From Prosperity to Despair a photostory By: Allie Palmieri


Throughout the "roaring" 20s, products flew off he shelves at huge rates, and the economy was booming. America was thought to be in an amazing economic state, that could never be broken.

The 1920’s were a time of prosperity, and a time for living in the moment. After the shortages and sacrifices of WWI, America as a whole was in a mood to enjoy. As a result, millions of urban Americans bought stocks and manufactured goods at unprecedented rates, all believing in consumerism. However, not everyone benefited; farmers, who had geared up to provide food for the military during the war, were in a surplus of crops & related farm goods since the conclusion of WWI, which served to depress the prices of their crops. As a result, those in rural America struggled to get by, and those in urban America didn’t think about the future.

The worst day in history

On October 19, 1929, the worst economic failure happened during this 24 hour time period. Millions of stock recently bought had a lower value than what was purchased for.

On October 19, 1929 (“Black Tuesday”), the worst economic failure in American history occurred, an event now known as the Great Depression. The stock market suffered historic drops in the value of many stocks, setting off a negative chain reaction in the economy. Investors and banks, uncertain after absorbing the losses of Black Tuesday, became very conservative. Financing began to dry up, hurting businesses large and small.

Values of Stock

Over time, stock prices dropped drastically. Stock values were sometimes two times less than what they had purchased it for, causing debt. Stockbrokers faced great troubles as they didn't know where money would now be coming from.

An extreme number of families and companies could not get by, forcing numerous businesses to close their doors, and forcing millions of people out of work. With this came a rise of unemployment, and within a few years 25% of the nation’s available workforce was without a job. This severely dampened the demand for consumer goods, pinching business owners; they were already hurting by restricted credit, and suffered further as their products were at a much smaller demand, so less and less people were buying.

Never ending crowds

After the crash, many stock buyers rushed to the banks to get their savings. However, with this massive amount the banks could not withstand the rush and were forced to close.

Thousands of companies were forced out of business; bankers and stockbrokers faced this economic calamity just as badly. There was over 5,500 bank closures, as the banks didn't have the money to pay those wanting loans, and the stockbrokers couldn't collect on debts and went into bankruptcy.


The lines at the banks seemed never ending. Many banks and businesses could not withstand the money needed to stay in business, and were forced to close their doors.

Lower Prices

Millions were in desperate need of money. They sold all of their valuables for all they could get, hoping to find a way out of the Depression.

Hard Hearted Hoover

Hoover did little to help America through this tough economic failure. Instead, he let private organizations help, as he just watched the country turn to despair.

Those in the South faced some of the worst times. There was a great drought of purchases, forcing the economy to collapse. Hoover, the American President at the time of Black Tuesday, did seemingly little to help correct things, relying upon small private charities and funds support the millions suffering.

New Changes

By the end of Hoovers term, FDR was quickly elected and loved by many. He set up many recovery programs to get the economy back up and running.

After the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt into the presidency in 1932, he implemented new policies (the“New Deal”), encouraging the passage of new laws, and set up new government programs, all of which resulted in the government having a more active role in handling the economic distress. By the end of WWII, the economy was no longer suffering.

Dust Bowl in Great Plains

Throughout the South, and the Great Plains especially, many people experienced deadly dust storms. The main cause of this was the loose top soil allowing the dust layer to be shown. When high winds came through, it was fiercely blown around, and there was little to do to prevent it from getting into ones lungs.

Throughout the 1920’s, many, especially those in the cities, enjoyed the benefits of an electrified life, but rural Americans at the time did not equally share in the electrification of America. Many people lived on farms, making a living off of crops, while urban residents worked in factories, and went out to eat more often

A woman's "job"

Many woman were unemployed, while husbands worked. Their role was to sew clothes, cook all the meals, and keep the house clean to keep the scarce money they had.

Women and African Americans were among the most adversely affected by the Depression. Many women had been forced out of the workforce by the start of the 1930’s, and had to adjust to the new standard of living. They became stay-at-home housewives, doing almost everything for the family. They cooked many meals, cleaned the house, and sewing clothes for their families, making do with what little they had.

Where prosperous people lived

Homes in the 20s were glamorous and big. Many middle class and the rich shared these houses with a stable financial state. These neighborhoods were friendly and welcoming, filled with anyone who succeeded.

The 1930’s were a time of decline and despair for many except the very wealthy, who were less affected, as they had the money to avoid the suffering that others experienced, and lived in the glamorous homes as they did in the 1920’s

Families in despair

In this photo, a loving mother is surrounded by her 5 children, living on her own. Her children were without hope and very desperate. The mother gave her children anything she could, as they clung to her seeking comfort.

Some of the middle class and working class women had husbands still in the workforce, but many struggled to make ends meet. During this time 1 in 4 people had no jobs, and few had the money to live properly.

Down in the dumps

Many unemployed workers or those who earned a small salary had little money and could not afford real homes. They instead lived near the city in scrap houses named after the helpless President Hoover.

Thousands of poor individuals who could not afford real homes or apartment buildings and resorted to living in temporary housing, such as “Hoovervilles”. Theses shacks were unclean and made of scrap, usually on city premises.These poor couldn’t make due, and resorted to riding the rails, going to soup kitchens for free food, and migrating. They did whatever they felt necessary to comply with their poverty.

Different Neighborhoods

Whites were fearing of blacks during this time, and make the neighborhoods segregated. They worried that blacks would take over jobs, government and many other positions.

African-Americans, partly due to racist sentiments, were among the first to be discriminated against and get laid off. They then made due in largely segregated neighborhoods with great struggles. Most of society was deemed desperate, and couldn’t do much to help their situation

A woman's new role

Woman embraced the fast, new city life that came with the 20s, especially flappers(as pictured). They rebelled against traditions, wearing more showy clothes, going on dates, staying up for all hours and much more.

During the roaring 20s, modern conveniences changed America's way of life. Even though Prohibition was the law of the land, millions continued to drank illegally, and several became bootleggers. Among other reasons, many stayed out late at night, in the electrified cities, enjoying the new forms of entertainment in baseball, and the movies, playing board games, listening to the radio, and reading.

Women doing all they could

Instead of buying the new demand of products as seen in the 20s, many families had women cook, clean, and make the entire families clothes in hopes of saving money. They now had little time to do much else and were transformed into the common "housewife."

A day at the movies

Throughout both the 20s and the 30s, many went to the movies to take their mind off the despair and for excitement. For a cheap price, people could watch a 6-7 hour movie. For this reason the cinemas very extremely crowded and was in high demand.

For those suffering in the 30s, they resulted to many ways of pleasure to take their mind off of the never-ending melancholy. Women went the the cinema for inexpensive enjoyment, danced away their troubles, and listened to the radio, which became very common.

FDR's fireside chat

Throughout FDR's presidency he had about 30 fireside chats. In these, FDR spoke directly to the American people as if they were close friends. He addressed his plan for the nation, causing many families to huddle around the radio, eager to listen in.

A big factor in this were FDR’s “fireside chats”, presidential addresses which were broadcast into millions of homes via radio, in which he engaged greatly with all of society, letting them in on his plans, like the New Deal.

African Americans new role

In the Harlem Renaissance (20s), blacks redefined themselves and created a new role for themselves in music, visual arts, and writing. Throughout the 30s many blacks played jazz with groups to get their minds off of the hardships faced in society.

Blacks found a narrow escape with the popular jazz in which emerged during the Harlem Renaissance. They formed groups to sing and play music, uplifting their spirits of despair. Although it was short-lasting, many found time to put their troubles aside.

Helpless Hoover

When Hoover was president during the beginning of the depression, he "sat back and watched" everyone suffer. He let private charities and funds provide the most help, and for this reason was thought of very negatively.

The United States was led by three Republican Presidents during the 1920s :Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover. An overriding policy of all 3 Republican Presidents was that government should not interfere with the economy or businesses as they continued to prosper, and all three adopted a laissez-faire policy. Hoover took a step back and let the people suffer during the Great Depression. He insisted that the people should receive help from private relief efforts, and set up the National Credit Corporation to help failing banks recover. In 1932, about 43,000 total army veterans and unemployed workers gathered near in Washington DC demanding payment of their military pensions.. While these matters were addressed eventually

FDR's New Deal

As FDR was elected, many citizens immediately gained new hope and confidence. He proposed numerous new laws and programs (some put in place)to help the people get through the Great Depression.

With the election of democrat Franklin D Roosevelt, Americans gained new confidence, and were more hopeful about the future of the country

4 day bank holiday

With FDR as president, he created a national holiday to help the banks later open doors again. This restored hope in the people, and bank owners.

Shortly after he took office, a national bank holiday was established, and millions of dollars were brought into the economy. Now, many people invested back into the banking system, and their confidence was the same as before the stock market crash.

WPA to help the USA

One of the many programs FDR put in place was the WPA. This gave jobs to millions of the unemployed, allowing them to earn a salary and helping buisnesses to stay in business.

Stockbrokers opposed many programs set up, but the FLSA set the minimum wage to be higher education helping those in the industry. Throughout this decade of boom to bust the government created a new role defying limits.


Created with images by IMLS DCC - "Hooverville on the Seattle waterfront, ca. 1930"

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