The year Saudi Arabia was created was also the year of Al Capone, Amelia Earhart and Louis Armstrong.
King Abdulaziz founded Saudi Arabia on September 23rd, 1932. Three days earlier, and 6,500 miles away in New York City, eleven construction workers posed for a now-famous photo as they tucked into their lunch while sitting on a girder of an unfinished skyscraper in the Rockefeller Plaza, their legs dangling a vertiginous 840ft (260m) above the streets below.
The photo, published a month later, was meant to put a smile on the faces of Depression-era New Yorkers. The Plaza was the brainchild of John D Rockefeller Jr, whose name would have been familiar to King Abdulaziz: Rockefeller’s father was the founder of Standard Oil, the corporation that spawned the Standard Oil Company of California, which struck oil in Bahrain in June 1932 and, on that basis, agreed to pay King Abdulaziz for the first concession to search for oil in Saudi Arabia.
The Rockefellers were not the only great American dynasty to see their fortunes rise in 1932. On November 8th, Franklin D Roosevelt, distant cousin of former president Teddy Roosevelt (who gave his name to the Teddy bear), won a landslide victory in the presidential election. FDR secured his win by promising a ‘New Deal’ for the American people. If this was a significant moment with lasting influence, there were many others throughout the year:
- In the 1932 World Series, Babe Ruth hit his famous ‘called shot’ at least 440ft (134m) over the deepest part of center field after pointing to exactly where he intended to put it;
- Radio City Music Hall opened with a show featuring Ray Bolger, who went on to play the scarecrow in The Wizard Of Oz in 1939;
- Amelia Earhart completed the first non-stop solo flight across the Atlantic by a woman, flying a Lockheed Vega from Newfoundland to Northern Ireland in just under 15 hours;
- Buster Crabbe, who would later star as Flash Gordon, won a swimming gold at the Los Angeles Olympics; Chicago mobster Al Capone – also known as Scarface and Public Enemy Number One – was jailed for tax evasion at the age of 33; Sir Malcolm Campbell set a world land speed record of 253.96mph driving his car Blue Bird at Daytona Beach, Florida. In 1935, he became the first to top 300mph on land;
- Louis Armstrong recorded All Of Me and then toured Europe. At a concert in London, his nickname ‘Satchel Mouth’ was misheard as Satchmo. It stuck.
In horseracing, the Kentucky Derby, first run in 1875, was won by Burgoo King, who subsequently took the Preakness Stakes but did not run in the Belmont Stakes as the required paperwork had not been completed: the Triple Crown – a term coined only two years earlier – went uncontested. The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, first run in 1920, was won by seven-year-old Motrico, who was tasting victory for the second time and remains the oldest winner of the race.
The richest race of 1932 was the Agua Caliente Handicap, staged in Mexico. With a purse of US$100,000, it attracted horses from around the world, among them Phar Lap, foaled in New Zealand but trained in Australia. The Melbourne Cup winner was hailed as a wonder horse, and Phar Lap raced to victory in record time. Two weeks later, he was dead. There were suggestions he had been poisoned.
The day before Phar Lap’s fateful last race, Sydney Harbour Bridge – 7,500 miles away and now part of one of the world’s most iconic vistas – was officially opened.