A foreclosure crisis so bad that Midwestern farmers hang nooses, meant to threaten foreclosure agents, near where property auctions would be held. An outgoing president, Herbert Hoover, calls for “further steps towards recovery” in a final address, while in the Senate lawmakers debate how much power to give president-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt. In the Pacific, the U.S. Navy competes against itself in a war game meant to impress the Japanese. And in Germany, Chancellor Hitler gives a speech in front of 15,000 people in Berlin’s Sports Palace, where he’s flanked by “blazing Nazi banners.”
These are some of the lead stories that Newsweek reported in the first pages of its first edition, published 81 years ago and dated February 17, 1933. A slender 32 pages, it cost just 10 cents. It was black, white, and orange, titled “News-Week,” and divided into sections like “The News-Week at Home” and “The News-Week Abroad.”
With stories about foreclosures, the limits of presidential powers, and naval tensions in the Pacific, it’s easy to draw thematic comparisons between the news events of the 1930s and those of today. But other stories, or turns of phrase, in the magazine are firmly rooted in the era. Reporting on a human sacrifice in Kentucky, where an “old woman was done to death” in “a “sacrifice to the gods of an obscure mountain cult,” Newsweek offers this description of backwoods living: “Insanity, the result of inbreeding, is not uncommon at the headwaters of the creeks.” And after Malaysian crew members took over control of Dutch dreadnaught, a kind of battleship, Newsweek described the demographics this way: “The East is officered by Caucasians, but is numerously staffed by dark-skinned people, usually submissive in the substantial, fruitful islands government by the Dutch.” That incident ended when the Dutch bombed the rogue ship, killing 22, “none of them white.”
The fun of looking through an old magazine like this—scanned in and posted in its entirety at Newsweek’s old sister website, The Daily Beast—is in the small, lighthearted moments it offers, the windows into another time. A photograph on page 10 shows a dogsled team bounding through the snow of Central Park, probably faster than a modern-day crosstown bus. Eleanor Roosevelt, the country’s new first lady, earned praise for the “amusement” with which she reacts to a letter asking her “Who the hell picks those terrible hats?” (Eighty-one years later, the press is still talking about the first lady’s fashion choices.) A British plane set a world record when it covered over 5300 miles nonstop from an airfield in Britain to southern Africa. They didn’t make it to Cape Town, their chosen destination, and the flight only took them 57 hours.
And then there are the magazine’s ads, one of the best ways to take a nation’s pulse. A new typewriter promises that something called “shift freedom” that will make typing easier on the eyes. McCalls Magazine advertises that its latest version appeals to the “three main interests of a woman’s life,” which are, if you’re curious, “recreation and romance,” “her family life, her children,” and “her person—her clothes, her skin, her figure.” Then, for the “business man,” there’s an ad promising them they can learn law at home through an extension university based in Chicago.
Take a look through it. We’ll save you the ten cents--about $1.80 in today’s dollars--and let you read it for free. And just a few weeks from now, Newsweek will go back into print. So here’s to future decades of reporting, whether it’s dogs in Central Park, debates in the Senate, or Naval exercises in the Pacific. Let’s just hope there are no more human sacrifices in Kentucky.