Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression
Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression

The Coming of the Great Depression
 Soaring Stock Market: Starting in February 1928, the stock market
began a rapid ascent that lasted until Sept. 1929, during which the
value of the average stock rose 40 percent. Brokerage firms
encouraged this frenzy by extending easy credit to even small
investors.
– The Great Crash
 “Black Tuesday”: On Thursday, Oct. 24, 1929, brokers panicked and
starting selling off their stocks. The market briefly rallied, but then
bottomed out on “Black Tuesday,” Oct. 29, when 16 million shares
were sold off and the industrial index lost 43 points (10 percent of its
value), wiping out the previous year’s gains. Within a month, stocks
had lost half of their September value. Stocks in many companies
became virtually worthless.
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Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression

The Coming of the Great Depression
 Crash as Symptom: The crash cannot was not the root cause of the Great
Depression, but a symptom of underlying economic weaknesses.
– Causes of the Depression
 Shifting Economy: The U.S. economy was in a period of transition in the
1920s; it had been reliant on heavy industries like steel, textiles, and
railroads, but was switching more toward complex consumer goods like
automobiles, ready-to-wear clothing, processed foods, etc. The crash
happened before the shift was complete.
 Poor Economic Diversification: Most of the new 1920s prosperity
derived from a few industries, such as automobiles and construction.
Both of these began to slow down in 1929; newer industries like
chemicals, electronics, plastics, and petroleum had not become strong
enough to compensate for these weaknesses.
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Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression

The Coming of the Great Depression
– Causes of the Depression
 Uneven Distribution of Wealth: As production in industrial and
agricultural sectors increased, not enough of the profits were going to
potential consumers; the economy was producing more goods than its
consumers could buy. In 1928, the top 10 percent made 49.29 percent
of the income. More than half of American families lived at our
below subsistence level.
 Fragile Credit Structure: Even in good times in the 1920s, banks
failed frequently as they were largely unregulated and had no
minimums on capitalization. Small, rural banks failed a lot because
indebted farmers often defaulted on their loans. Some large banks
recklessly invested in the stock market and failed with the crash.
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Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression

The Coming of the Great Depression
– Causes of the Depression
 International Trade: Late in the 1920s, demand for U.S. goods declined
overseas, partly because European economies became more productive,
but also because they were having economic problems of their own.
Germany, for example, after severe hyperinflation in the early 1920s,
enjoyed a return to economic productivity until 1929.
 International Debt Structure: The debt structure that emerged from the
Treaty of Versailles, with its heavy reparations, also caused
vulnerabilities. The U.S.’s allies owed U.S. banks huge amounts of debt,
which their damaged economies could not repay. The U.K. and France
had demanded big reparations from Germany and Austria to service these
debts. But these countries were barely able to pay the reparations; U.S.
banks would not forgive the debt, but offer new and bigger loans. This
lead to a collapse of the international credit system by 1931.
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Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression

The Coming of the Great Depression
– Progress of the Depression
 Banking Crisis: The crash triggered a collapse of the banking system:
over 9,000 U.S. banks either went bankrupt or closed between 1930
and 1933, leading the nation’s money supply to contract by a third.
 Federal Reserve: Trying to strengthen the U.S. dollar internationally,
the Fed raised interest rates, contracting the money supply further.
 Plunging GNP and Economic Disaster: The American gross national
product dropped from $104 billion in 1929 to $76.4 billion in 1932, a
25 percent decrease. Manufacturers slowed production, lowered
prices, and laid off workers.
 Unemployment: By 1932, at 25 percent of the workforce was
unemployed, maybe even more. Many were “underemployed,” too.
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Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression
A “run” on the
American Union
Bank in New York
City; probably in
1931, the year it
failed. Depositors
rushed to get their
money back before
the bank failed
since their deposits
were not insured.
7
Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression

The American People in Hard Times
– Unemployment and Relief
 Industrial Cities Paralyzed: Unemployment crippled industrial cities in the
Northeast and Midwest. In Ohio in 1932, these cities had the following
unemployment rates:
• Cleveland: 50 percent
• Akron: 60 percent
• Toledo: 80 percent
8
 Construction and Heavy Industries: Construction was perhaps hit hardest
with the loss of two million well-paying jobs, followed by heavy industries
like steel, automobiles, railroads, and coal mining.
 Relief Agencies and Private Charities Overwhelmed: These organizations
were used to dealing with a small amount of people in the 1920s, and
quickly became flooded.
 Malnutrition: Hospitals came to see many cases of malnutrition and even
starvation.
Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression

The American People in Hard Times
– Unemployment and Relief
 Farmers Devastated: The depression was even worse in rural
areas, where farm income declined by 60 percent between 1929
and 1932, and a third of all farmers lost their land.
 “Dust Bowl”: A drought began in 1930 struck the region
stretching from Texas north through the Dakotas that lasted a
decade, creating a region that was little more than a desert.
Many rural migrants fled to California or other states, where
they were known as “Okies” since many came from Oklahoma.
Many became migrant agricultural workers, picking fruit for
starvation wages.
9
Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression
Dust Storm
Approaching
Stratford,
Texas, April
18, 1935, U.S.
Dept. of
Commerce
Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother,
Nipomo, California, 1936; gelatin
silver print; Library of Congress
10
1937 photo
of Okie
migrants in
California
by Dorothea
Lange
(1895-1965)
Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression

The American People in Hard Times
– African Americans and the Depression
 Soaring Black Unemployment: When the Depression began, over half
of all African Americans lived in the South. When prices for cotton
and other staple crops collapsed, many had to leave rural areas for
Southern cities, either by their own choice or through eviction. There,
they found that jobs previously occupied by blacks—janitors,
domestic servants, street cleaners—had been taken by whites. By
1932, over half of black Southerners were unemployed.
 Northern Migration: About 400,000 Southern blacks left for Northern
cities, where they encountered similar conditions. Black
unemployment in New York City was over 50 percent, with it being
higher in other cities. By 1932, two million—roughly half of all
African Americans—were on some kind of relief.
11
Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression

The American People in Hard Times
– African Americans and the Depression
 “Scottsboro Boys”: Discrimination was particularly harsh against
migrant blacks. In March 1931, nine African American teenagers
were taken off a freight car and arrested for vagrancy in Scottsboro,
Alabama. Later, two white women who had been riding on the same
train accused them of rape. Overwhelming evidence indicated that the
women had not been raped. Nonetheless, all nine were convicted and
eight were sentenced to death by an all-white Alabama jury. The
Supreme Court threw out the case in 1932, partly through the aid of
International Labor Defense, an organization related to the
Communist Party Yet none of the nine were acquitted. They all
gained their freedom eventually, but the last did not do so until 1950.
12
Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression
The Scottsboro Boys with their
attorney, Samuel Leibowitz, in 1932,
under guard by the state militia
13
Accusers Ruby Bates and Victoria
Price in 1931
Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression

The American People in Hard Times
– Hispanics and Asians in Depression America
 Mexican/Mexican Americans: Since the turn of the century, Mexicans
had been arriving in California and the Southwest, often occupying
positions filled by African Americans in other parts of the country. Some
farmed small tracts or worked as migrant farm workers. White previously
thought these jobs beneath them, but wanted them when the Depression
struck. Roughly 500,000 Chicanos left the U.S. in the first years of the
Depression.
 Hispanic Resistance: Especially in California, migrant Hispanic workers
began to organize unions, but these were harshly repressed by growers.
Mexicans and Mexican Americans increasingly moved into barrios in
cities like Los Angeles. living in similar conditions to blacks in other
cities.
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Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression

The American People in Hard Times
– Hispanics and Asians in Depression America
 Asians Marginalized: On the West Coast, college-educated AsianAmericans often found themselves working in their parents’ fruit stand,
laundry, or restaurant. Few were able to find professional work outside of
ethnic enclaves, like Chinatowns for Chinese Americans. A Japanese or
Chinese American woman might find work as a stock person, but never
as a sales girl. Many increasingly were pushed out of work by new white
migrants coming from the Midwest.
 Filipino Immigration Cut Off: In 1934, Congress passed an act that gave
the Philippines a constitutional government but also reclassified Filipinos
as aliens for the purpose of immigration, implementing a harsh quota of
50 immigrants per year. (Previously they had been considered American
nationals.)
15
Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression

The American People in Hard Times
– Women and Families in the Great Depression
 Growing Female Employment: A widespread cultural assumption was that
women belonged in the home, and that all available jobs should go to men
in hard times. Yet during the 1930s, both single and married women
worked outside the home because they needed the money. By 1940, 25
percent more women were in the workplace than in 1930. But female
nonprofessional jobs—salesclerks, stenographers, and other service
jobs—were less likely to disappear than male-dominated industrial ones.
But black women were hit especially hard since so many domestic service
jobs were discontinued.
 Declining Marriage and Birth Rates: While divorced declined—partly
because it was too expensive for many—many families did break up,
especially men leaving a family behind, embarrassed they could not
provide support. Marriage and birth rates declined for the first time since
the early 1800s.
16
Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression
1937 Woolworth Workers Strike
17
Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression

The Depression and American Culture
– Depression Values
 Prevailing Values Reinforced: The Depression actually had little
affect on American values; if anything it caused people to
redouble their commitment to them: the idea that hard work and
talent would create success survived, despite the fact that many
sought government aid and blamed business tycoons and
corporations for the economy.
 Dale Carnegie (1888-1955): This writer tapped into some people’s
belief that it was their own fault for the economic misfortunes that
they suffered, and thus needed to improve themselves. His How to
Win Friends and Influence Paper (1936) was the best seller of the
decade.
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Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression

The Depression and American Culture
– Radio
19
 Radio’s Mass Popularity: By the 1930s, almost every family owned a radio.
People would listen in non-electrified rural areas by plugging into a car
battery. Families and people would gather to listen and dance to music or
listen to a sporting event.
 Escapist Programming: Comedies like Amos ‘n’ Andy (with its racist
depiction of urban blacks), Fibber McGee and Molly, and The Goldbergs,
and adventures shows like Superman, Dick Tracy, The Lone Ranger, and The
Shadow were massively popular, as were comedians like Jack Benny, George
Burns and Gracie Allen, Bob Hope, and Groucho Marx.
 Broadcast of Public Events: Events like the World Series, the Academy
Awards, and political conventions received national coverage. The live radio
broadcast of the burning of the German zeppelin Hindenburg in 1937 was
famous for the reporter’s cry, “Oh, the humanity!” Another famous moment
was Orson Welles’s 1938 broadcast of H.G. Wells’s alien invasion tale, War
of the Worlds, which many listeners thought was real.
Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression
Orson Welles around 1937
1930s family gathered around the radio in Montana
Groucho Marx
Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll,
creators of Amos ‘n’ Andy
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Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression

The Depression and American Culture
– The Movies
Will H. Hays
 Hollywood’s Self-Censorship: Through the Motion Picture Producers
and Distributors of America, led by its president and chief censor,
Will Hays (1879-1954), Hollywood avoided controversial subjects or
anything overtly sexual through the Hays Code.
 Frank Capra (1897-1991): The Italian-born filmmaker had a string of
successful comedy/dramas that romanticized the goodness of
everyday Americans and the virtues of small-town life, like Mr. Deeds
Go to Town (1936) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939).
 Walt Disney (1901-1966): The cartoon “Steamboat Willie” (1928)
launched the career of Walt Disney) through the character of Mickey
Mouse. In 1937, Disney released the first color, feature-length
animated film, Snow White, which was a massive success.
21
Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression
22
Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression

The Depression and American Culture
– Popular Literature and Journalism
 Escapism: Sweeping historical epics were popular, like Hervey
Allen’s Anthony Adverse (1933) set in the Napoleonic Era, and
Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind (1936) set in and around the
Civil War South.
 Life Magazine: This popular photography-based magazine began
publishing in 1936, and did document some of the social problems of
the Depression, but also featured images of glamorous Hollywood
stars, sporting events, and natural landscapes.
 Critical Novels: Some novels offered highly critical portraits of the
emptiness and harshness of American life of the time, like John Dos
Passos’s U.S.A. trilogy (1930-1936), James T. Farrell’s Studs Lonigan
(1932), and Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts (1933).
23
Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression
24
Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression

“Communism is twentiethcentury Americanism”
—Earl Browder
The Depression and American Culture
– The Popular Front and the Left
 The Popular Front: This was a broad coalition that came together after
1935, when Stalin ordered that critiques of the U.S. be lessened in
preparation for a war with Hitler. It was a coalition of “anti-fascists” on
the left that included American Communists, socialists, and even liberals
who supported FDR. It bolstered the reputation of the Communist Party
and mobilized writers, artists, and intellectuals to a newly critical but
democratic sensibility.
 Communist Party Active: It organized a hunger march on D.C. in 1931,
played an important role in the defense of the Scottsboro Boys during
their trials, and provided a powerful cadre of union organizers.
 Abraham Lincoln Brigade: During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939),
the American Communist Party (ACP) organized a brigade of 3,000
volunteers to go fight the Spanish fascist who sought to overthrow the
democratic republic in Spain (and who ultimately succeeded).
25
Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression

The Depression and American Culture
– The Popular Front and the Left
 End of the Popular Front: When Hitler and Stalin signed a
nonaggression pact in 1939, Moscow commanded the ACP to
abandon the Popular Front, and return to a harsh criticism of
American liberals. Many left the ACP as a result of the pact.
 Southern Tenant Farmers Union (STFU): The biracial socialist
organization attempted to organize sharecroppers and tenant farmers
to demand reform, but it did not become a significant political force.
 Government Anti-Radical Efforts: Rep. Martin Dies of Texas
organized the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1938,
which sought to ferret out Communist sympathies and both public
sector and private sector individuals.
26
Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression

The Depression and American Culture
– The Popular Front and the Left
 More Tolerance of Radicals: Despite the Dies Committee, the 1930s
marked a period when it was more accepted to be a radical, and a wider
spectrum of ideologies was tolerated in politics and art.
 Government Sponsorship of Provocative Art: The Works Progress
Administration (WPA) sponsored art that challenged the capitalist norm,
and the human cost of poverty and social neglect. For example, the
Federal Theatre Project sponsored the 1937 musical, The Cradle Will
Rock, which critiqued corporate greed and exploitation of workers in an
American steel town and was directed by Orson Welles.
 Farm Security Administration Photography: The FSA was created in
1935 to improve the lives of sharecroppers, tenant farmers, an the rural
poor. Its famous photography project from 1935 to 1944 employed highly
talented photographers like Dorothea Lange, Margaret Bourke-White,
Walker Evans, and Ben Shahn.
27
Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression
1935 picture of children in Arkansas by
FSA photographer and artist, Ben Shahn
28
1940 picture of migrant workers by FSA
photographer Jack Delano
Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression

The Depression and American Culture
– The Popular Front and the Left
 Literature of the Depression’s Social Conditions
• Tobacco Road (1931): Erskine Caldwell’s exposé of Southern rural
poverty became a long-running play.
• Native Son (1940): A harsh portrait of impoverished black urban life by
Richard Wright.
• The Grapes of Wrath (1939): John Steinbeck’s tale of the Joad family
traveling from the Dust Bowl to California.
• Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1940): Nonfiction portrait of three
impoverished rural Alabama families with overwrought text by James
Agee and stunning black-and-white photos by Walker Evans.
29
Chapter Twenty-three:
The Great Depression
A family portrait from Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by Walker Evans
30
Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression

The Ordeal of Herbert Hoover
– The Hoover Program
 Restoring Confidence: Hoover’s first response was to try to bolster
confidence, saying in 1930 that the “fundamental business” of the
country was on a “sound and prosperous basis.” These words would later
haunt him; his belief in voluntary cooperation of business leaders to try to
solve the crisis made him wary of strong government measures.
 Failure of Voluntary Cooperation: Hoover asked business leaders to the
White House to ask them to voluntarily agree not to cut production or lay
off workers, but by 1931, poor economic conditions made these
untenable.
 Limited Government Spending: The economy became so bad that,
despite his ideological opposition to it, Hoover attempted to revive it
through government spending, appropriating $423 million for new
federal public works projects, but this was not nearly enough. Hoover
soon stepped back from this move and tried to balance the budget.
31
Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression

The Ordeal of Herbert Hoover
– The Hoover Program
 Agricultural Marketing Act and Hawley-Smoot Tariff: Even before the crash,
Hoover had been working on this bill to help farmers maintain prices by
creating a Farm Board that could extend loans to national cooperatives and
establish corporations that would buy surpluses (Hoover refused to have the
federal government loan money directly to farmers). He also saw through the
passage of the Hawley-Smoot Tarriff, which placed high tariff barriers around
seventy-five farm products. Ultimately neither of these measures helped much.
 “Hoovervilles”: By the spring of 1931, considerable resentment was focused at
the president for not taking more drastic measures. Shantytowns of the
homeless and unemployed that sprung up became known as “Hoovervilles.”
 Failure of the RFC: In January 1932, Congress created the Reconstruction
Finance Corporation (RFC), which had a budget of $1.5 billion—very large for
a Hoover initiative—to finance public works projects that would ultimately pay
for themselves. Overall, the effect of this act was too small.
32
Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression
A Hooverville on the outskirts of Seattle in 1933
33
Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression

The Ordeal of Herbert Hoover
– Popular Protest
 Farmers’ Holiday Association: People were initially too stunned to
organize popular protest, but this changed by the summer of 1932.
Farmers gathered in Des Moines, Iowa, and endorsed withholding farm
products from the market, essentially a farmers’ strike, which spread to
neighboring areas but ultimately dissolved in failure.
 The “Bonus Army”: Congress had passed a law in 1924 giving World
War I vets a “bonus” of $1,000 to be collected beginning in 1945. By
1932, vets were demanding payment, although Hoover refused to listen
because of his concern of keeping a balanced budget. In June 1932,
20,000 vets marched on Washington, D.C., to demand the bonus.
Congress voted down their appeal in early July, but many remained
encamped on the outskirts of D.C. until Hoover had them evicted in a
bloody clash with the army that killed two vets and injured 100. The
incident was a devastating blow to Hoover’s already tarnished reputation.
34
Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression
"Shacks, put up by the Bonus Army on the Anacostia flats,
Washington, D.C., burning after the battle with the military.
The Capitol in the background. 1932”; National Archive.
35
Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression

The Ordeal of Herbert Hoover
– The Election of 1932
 Franklin Delano Roosevelt: This wealthy Hudson Valley aristocrat and
distant cousin of Theodore Roosevelt had enjoyed a meteoric rise
within the Democratic Party, serving in the New York State legislature,
as assistant secretary of the navy during World War I, and as a vice
presidential candidate in 1920. Stricken by polio in 1921, he never
regained full use of his legs, but managed to be elected as governor of
New York in 1928, succeeding Al Smith. As governor, his willingness
to try many different types of government assistance while avoiding
controversy made him easily electable in 1932. In his unprecedented
acceptance speech to the Democratic convention in Chicago, he said
that he pledged “a new deal for the American people.”
 FDR Elected: Roosevelt won 57.4 percent of the popular vote to
Hoover’s 39.7, carrying all but six states in a landslide.
36
Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression
The Election of 1932
37
Chapter Twenty-Three:
The Great Depression

The Ordeal of Herbert Hoover
– The “Interregnum”
 Tense Relationship: Rarely did a president-elect interfere with
politics, but Hoover kept contacting Roosevelt to make him promise
that he would adhere to economic orthodoxy and allow the economy
to heal itself without government interference; Roosevelt resolutely
refused to do so, leading to a tense relationship.
 Banking Collapse: In February 1933, the deterioration of the
country’s banking infrastructure accelerated, with many “runs”
occurring in which depositors withdrew their funds in a frenzy,
leading many banks to fail in a chain-reaction effect. On the morning
of March 4, 1933—inauguration day—there was considerable
animosity between the two men since Roosevelt refused Hoover’s
pleas to keep the government at a distance from the economy.
38
Chapter Twenty-three:
The Great Depression
39
The Changing of the Guard,
New Yorker (FDR Library)
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