Today, October 30, 1938: Nation Panics Over Radio Broadcast

On September 21, 1866, Joseph and Sarah Wells of Bromley, Kent, England welcomed their new son, Herbert George Wells, into the world. Not long afterwards, Joseph and Sarah split up. Young Herbert grew up poor but was an avid reader.

In 1880 at the age of 14, Herbert had to leave school and found a job as an apprentice to a draper. A draper is a person who generally deals in selling cloth or dry goods.

In 1883, Herbert won a scholarship to the Normal School of Science in London where he studied biology and evolution. However, he was unable to meet the requirements of his scholarship and was eventually forced to leave school. He ended up living with an aunt and uncle where he tutored part-time and studied at his uncle’s school.

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In 1893, Herbert George Wells published his first work, a biology textbook.

In 1895, Herbert began publishing novels under the name H.G. Wells. In this year, he published The Time Machine and The Wonderful Visit.

In 1896, Wells published The Island of Doctor Moreau and The Wheels of Chance.

In 1897, Wells published The Invisible Man.

In 1898, he published The War of the Worlds.

In 1899, he published When the Sleeper Wakes.

In 1900, he published Love and Mr Lewisham.

In 1901, he published The First Men in the Moon. Wells was a prolific writer and went on to published dozens more books, fiction, non-fiction, political and social commentary, textbooks, stories and story collections.

On this day, October 30, 1938, Columbia Broadcasting System and its affiliated radio stations around the nation, 1t 8 p.m. aired Orson Wells adaption of H.G. Wells The War of the Worlds. Wells normal Sunday night radio program aired at the same time as the most popular radio program of the time which was broadcast by a different radio station. Wells thought that the adaptation of the Wells novel would catch the attention of more people. The broadcast lasted just under an hour and by the end of the broadcast, he had a large part of the nation listening to his every word.

Howard Koch, a radio writer wrote a condensed and modernized version of the Wells novel. Wells and Koch made a number of revisions and changed the location from England to the New England area to make it more real to the radio listeners.

When the broadcast started, it opened with the disclaimer:

 “The Columbia Broadcasting System and its affiliated stations present Orson Wells and the Mercury Theatre on the Air in The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells.”

However, as word spread about the broadcast, thousands of people tuned to the radio station and failed to hear to the opening disclaimer. Thousands of listeners who started out listening to the famous Chase and Sanborn Hour, tuned over to pick up the Wells broadcast.

The radio program was made to sound so realistic and Orson Wells gave an outstanding performance, that hundreds of thousands of Americans became hysterical and panicked. Thousands of listeners, especially those who missed the opening announcement about the program presenting H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds, believed that they had actually been invaded by men from Mars. Hundreds of families in the New England area packed up their cars and began to flee the area. Many people grabbed and loaded their guns and others grabbed improvised gas masks. Tons of people flocked to their local church to pray for safety from the Martian attack. The panic was so severe that doctors and hospitals reported an increase in miscarriages and early births. Numerous deaths were reported but none were ever confirmed.

The Orson Wells broadcast of The War of Worlds was undoubtedly one of the greatest radio program broadcasts of all time.


Sources for the above includes: War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast Causes Panic; War of the Worlds, Orson Welles, And The Invasion from Mars; “War of the Worlds”: Behind the 1938 Radio Show Panic; Welles Scares Nation; Orson Welles and History’s First Viral-Media Event; Orson Welles Causes Panic With His ‘War of the Worlds’ Broadcast; 75 Years Ago, ‘War Of The Worlds’ Started A Panic. Or Did It?; The War of the Worlds Panic Was a Myth; H.G. Wells; H.G. Wells Biography

Dave Jolly

R.L. David Jolly holds a B.S. in Wildlife Biology and an M.S. in Biology – Population Genetics. He has worked in a number of fields, giving him a broad perspective on life, business, economics and politics. He is a very conservative Christian, husband, father and grandfather who cares deeply for his Savior, family and the future of our troubled nation.

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