Boom to Bust By Catie Wisneski

The decade following the 1920s was one of despair and unexpected change. The Great Depression impacted all aspects of daily life, as well as people from all walks of life. It shook the country to its foundation, as very few things remained from the Roaring Twenties.


People could finally afford the luxury items they dreamed of-- by going into debt. This was common in expensive or large items. The practice was called "buying on time, or in the stock market "buying on margin".

The 1920s brought a time of optimism and prosperity to the United States. Women gained new freedoms with the right to vote in 1920 and consumerism was on the rise. New luxuries were affordable by buying on credit. As the economy soared, the stock market experienced more sales than ever, also through buying on margin.


Many people from all walks of life lost everything on Black Tuesday. Many had to sell the luxuries they had bought only a few years before in an attempt to levy their debts.

This era of hope and gaiety ended however with the stock market crash of October 1929, where millions lost everything. During those first few dark days, hundreds jumped off buildings, seeing no way out. People were hopeless, and received little to no help.


Women, sometimes the only source of income in a household, marched for equal wages for both themselves and their husbands. Even in the era of the housewife, many still worked in industry and clerical work.

Women, some the only source of income in their household, were laid off more than men. Some remained in the workforce, while many assumed the role of housewife. Those who didn’t were given clerical or nursing work, which paid significantly less.


Farmers resorted to burning crops when surpluses became too much.

farm Foreclosures skyrocket

Farmers were forced to give up their homes and land when the industry took a downturn.

Farmers were also greatly affected. They had suffered since the end of WWI, but the nationwide decline only made their situations worse. Many Americans couldn’t afford to eat, much less buy farmer’s produce. Prices dropped even more, and while some scraped by, taxes soon demolished any leftover funds. Many destroyed their crops in order to decrease their losses.


Many families in the Roaring Twenties were benefiting from the booming economy, and had a high standard of living.

Home life was also affected by the Great Depression. In the decade prior, city dwellers mainly lived in apartments, whereas those in the country lived in close-knit small towns. When the Depression began in full force, it was mainly the middle and lower classes that were affected. The wealthy continued on as if nothing had changed, because for them nothing had. Those in the middle class had to learn to adapt to a lower standard of living, especially after the prosperity of the 1920s.


Some families struggled so much that drastic measures had to be taken.

Many were able to “make do” by making their own clothes, growing their own food, and getting creative with leftovers. Most often, it was women who took care of the house and children which was a far cry from the age of independent women only a few years before. Men were the “breadwinners.” Some fathers left their wives and children without warning in a “poor man’s divorce”. Families fell apart as situations got worse, and some resorted to drastic measures.

Hoovervilles spring up in cities

As people lost their homes due to debt and foreclosure, shantytowns called Hoovervilles sprang up. The makeshift houses were made of scrap metal and cardboard, as well as whatever the builder could find.

Nomad workers move to migrant camps

Families traveled about, looking for work. In most cases, the lodgings weren't much better than a Hooverville.

The poor were hit hardest of all. Those who lost their jobs early on were the worst off. They lost their homes and lived in shanty towns called “Hoovervilles” after the unpopular president. Lines in front of soup kitchens wrapped around blocks. Those who still were seeking work became nomad farmers and traveled around the country. These migrant workers lived in work camps outside farms and in most cases were as well off as the homeless


The terrible dust storms in the rural areas of the US destroyed farms. They killed livestock, suffocated plants, and buried everything

Farmers migrate West

Men took to the railroads in search of a better life. They were nicknamed the "Wild Boys of the Rails".

The already suffering farmers lost their farms in foreclosures. The Dust Bowl kicked the ones who wanted to stay out and many illegally rode the rails west or packed up their cars and drove to a city in hopes of a better life.

A bright spot in the Great Depression was the pastimes. In the 1920s as more convenience items hit the market, people had more time on their hands. They watched popular movies and listened to jazz. Prohibition began in 1919 and with it came the invention of speakeasies, and many also drank for leisure. These remained in the dark days of the 1930s, with a new twist.

Radio use increases

Families crowded around the radio to catch up on the latest news and entertainment.

The escape of the cinema

In such dark times, people used movies as a means of escape from every day life.

Monopoly takes the nation by storm

People gathered around the new board game, Monopoly, for fun.

Radio became more popular and soap opera-like programs took the nation by storm. Monopoly picked up a base, and was played by families. Movies were still used to escape daily life, and many saw at least one each week.

Jazz still kicking

The jazz of the 1920s continued long after the Harlem Renaissance died out. African Americans continued to play jazz and popularized it, as well as a new dance style emerged, swing.

The Harlem Renaissance had collapsed with the Great Depression. However, African Americans helped jazz remain popular, and a new dance craze began, swing.

Some people, mostly women, were too busy to have much downtime. In a far cry from the age of the flapper, they took care of the home and children, and had many new responsibilities.

The 1920s had a line of Republican presidents who all had very laissez-faire policies, the last being Herbert Hoover. When the Great Depression began, Hoover was unprepared to give government aid, but supported private charities. This ultimately failed, and people became desperate.

Bonus army marches on washington

Veterans, nicknamed the "Bonus Army", marched on the capital to receive their promised pay for fighting in WWI. President Hoover called in the troops and locked himself in the White House.

This is evident in the Bonus Army protests of 1932, where veterans marched on Washington D.C.. Instead of helping them, President Hoover locked himself in the White House and called in the troops. The people hated the way things were run.

laissez-faire policies a thing of the past with new deal

WPA recruited young men for public works projects to give them helpful work and take them off the rails.
Stores and businesses all over the country took part in the New Deal efforts.

This chain ended, however, with the election of FDR in 1932. FDR put into motion the “New Deal” to aid suffering American families, such as the WPA and NRA. The Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) and CCC helped struggling farmers get back on their feet and stop the dust storms.

Government steps in to aid farmers

Government programs were created to help those in rural areas who were struggling. They learned how to prevent another dust bowl and how to better plant crops.

The private charities President Hoover favored did little to help, and they received no aid until Franklin Delano Roosevelt began his term. He sent scientists to teach farmers new ways of planting crops and paid them to avoid farming, which lessened the chance of another dust bowl. He also created programs, such as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), to plant trees and keep down the top soil that blew around.


President Roosevelt hosted weekly radio programs to speak to the American public and set them at ease. Many felt as if he was talking to them one-on-one.

FSA created to help migrant workers

FSA work camps have been set up for migrant workers as a place to stay. These workers travelled from farm to farm looking for work.

Deportations increase

The US government began to deport Mexican Americans due to national hostility. Many had come into the country only years before in response to the booming economy.

Sadly, not all government decisions were helpful. The Mexican Americans that had been brought into the country only years before were deported to lessen job competition. Those who weren’t deported lived in Farm Security Administration (FSA) camps, much like migrant workers.

After the bright light that was the 1920s, a dark shadow had to follow. The Great Depression was a tragic time in American history. Many suffered in different ways during this period, and at times, it seemed like there was no end in sight. The Great Depression did come to and the country was able to rebuild itself due to a terrible time in world history, WWII.

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