“Board Games, Radios and Potlucks, O My!” Affordable Entertainment During the Depression

Board Games Radios and Potlucks Affordable Entertainment During the Depression


The Great Depression drastically changed society in just about every way imaginable. From fashion to food to what people did in their downtime. Every facet of life was impacted by the financial crisis of the 1930s. 

One of the most nuanced ways society changed during the 1930s due to The Great Depression was how families kept themselves entertained. Let’s take a closer look at how The Great Depression changed family entertainment forever. 

Why did family entertainment change during The Great Depression?

Before diving into how entertainment changed, it’s essential to understand everyday life before The Great Depression. The decade following WWI brought unprecedented prosperity to most of the developed world, leaving people looking for more fun and entertaining ways to spend their good fortune.

But the financial struggles caused by The Great Depression changed all that. Families could no longer afford to take unnecessary trips or buy expensive theater tickets. As most families could no longer afford to purchase items they didn’t absolutely need, novelties and entertainment fell by the wayside. 

How did families stay entertained?

If the usual venues for entertainment were off-limits due to their expense, how did families enjoy themselves in their downtime? In short, families made do with what they had on hand and turned to less expensive, more cost-effective entertainment options. 

Board Games

Board GamesBoard games have been around since the neolithic period  – 8,000 years ago. Checkers have been around for 5,000 years. Needless to say, board games had been around long before The Great Depression.

Board games were a relatively inexpensive investment for most families and could provide enormous dividends. They could engage the entire family, be played by the light of a kerosene light, could be played again and again, and still provide entertainment weeks, months, and years down the line.

Many games played during The Great Depress, such as Sorry!, Pachisi, and Snakes and Ladders are still around today. But none have been as popular as Monopoly. Game creator Elizabeth (Lizzy) J. Magie patented Monopoly under the name Landlord’s Game in 1903 as a protest against the Gilded Age’s big money at a time when the country’s wealth was considered among a few, the Carnegies, Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, and the Morgans. Ironically, the game did not gain popularity until The Great Depression. Today, over a billion people have played her game – you may be one of them.

Radio Shows

The 1920s marked the shift in electronic media for entertainment. By mid-decade, according to Encyclopidea.com, a decent radio could be purchased for about $35 (equivalent to $519.41 in 2022), with higher quality models being sold for up to $350 (equal to $5,642 in 2022). So, by The Great Depression, many families owned a radio. 

Because radios had already become a craze in the ’20s, hundreds of radio shows featuring running storylines and music programs like The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, 15 Minutes with Bing Crosby, Lone Ranger, and Little Orphan Annie. It also kept the country informed of the government’s relief efforts.

Community Events

Community events flourished during the 1930s because they provided people with a way to eat more frugally by sharing dishes while also allowing them to talk, socialize, and engage in other fun activities for little to no cost. 

Events such as local fairs were also popular, as tickets were often cheap. Traveling fairs often provided finance-weary families a way to enjoy a memorable day out for a relatively low price. 

The Great Depression’s impact on entertainment did not end with the turning of a new decade. The popularity of low-budget family-oriented entertainment persists even today.

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