- Herbert Hoover was president when the Great Depression began. He declared in March 1930, that the U.S. had “passed the worst” and argued that the economy would sort itself out. The worst, however, had just begun and would last until the outbreak of World War II in 1939.
- The causes of the Great Depression are widely debated. There was no single cause, but several things when working together made it happen. A weak banking system, over-production of goods, over spending, and bursting credit bubble were just some of the reasons. The Wall Street Crash of 1929 was one of the main causes of the Great Depression. This stock market crash was the most devastating crash in the history of the United States. On “Black Tuesday,” October 29, 1929, the stock market lost $14 billion, making the loss for that week an astounding $30 billion. It took 23 years for the stock market to hit the high it was at before the crash.
- As news of the stock market crash spread, customers rushed to their banks to withdraw their money, causing disastrous “bank runs.” People who had been very wealthy lost everything they had and some committed suicide. Many companies went out of business and huge numbers of people lost their jobs. At the peak of the depression, 1 out of every 4 people were without a job. Between 1930 and 1935, nearly 750,000 farms were lost through bankruptcy or sheriff sales.
- People who lost their homes often lived in what were called “Hoovervilles,” or shanty towns, that were named after President Herbert Hoover. There was also “Hoover Stew” which was the name for food handed out to the poor at soup kitchens. “Hoover Blankets” were newspapers that were being used to cover people like a blanket. “Hoover Hogs” were jack rabbits that were used for food, and “Hoover Wagons” were broken down cars that were pulled by mules.
- Some people who became homeless would ride on railroad cars, because they didn’t have money to travel. Some believe that more than 50,000 people were injured or killed while jumping trains. Many of these people traveled together and were called hobos.
- Almost half of the children who were living in the United States at that time did not have enough food, shelter, or medical care. Many suffered diseases. By the 1930s, thousands of schools were operating on reduced hours or were closed down entirely. Some three million children had left school, and at least 200,000 took to riding the rails either with their parents or as orphans.
- African Americans, Native Americans, Mexican Americans and women were bitterly discriminated and the hardest hit during the Great Depression. They were looked at as the groups that could take jobs away from white men. The Great Depression also changed the family in several ways. Many couples delayed getting married, and divorce rates and birth rates dropped. Some men also abandoned their families. A 1940 poll revealed that 1.5 million married women had been abandoned by their husbands.
- Severe drought and dust storms made the Great Depression even worse, because it dried out farmlands and forced families to leave their farms. On May 9, 1934, a dust storm carried about 350 million tons of dirt 2,000 miles eastward and dumped four million tons of prairie dirt in Chicago. The drought and dust killed tens of thousands of animals and some people.
- The board game Monopoly, which first became available in 1935, became popular because players could become rich during the playing of the game. The “Three Little Pigs“was seen as a symbol of the Great Depression, with the wolf representing the Depression and the three little pigs representing average citizens who eventually succeeded by working together.
- Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) became president in March 1933, and promised a “New Deal for the American people.”
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