The inter-war years were a period of great political and economic turmoil. This turmoil created fertile ground for political extremism, as politicians and ideologues sought to appeal to a concerned population. It was also a period of great social change, with the rise of mass media, new forms of popular music and the growth of the media industry. It was also a period of continued scientific evolution with progress being made in nuclear physics.
Key people of the inter-war years (1919-1939)
Winston Churchill (1874–1965) Prime Minister of Great Britain during Second World War. Churchill was Chancellor of Exchequer in the 1920s returning Britain to the gold standard. In the 1930s, he was a persistent critic of N.Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement arguing the threat from Germany meant Britain should be rearming.
Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) Dictator of Nazi Germany. Hitler came to power in 1933, after his Nazi party won the highest share of the vote. On coming to power, Hitler soon moved the country to a totalitarian dictatorship and rearmed the Germany military ready for his wars of conquest.
Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948) Indian nationalist and politician. Became the most prominent leader of the Indian Congress party. Gandhi led non-violent protests against British rule. Gandhi also sought to improve the welfare of women and lowest caste members of Indian society.
V.I. Lenin (1870–1924) Russian revolutionary leader, and first leader of the Soviet Union. Lenin was the leader of the new Soviet Union from 1917 to 1924. He negotiated Russia’s exit from the war, defeated opposition to revolution and set the tone for the new Soviet republic.
Joseph Stalin (1878–1953) Successor to Lenin. Stalin ruthlessly strengthened his grip on power by eliminating any internal opposition and establishing his supreme authority. Pursued a policy of ‘Socialism in One Country’ and signed the Nazi-Soviet Act in 1939.
John M Keynes (1883–1946) Influential economist. Criticised the Treaty of Versailles for being too harsh on Germany. During Great Depression developed General Theory of Money which advocated government intervention to overcome the slump.
Franklin D Roosevelt (1882–1945) Elected US President in 1932 at the height of the Great Depression. Elected on a promise to initiate a New Deal to try and reduce unemployment. Despite favouring the Allies, Roosevelt kept America out of WWII until Japan attacked Pearl Harbour.
Ataturk (1881–1938) Founder of the Turkish Republic. Ataturk was a Turkish military officer during World War One. After the end of the war, he led the independence movement from Ottoman empire. Ataturk played a strong role in creating modern secular Turkey.
Neville Chamberlain (1869–1940) Chamberlain was British Prime Minister from 1937–1940. He initially sought a policy of appeasement with Hitler to allow the UK to re-arm and also in the hope another war could be avoided. After the invasion of Poland, Chamberlain led Great Britain into war with Germany.
Herbert Hoover (1874 – 1964) Hoover was 31st President from 1929 to 1933 during the Great Depression, criticised for his failure to alleviate it. From 1921-28, he served as a dynamic Secretary of Commerce in the cabinets of Harding and Coolidge.
Henry Ford (1864–1947) US Industrialist. Henry Ford revolutionised the motor car industry. Using mass production techniques he radically reduced the price of a motor car, making an automobile affordable to a large range of workers.
Thomas Edison (1847–1931) Inventor and businessman. Edison was a pioneer of using electricity in homes. In the post-war period, his inventions gained widespread use across America.
Walter Reuther (1907 – 1970) Reuther was an influential trade union leader who took on the major car firms and gained recognition for trade unions in the car industry. Initially, the motor companies and Ford, in particular, fought very hard to keep unions out of the industry.
Arts / Fashion
Coco Chanel (1883–1971) Fashion designer who revolutionised women’s clothes making them more practical and less stuffy. Epitomised the Jazz age of Paris in the 1920s.
Charlie Chaplin (1889–1977 ) Most famous movie star and director of the inter-war years.
Katharine Hepburn (1907–2003) An early movie icon. Won an Oscar for best actress in 1933.
Scientists of Inter-War Years
Otto Hahn (1879–1968) German chemist who discovered nuclear fission (1939). Pioneering scientist in the field of radiochemistry. Discovered radioactive elements and nuclear isomerism (1921). Awarded Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1944)
Albert Einstein (1879–1955) Revolutionised modern physics with his general theory of relativity. Einstein was awarded Nobel Prize in Physics (1921) for his discovery of the Photoelectric effect, which formed the basis of Quantum Theory.
Alexander Fleming (1881–1955) British scientist played a key role in the discovery of penicillin.
Writers / Cultural figures
George Orwell (1903–1950) English author. In the 1930s, George Orwell documented the impact of the great depression on the English working classes. In 1936, he went to Spain to fight for the Republicans against fascism, writing his account in Homage to Catalonia. He would use his 1930s experiences to write Animal Farm and 1984 – warnings of totalitarianism and revolution betrayed.
William Somerset Maugham (1874–1965) British novelist and writer. One of the most popular authors of 1930s. Notable works included The Moon and Sixpence (1916), The Razor’s Edge (1944), and Of Human Bondage (1915).
James Joyce (1882–1941) Irish writer from Dublin. Joyce was one of most influential modernist avant-garde writers of the Twentieth Century. His novel Ulysses (1922) was ground-breaking for its stream-of-consciousness style. Other works include Dubliners (1914) and Finnegans Wake (1939).
D H Lawrence (1885–1930) English poet, novelist and writer. Best known works include: Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow, Women in Love and Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928) – which was banned for many years due to sexual content and love between different social classes.
F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896–1940) American author. Iconic writer of the jazz age. Notable works include The Great Gatsby (1925), and Tender Is the Night (1934) – Both cautionary tales about the ‘Jazz decade’ and the hedonism of the American Dream.
Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961) American writer who wrote about Spanish Civil war, in his novel For Whom The Bell Tolls.
John Steinbeck (1902–1968) American writer who captured the social change experienced in the US around the time of the Great Depression. Famous works include Of Mice and Men (1937), The Grapes of Wrath (1939) and East of Eden (1952).
Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) Spanish, modern ‘cubist’ painter. One of his most influential works of the period was Guernica (1937) – a depiction of the German bombing of the Spanish town of that name in the Spanish civil war.
Edvard Munch (1863–1944) Norwegian expressionist, whose famous paintings included The Scream.
Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan “Famous people of the Inter-war Years”, Oxford, UK www.biographyonline.net, First published 01/12/2013. Last updated 9 April 2020.
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People of the Second World War (1939–1945) Influential leaders, generals and civilians who caused, influenced and fought during the Second World War. Including; Hitler, Churchill, Stalin, Roosevelt, Truman, Emperor Hirohito, Eisenhower, Rommel and De Gaulle.
Victorian age (1837–1901) The principal figures of the Victorian age and the second half of the industrial revolution.
Edwardian Age (1901–1914). A period of growth in science, technology and also rising tensions between the major powers. Also saw the ‘heroic age’ of exploration.
People of the First World War (1914–1918) Principle figures involved in the First World War from Germany, Britain, US and the rest of the world.