Early in the 20th century, a modern, accessible, airport became a necessity for any major city, and Washington was no exception. However, while there was general agreement on the need for an air hub to serve the nation’s capital, the road – literally – to achieving that goal was fraught with delays and obstacles. It would take 12 years of debate and a president stepping in for the city to finally get the airport it so desperately needed.
The industrial revolution was reshaping the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries, as the country shifted from a pure agrarian structure, to a more industrial one. While many major American cities of the early 20th century were home to bustling factories and mills pumping smoke into the air, Washington’s largest processing industry filled the air with a different smell—fresh baking bread. In the same neighborhood as the former Griffith Stadium in Shaw, family-owned bakeries lined the streets. Among the most prominent of these bakeries were Dorsch’s White Cross Bakery, Holzbeierlein Bakery, and Corby Baking Company, which were responsible for producing almost all of the bread, cake, and pastry products sold in the Washington area, consequently making them all household names in D.C.
On the evening of July 14, 1935, just behind the Lincoln Memorial, on the steps of the Watergate Amphitheatre, 10,000 Washingtonians, dressed in flannel and gingham, sat on blankets and newspapers. Out on the water, hundreds of others dressed in bathing suits floated in canoes, eager to experience Washington’s newest summertime tradition: floating concerts by the National Symphony Orchestra. The NSO was taking to the water, inaugurating a new “Sunset Symphony” series, wherein the orchestra would offer summertime performances on a 75 foot concert barge bobbing in the Potomac River.
In 1903 and 1938, Steinway & Sons gifted their 100,000th and 300,000th custom, art-case grand pianos to the White House. The pianos, crafted with the White House East Room in-mind, were unlike any other Steinway pianos ever produced — they had extravagantly painted cases, gold leaf designs, and intricately carved wood. The pianos quickly became beacons for art and culture in the East Room and Entrance Hall of the White House where the second one still resides today. Theodore, Edith, and Franklin Roosevelt utilized and dedicated these two Steinway pianos to help establish the White House as a hub for music in Washington moving forward into the 20th Century.
At 4:45 p.m. on January 31, 1930 the “new and shaky ensemble known tentatively as the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington D.C.” took the stage of the recently finished DAR Constitution Hall at eighteenth and C streets northwest. Conductor Rudolf Schueller and the musicians were welcomed into the hall by vigorous applause from an audience of 2,000 music-loving Washingtonians who eagerly awaited the newly established orchestra’s first notes. Arriving at this moment of glory did not happen easily, or quickly for that matter. While Washington is typically considered a capital of arts and culture today, this was definitely not the case in the early 1900s.
“Immaculate” and “modern to the nth degree” read a Washington Post ad one December day in 1930. Sounds intriguing, but what dazzling, new technology was it describing? A television set? One of those new electric razors? Penicillin?
"The visions that baseball fans could conjure only in their fondest dreams will evolve as realisms at Griffith Stadium on Wednesday when spectacle will be heaped on spectacle, thrill piled on thrill. There, in a contest apart from all the rest, the dream game comes to life." Though few others described the mood as eloquently as Shirley Povich, many in the nation’s capital shared his excitement as Washington prepared to host its first baseball All-Star game in 1937.
After years of acquiring important books and manuscripts, and a few more years planning and acquiring land, the Folger Shakespeare Library was almost bumped out of Washington thanks to a bill to expand the Library of Congress. But instead of fighting the other library, the two would work in close cooperation to ensure the Folger Shakespeare Library came to Washington and flourished.
Across the country, members of high society celebrated George Washington's 200th birthday by attending costumed balls. But only Alexandria could boast that their ball occurred at the location of Washington's last birthday party.
In 1939 — decades before Virginia schools were integrated, and sit-ins emerged as a primary strategy for protesting segregated businesses and public facilities in the South — Alexandria, Virginia lawyer Samuel Tucker organized a successful sit-in to demonstrate against the Alexandria Library's "whites only" policy. It is believed to be the first sit-in for desegregation in American history.