‘1932’: What Was Happening in America During ‘Yellowstone’ Prequel?

by Jon D. B.

Speakeasys. Farmer’s Revolt. The Great Depression. These are but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the year America had in 1932; the basis for Yellowstone‘s next historical prequel.

It’s 1932. California Republican Herbert Hoover is President of the United States. Beer is illegal. Gas is taxed for the first time. And both the Great Depression and Dust Bowl consume all.

Sounds like the perfect backdrop for a gripping period drama by Taylor Sheridan, doesn’t it? Well brace yourselves, because Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren are set to lead Sheridan’s next Yellowstone series, 1932. And what a sentence that is.

But in reality, 1932 was a year of tremendous change and unimaginable struggle. Unemployment in the USA was at 33% – or 14 million of the 124 million population of the time. This was the Great Depression, which hit its peak in 1932. And it brought the worst of poverty, famine, and societal turmoil to families across the continent. Yet as hard times often do for Americans, this pit of despair would turn into a rallying cry that helped end everything from said depression – to over a decade of prohibition.

1932 in a Nutshell

  • U.S. President: Herbert Hoover (R – California)
  • U.S. Population: 124,840,471
  • Prohibition (1919–1933)
  • Great Depression (1929–1933)
  • Dust Bowl (1930–1936)

The North American Dust Bowl Ravaged ‘The Real Duttons of History’

While the Great Depression tends to take all the focus for this time period, the Dust Bowl would cause equal destruction. It’s also likely to have had an even greater, far more devastating impact on the real Duttons of history.

Dust Bowl in America, 1930. (Photo by: Photo 12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Most notably, American classic The Grapes of Wrath (1939) would capture the realities of the Dust Bowl. This was a period of severe dust storms and drought that ravaged the ecology, agriculture, and economy of North America during the 1930s.

Caused by severe drought and an ignorance of dryland farming techniques, the disaster began to take hold in the late 1920s. By 1935, hundreds of thousands of families would abandon their farms and seek work elsewhere. This great agricultural abandoment would cause severe famine and poverty across the American West. Over 500,000 Americans were left homeless. A single dust storm could leave hundreds of houses inhabitable in a matter of hours.

Colorado dust bowl, 1930s. (Photo by: Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

As 1883 shows, the Duttons would’ve already settled their Montana Yellowstone Ranch for at least four decades at this time. Previous years of fair weather and mild winters through the 1920s could’ve brought then considerable wealth after the end of World War I. But the severe drought in Montana would’ve cost them everything.

Elsewhere In 1932: Vaudeville Dies, Prohibition Peaks, and the Dow Jones Bottoms Out

Amidst it all, the Dow Jones Industrial Average reaches its lowest level of the Great Depression on July 8, 1932. This bottoming out at 41.22 signaled the lowest of the low, sparking further protests from the American people. A great Farmer’s Revolt broke out in 1932’s Midwest during this time, signaling further unrest in the real world counterparts of the Duttons.

Vernon Evans standing next to his car on Highway Ten near Missoula, Montana. His family are on the way to Washington looking for work hop picking, the sign on the car reads ‘Oregon Or Bust’. 1930s. (Photo by Arthur Rothstein/Getty Images)

Countless measures, like The Revenue Act of 1932, would attempt to combat this with measures such as the first gas tax in the United States (1 cent per US gallon). Some worked. Some failed. But the depression would linger for the rest of the decade regardless.

And not a single drop of alcohol – of any kind – could be sold legally throughout this tumultuous time. The American Prohibition had been in place since 1919, leading to thousands of illegal bars, or speakeasys, popping up underground in every major city.

Speakeasys would’ve fueled the elite of 1932. If you had money, you were still drinking in a secret bar while the rest of the nation suffered.

Clients drinking in an illegal bar, or speakeasy, of New-York in 1932. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

But the common folk had had enough. And The Republican Citizens Committee Against National Prohibition comes to light in order to repeal prohibition in the U.S. It would prove the beginning of the end of alcohol’s outlawing the following year.

Much of these changes seen from 1932 into 1933 would come as a result of the November 8th U.S. presidential election. On that day, Democratic Governor of New York, Franklin D. Roosevelt, defeats Republican Herbert Hoover in a landslide victory. But not president, no matter their political party, could curve the rapid Influenza Endemics that continued to claim untold millions across the globe.

To combat these countless horrors, Americans turned to Entertainment, which changed rapidly in 1932.

On March 25th, Tarzan the Ape Man opens, giving birth to a cultural icon. Olympic gold medal swimmer Johnny Weissmuller inhabits the title role; becoming a budding cinema industry’s hero through 12 Tarzan films. Buck Rogers in the 25th Century airs on radios across America for the first time later that year. And by November 16th, the great Palace Theatre of New York City has fully converted to a cinema, placing the final nail in the Vaudeville coffin as the most popular entertainment medium in the United States.

Tarzan The Ape Man lobbycard, Maureen O’Sullivan, Neil Hamilton, Johnny Weissmuller, 1932. (Photo by LMPC via Getty Images)

That year, the 1932 Summer Olympics would also open in Los Angeles. Babe Ruth’s famous called shot rings out in the fifth inning of the 1932 World Series game 3. And the New York Yankees take it all with their 4th World Series Title.

So much has changed in American entertainment in the time since, leading us to 2022, when Paramount+ announced the leads and plot synopsis for Yellowstone prequel 1932. It reads:

The next Yellowstone origin story will introduce a new generation of the Dutton family and explore the early twentieth century when pandemics, historic drought, the end of Prohibition, and the Great Depression all plague the mountain west, and the Duttons who call it home.


And history considered, we’re in for one hell of a ride. 1932 will premiere exclusively on Paramount+ in December of 2022.