Recently I’ve been thinking about running a Pulp Adventure sort of game, probably using the Savage Worlds rules – which I bought specifically with pulp games in mind. I’m not sure when I’ll actually get to run such a game – and in fact I may never actually run such a game based on historical data – but today I was thinking a bit about pulp-era technology. And when I say that I don’t mean rocket packs and weird science devices. Rather, I was wondering about actual things that existed in the 1930s. Specifically, I started trying to learn a bit more about 1936, which seems like a pretty popular default year for pulp settings.
I learned from this timeline that the electron microscope was invented in 1931, the desk phone was invented in 1932, FM broadcasting began in 1933, while in 1936 the turnstile antenna was invented. I don’t know what a turnstile antenna is really, but it was designed for television and radio broadcasting and I assume it’s better than whatever antenna it replaced. I also learned that the jet engine was designed in 1937, while photocopiers and the Volkswagen Beetle both hit the scene in 1938. Also of note is the fact that nuclear fission was discovered in 1939 (or 1938, depending on who you ask), which is pretty important.
This gives a pretty good idea of where technology was at in the mid-thirties. We know that telephones are fairly common, while the jet engine and nuclear fission are just on the horizon. Of course we can play with this timeline a little when dealing with pulp heroes; just because jet engines don’t officially hit the scene until 1937 doesn’t mean that our heroes couldn’t be slightly ahead of the curve and sporting some prototype rocket packs. And nuclear fission? “Mainstream” scientists might crack the code in 1938 or 1939, but surely a pulp super-scientists working for a top secret government agency could have cracked the code a few years early, right? Let’s just hope that prototype nuclear fission powered teleportation device doesn’t fall into Nazi hands!
Likewise, this Breaking News of the 1930s Timeline gives us a good idea of what was in the headlines during this time period. It tells us that on September 14, 1930 the Nazi party became the second largest political party in Germany, while in 1935 the first “around the world” telephone conversation takes place “from New York to San Francisco, Indonesia, Holland, England and back to New York.”
But what about consumer goods? What did flashlights look like and how efficient were they? How much did a pair of binoculars cost, or a straight razor? For this sort of information, one has only to look as far as the ubiquitous Sears and Roebuck catalog. A staple since 1886, the Sears and Roebuck catalog was the Amazon.com of early American life, and 1936 was no different.
If you’re interested in digging through a digital copy of the Sears catalog from 1936 the whole thing can be found here. Spoiler Alert: The first 400 some odd pages are mainly clothing, mostly for women, then it gets a bit more interesting.
However, if your interested in looking at only a selection of pages from this catalog featuring items relevant to pulp-era adventurers, or you’d like to own a copy of the Sears Catalog from 1936, condensed down from over 1,000 pages to a compact and convenient 50 page PDF, then you’re in luck! Because I’ve done just that: I took 50 pages from the catalog that I felt were the most relevant to pulp adventurers, featuring things like binoculars, rifles, tents, rope, watches, wrenches, and trench coats and I compiled them into my own Sears and Roebuck catalog. All of the pages contained in the PDF are in the public domain and are from the link above, with the exception of the front cover, which I grabbed from here. I used a different cover than the actual 1936 cover because I liked the look of the more traditional cover, rather than the special cover that was on the 1936 Jubilee catalog.
So here is my condensed Sears and Roebuck catalog, designed for use by discriminating pulp adventurers. Now get out there and punch a Nazi in the jaw!