Chain letters first began during the Great Depression among people who were hoping to get rich quickly; the schemes were what we would today call a pyramid scheme. You can probably thank your grandparents for the annoying spam mail that you get today that promises the same thing.
The big gangs that had dominated cities during the Roaring Twenties had no trouble recruiting new people who were disaffected by the woes of the Great Depression. Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger, Machine Gun Kelly, Ma Barker and her Boys all turned to crime during this period. They were often seen as Robin Hood-type figures.
FDR ran against the despised Herbert Hoover in the 1932 election, promising a “New Deal” for the American people. He won by a landslide, and his New Deal programs helped bring the country out of the Depression by providing jobs, incentives, and other government programs.
As part of the New Deal, people who had reached a certain age could claim social security benefits so that they could retire and a younger person take their jobs. New government jobs involved things like building roads and helping to develop the country’s infrastructure.
Many, many families lost their farms during the Great Depression. Recognizing the importance of agriculture and seeing how much fertile land was available in the territory of Alaska, part of FDR’s New Deal allowed hundreds of families to relocate to Alaska, where they could begin new farms.
Millions of children had to leave school during the 1930s, either because the schools themselves closed or because their families needed them to earn an income. Thousands of schools began operating with reduced hours. As many as 200,000 children were jumping railroad cars.
Instead of begging, which was seen as shameful and degrading, many people in urban areas resorted to selling apples on the street corners to try to earn a few pennies each day. In New York City alone, there were as many as 6,000 apple sellers.
In John Steinbeck’s classic novel about life during the Great Depression, The Grapes of Wrath, the family lost the farm and then headed to California, looking for work. The story was based on real-life Okies, migrants who had lost their farms – notably due to the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma and the economic pressures of the Depression – and traveled to California.
A special “Indian New Deal” was enacted to try to help Native Americans living on reservations, but for the most part, they remained desperately poor. One long-lasting benefit of the reforms, though, was that they were granted greater tribal autonomy through a reversal of the 1887 Dawes Severality Act.
Women who had entered the workforce faced discrimination, as they were often seen as taking jobs away from able-bodied men. Mexicans, who had long been working in the United States as farmers, were blamed for taking jobs away from Americans. Not much has changed.
As a result of the Great Depression, many couples chose to marry later than their parents had because they could not support themselves. The birth rate also dropped, as families could no longer provide for their children. In the poorest parts of Appalachia, children were so hungry that they would chew on their hands.
As much as 40% of the country was not affected by the Great Depression, and some businesses benefited. Oil tycoons in particular, such as John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, and their offspring were able to capitalize on the economic woes of others and thereby expand their businesses.
By 1936, the economic reforms implemented by FDR’s New Deal had turned the country around so much that the economic indicators, such as employment, were at the same level as they were before the Depression. He scaled back government spending, and the country fell back into decline.
There were challenges working people faced during the Great Depression, to say the least; those years were some of the essential reasons for the development of workers’ rights. Workers successfully managed to organize strikes and gain power through unions. Many laws were changed as Americans came to realize that workers were the strength of a democratic government.
Economic woes are one of the biggest reasons people turn to radical political ideologies. In 1929, Josef Stalin predicted that the communist party in the USA would lead a revolt to overturn the government. He was almost right – many people turned to communist ideology, thinking that it would reverse the Great Depression.
3. You Probably Pulled All Your Money Out of the Bank
In the weeks following the 1929 crash, people who were desperate to retain whatever money they had left withdrew all of their funds out of their banks. Economic analysts suggest that rather than the crash causing the depression, it was actually the runs on the banks that created it.
During the Roaring Twenties, women frequently wore expensive, glitzy dresses that showed off their wealth. During the Depression, though, fashions changed to accommodate those who no longer had any money. Accessories became important in the fashion industry during this time because people could dress up otherwise plain clothes for less money.
1. Maybe You Picked Cotton Like Johnny Cash and Others
Johnny Cash grew up in Arkansas during the Great Depression and recalled picking cotton from the time he was only five years old. Music was his favorite escape from the hardships of life during the time; he and his siblings often sang while they were working out in the fields.
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