The Great Depression was the worst economic crisis in American history. It was made worse by the fact that in the 1920s it seemed as though the sky was the limit for thousands of Americans. They were recovering from a destructive and ultimately unsatisfying military adventure. They had cast off the strictures of the Victorian age, and they were embracing new opportunities in communications, education, transportation, and countless other areas. The 20s were one of the golden ages of sports, Charles Lindbergh cock at the Atlantic in a single engine airplane, and the Harlem Renaissance promised new cultural opportunities for African-Americans. With the crash of 1929, thousands of hopes were dashed.
The decline was rapid and for a time seemed almost irreversible. Hoover administration tried to right the ship, but he Thinking. As we will see from the documents in this chapter, people trying to cope with a bad situation often inadvertently made things worse. Suicides became so common that people actually made jokes about it. Poor people who would always had to struggle to put food on the table and close on their backs sometimes were more able to cope than people who would never faced such economic conditions before. They knew how to survive on pennies a day, where his wealthy people had no idea what it was like to find the pantry empty and no money in the old cookie jar.
Conditions were exacerbated by the dustbowl, the windswept erosion of topsoil on the planes that triggered the migration of thousands of Midwestern farmers leaving their homesteads and heading for someplace where they might be able to make a living for themselves and their children. Freight trains had to hire extra guards to keep wandering hobos from filling the empty boxcars. Tent camps and communities made out of 10 Jackson cardboard boxes sprang up around the edge of impoverished cities. People who had been able to afford a car in the 1920s were unable to maintain them in 1930s, nor to buy gasoline. Valued possessions were sold for pennies on the dollar so that people did eat.
True, there were areas where the depression was felt less intensely. The train still ran, factories Producing goods even had a drastically reduced rate, newspapers were still published, radio stations remain on the air, and industries such as aircraft continue to make advances his new kinds of planes were invented. Although the 25% who are out of work suffered enormously, 75% still have jobs even if at reduced wages. Schools remained open and government offices continue to function. All the same, the depression was deeply felt, and people who remained reasonably comfortable had to be moved by the site of people begging on the streets or standing inbred lines. They could turn their backs, but they couldn't get the images out of their minds.
When Franklin Roosevelt arrived on the scene in 1933, he offered hope, and things gradually began to improve. But very often one step forward meant two steps back, and by the beginning of his second term in 1937, thousands upon thousands were still struggling. The depression eventually ended, but while it lasted, it was brutal. Some years ago a student in one of my classes stop by my desk at the end of one of the classes on the depression. She said, "whenever I would go to the bank with my grandmother, she always counter money three times. It may be very impatient, and I couldn't see why she did that. But now that we've studied what it was like in the depression, I understand why every dollar was precious to her. She obviously ripped remembered things that I had never known." People… Depression never forgot it.