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The Great Depression - Paper for Grade School Children

Updated on December 31, 2011

Oct. 29, 1929 was the day that most say that the Great Depression began. Up till then America had been enjoying a high climbing bull market but by Sept. 1929 it began to fall and by Oct. 29th the stock market officially crashed. Life for America and soon the world would be drastically changed. In the following years after the bulls demise people began to run for the banks to withdraw all their money fearing it would soon be lost. So many flooded the banks that soon they ran out of money and couldn’t pay everyone. Some bankers in a panic began to throw themselves out of windows. By Mar. 4, 1933 the American banking system had officially collapsed . With money being so tight employers were soon forced to make job and pay cuts, African Americans were typically the first to go. By 1933, 25% of Americans were in the category of unemployed and since 1929, for most, hourly wage had dropped 60%. Cutting back would be a must, unless you were lucky enough to inherit 4 million dollars on your 21st birthday like debutant Brenda Frazier. Frazier and the other few Americans who remained unaffected financially during the Great Depression, began a new trend of their own called Café Society. These wealthy people would head for their favorite Cafes, which were trendy restaurants like 21 and the Stork Club, where they could chat, be entertained, dance, be seen, photographed and with the repeal of Prohibition, have a few drinks. These wealthy debutants, princes, actors etc. were usually known to spend lavish amounts of money on the latest fashions while the rest of America was just hoping to have enough money to put food on the table.

Trying to find a job during the depression was a job in itself. Some people would walk around with signs advertising their employment needs and some even paid for jobs. One man paid $10.00 to make $13.50. It was even tougher in the south. Although farmers didn’t have to worry about being fired they did have Mother Nature to contend with. During the Great Depression the plains suffered years of severe drought and by 1934 about 80% of the U.S. was suffering. Most of the ground had turned to dust and the winds turned that dust into dust storms. The 30’s saw record dust storms for years. The Dust Bowl effected Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, and New Mexico among other states, 500,000 people were made homeless and some died from suffocation. The dust storm left farms and homes in ruins covered in piles of dust. Most folks left and became what many called Migrators or Okie’s, since many came from Oklahoma. Many people headed for California and often by foot. One family traveled about 900 miles from Arkansas to the cotton fields of the Rio Grande. Upon arrival people usually had no place to live. Many created new homes for themselves which most of the time was nothing more than a cardboard shack located in Hoovervilles, named for the President himself since many blamed him for most of their troubles. Once relocated to a new state the prosperity many hoped for was usually not found and many were left to go from crop to crop picking for pennies. Having almost no money at all forced some to eat wild greens straight from the field like cows. It was tough being a farmer during the Great Depression but things weren’t all peaches and cream for those still in the work force either. Many men were abused in places like mines, factories, and even G.M.. These workers, because of their employers, were not allowed to join unions which help ensure safe working conditions and proper pay. Many however tried to strike but were often beaten and even killed and some were forced to work at gun point to prevent striking. But the leader of the United States mineworkers, John L. Lewis, would not stand for this abusive behavior. He fought long and hard for workers rights and by 1937 he had helped 7.7 million workers get into unions.

In the midst of all the economic, work, and weather related stress Americans had to face they had to find some means of escape, a way to just sit back, relax and be a family again. Most found this escape in the radio and the movies. During the weekday evenings you could find many American families seated in front of their radios listing to their favorite shows. Amos ‘N’ Andy was a particularly popular show staring Freeman Gosden who played Amos and Charles Correll who played Andy. Listening to the radio wasn’t always about sitting though. Lots of people liked to get up and dance to their favorite tunes but on Saturday America headed for the silver screen where they could see the stars like the sweet faced Shirley Temple and the studly Clark Gable. It was during the Great Depression that Disney presented its first feature-length cartoon and in color to boot, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Superman also made his debut in the Depression, June 30th 1938, in a time when children needed a superhero especially when many children were having to get jobs themselves. A real hero in the 1930’s though was Director J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI who’s men brought down John Dillinger, “Baby Face” Nelson, Machine Gun Kelly, Arizona Clark “Ma” Barker and “Pretty Boy” Floyd, who robbed so many banks in Oklahoma that the insurance rates doubled. Maybe some of the crooks of the time felt that the only way to deal with the Great Depression was to turn to the world of crime but that apparently was not the stance of one man, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who chose to deal with the Great Depression by taking real action which greatly helped bring back the people‘s confidence.

FDR was inaugurated in 1933 on the day that the U.S. banking system officially crumbled. He had a lot on his plate to amend and make right and he was fully aware of it. Once inaugurated he said “This Nation asks for action, and action now.”(1) and he took action right away less than a week after he became President the banks started opening again. One thing FDR is most famous for is the New Deal. The New Deal was fifteen new laws that assured concerted government action: to employ the jobless, to develop the backward Tennessee Valley, to support crop prices, to repeal Prohibition, to stop home foreclosures, to insure bank deposits, to stabilize the economy, and much more.(2) FDR knew how to treat the people like they were all important often calling them his “friends” and during his first re-election campaign he said to the American people “You look much better than you did four years ago,” to which they replied “God bless you, Mr. President!”.(3) FDR as a whole was preferred by the people to that of the former President, Herbert Hoover. Hoover was seen by most as having a hands off approach to leadership especially since he was of the opinion that things should be voluntary lest the people become too dependent upon the government. He felt the Americans should be an independent people. But the people really need their President to come on the scene during such economic crisis. Although sometimes when Hoover did step in the people wished he hadn’t as was the case in 1932 when 20,000 veterans of World War I set up camp in front of the White House begging to have their 1945 war bonus now when they needed it most. They called themselves The Bonus Expeditionary Force. Brigadier General Pelham D. Glassford, Washington’s chief of police, tended to the veterans providing them housing in empty government buildings and in tents and cots across the Potomac. He called them his boys and made sure they were treated right while they awaited an answer. But when the Senate voted against the matter most veterans went home but 8,600 had no home to go to. So they stayed in Washington much to the Presidents chagrin. He had guards on watch and even put chains on the White House gates. Finally on June 28th Glassford was told to get the men and their families out of the government buildings, his command came from “the highest authority”.(4) Because he had been so good to them the men complied. The evacuation went on throughout the day, but proceedings must not have been going fast enough because in the late afternoon the United States Army showed up with machine guns, Calvary, and tanks, some were even armed with tear gas bombs. They set fire to their shacks and even chased after some remaining legless veterans, women and children. It was even reported that one 11-month old baby died from the tear gas. President Hoover said of the handling of the veterans that “A challenge to the authority of the United States Government has been met,”,(5) Hoover was voted out of office three months later. When FDR was President the veterans came back for another try. They didn’t face the army this time though, they were met by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt herself, who listen to their music, walked among them and even sampled their food. The men cried “Hoover sent the Army, Roosevelt sent his wife.”.(6)

Roosevelt took a bite out of the Depression but studies indicate that what helped the most in making recovery possible was the suspension of gold convertibility. Although most economic historians believe the Depression came to an official close with our entrée into WWII. People think that government spending in the war actually helped end the Depression. The war also helped by creating jobs. It was a hard time that no one will forget. It had world wars on either side of it and one might say it was a war in and of itself with many casualties. But I think America can agree we won that war.

The Editors of TIME-LIFE BOOKS. This Fabulous Century Vol. IV 1930-1940.
Time-Life Books, New York. 1969.


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