Surviving The Great Depression of the 1930s

I'll bet my folks never saw one of these in the 30's.
I'll bet my folks never saw one of these in the 30's. | Source

(Answering the request about how people handled their finances in the 1930s)

In the 1930s most people didn't have enough money to have a "financial situation".

Even many who had previously been relatively "well off" had very little money to spend.
Most people didn't have any money to save.

I was not alive then, but Mom did tell me some things.

She said that almost half of the people they knew had no job -- no work of any kind. That meant half of the men they knew. It was a time when few women had worked outside the home. Mom remembers seeing dirty men on the streets searching through garbage cans for moldy bread.

The Roosevelts offered hope.
The Roosevelts offered hope. | Source
The Golden Gate Bride was built in the 30's. My Grandpa had to take a couple of trips north to see it happen.
The Golden Gate Bride was built in the 30's. My Grandpa had to take a couple of trips north to see it happen. | Source

How do you know about the Great depression?

How did you learn about The Great Depression

  • History books and articles
  • Stories from my parents or grandparents
  • I know nothing
See results without voting


My dad was one of the lucky ones. He had a job in a factory that made cardboard boxes. He rode a streetcar to Los Angeles, one hour each way, and worked in an dark, unheated warehouse-type building for six or seven days a week.

He wore a heavy overcoat pinned together at the neck with a horse blanket safety-pin to keep himself warm as he fed large cardboard sheets into a cutting and folding press.

He wore the coat when he went to the boss of the factory to ask for another five cents per week, because his wife was expecting a baby.

He made ten dollars a week (though the streetcar cost ten cents a day) but he felt lucky to have a job. If the box factory was busy, he had to work six or seven days a week . To refuse the extra hours, would put his job in jeopardy, and there were plenty of other men waiting to find any kind of work. There was no overtime pay, no benefits and no insurance.

They lived in a small apartment with her parents. They grew some vegetables in the back yard. They repaired their old clothes. They got by.

No one ate at restaurants. A steak dinner for one person could cost as much as three bucks. A few people went to the movies, but a ticket cost fifteen cents, and that would buy a quart of milk and a loaf of bread.

Somehow, most people survived the depression. They depended on family and friends, worked hard and bought only necessities.

Read how this couple continued to be smart with their money and managed their own personal health care account with money they later used to travel the world, by CLICKING HERE.

More by this Author


Comments 53 comments

Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America

Interesting to read and compare to other, similar stories of the 30's. We don't have that hard a time today, yet; but some people are mighty close.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 7 years ago from California Gold Country Author

I think people today have only a faint idea of the times people survived-- not that long ago, really.


Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor

Ouch. We don't know the meaning of tough times, do we, really? I worked in a cardboard box factory myself, one summer, and couldn't keep up with the wee Glasgow women who had been doing it for years. I didn't last three days, I don't think, before I had to fess up and look for something else.

You're right -- no one had any money to save, back then. My Granda worked in the shipyard in Belfast, and I don't think he ever bought anything on credit in his life. The idea of owing money was not only foreign to him, but kinda shameful. Now I look at my debts and I know he was right.


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

my grandparents were the same about owing money - except on a mortgage, which was "respectable" debt.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 7 years ago from California Gold Country Author

What a coincidence, Teresa. I'll bet not too many people know someone who has worked in a paper box factory.

I think it really taught them how to manage money.

This is a story about them later in life;

http://hubpages.com/travel/Do-it-Yourself-Travelin...

(Probably should  link this in the article)


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 7 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Hi London Girl-- I wonder when that all changed? I still feel the same way.


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

In my family, it hasn't - my parents still have a mortgage, and no other debt, and none of their four children has any debt, even a mortgage, yet.


anjalichugh profile image

anjalichugh 7 years ago from New York

I have heard such (coping up) stories from my parents and grand parents. They really used to slog. Although, we are facing tough times too, yet, I feel we are still better off. Thx for a very nice hub


Frieda Babbley profile image

Frieda Babbley 7 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

My step-father was born in the depression. Till the day he died, he pinched every penny and saved every piece of anything. Our basement was filled with old nails, rubberbands, frames, pieces of wood, tacs, you name it, it was stored and labeled, just in case. He rarely bought new clothes or shoes unless he had to. Everything was bought outright, including his home. It got on our nerves. But now I can say I had a good role model and I'm not lost when it comes to pinching pennies (not that I do as often as I should.)

Great hub. Thanks for sharing.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 7 years ago from California Gold Country Author

My husbands family lost pretty much everything during WWII in Europe, their land, possessions and almost everything of material value They barely escaped with their lives and have an amazing story of escape from an advancing army in a deep-freeze of winter weather.

My father-in-law knew what it meant for a family to be hungry, to be seperated from his family, to be in a Russian prison-- and he always knew how to make a penny go a long way by not wasting anything. They were durable eople, but they knew what it really meant to lose all of their external security.

They had it much worse than my parents, even though we tend to think of that as extreme.


Elena. profile image

Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid

Hi Rochelle -- I loved this hub! As others have mentioned, I remember my grandparents telling me about the luxuries of eating eggs -- or rather EGG, as in singular -- sitting round the table and having one fried egg sit on a plate in front of my granddad who would give a bite to each of her four daughters, then share the rest with his wife.... my grandmother died an old age and could never, ever until the day she fell ill, bear to do away with any single piece of ANYTHING in the house. We kids called it junk, she called it insurance in case tough times came back... I think we have NO idea nowadays...


marphyd 7 years ago

NIce hub,,, very nice informations ,,thanks for share this


Glenn Frank profile image

Glenn Frank 7 years ago from Southern California

Amazing to take the number of Grandpa's earrnings, and compare it percentage-wise to the cost of commuting, or a steak dinner in their time...

and then take that percentage and figure out what it would cost me in this day and age compaired to my paycheck! EEK!


RGraf profile image

RGraf 7 years ago from Wisconsin

I remember listening to my mother and my husband's grandmothers and they all said the same thing. They pulled together as family and community and shared. People didn't care about getting ahead, just surviving.

I think that we need to do more of that now.

Thank you for the reminder.


kabney profile image

kabney 7 years ago from Tulsa

People knew how to survive hard times back then, I think we've lost that. Our survival skills are dull and that is the scariest thing about the world as it is today. What will people do and how will they survive if they have never had to learn what it's like to be without.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 7 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Those of us who remember-- or have heard from others have to remind them.


Spirit4112 7 years ago

I really enjoyed reading this hub!  I think it's ridiculous that the media is constantly bombarding news about our "terrible" economy, when in fact it could get a whole lot worse.  Nobody is grateful for what they have because they are expected to have more.  My family raised me to be independent so that THEY don't have to take care of me.  I wish I had family security like families did in the old days. My grandma lived through the hard times though. She is also the number one person there for me during my hard times...


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 7 years ago from California Gold Country Author

I know that a lot of people are having a difficult time right now but, yes, I think the news media is making the fear grow.


MissJamieD profile image

MissJamieD 7 years ago from Minnes-O-ta

I love this Hub Rochelle. I would've loved to sit and listen to these stories with my family. You're lucky in that aspect:) And many others I'm sure.

Thanks,

MissJamie


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 7 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Yes i have been very lucky. My parents faced a lot of tough challenges early on, including economic depression, a major earthquake and WW II. They came through with flying colors and enjoyed traveling the world in their later days.


MellasViews profile image

MellasViews 7 years ago from Earth

This was such a cool Hub Rochelle. Thanks for sharing it. My Gram still tells me about the days when milk cost a few cents... I cannot believe it when she tells me that. She also told me about full serve at gas stations! Theys check the oil, clean the windsheild, and fill up the tank.

Incredible how times have changed! I dont even know why they use the term full serve anymore if all they do is fill you up, and tell you to move to let the next person behind you in. lol


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 7 years ago from California Gold Country Author

In California we fill our own tank (I know that in some states this is not allowed), but we have been doing it for years.

Yes, I can remember them cleaning the windshield, checking the oil, the radiator water ( and topped it off if needed) and  checked the tire pressure. Quite often they even gave you a free drinking glass or other gift  and also gave 'green stamps' to paste in a book that would later be redeemed for merchandise.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 7 years ago from East Coast, United States

my father grew up in a small rowhouse with 15 people living in it and i never heard one word of complaint about that life, only funny stories and great food (boy could those old girls cook) and love and genrosity - only 5 of the bunch were kids, of the adults only one of them had a job, in a grocery store...we met an old woman after my father died who said she remembered my father as a kid, schlepping soup up the ally to neighbors who had nothing


Sal 7 years ago

I can't Imagine 16 people living in the same house,if they only had one bathroom


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 7 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Sometimes circumstances require us to make strict rules... Take a number, No teeth brushing during rush hour, Communal baths encouraged...


GeneriqueMedia profile image

GeneriqueMedia 7 years ago from Earth

Glad to hear these stories from someone at least second hand...

The Depression was a hard time for the American populace. I'm saddened every day as we pump up inflation and the Federal Reserve prints new money every day to support mistakes others have made.

When will we realize money is fictious? Hopefully soon.

Sincerely,

G|M


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 7 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thanks G/M. It does seem as if we have been living a lie for quite a while. My parents didn't have much material wealth. Even after WWII when the economy began to grow, they were working very hard for every penny. Strangely enough, I never felt "poor". Must have been because they were so rich in their positive personal qualities.

Their frugal habits paid off. You can read about that part in my hub about the "traveling health insurance plan".


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

Hi Rochelle, I have also grown up hearing many stories about how the Depression affected people. Thrift was part of what they learned as a necessity but was also a virtue. It would solve many problems today starting in people's own homes and on up to our government leaders and the spenders of public money.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 7 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Yes-- I think the lessons learned then are the reason that we have enjoyed a long period of economic prosperity.

We had to work for what we got, we had to save, we had to take some well-reasoned risks, we had to delay some of our desires, but all of those good choices put us in a more stable position.

I am amazed that so many people ,especially government people,  think the government should solve all problems -- especially those that people have caused for themselves.


Dao Hoa profile image

Dao Hoa 6 years ago

Thanks for sharing. My parents also talked about the hardship they had after WWII. I hate to sound cold hearted, but I am tired of the media helping those who do not want to help themselves and just sit around complaining about their hardships.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 6 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thank you Dao Hoa-- I hope you will click my link that tells how they traveled the world using their personal Health Care Account.


esatchel profile image

esatchel 6 years ago from Kentucky

Makes me think of my parents - both grew up in the depression. And I think of the grandparents' generation who knew how to make things with their hands and always had mayo jars and rubber bands and such saved in the basement, "just in case". I love the memory of those people, especially now that I am older and recognize how strong and resilient they were, to have survived many of the hardships they experienced.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 6 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Now may be the time for everyone to start remembering how people "got by" in hard times. If everyone expects the government to help them, they may be in for a rude awakening.

Thank you for your comment-- I know you understand.


bgamall profile image

bgamall 5 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

The Tea Party hates the help Will Rogers and FDR did to help people by advocating projects to create jobs. They are shameful fanatics. You have no idea what people are thinking unless you go to other places like where I contribute, Business Insider and Seeking Alpha.

I fight back but I am quite outnumbered. Great hub.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 5 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Yes, people at that time were grateful for government jobs, or any jobs.Of course, WWII changed things again. Everyone had a job, then.

Thanks for your comment.

But now, before we get to that point again, I think we need to take more personal and local control. Each of us have to think about how we can help ourselves, or family and our neighbors... just like they did when they really had no choice.


Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 5 years ago from Massachusetts

This subject addresses a subject that I think too few people really even think of (even in these days of unemployment and economy problems). I think so many people who lived through that time had their thinking changed forever. BUT, they got through it, for the most part. (Side note: My mother had a collection of Indian-head pennies and steel pennies that I always found kind of interesting.)


ravidr1 profile image

ravidr1 5 years ago from New Delhi

Nice


Gypsy Willow profile image

Gypsy Willow 5 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

People need a reminder like this. Born at the end of WW11, food was extremely scarce except carrots. I was 5 before I saw a banana. Socks were darned, sheets side to middled and every one helped each other. Not like that yet. I'm certainly ramping up my Veggie plot!


Cardisa profile image

Cardisa 5 years ago from Jamaica

Rochelle this is amazing. I have one problem with your hub....IT'S TOO SHORT! Just when I was warming up for more it ended.

Seriously, you have to really admire and respect people who lived in the 30s because they knew how to survive, we wouldn't last very long under that same conditions. By the way did your father get the five cents raise?


hanwillingham profile image

hanwillingham 5 years ago

Excellent hub.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 5 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thanks Lisa HW, it might be a good thing if people did star to think. Life has changed so much since then, but basic needs remain the same. ( My mom had a some of those pennies, too.)


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 5 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Gypsy Willow, do you like carrots now? My brother-in-law was a child in Italy after the war. Their most plentiful food was pumpkin-- which he grew to despise for the rest of his life. Repairing warn socks and sheets was a necessity, as was depending upon each other. I have always enjoyed my vegetable garden, I think if it were really a necessity, it would seem a little more like work, but at least I have gained some experience about what I can grow.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 5 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thanks for reading, Cardisa. The other hub you read about them may have filled in some of the blanks.

Yes, it was a little short-- it was in reply to a question about how did people save in the 30's. I probably could have expanded it some.

I think a lot of us would survive under the same conditions, it wouldn't be easy, but it would be the only choice. And, yes, I think he did get the five cents.


Angelique Newman profile image

Angelique Newman 5 years ago from Canada

I loved reading your parents first hand experience of the thirties. My grandparents had very little money when they came to Canada in the fifties, but they knew where every penny went. Recycling was a big thing; if a sweater had a hole in it, it was unraveled and made into stocks or mittens.

As always, great hub Rochelle :)


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 5 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thanks, Angelique. The only way to do it was to "make do". The trash cans were not nearly as full as they are now.


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 4 years ago from sunny Florida

My Mother, Daddy, and oldest sister weathered the Great Depression. My sister told of eating turnips all werinter and being thankful for those. My Daddy would find odd jobs to do being paid meager sums.

As I remember the conversations about that time, I remember that they were telling it as a cautionary tale...to be thankful for what we have. I truthfully would whine sometimes as a child as most of my friends were very wealthy. And I would maybe want this or that their families had given them. It was at times like that in a gentle way, I was reminded to be thankful for the hand me down clothes from my cousins...things could be much worse...and my sister would remind me of the Depression years....Reading about this again takes me back to when I was a child and learning to APPRECIATE. Even now, we need to be reminded that in our difficult times there are those who do eat out of dumpsters...thank you for sharing this...


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 4 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thanks, pstraubie48, for sharing your memories and thoughts.


Ginn Navarre profile image

Ginn Navarre 4 years ago

I was born in that era and today I look around and hear people complain about not having more of this or that.

Then when we had no food---WE DID WITHOUT---there was no food stamps or hand outs from the goverment---which we TODAY expect to provide.

Maybe it is time to standup on our OWN two feet ---we all have a choice---VOTE! AND BUY AMERICAN.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 4 years ago from California Gold Country Author

I agree, Ginn Navarre. And I am very pleased to have you read and comment.


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 3 years ago from USA

Howdy Rochelle (Rochelle Frank) -

You and I share a lot more than you may think - for example, I was born in New Rochelle, a little bedroom city near New York's Bronx and Manhattan. I was a depression baby who somehow grew up without any depression. Times were tough back in those days, but no one was much worse off than the next person, so you didn't feel picked on ever...

If you can really make your muscles work on it today, perhaps your mind will understand how it was that World War II provided some relief from the abject poverty extant in those prior years. Sounds terrible to say that, but it is true. I remember back before then coming home from school to get my daily meal. My mother served it to us kids with tears, for that time we got a slice of dry bread and a glass of water. Times were tough but not insurmountable. One thing our parents provided to us was education at home and at school Everyone around us was sweating, straining, and hoping for better times to come. And - come they did. Here we are.

Thanks for this fine article, Rochelle. It has been appreciated by many, me being one of them.

Gus :-)))


faythef profile image

faythef 3 years ago from USA

My Mother was born in 1930.....she tells of coming to California from Oklahoma....The way she tells it..they made shelter in a chicken pen....and lived there until ..grandpa, the older kids, and grandma when she could, picked cotton and other crops until enough money was raised to rent a place...


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 3 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Howdy, back at'cha, Gus. You are right, almost every one was pretty much in the same boat, and it's not a stretch at all to say that the war did improve the American economy. Everyone had a job then. Those that survived settled down to enjoy a much better life. Thanks for commenting.


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 3 years ago from California Gold Country Author

Thanks for commenting, faythef. I think a lot of people have no idea what it took for people to survive during those times. People had to work very hard in difficult circumstances that we can barely imagine.

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