80 Years of Change: Comparing 1931 to 2011

Eight decades have passed since W.W. Estes bought a used Chevy truck and began shipping livestock and produce in Southside Virginia. It was obviously a different era. But a closer comparison of W.W.'s world in 1931 to our present-day reality reveals a few striking parallels.

It was a time when Herbert Hoover was president, nylon first came on the market and sportswriters hailed Babe Ruth as the King of Baseball. But above all, 1931 was a year of adversity. Americans were struggling through the third year of the Great Depression. About 8 million people—more than 16 percent of the workforce—were unemployed. And those numbers would soon get much worse as the Depression deepened.

The average annual salary was about $1,400 for those fortunate enough to have a job. Of course, expenses were much less than what we're used to today. Gasoline cost a dime per gallon. A pound of hamburger set you back 11 cents. And you could buy a new home for less than $6,800.

Let's compare all that with what's happening in 2011. A gallon of gas costs as much as $4.00, a pound of hamburger sets you back nearly $3.00 and the average price of a new house is $246,000. But not everything was different. Americans today—just like W.W.'s generation—are struggling through a tough economy that's left a large portion of the workforce in the unemployment line.

We'd also have no trouble identifying with other events from 80 years ago. For instance, the 2011 earthquake and tsunami killed thousands in Japan, while a 7.1 magnitude temblor in 1931 killed 40,000 in what is now Pakistan. The Duke and Duchess of Kent married in 1931, followed 80 years later by Prince William and Kate Middleton. And while state and local governments face budget crunches in 2011, Chicago actually ran out of money in 1931 and failed to pay its teachers for two months.

Yes, the world—not to mention Estes Express Lines—has changed a lot since 1931. But some things haven't. W.W.'s example for long-term success still holds true today: all it takes is a good idea, lots of hard work…and a dependable truck.

Learn more about the news, events, people and popular culture of 1931.

What's happening in 1931?

  • Herbert Hoover is president.
  • Congress officially adopts The Star Spangled Banner as the National Anthem.
  • The St. Louis Cardinals defeat the Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series.
  • Max Schmeling becomes boxing's undisputed heavyweight champion.
  • The Green Bay Packers win the NFL championship.
  • Star Trek's Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) are born.
  • Thomas Edison dies.
  • Bing Crosby turns Stardust into a hit song.
  • Fredric March wins an Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.
  • The Empire State Building is completed.
  • Estes Express Lines is born when W.W. Estes makes his first delivery in a used Chevy truck.

To learn even more, visit www.thepeoplehistory.com.