500 engravings. The pictures depict in excellent detail numerous types of animals, including horses, red deer, stags, bovines, felines, and what appear to be mythical creatures.”

Speaking of mythical creatures, the famous cat and mouse cartoon duo Tom & Jerry had their debut in 1940 with the short film, “Puss Gets the Boot” (watch here).

Finally, another film which debuted in 1940 was Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator”. The great film critic Roger Ebert wrote:

“In 1938, the world’s most famous movie star began to prepare a film about the monster of the 20th century. Charlie Chaplin looked a little like Adolf Hitler, in part because Hitler had chosen the same toothbrush moustache as the Little Tramp. Exploiting that resemblance, Chaplin devised a satire in which the dictator and a Jewish barber from the ghetto would be mistaken for each other. The result, released in 1940, was “The Great Dictator,” Chaplin’s first talking picture and the highest-grossing of his career, although it would cause him great difficulties and indirectly lead to his long exile from the United States.

Chaplin’s film, aimed obviously and scornfully at Hitler himself, could only have been funny, he says in his autobiography, if he had not yet known the full extent of the Nazi evil. As it was, the film’s mockery of Hitler got it banned in Spain, Italy and neutral Ireland. But in America and elsewhere, it played with an impact that, today, may be hard to imagine. There had never been any fictional character as universally beloved as the Little Tramp, and although Chaplin was technically not playing the Tramp in “The Great Dictator,” he looked just like him, this time not in a comic fable but a political satire.”

The Pre-War Years: 1939

As the Lord Baltimore Hotel entered its second decade, momentous events were occurring both here and around the globe. Some of the most consequential things that happened that year were scientific and political, but there were significant cultural and athletic developments as well.

A uranium atom was split for the first time in early 1939, laying the groundwork for the Manhattan Project that would eventually build the world’s first nuclear weapons:

“Previous attempts at atom-splitting had resulted, so to speak, rather in knocking chips off the atoms than in dividing them into two. There has always been a hope that some such process would make available the vast stores of atomic energy which make every handful of dirt a potential source of true wealth. In the Columbia experiments it was found that the uranium atom, when split, gave out six thousand million times as much energy as was needed to split it.”

Around the same time, Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler was making wild accusations and ominous proclamations to the Reichstag (German parliament) regarding the “Jewish question” (for a detailed timeline of events leading to the Holocaust, go here):

“If the international finance-Jewry inside and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations into a world war yet again, then the outcome will not be the victory of Jewry, but rather the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!”

Back in the United States, three more states finally ratified the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution (also known as the Bill of Rights) – Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Georgia – 150 years after they were first written.

Also in 1939, America hosted the king and queen of England for the first time ever, as described by

“King George VI becomes the first British monarch to visit the United States when he and his wife, Elizabeth, cross the Canadian-U.S. border to Niagara Falls, New York. The royal couple subsequently visited New York City and Washington, D.C., where they called for a greater U.S. role in resolving the crisis in Europe. On June 12, they returned to Canada, where they embarked on their voyage home.”

In the sports world, Lou Gehrig ended his consecutive games streak with 2,130 games, a record that would fall to Cal Ripken Jr. 56 years later, right here in Baltimore. Gehrig was shortly thereafter diagnosed with ALS, and would also give his legendary “Luckiest Man” speech that year.

John Steinbeck’s novel, “The Grapes of Wrath,” about the Dust Bowl, was published in 1939:

“and in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”

Finally, two legendary films that are still watched today had their debuts in 1939.

In August, “The Wizard of Oz” premiered across the U.S. Last year, Susan King wrote about the film for the L.A. Times:

“The Wizard of Oz,” starring Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Margaret Hamilton and Frank Morgan, is one of the most beloved films in all of cinema. In fact, according to the Library of Congress, the musical fantasy is the most-watched picture in history.

But how did the film fare at the box office and with critics when it came out in 1939?

“‘The Wizard of Oz’ was a moneymaker for its time,” noted William Stillman, co-author of “The Wizardry of Oz: The Artistry and Magic of the 1939 M-G-M Classic,” by email. “But with the average national ticket prices at 25 cents (more than half of its audiences were juvenile patrons who paid a dime or 15 cents), it was not expected to recoup its $3 million in production and promotion costs.

Remember, film historian Scott Essman says, movies in those days were “very ephemeral.” There wasn’t any TV or DVD on which to extend their life, he points out, so “they came and they went, and that was it.”

And a few months later, on December 15, the Civil War/Reconstruction-era tale “Gone With The Wind” premiered in Atlanta – watch a newsreel here.

1938: After the first decade

By 1938, the worst of the Great Depression had passed and America was slowly starting to recover from its devastating effects. The Lord Baltimore Hotel had survived its first decade!

However, more tumult was to come with the darkness of war in Europe set to envelop the globe in only a few years. The blog Civil War on the Costa Blanca describes one event from 1938:

“On the 25th May 1938 a squadron of Italian fascist bombers launched an attack on Alicante which was to go down as one of the deadliest aerial missions of the Spanish Civil War. After the Aragon offensive Franco wanted to eliminate the maritime and commercial base of the Republic and authorised the Italian Aviazione Legionaria and Hitler’s Condor Legion to launch indiscriminate attacks on Republican cities like Barcelona, Valencia and Alicante. On that day in May 1938 more than 90 high explosive bombs were dropped on Alicante, many of them falling on the central market. It was a busy day and the market was teaming with people and nearly 300 people were killed with over a thousand wounded. Many of them women and children.”

Meanwhile in Germany, the Nazis were busy seizing artworks they feared – a huge cache of which was recently found – as explained by the Philadelphia Museum of Art:

“From the moment they came to power, the Nazis launched a vicious campaign against art they designated “degenerate,” a category that included all modernist art, especially abstract, Cubist, Expressionist, and Surrealist art. Thus Picasso, Matisse, Klee, Kandinsky, Kirchner, and even nineteenth-century Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists including Renoir, Degas, Cézanne and Van Gogh, were reviled as exponents of avant-garde art movements that were considered intellectual, elitist, foreign, and socialist-influenced. Jewish artists such as Marc Chagall were, of course, singled out for special condemnation.

Eventually the Nazi authorities confiscated more than 17,000 works of art from German museums, all of which were meticulously inventoried and assigned a registry number.2 Although “degenerate” works such as Chagall’s were to be banished from Germany, the Nazi government realized their usefulness as a convenient means of raising much-needed foreign cash to finance the war machine, or simply to acquire the type of art desired by Hitler.

A law enacted (after the fact) on May 31, 1938 decreed that the Reich could appropriate artworks from public museums in Germany without compensation.”

In the United States, a certain congressional committee later made infamous by Senator Joseph McCarthy’s communist witch-hunts was founded. summarizes:

“The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, investigated allegations of communist activity in the U.S. during the early years of the Cold War (1945-91). Established in 1938, the committee wielded its subpoena power as a weapon and called citizens to testify in high-profile hearings before Congress. This intimidating atmosphere often produced dramatic but questionable revelations about Communists infiltrating American institutions and subversive actions by well-known citizens.”

Also in 1938, Johnny Vander Meer did some incredible pitching that has not been matched since in the baseball world (video at this link to

“…Vander Meer tossed his second no-hitter in as many starts. He did so while representing the Cincinnati Reds in the first night game ever played at Ebbets Field, and, by the end, the vast majority of those in attendance were rooting for him to finish the job against their beloved Brooklyn Dodgers.”

Finally, 1938 was the year that jazz great Ella Fitzgerald’s “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” was released. According to,

“The song sells more than 2 million copies, tops Billboard’s pop chart for 10 weeks and is inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.”

You’ve probably heard this song before, but if not, you can listen to it here.

Did you grow up in Baltimore in the 1930’s and/or 40’s? Email and tell us what it was like!

Surviving the Great Depression

When the Lord Baltimore Hotel opened in late 1928, the marketing was focused on the modern luxuries the guests could expect to enjoy. For example, an early hotel brochure said:

“The Lord Baltimore is the hotel of Baltimore. In a city famous for its appreciation of the fine things of life, it expresses the spirit of Baltimore charm and graciousness in a way that delights the traveler of taste.

As modern as television, it includes every refinement of the sumptuous hotel. Truly, one of the America’s finest hostelries.”

1928 LBH Brochure

Upon the ten-year anniversary of the opening of the Lord Baltimore Hotel in 1938, the tone was a bit different. Read this excerpt from a hotel brochure about the anniversary:

“These ten years have been crammed with economic, political and social events comparable in significance and extent to the momentous occurrences during no other decade in the history of the world. Through these ten short but eventful years – years of change, which have brought with them innumerable local, national, and international crises – the Lord Baltimore Hotel has forged steadily ahead. It has had its bonanza days and its months of desperation.”

1938-Ten Year Flyer

The first decade of the hotel’s existence was clearly marked by the Great Depression, like everything else in the 1930’s. So what did that mean and how did people get through such adversity? An online history course from Collin College explains what happened:

“As hundreds then thousands of banks failed between 1929 and 1933, the economy’s credit (and, thus, money) supply began to dry up.  Also, as banks went down, they often took local businesses with them as they called in business loans in a desperate effort to stay afloat.  All of this rippled outward in ever-widening circles of bankruptcies, job lay-offs and curtailed consumption.

The Depression’s impact on the economy

1929 1933
Banks in operation 25,568 14,771 
Prime interest rate 5.03% 0.63%
Volume of stocks sold (NYSE) 1.1 B 0.65 B
Privately earned income $45.5B $23.9B
Personal and corporate savings $15.3B $2.3B

Historical Statistics of the United States, pp. 235, 263, 1001, and 1007.

During the worst years of the Depression, 1933-34, the overall jobless rate was twenty-five percent with another twenty-five percent of breadwinners having their wages and hours cut.  Effectively, then, almost one out of every two U.S. households directly experienced unemployment or underemployment.  For workers’ families already facing hard times, the Depression’s unemployment woes wreaked unprecedented, catastrophic havoc.”

People got through this havoc in whatever ways they could. In a 2012 Baltimore Brew feature, the lives of a pair of cousins who lived through the Great Depression were described:

“Milton, born in 1919, spent his early years at his mother’s grocery in Elkridge and the long-lost farmland that surrounded it. When his father left the family, mom and kids moved to 936 South Paca Street.

More than once, he said, he had to go to the downtown courthouse as a kid to report that his father wasn’t giving the family any money.

Milton’s was a scrappy childhood; a hand-to-mouth struggle not unlike the one Babe Ruth had a generation before on the same streets off the corner of Light and Pratt, a time when just about every bar had an upright piano against the wall.

“It was a big thing to walk through the Cross Street and look at all the things you couldn’t have,” he said.

The delicacies he craved included fresh sauerkraut, limburger cheese and dark rye.

“Sometimes we might have some,” he said. “If you could get the limburger past your nose you were alright.”

Once he made a quarter for telling a man on Hamburg Street where to find the neighborhood speakeasy. Another time, he watched foreign sailors make turtle soup at a German bar in Pigtown.

“I never seen a turtle so big,” he marveled.”

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Black Tuesday: The Great Depression Starts

Considering that the Lord Baltimore Hotel opened less than a year before the stock market crash of Black Tuesday and the beginning of the Great Depression, it is amazing that the hotel even survived its first decade, much less the following seven and a half decades. The crash was described in 1999 by Frederick N. Rasmussen in the Baltimore Sun:

“Julius Westheimer, Sun financial columnist, remembers the crash as if it were yesterday.

At the time, he was a 14-year-old board boy working after school and Saturdays for Westheimer & Co., the Redwood Street brokerage firm in which his father and uncles were partners.

It was a daily occurrence for the 50 or more men who gathered in the firm’s boardroom to smoke pipes, cigars and cigarettes while watching the board as prices were chalked on by the board boy.

“I’d tear pieces of tape off the ticker and post the rapidly plunging prices on a board,” Westheimer recalled the other day.

“They were watching their stocks plunge as tears streamed down their faces. It was a horror story. People were watching their life savings vanish, and it was something that totally was unexpected,” he said.

“It really kicked off the Depression,” said Westheimer, who recalled men in business suits and overcoats selling apples at the corner of Calvert and Redwood, and businessmen who still had jobsbringing lunches to work in order to save the 30 cents it would cost for a meal in the Southern Hotel cafeteria.

“If you had no money and lost your money, there was no way to get it. That’s how desperate people were. Some even jumped off of buildings in Baltimore, they were so distraught,” he said.”

The transition from the Roaring Twenties to the Great Depression described by Westheimer is contextualized by PBS:

“During the economic boom of the Roaring Twenties, the traditional values of rural America were challenged by the Jazz Age, symbolized by women smoking, drinking, and wearing short skirts. The average American was busy buying automobiles and household appliances, and speculating in the stock market, where big money could be made. Those appliances were bought on credit, however. Although businesses had made huge gains — 65 percent — from the mechanization of manufacturing, the average worker’s wages had only increased 8 percent.

The imbalance between the rich and the poor, with 0.1 percent of society earning the same total income as 42 percent, combined with production of more and more goods and rising personal debt, could not be sustained. On Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929, the stock market crashed, triggering the Great Depression, the worst economic collapse in the history of the modern industrial world. It spread from the United States to the rest of the world, lasting from the end of 1929 until the early 1940s. With banks failing and businesses closing, more than 15 million Americans (one-quarter of the workforce) became unemployed.

African Americans suffered more than whites, since their jobs were often taken away from them and given to whites. In 1930, 50 percent of blacks were unemployed.”

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1929 Happenings, Part Two

Other world events that were significant in 1929 – the first year the Lord Baltimore Hotel was open – included political unrest in Europe, more women gaining the right to vote, a rare earthquake/tsunami event, and of course, the stock market crash that would trigger the Great Depression.

In the spring, violence erupted in Berlin, Germany. From The Brisbane Courier:



Rioting, organised by Communists, occurred in Germany on Wednesday night, following the May Day demonstrations. Throughout the day strong forces of police kept the city in order, but the Communists took advantage of the darkness. A fierce battle ensued, and the police, with the aid of armoured cars, overwhelmed the rioters. Six persons were killed and 80 were wounded. Over 1000 arrests were effected.

May Day passed off quietly in all of the other capitals of Europe.”

As the Women’s Suffrage movement continued, women in Ecuador and Romania gained voting rights, and Ecuador was the pioneer for this in South America, according to Women Suffrage and Beyond.

Upheavals in society were matched by a natural upheaval that resulted in some significant consequences for international communications. Natural Resources Canada explains:

“On November 18, 1929 at 5:02 pm Newfoundland time, a magnitude
7.2 (M7.2) earthquake occurred approximately 250 kilometres south
of Newfoundland under the Atlantic Ocean. This earthquake became
known as the Grand Banks Earthquake, though it actually occurred
west of the Grand Banks fishing region. Also known as the Laurentian
Slope Earthquake, it was felt as far away as New York and Montreal.
On land, damage was limited to Cape Breton Island, where chimneys
tumbled and roads were blocked by minor landslides. In the Atlantic
Ocean, however, the earthquake triggered a huge underwater slump,
which severed 12 transatlantic cables and generated a tsunami.
The tsunami was recorded along the eastern seaboard as far south
as South Carolina and across the Atlantic Ocean in Portugal.”
Finally, the stock market crash of Black Tuesday was described in Time magazine back in 2008:

“As the story goes, the opening bell was never heard on Black Tuesday because the shouts of “Sell! Sell! Sell!” drowned it out. In the first thirty minutes, 3 million shares changed hands and with them, another $2 million disappeared into thin air. Phone lines clogged. The volume of Western Union telegrams traveling across the country tripled. The ticker tape ran so far behind the actual transactions that some traders simply let it run out. Trades happened so quickly that although people knew they were losing money, they didn’t know how much. Rumors of investors jumping out of buildings spread through Wall Street; although they weren’t true, they drove the prices down further….

In total, $25 billion — some $319 billion in today’s dollars — was lost in the 1929 crash. Stocks continued to fall over subsequent weeks, finally bottoming out on November 13, 1929. The market recovered for a few months and then slid again, gliding swiftly and steadily with the rest of the country into the Great Depression.”
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