Great Depression

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The Great Depression, which took place from 1929 to 1939 in the United States, had a significant impact on countless individuals. It resulted in widespread unemployment and homelessness, causing chaos throughout the country. The question of whether America would fully recover from this economic crisis arose. A major cause of the Great Depression was the stock market crash that occurred in 1929 following Republican Herbert Hoover’s election (Liebovich 18). Prior to this event, the stock market had been steadily rising and attracting numerous investors seeking profit. During that time period, over 1.5 million people owned stocks in various companies (Singleton 67).

During this time, people with different financial backgrounds owned stocks because they believed it was an easy way to accumulate wealth and saw that investors were enjoying great success. The stock market reached its highest point on September 3, 1929, which further fueled the excitement for investing in stocks. However, as October approached, there was a gradual decrease in stock prices. Despite this decline, stockholders were not too worried since they expected a recovery based on past patterns. Unfortunately, these expectations turned out to be very wrong.

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On October 24th, a severe crash happened in the stock market that made shareholders desperately try to sell their stocks. Sadly, they had difficulty finding buyers.

“The 24th came to be known as ‘Black Thursday’ and five days later, there was ‘Black Tuesday’, when over sixteen million stocks were sold at an immense loss. One stock plummeted from one hundred dollars to a mere three dollars per share. Despite the President and bankers’ attempts to reassure people that it was a temporary situation, they were gravely mistaken. The stock market crash disrupted the entire economy as the low stock prices deterred investors. Consequently, both large and small companies faced severe financial difficulties as they relied on stockholder support. Thousands of employees were terminated due to the companies’ inability to meet salary payments. The dire economic crisis forced numerous factories, mines, and businesses to close down. With the widespread unemployment, people struggled to afford basic necessities such as food and clothing, causing even more stores to suffer financially and lead to further layoffs and closures. This continuous cycle exacerbated the worsening economy. In dire need of funds, the unemployed rushed to the banks to withdraw their savings. Unfortunately, most banks had also been severely impacted by the stock market crash, having invested heavily in stocks during favorable times.”When their stocks declined, they were unable to provide the requested savings account money to their customers.

The fortunate individuals who retained their employment had to endure a significant reduction in wages, averaging around fifteen percent. Despite this setback, most of them remained content as they recognized their superior situation compared to the unfortunate jobless population. To provide assistance to the terminated individuals, cities established breadlines and soup kitchens. Although many of the unemployed felt embarrassed about accepting handouts, they had no alternative as it was the sole means to provide sustenance for their families. Illustrating the dire circumstances, a man from Pennsylvania expressed, “This marks the first instance in my life when I’ve sought assistance, but given the present circumstances, it’s necessary. I’ve been unemployed for an extended period, with my wife bedridden and in need of medicine, and no funds to purchase food. What choices does one have? I reject thievery but I refuse to let my wife and son suffer hunger.” This quote exemplifies the severity of the era and the desperation experienced by the people. In a mere six months following the stock market crash, over four million Americans became unemployed. Unable to afford rent payments, a considerable number of these individuals faced eviction from their homes or apartments (Gusmorino).

President Hoover reassured the citizens of the United States that despite the dire economic situation, the hard times would soon be over and there was nothing to worry about. However, the homeless faced a new challenge of finding shelter. Unable to afford their old houses and apartments, they resorted to building small homes using whatever materials they could find, such as wooden or cardboard boxes, old car parts, newspapers, and tin pieces. These makeshift dwellings became known as “Homervilles” when they were clustered together. The homeless blamed President Hoover for their predicament, leading to widespread anger and discouragement among Americans. By March 1930, numerous Unemployment Councils had formed in major cities across the country (Liebovich 35).

The Unemployment Council in New York City organized a demonstration in Union Square, attracting more than ten thousand unemployed individuals. A violent clash broke out between the police and the protestors, worsening an already severe situation. Meanwhile, the President remained ignorant of the complete extent and seriousness of the economic downturn, residing comfortably in the White House with an abundance of food for himself and his family. By 1932, over fourteen million people were without jobs in the United States, equivalent to one-third of the nation’s potential workforce (Singleton 126). The actual number may have reached as high as twenty million unemployed, although exact statistics are unknown. Stock values dropped to only eleven percent of their peak in 1929, and about five thousand banks closing added to the financial crisis. In total, stockholders and bank investors lost a staggering seventy-five trillion dollars by 1932. In several cities across the country, desperate individuals resorted to looting stores and supermarkets to obtain food for their families (Gusmorino).

Several citizens even expressed support for Communism as a means to restore the economy to its previous state. Farmers also faced hardships as the selling price of their crops became lower than the cost of production. Consequently, they were unable to make a profit and afford to keep their homes. In 1932, over 273,000 farming families lost their houses due to bank repossessions, prompting many of them to migrate westward with their belongings (Woolner). Meanwhile, the population in the Pacific states experienced a rapid increase. In certain southern states, unemployed individuals earned only one dollar per day by picking cotton. Those fortunate enough to still have jobs had sympathy for those who had lost their employment. Some grocers extended credit to needy families for food, while teachers and policemen brought lunches to hungry students at school. The dire circumstances pushed some individuals to the breaking point. One New York woman tragically drowned her own son, explaining that she couldn’t provide for him and couldn’t bear to see him go hungry (Liebovich 60).

During the Great Depression, there was a significant decrease in the birth rate and a notable increase in the suicide rate. Many unemployed men felt ashamed of their job loss and would dress up as if they were going to work but instead begged for food or money in town. When a Russian trade agency announced job opportunities for six thousand Americans, over one hundred thousand people applied. Recognizing the severity of the economic situation, the United States Congress attempted to pass a bonus bill for World War I veterans. However, their response was not timely enough.

As a result, a large number of individuals, including war veterans, were starving and homeless and they gathered in Washington D.C. to protest. By May 1932, around twenty thousand of them had established Homervilles there. These veterans displayed signs that read “Heroes in 1917-Bums in 1932.” President Hoover became increasingly angry and nervous about the growing presence of people around the White House. He even refused to meet with the leaders of the Bonus Expeditionary Force and labeled them as Communists.

The police were placed on constant guard duty, securing all entrances to prepare for a possible attack. This occurred on July 28, 1932.

The veterans grew restless and were instructed to leave, resulting in a police officer being struck by a brick. In retaliation, the police responded with open fire, shooting down one veteran and sparking riots. The President called in federal troops to control the rioters and authorized the use of force, if necessary, to disperse the veterans. Tear gas was fired into the crowd and troops marched with swords, resulting in the tragic deaths of two infants due to gas inhalation. President Hoover and an army General hailed the defense as a success, thwarting a conspiracy to seize control of the United States government just in time. A similar incident occurred later that year when approximately three thousand unemployed individuals, who were starving, marched to the nation’s capital demanding relief. In anticipation of possible unrest, Hoover had nine thousand police officers and U.S. troops on standby.

President Hoover, in his mind, could not find any valid reason to comply with their demands. He stated that it was not the government’s responsibility to provide assistance to its citizens because he feared it would establish a precedent that would be ongoing.

As 1932 came to an end, the upcoming presidential election emphasized the Republicans’ selection of Herbert Hoover for a second term. They portrayed themselves as the party of prosperity despite the nation’s economy declining during Hoover’s presidency.

The Democratic nominee was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who served as governor of New York and had physical disabilities. However, Roosevelt’s welcoming attitude and understanding captured voters’ attention as he pledged a “New Deal” for those neglected by society.

Roosevelt comprehended the struggles faced by people while Hoover did not. The President remained steadfast in his opposition towards government aid and relief for the public. He and his team were confident they would easily secure reelection but were proven wrong.

Franklin D. Roosevelt emerged victorious in forty-two states during Election Day, whereas Herbert Hoover was only able to secure victories in six states. Consequently, Roosevelt’s triumph was a resounding one. At his presidential inauguration in 1933, the public eagerly anticipated their new leader’s address and momentarily halted their work activities. With utmost conviction, Roosevelt proclaimed, “I hold steadfastly to the belief that our sole apprehension should be fear itself – the unfamiliar, illogical, and baseless dread that obstructs advancement and development.” (Gusmorino).

In his speech, Franklin D. Roosevelt urged Americans to approach the crisis as if it were an invasion by a foreign enemy. Despite the inaugural ball occurring on the same day, he chose not to attend and instead spent the entire night with his advisors meticulously planning the New Deal. The following Monday, he announced that all banks in the country would be closed until they could safely reopen and fulfill their outstanding debts to customers, aiming to prevent a complete economic collapse. His objective was to discreetly enhance businesses and profits without openly endorsing a move towards Socialism.

During his first week as President, Roosevelt conducted his inaugural “fireside chat” with the American people where he openly discussed his proposed strategies and ideas for lifting the country out of depression. The response from Americans was overwhelmingly positive, leading to a rapid surge in his popularity (Woolner).

In one of his famous fireside chats, the new President shared his perspective on his “New Deal” and encouraged a trial-and-error approach, saying, “Take a method and try it, if it fails, try another. But above all, try something.”

Within three months, Roosevelt enacted legislation to safeguard stock market investors and offer financial aid to struggling banks. He also generated employment for young people and aided farmers in selling their crops at higher prices. Moreover, he provided assistance to homeowners with mortgage payments and brought affordable electricity to impoverished communities. Additionally, Roosevelt revived failing unions and businesses.

His achievements in such a short time exceeded those of Hoover over several years, earning him strong approval from the American people.

The effectiveness of Roosevelt’s actions was evident during the 1934 congressional elections as the Democratic Party gained twenty additional seats in both the House and Senate. This secured their majority in forty-one out of forty-eight states (Liebovich 17).

In the subsequent three months, Roosevelt passed laws to create new job opportunities and decentralized relief efforts by shifting responsibilities from the federal government to individual states. He also offered housing or loans for those who lost their homes. The President achieved successful implementation of Social Security, in addition to fostering union development and increasing taxes for wealthy individuals.Roosevelt firmly believed in the necessity of extensive government recruitment initiatives to achieve significant job growth. Consequently, he spearheaded the establishment of the Work Progress Administration (WPA). The WPA aimed to undertake a wide range of projects including constructing airports, hospitals, schools, parks, highways, and more.

According to Woolner, over 8.5 million people were hired for more than 1.4 million projects. Meanwhile, President Franklin D. Roosevelt achieved national hero status for successfully rescuing the United States from its worst depression ever. This was evident in his landslide victory in the 1936 election. The outbreak of World War II led to a significant reduction in unemployment as industries focused on meeting war material orders and many young individuals enlisted in the armed forces to defend freedom. Despite its tragic nature, resulting in an uncertain death toll estimated at around 55 million by Singleton (189), World War II played a crucial role in reshaping the United States.

The task of understanding the immense scale of war is challenging, akin to the entire population of Great Britain. It is important to remember that every individual affected by war, whether a soldier or civilian, was cherished by someone as a loved one or friend. Their personal tragedies should never be forgotten. Even those who survived war may have undergone profound transformations in their lives and personalities as they grappled with what they witnessed and the choices they made. The devastating consequences of war extend beyond direct attacks on human life.

Towards the end of the conflict, American bomber forces shifted their focus to potential targets in Japan under the belief that major cities had already been largely destroyed. In western regions of the Soviet Union, about two-thirds of homes and factories were obliterated due to fighting and advancing armies. Despite avoiding occupation or direct combat on its soil, Britain faced economic pressures that resulted in years of strict rationing; remnants from German bombings remained visible in many areas well into the 1950s (Liebovich 15).

The fact that the United States, as the only participant country, had a higher standard of living after the war, serves as an indication of the political changes brought about by the war. In terms of power, only the Red Army in Eastern Europe posed a significant challenge to America’s industrial, financial, political, and atomic capabilities. This division resulted in the decades-long Cold War. Additionally, the war led to the end of colonial regimes in Asia and the communist revolution in China, among other political transformations. Furthermore, it is undeniable that the politics and issues in the Middle East would have been very different without the Nazi extermination campaign against Jews, which was one of the war’s most horrific acts.

The Great Depression, which Roosevelt and his “New Deal” could not fully resolve, was ultimately addressed by the war. The Great Depression offers several important lessons. One significant lesson is that the US government can have a positive impact on the economy through the implementation of extensive programs. Additionally, it reveals that many Americans possess the essential compassionate spirit needed to support those who are less fortunate. Ultimately, the most crucial lesson imparted is that there is always hope for finding a solution to any problem, regardless of its magnitude, as long as there is a strong determination, unwavering devotion, and a commitment to resolving the issue.

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Great Depression. (2019, May 12). Retrieved from

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