Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Shadow: Historical Background 1929 - 1931

This past week I learned that the Dick Tracy comic strip was first published on October 4, 1931 - that's just 6 months after the first issue of The Shadow was published (April 1, 1931).  As I thought about these two fictional crime fighters, I started digging into what was happening in the US at this time that made The Shadow and Dick Tracy so popular.  In my opinion, part of their appeal and popularity can be attributed to real life crime stories that were ever present in the headlines.  Maybe the American public had enough of gangsters and wanted to read about crime fighters putting an end to them and their nefarious ways.

In this article I wanted to put a spotlight on what was happening in the years from 1929 through 1931.  I want to paint a background picture of what was going on when The Shadow pulp magazine began to be published in 1931.  What newsworthy events captured the headlines and the attention of Americans in those years?  Here are some of the events and facts!


  • Herbert Hoover is President, having beaten Alfred E. Smith in the election of 1928.
  • February 14, 1929:  The St Valentine's Day Massacre happens in Chicago when 7 members of the Northside gang are gunned down by henchmen of mobster Al Capone.
  • October 29, 1929:  The US stock market crashed and this marked the beginning of the Great Depression which lasted for 12 years.  Both the US and Europe were impacted.
  • The Broadway Melody was the top money-making movie in 1929 and also won the Academy Award for Best Picture.


  • The planet Pluto is discovered.
  • The Castellammarese War erupts in New York City to see who will control the Italian-American mafia
  • Mahatma Gandhi begins his campaign of civil disobedience in India.
  • Birds Eye frozen food products are introduced in 18 retail stores in Springfield, MA.
  • Gang wars continue in Chicago between rival factions including Al Capone's.
  • Cartoon character Betty Boop makes her debut.
  • All Quiet On The Western Front won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Betty Boop


  • US unemployment reaches over 16%.
  • Droughts, soil erosion and dust storms in the mid-west create the beginning of the Dust Bowl.
  • The Empire State Building is completed and opens for business.
  • The Star Spangled Banner becomes our national anthem.
  • Eliot Ness and his agents ("The Untouchables") begin raids against illegal breweries and stills (impacting the pockets of Al Capone!).
  • Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi and Frankenstein, starring Boris Karloff premier in US theaters.
  • Dick Tracy comic strip begins.
  • April 1, 1931 - The Shadow magazine publishes its first issue!

These are just a few of the events that happened between 1929 and 1931.  Wow, what a time it was.  I hope this brief article helps you frame a backdrop of the world that The Shadow magazine entered in 1931.  

No comments:

Post a Comment