Originally created 05/29/99

A look at the 20th Century: 1940



America moved closer to war in 1940.

German forces conquered Denmark, invaded Norway, launched a blitzkrieg against Belgium, Luxemburg and the Netherlands, captured Paris and began bombing Britain.

Officially, the United States was not yet involved in World War II. But Americans were increasingly concerned. News of what was happening in Europe made banner headlines across the nation.

The German conquest of Denmark and Norway gave the Nazis, led by Adolf Hitler, new military bases for submarines and aircraft. And German forces marched on to Europe's Low Countries -- Belgium, Luxemburg and the Netherlands.

Japan, Germany and Italy signed a military and economic pact.

Britain's government, which had practiced a policy of appeasement, grew concerned and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlin resigned. The new leader, Winston Churchill, told the British people that he had nothing to offer them but "blood, toil, tears and sweat."

Germany attacked France -- overrunning most of the country and occupying Paris.

Augusta had its own troubles in 1940 -- a fire, a crash and a flood.

On Jan. 28, a fire -- one of many over the years -- lit up the downtown business district. The Kress store on the 800 block of Broad Street was destroyed. There was also damage to Mayo's Clothing Store and the J.C. Penney department store. A firefighter was injured and damages were estimated at more than $150,000.

Seven teen-agers died July 30 in a terrible car wreck. They were on their way to a swimming party when their automobile was hit by a freight train at a crossing at Barton Chapel Road.

"It was the most tragic accident of its kind in the city's history and the victims -- three girls and four boys -- were members of well known families," The Augusta Chronicle reported.

The car was broadsided and dragged about 1,500 feet before the brakes stopped the freight train. Passengers in the car died instantly. The impact sounded like a tornado, a witness said after the crash.

And on Aug. 13, heavy rains caused drainage canals to fill with water and flood 50 city blocks. Six and a half inches of rain fell that day. Two men drowned and a woman died from a heart attack in the high waters.

But not all the news in 1940 was dreary.

In February, a new theater opened -- the Miller. Its premier showing was billed as a night of "brilliance." The $500,000 movie house was named after owner Frank J. Miller, general manager of Augusta's Modjeska Theatre. The opening night feature was A Night in the Moulin Rouge.

Telegrams of congratulation and good wishes were received from actors Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney, Nelson Eddy and Clark Gable. The Miller Theater dedication was broadcast as part of Paramount Pictures' radio program.

A month later, Augusta dedicated the $500,000 Bell Auditorium -- named in memory of Mayor William B. Bell -- in what The Chronicle called "one of the busiest weeks in Augusta history." In addition to dedicating the Bell, Augusta held a cattle show and the Masters Tournament Ball.

As many as 15,000 came to Augusta for that week's events.

In April, Bobby Jones -- the famous grand-slam champion and president of Augusta National Golf Club -- burned up the golf course, shooting a 66 during the Masters' practice rounds.

But it was Jimmy Demaret, the Houston hurricane, who took home the prize money at the end of the tournament. He won $1,500. A record crowd of 10,000 spectators watched him beat second place finisher Lloyd Mangrum and third place finisher Byron Nelson.

Popular songs in 1940 included You Are My Sunshine, When You Wish Upon a Star and Oh, Johnny. Duke Ellington became known as a jazz pianist and Igor Stravinsky composed Symphony in C.

Ernest Hemingway wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls, Richard Wright published Native Son and John Maynard Keynes came out with How to Pay for the War.

John Ford won a best director Oscar for The Grapes of Wrath, Rebecca won best picture and Walt Disney produced the animated musical Fantasia.

Scientific achievements in 1940 included a new combustion chamber for jet engines, the first electron microscope and the first successful helicopter flight in the United States.

But the escalating war overshadowed those developments. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was elected to an unprecedented third term in 1940 by defeating Republican Wendell Wilkie, announced that the United States would move from a policy of "neutrality" to "non-belligerency."

Massive increases for military spending were authorized. The president called the United States the "arsenal of democracy."

By the end of October, The Chronicle published lists of local men selected for the military draft. As many 185 men were expected to be called to service in the first wave.

In November, military officials pledged that Augusta would get an air base near Daniel Field as part of the national defense program. A delegation from the Army Air Corps came to Augusta.

The Air Corps later took over Daniel Field and purchased property for what became Bush Field Airport, local historian Edward Cashin said. As many as 2,000 men were expected to be stationed here.

1940 Time line

* Jan. 28: Broad Street fire burns the Kress store on the 800 block. There is also damage to Mayo's Clothing Store and the J.C. Penney department store. Damages are estimated at more than $150,000.

* Feb. 26: Miller Theater celebrates its grand opening. Its premier showing is billed as a night of "brilliance." Telegrams of congratulation and good wishes are sent by entertainers Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney, Nelson Eddy and Clark Gable.

* March 31: Bell Auditorium, named in memory of Augusta Mayor William B. Bell, is dedicated. Augusta also holds a cattle show and the Masters Tournament Ball. The week is billed as "one of the busiest weeks in Augusta history."

* April 7: Jimmy Demaret wins the Masters Tournament. A record 10,000 spectators watch him beat second place finisher Lloyd Mangrum and third place finisher Byron Nelson.

* May 6: A fistfight breaks out in the Augusta City Council meeting between City Attorney C. Wesley Killebrew and city plumbing inspector W.K. "Kid" Whittle. The cause of the dust-up is not reported.

* July 30: Seven teen-agers die in an auto accident with a train. They are headed to a swimming party when their car is hit by a freight train at a railroad crossing at Barton Chapel Road.

* Aug. 14: Heavy rains flood 50 city blocks and kill three people in the Augusta area. Two men drown and a woman dies after suffering a heart attack.

* Oct. 30: With World War II raging and the United States still officially not a combatant, the names of the first Augustans expected to be drafted for military service are published.

* Nov. 20: Military officials pledge that Augusta would get an air base as part of the national defense program.

Time line

Jan. 28:

Broad Street fire burned the Kress store on the 800 block. There was also damage to Mayo's Clothing Store and the J.C. Penney department store. Damages were estimated at more than $150,000.

Feb. 26:

Miller Theater celebrated its grand opening. Its premier showing was billed as a night of "brilliance." Telegrams of congratulation and good wishes were sent by entertainers Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney, Nelson Eddy and Clark Gable.

March 31:

Bell Auditorium, named in memory of Augusta Mayor William B. Bell, was dedicated. Augusta also held a cattle show and the Masters Tournament Ball. The week was billed as "one of the busiest weeks in Augusta history."

April 7:

Jimmy Demaret wins the Masters Tournament. A record 10,000 spectators watch him beat second-place finisher Lloyd Mangrum and third-place finisher Byron Nelson.

May 6:

A fistfight broke out in the Augusta City Council meeting between City Attorney C. Wesley Killebrew and city plumbing inspector W.K. "Kid" Whittle. The cause of the dust-up was not reported.

July 30:

Seven teen-agers died in an auto accident with a train. They were headed to a swimming party when their car was hit by a freight train at a railroad crossing at Barton Chapel Road.

Aug. 14:

Heavy rains flooded 50 city blocks and kill three people in the Augusta area. Two men drowned and a woman died after suffering a heart attack.

Oct. 30:

With World War II raging and the United States still officially not a combatant, the names of the first Augustans expected to be drafted for military service were published.

Nov. 20:

Military officials pledged that Augusta would get an air base as part of the national defense program.