The Great Depression
The Great Depression is the term used to describe the period of economic problems following the Wall Street Crash. The Depression saw America, then the rest of the world, suffer from high levels of unemployment, low industrial investment and a lack of confidence in the financial sector. For ordinary people the period was one of great uncertainty and for many, great suffering or hardship.
The Wall Street Crash of 1929 marked the start of the great depression which hit America first and then the rest of the world during the 1930’s. The Cycle of Prosperity turned into a Spiral of Depression as consumer spending fell by almost half and companies found it difficult to sell their products. By 1932 the entire banking system was close to collapse. The highest cost of all was the human misery and despair. People had suffered the depression for over two years with no sign of improvement. Unemployment had risen to over 12 million and there was widespread poverty and homelessness. President Hoover believed in ‘Rugged Individualism’ and that the government should not interfere. He was determined to balance the budget and refused to spend government money to help the unemployed. Hoover believed in ‘rugged individualism’, which meant that people should look after themselves He thought things would improve if people worked hard and that the government should not interfere. Many Americans thought Hoover did not care and that he would do nothing to improve things. This lack of action led to people blaming him for their problems.
Video Clip: The Great Depression
• There was no Social Security (Welfare) or unemployment pay in America at this time. The unemployed often went hungry. The only way they could get money was to borrow from friends or relatives. They were forced to buy cheap food, scavenge or beg for food. In some of the worst hit areas people were starving to death on the streets.
Unemployed Men seeking work during the Depression
• Unemployed people often had to rely on charity handouts and soup kitchens run by organizations like the Salvation Army. Many unemployed people lost their homes as they couldn’t afford to keep up the payment on their rent or mortgages. Unemployment broke up families and many men left home to look for work and ended up as ‘hobos’.
• Hoovervilles were camps set up by the unemployed and homeless families on waste ground. People lived in tents or shelters made of waste materials. There were no water supplies or toilets and the camps were usually built close to a river. The people who lived in Hoovervilles would go into the city to look for work, beg or go to soup kitchens.
Video Clip: Hoovervilles
• Life was no better in farming areas. Farm prices fell by 70% and thousands of farmers were made homeless when they could not pay their mortgages. Mechanization meant there were fewer jobs available in farming states. Intensive farming of the prairies, drought and high winds destroyed the soil and turned the land into a dustbowl.
• In 1931 ex-soldiers or veterans marched to Washington to petition the government to pay out wartime bonuses early. Hoover used the regular army against them. His treatment of the ‘Bonus Army’ seemed to show that Hoover did not care about the unemployed.
Ex-soldiers participating in the Bonus March.
• The use of terms such as Hoovervilles were designed to turn people against Hoover and his policies. Hoover did provide finance for the Hoover dam and other public works but this was very small scale and did little to improve the situation.
• By the election of 1932 people had lost faith in Hoover and no longer trusted what he said. Many Americans believed Hoover would do nothing for them despite his claims ‘that recovery was just around the corner’ when they could see no sign of improvement.
• The Democrat Presidential candidate F.D.Roosevelt offered the voters a New Deal. He promised to take action to end the depression and by using government money and power to help people suffering from the effects of the Depression. Roosevelt won the election.