October 30th, 1938 – Invaders from Mars!

Today-In-History

On October 30th, 1938 there was an attempted invasion of the United States by Martian forces and one man was there to witness it . . . fortunately Mr. Orson Welles had a radio show with which to report the invasion to his fellow Americans!

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“The War of the Worlds” is an episode of the American radio drama anthology series The Mercury Theatre on the Air. It was performed as a Halloween episode of the series on Sunday, October 30th, 1938, and aired over the Columbia Broadcasting System radio network. Directed and narrated by actor and future filmmaker Orson Welles, the episode was an adaptation of H. G. Wells‘ novel The War of the Worlds (1898). It became famous for allegedly causing mass panic, although the reality of this mass panic is disputed as the program had relatively few listeners.

The first two thirds of the one-hour broadcast was presented as a series of simulated news bulletins, which suggested an actual alien invasion by Martians was currently in progress. Compounding the issue was the fact that the Mercury Theatre on the Air was a sustaining show without commercial interruptions, adding to the program’s realism. Popular legend holds that some of the radio audience may have been listening to Edgar Bergen and tuned in to “The War of the Worlds” during a musical interlude, thereby missing the clear introduction that the show was a drama, but recent research suggests this only happened in rare instances.

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Photo of Orson Welles meeting with reporters in an effort to explain that no one connected with the War of the Worlds radio broadcast had any idea the show would cause panic.

In the days following the adaptation, there was widespread outrage in the media. The program’s news-bulletin format was described as deceptive by some newspapers and public figures, leading to an outcry against the perpetrators of the broadcast and calls for regulation by the Federal Communications Commission. The episode secured Welles’s fame as a dramatist.

“Today in History” on The Pandora Society dot com is primarily focused on Victorian and Edwardian history and does not always have a direct connection to Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or whatever punk; in fact it rarely does, but it is our hope that in sharing these historical events they might serve as some inspiration to the writers in our community to create potential alternative history stories which we look forward to reading 🙂


 

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