1917 - 1945

Responding to belligerent threats and other provocations the U.S. declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, thereby becoming a participant in World War I. By July of 1918, more than a million American troops were in France supporting the British and French. The war effort seriously constrained tourism activity in America.

"The Great Epidemic of 1918" (which lasted into 1920) killed 548,000 American influenza victims and 2 million (possibly as many as 50 million) people worldwide. Americans were so apprehensive about contagion that they were afraid to travel. Hence, Narragansett tourism suffered from the epidemic.

A mild recession took place after World War l. But, a much more significant happening involved implementation in 1920 of the Volstead Act, the enabling legislation for the 18th Amendment to the Constitution: the prohibition of the manufacture, sale, or transportation of alcoholic beverages. As in other resorts, prohibition had an immediate negative impact (at least at its start) on tourism as vacationers feared the inhibiting effects of the strict
new federal regulations.

On Tuesday, October 29, 1929, the stock market crashed, signaling the beginning of The Great Depression. During the decade that followed, fortunes disappeared, U.S. unemployment exceeded 24 percent, hundreds of banks closed, the worldwide economy collapsed, and resort activity contracted everywhere.

Mother Nature aggravated conditions even further. On September 21, 1938, The Great Hurricane of 1938, the first such major storm in the area since The Great Gale of 1815, struck New England. The hurricane killed 312 people in Rhode Island, almost half in the southeast portion of the state including Narragansett. Millions of dollars of property damage resulted from the storm as well.

In the aftermath of the hurricane The Town of Narragansett acquired the town beachfront previously owned privately, and constructed two new town-operated public bathing pavilions. The only exception to this arrangement involved the privately owned Dunes Club at the north end of the beach, which catered to an exclusive clientele. The Dunes Club was built in 1928 (after a flawed earlier venture at Scarborough Beach in Point Judith) and then rebuilt in 1940 after the hurricane.

Meanwhile, the State of Rhode Island had begun to claim the attractive beachfronts at Scarborough and Galilee, and run them as public beaches.

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese Navy bombed Pearl Harbor, and the U.S. became engaged in World War ll. The government had foreseen the strong likelihood of conflict, however, and coastal fortifications were already under construction, including four 16-inch cannon (range 25 miles) bunkers and assorted other armament protecting the bay and sound at Fort Nathanael Greene in Point Judith (still an Army Reserve training base) and an antisubmarine net installation at Fort Kearney in the north end of town.

Of course, the Second World War had a tremendous impact on Narragansett, especially its tourist economy. Full mobilization meant not only the absence of 16 million young men and women serving in the armed forces, but also defense production, price controls, abundant regulations, and all kinds of shortages. As a somewhat distant, rural destination, Narragansett's resort business was heavily affected by the stringent rationing of gasoline.

World War ll ended in 1945, but peace proved elusive in the second half of the Twentieth Century, as the U.S. faced conflicts and confrontations in the Cold War (1947-1990),Korea (1950-1953), Vietnam (1964-1973), the Middle East, and other hot spots. Domestically these engagements tended to disrupt economic stability.