The great depression was a horrible era in American history. Such a tragedy following the roaring twenties, it surprised most of America’s population. The 1920’s was an era of prosperity for many Americans. The stock market was booming, businesses were selling thousands of products, and the daily consumer could afford products that people a decade ago could never dream of. Of course the rural industry was struggling because of their surplus of products, but everybody else was having such a wonderful time! What could possibly go wrong? The days were just going to get better and better. That was how Americans thought in the twenties, but unfortunately, that mindset vanished in October, 1929.
Stock Market in rambles after the Wall Street Crash!
A newspaper printed on the day of the crash on Black Tuesday
People began to worry that their stock’s value was dropping and thousands of Americans were selling their stock before it was too late. So much selling occurred that the market crashed. This didn’t start the depression exactly, but it definitely set the bar for what the following decade would be like.
Ravish Dust Storms are Eating Up the Plains!
A small rural town right before it is destroyed by a monstrous dust storm
The farming industry only got worse, but on top of that, poor farming techniques, in the plains, from the previous decade had caused an array of dangerous dust storms known as the “Dust Bowl” that destroyed farms, rural towns, and homes.
Stock Prices Plummeting!
A crowd of people are in Wall Street and are rapidly selling their stocks in 1929
For farmers, there was not that much change, but for people who were stockbrokers or bankers, this tragedy really changed their life. The effect of the crash would obviously have a bad effect on stockbrokers, people who literally make a living by selling stocks to other people. By the time that everybody had sold their stocks, most of the stocks in the market had lost so much value that they were virtually worthless. So many brokers lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Banks in Crisis and Begin to Close Down All Around the Country
People observing a closed down bank that is being guarded by a police officer
Bankers were also in the middle of their own crisis. After the stock market crash, many worried Americans began to withdraw all of their money out the bank. Banks lost thousands of dollars. Banks all across the nation went out of business. All of these closures resulted in many people losing their bank accounts and the money inside of them.
Businesses falling down like flies!
People crowd around a store/ business that is going to be shut down in December because it can't afford to stay open
Not only was this a very hard time for bankers and stockbrokers, but for business owners as well. During the 1920’s, businesses were doing swell. Businesses were pumping out products as fast as buyers could consume. Because consumers were buying so much, factories just kept on making more and more products for the public. But, when the depression came around, people no longer could afford their products.
Factories Across the Country are Being Abandoned
Unemployed men walking through a town while for looking for any sort of job
Those who could afford products still wouldn’t be able to buy all of the surplus products. So, without anybody buying their products, businesses lost a lot of money. So businesses were forced to either close or lay off workers.
Thousands of Jobs, Lost!
Businesses would also have to dessert their factories because they couldn't produce anymore products.
Americans Lives are Changing All Around the Country
A poor, dirty rural family sit inside a makeshift tent
Not only was the economy affected by the depression, but so were all American’s home life. In the twenties, most people in the cities had a house. They also had more than enough money to get by and could afford luxuries. Rural families weren’t so lucky. Because of the already bad economy, most farmers had some bad houses, but they could make do. But when the depression hit, it affected nearly everybody's home life. Only the wealthy weren’t hit by the depression. The poor remained poor.
People Relying on Soup Kitchens for Next Meal
A line of homeless men waiting for some soup and sandwiches
Although their lives didn’t get much worse there was not much hope for improvement. Those whose lives were most deeply affected were the middle class. These people went from moderately wealthy, optimistic consumers to families who were pessimistic and who could barely get by. Many men who had previously been employed had to now go to soup kitchens and roam the streets looking for jobs to support their families.
Americans shambling their own "Houses"
A ginormous neighborhood of makeshift houses outside of a city
Many people who had bought a house in the twenties no longer had it in the dep
Parents, Especially Mothers, are Unable to Support their Families
A poor woman who is offering her own children up for sale
While men were out looking for work, many women had to provide for their family as best they could. They had to learn how to cut corners, to adjust from their lavish lifestyle and decide what was important to their family and what was not, all the while trying to keep up their public image. Meals were created out of yesterday’s leftovers.
Many Abandoned Women Taking Up Work
A woman working hard in a factory
Some even took up work as they had been abandoned by their husbands.
Massive Packs of Southerners are Packing Up and Moving W!est
A woman and her very young child on the road next to heir overstuffed and cluttered car
For farmers in the plains, life was changing drastically. Because the dust bowl was destroying their farmland, many farmers decided to pack up all their things and head to California in search of a better life. Of course life there was not that much better due to lack of opportunity and lack of wealth.
Rail Riding, the Poor Man's Alternative to Driving
Two men catching a ride on a moving train
Some farmers though, had lost so much that they couldn't even afford selling everything to buy an automobile. Those farmers would move as well, but they would secretly hitch a ride on the back of trains. Some used this as a way to get to California. But others would ride a train to a different town every day. Once they got there they would try to either find a job or beg.
Americans Across the Country are Tuning into the Radio
A middle class family all crowding around their tiny radio
Despite all of the tragedy during the depression, people still tried to make room for some fun. In the 1920’s many would head to jazz clubs or speakeasies and dance the night away. Although families now could not afford the luxury of enjoying the night out, they could still spend the evening together listening to the radio from the comforts of their own home.
Jazz Business May be Falling, But Jazz Itself Isn't
Although the music business for most black Americans during the 1930’s was dying, many Jazz artists would still be able to entertain and help comfort other Americans with their music. They may not have been paid as much but it was still important to themselves and many of their friends and others.
Herbert Hoover, Too Cautious?
Herbert Hoover, the third president in the roarin' twenties
Herbert Hoover was the last president before FDR took office. In the 1920s, when Hoover had come into office, he and the two other presidents who had preceded him both believed that government should not be too involved with business and the public. They were very pro business. Unfortunately, this way of running the government was not good when it came to the depression. Hoover was unwilling to risk putting money into the economy and would not give direct help to the public. Instead he believed it would be best if relief came from charities. Resentment for Hoover grew as his presidency ended and his name became a synonym for failure.
FDR Takes Action!
FDR signing a bill for the new deal
FDR completely turned this system of government on its head when he came into office. He was much more involved with the public and was a major risk taker. He made people feel optimistic and feel good about themselves.
Banks Everywhere are Closed, Not by Lack of Money, but By the Government!
A newspaper from 1933 talking about the bank holiday
He greatly helped many bankers with one of his first actions. He ordered that all of the remaining opened banks are to be closed down for a brief four days. In those days the government would recover the banks losses. While the banks were closed FDR reassured the public, through radio talks, that the banks would soon reopen and advised them to not withdraw their money but instead make deposits. Sure enough, 4 days later when the banks were back up and running the public made more deposits than withdrawals.
Farmers Being Paid For Nothing!
A farmer and his son reviewing terms of the Agriculture Adjustment Act
FDR's new deal laws also greatly benefited many farmers as well. In 1933, FDR issued a law called the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA). It would pay farmers for not growing their crops and killing off extra unneeded livestock. Its goal was to reduce the surplus produce farmers had been building up during the 1920's. This way, farm products would lower and the farmers would make money once more. The tragedy of the depression was a very sad time in American History. Many Americans were hurt physically and psychologically. Although FDR, through the New Deal, helped Americans across the nation in 1933, it wasn’t until 1941 when WWII called upon America, that the depression in our country fully ended.