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Photograph of the interior of the museum exhibition 1939

This small exhibition explored the way Americans used entertainment to distract themselves during a turbulent year when the country was recovering from the Great Depression and World War loomed—1939. Heroes, real and imaginary, were made through radio and films like The Wizard of Oz, and the New York World’s Fair allowed visitors to experience a more hopeful “World of Tomorrow.”

Featured objects—including portions of the scarecrow costume from The Wizard of Oz—and images from Life magazine demonstrated how entertainment and the arts were used to escape the despair and hopelessness of the era.

See the stories behind the artifacts
The Museum teamed up with Smithsonian Channel to provide mobile technology in the 1939 exhibition. Engaging videos, produced with the Smithsonian Channel's signature quality and storytelling craftsmanship, added context to the artifacts on display. Visitors to the exhibition could view these videos on a special mobile-optimized website:

Online visitors can view the videos below.

See how President Roosevelt's ambitious program put Americans back to work.

The Beginning of the WPA
Born out of the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration put Americans back to work.

Supporting the Arts Through the WPA
One of the greatest experiments in public art gave voice and vision to American artists, authors and musicians.

World's Fair

See futuristic inventions revealed at the 1939 World's Fair.

Inventing the Future in 1939
Robots and super highways were just a few of the futuristic new inventions presented at the 1939 New York World's Fair.

See how Marian Anderson's voice inspired the nation.

Marian Anderson in Concert
Civil Rights history is captured on film as singer Marian Anderson performs on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Wizard of Oz
Find out how Dorothy's slippers got their red color.
Please note: The ruby slippers are no longer on display in this gallery.  As of April 12, 2012, they will be on view in a new exhibition, American Stories.

The Ruby Slippers
Bright red is how we remember them, but Dorothy's famous shoes were originally silver.

The Secret Behind the Sparkle
Take a look behind the scenes to see how the Smithsonian keeps the ruby slippers sparkling in the spotlight.