Things weren’t going very well in the US in 1934. It was one of the worst years of the Great Depression, with unemployment above 20% and almost 5 million families receiving some kind of public assistance.
But FDR kept throwing stuff against the wall and some things stuck – the FDIC was formed and quickly repaid the customers of a failed bank in Indiana. A survey for a national highway system was begun which would eventually provide jobs for thousands. The government encouraged the union movement in an effort to raise wages overall. The FCC was created and Great Smoky National Park was dedicated.
Shirley Temple appeared in her first feature film and Edwin Hubble got a picture of the cosmos that showed as many galaxies as there were stars in the Milky Way.
Among the babies born that year were Bill Russell, Ralph Nader, Mary Quant, Florence Henderson and Alan Arkin.
And on August 19, the very first All-American Soapbox Derby was held and – except for that electromagnet scandal in the 70’s – it has been going strong ever since. On the same date in Germany, Adolf Hitler, chancellor and self-appointed Fuhrer, was confirmed as dictator in a plebiscite with either 85 or 96% of the vote, depending on who you read.
It had taken Hitler several years, but after going to prison for his first attempt to overthrow the government (the Beer Hall putsch), he had changed tactics completely, using the democratic processes of the Weimar republic to achieve his ends. The Reichstag Fire Act had suspended habeus corpus and outlawed most political parties and in 1933, the National Socialists had gotten the Enabling Act passed, which was legal and limited to four years. It allowed Hitler’s cabinet to pass legislation without going to the Reichstag. It was renewed twice. (Nothing called the Ermächtigungsgesetz could be good.)
An interesting thread of destiny was already being spun in England a month before Hitler’s election – Leo Szilard, a Hungarian emigré working at the Admiralty, had conceived the idea of a nuclear chain reaction and though he would not succeed in creating it for two more years, he took out a patent for a nuclear reactor in July of ’34.