Friday, June 28, 2013

The Great Depression -- Interesting Facts & Trivia


The economic crisis of the 1930s is one of the most studied periods of American history, and facts about the Great Depression are very interesting.

While scholars have studied the economic calamity from all angles and amassed an immense collection of facts about the depression, interestingly many can't agree what caused it in the first place.

Here are some interesting facts about the Great Depression.

James “Two-Gun” Davis, Los Angeles Police (LAPD) Chief from 1926 to 1931 and 1933 to 1939.

For several months in 1936, during the height of the devastation from the Oklahoma “Dust Bowl”, Chief Davis sent LAPD officers to the California-Arizona border.

Yes, he actually attempted to stop the flow of migrant works, all American citizens who were referred to as “Okies,” who fled Oklahoma after the state was ravaged by the dust bowl.

It was in the Great Depression that a 3M employee Richard Drew invented Scotch Brand Cellulose Tape in 1930. Today, it is known simply as "Scotch Tape."

In the January 13, 1930 edition of the New York Mirror, The Mickey Mouse comic strip debuted.

On October 17, 1931, Chicago gangster Al Capone was convicted of income tax evasion and later sentenced to 11 years in federal prison.

Today, 2015, Rev Al Sharpton refuses to pay Millions of dollars in taxes and gets invited to have dinner with President Barack Hussein Obama.
In the 1932 election, Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt defeats incumbent Democrat-turned-Republican Herbert Hoover.

Some say the Great Depression peaked between 1932 and 1933, while others say it was 1934.

During the Great Depression, many people tried apple selling to avoid the shame of panhandling. In New York City alone, there were as many as 6,000 apple sellers.

It's true, some 6,000 street vendors walked the streets of New York City in 1930 trying to sell apples for 5 cents each.

Some say the Great Depression started before 1930 with Herbert Hoover, Calvin Coolidge, also a Republican, was president when the Great Depression began in 1925.
Herbert Hoover infamously declared in March 1930 that the U.S. had “passed the worst” and argued that the economy would sort itself out.

The worst, however, had just begun and would last until the outbreak of World War II in 1941.

President Herbert Hoover's name became synonymous with the hardships faced by many.

People who lost their homes often lived in shantytowns made of cardboard and sheets were called "Hoovervilles."

Soup from soup-kitchens was called "Hoover Stew," newspapers that served as blankets were called "Hoover Blankets," a  "Hoover Hogs" was a jack rabbit that was caught for food, and broken cars that were pulled by mules were called "Hoover Wagons".

Zippers became widely used because buttons became too expensive.

Because the circulation of money was so low, the U.S. didn't mint nickels in 1932 or 1933.

The biggest hit song of 1932 was "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" by Bing Crosby.

Thousands of homeless families camped out on the Great Lawn at Central Park in New York City, which was an empty reservoir during the Great Depression.

By 1940, 2.5 million people had fled the Great Plains. Roughly 200,000 moved to California.

The term "skid row" came about during "the Depression years."

One of the largest Hoovervilles in the nation was built in 1930 in St. Louis. It had its own mayor, churches and social institutions. The shantytown was funded by private donors and existed until 1936.

The Boulder Dam (today known as "Hoover Dam") is completed 2 years ahead of schedule on March 1, 1936.
Jesse Owens wins four gold medals during the 1936 Summer Olympics.

Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth, and Honus Wagner become the first inductees into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936.
The German airship Hindenburg is destroyed while attempting to land at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station on May 6, 1937.
American aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart disappears over the Pacific Ocean while attempting to circumnavigate the globe, July 2, 1937.
Superman debuts in Action Comics #1 in June 1938.
Gone with the Wind wins the Academy Award for "Best Picture" in 1939.

Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) became president in March 1933 and promised a “New Deal for the American people.”

During his first hundred days, he attempted to create jobs by establishing federal organizations that were nicknamed “Alphabet Agencies,” such as the TVA, NRA, CCC, and WPA.

Six out of eight of the major New Deal initiatives put forth by President Roosevelt were found to be unConstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Forty-three "alphabet agencies" were created during the New Deal.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs employed hundreds of thousands of workers, many who were unskilled.

One of the most famous New Deal programs was the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and these workers are credited improving dozens of US National Parks.

Today, economists and historians continue to debate whether FDR’s actions and out of control spending of money that the nation did not have  actually deepened and lengthened the Great Depression.

If you asked President Roosevelt who was to blame, you might get an answer that sounds very much like what's coming out of Washington today.

President Roosevelt blamed "unscrupulous money lenders" and a "generation of self-seekers" for the Great Depression.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) was formed in 1934, to ensure bank deposits and restore Americans’ confidence in banking.

Before the start of the Great Depression, there were 25,000 banks in the United States. By 1933, almost half of those banks (11,000) had failed.

When Dust Bowl conditions devastated farmers, many defaulted on their bank loans, which helped lead to widespread bank failure.

John Steinbeck wrote "The Grapes of Wrath" and "Of Mice and Men" about the lives of these people and the devastating effects of the Dust Bowl.

The free wheeling no-tomorrow spending of the "Roaring Twenties" weren’t roaring for everyone. By 1929, 1% of Americans controlled 40% of the wealth in this country.

Imagine that for a moment, the wealthiest one percent (1%) owned more than 40% of all American assets and they couldn't keep it together.

When stock speculating was a prominent practice, banks lent money to investors to buy stock. Nearly $4.00 out of every $10.00 borrowed from the banks was used to buy stock.

The average income of the American family dropped by 40 percent (40%) from 1929 to 1932. Income fell from $2,300 to $1,500 per year.

During the 1930s, manufacturing employees earned about $17 per week. Doctors earned $61 per week.

The stock market didn't return to pre-depression levels until 1954 when Republican President Dwight David Eisenhower was in office.

The most famous demonstration during the Great Depression was held by the "Bonus Marchers."  

It consisted largely of World War I veterans who were promised financial bonuses after the war.

Because of the Depression, Democrats in control of Congress rescheduled those bonuses to be given out in 1945 instead of being paid in 1932.  

The U.S. Army was called in to disperse them.

Causes of the Great Depression are widely debated but typically include a weak banking system, overproduction, bursting credit bubble, the fact that farmers and industrial workers had not shared in the prosperity of the 1920s, and a government-held laissez faire policy.

Chicago gangster Al Capone, in one of his sporadic attempts at public relations, opened a soup kitchen during the Great Depression.

For millions, soup kitchens provided the only food they would see all day.

As he did during World War II, Joseph P. Kennedy, who was President John F Kennedy’s father, amassed an enormous amount of wealth during the Great Depression as a bootlegger among other things.

Without this money, he could not have financed his son’s successful run for the presidency.

While many blue-collar workers were already feeling the economic hard times long before it took place, it is believed that the Wall Street Crash of 1929 was one of the main causes of the Great Depression.

"Black Thursday," "Black Monday," and "Black Tuesday" are all correct terms to describe the Crash because the initial crash occurred over several days, with Tuesday being the most devastating.

The stock market crash of 1929 was the most devastating economic crash in the history of the United States

On “Black Tuesday,” October 29, 1929, the market lost $14 billion, making the loss for that week an astounding $30 billion.

This was ten times more than the annual federal budget and far more than the U.S. had spent in World War I.

Thirty billion dollars would be equivalent to $377,587,032,770.41 ($377.5 billion) today.

After the initial crash, there was a wave of suicides in the New York’s financial district.

It is said that the clerks of one hotel even started asking new guests if they needed a room for sleeping or jumping.

As news of the stock market crash spread, customers rushed to their banks to withdraw their money, sparking disastrous “bank runs.”

Three towns were created from scratch during the New Deal. Greendale, Wisconsin, Greenhills, Ohio and Greenbelt, Maryland were created during work relief programs. All the towns still exist today.

Nobel prize-winning economist Milton Friedman argues that the 1930s market crash itself did not cause the depression, but rather it was the collapse of the banking system during waves of public panic during 1930-1933.

The Dow Jones market peaked at 381 on September 3, 1929, and bottomed out at 42 in 1932, which is an amazing 89% decline.

It did not reach 381 again until 23 years later in 1955 - and no, that doesn’t include inflation losses.

A new look in women’s fashion emerged in the 1930s.

In response to the economic crisis, designers created more affordable fashions with longer hemlines, slim waistlines, lower heels, and less makeup.

Accessories became more important as they created the impression of a “new” look without having to buy a new dress.

During the worst years of the Depression which were 1933 and 1934, the overall jobless rate was 25% - that's 1 out of every 4 people out of work.

Another 25% took wage cuts or started working part time.

The gross national product fell by almost 50%.

Fact is, it was not until 1941 when World War II was underway that unemployment officially fell back below 10%.

Yes, back then they saw the end of the Great Depression when unemployment figures fell below 10%.

When Geoerge W. Bush was in office, 6% unemployed is considered a Depression if a Republican is in the White House.

Today the typical household has two wage earners, so even a 25% unemployment rate such as occurred during the Great Depression may not mean the same thing as it did in the 1930s.

Some people who became homeless would ride on railroad cars because they didn’t have money to travel.

Some famous men who rode the rails were William O. Douglas (1898-1980), U.S. Supreme Court Justice from 1939-1975; Western novelist Louis L’Amour (1908-1988); and folk singer Woody Guthrie (1912-1967).

Some scholars claim that more than 50,000 people were injured or killed while jumping trains.

The board game Monopoly, which first became available in 1935, became immensely popular perhaps because players could become rich — at least in their imagination.

Comic strips like Superman, Flash Gordon and Dick Tracy kept children entertained during the Great Depression.

The "Three Little Pigs" - released May 27, 1933, and produced by Walt Disney - was seen as symbolic of the Great Depression, with the wolf representing the Depression and the three little pigs representing average citizens who eventually succeeded by working together.

During the Great Depression, a record 60-80 million Americans went to the movies every week.

The movies at the time were cheap escapism from their troubles. They were mainly positive and uplifting to motivate the American public to not lose hope - a far cry from today's films.

One of the biggest blockbusters was Merian C. Cooper’s 1933 King Kong. Other popular movies included The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Gone with the Wind (1939).

Chain letters seemed to have first begun in 1935 as a get-rich-quick scheme. The source of the letters is unknown, but the letters became so popular that post offices around the nation had to hire extra help.

Between 1930 and 1935, in just 5 years, nearly 750,000 farms were lost through bankruptcy or Sheriff sales for unpaid taxes.

During the Depression, distressed farms were sometimes sold at "Penny Auctions".

These were forced auctions in which farmers would assure that a distressed neighbor would be able to buy back his own farm by holding bids down to pennies, nickels, and quarters.

And yes, they would dissuade those who wanted to make higher bids by dangling hangman's nooses at the auctions.

One American sheep farmer found that he would not make money off of his sheep during the depression.

Rather than watch his 3,000 sheep starve to death, he cut their throats and threw them in a canyon.

As businesses and farms closed during the Great Depression, an alarming number of Americans began turning to crime.

And yes, while the overwhelming vast majority of Americans followed the law, there were those like Bruno Hauptmann, who kidnapped and murdered aviation hero Charles Lindbergh’s 20-month-old son; John Dillinger, who was a wannabe Robin Hood who was in reality a cold blooded killer; Lester M. Gillis aka "Baby Face Nelson"; Machine Gun Kelly; Pretty Boy Floyd; Ma Barker and her sons; and Bonnie and Clyde, all who killed without conscience.

The Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act of 1930 increased U.S. tariffs which, in turn, decreased international trade - especially in the farming sector - and helped spread the Great Depression worldwide.

As the Great Depression spread worldwide, it became partly responsible for the rise of Nazism in Germany and for World War II from 1939 to 1945.

The Golden Gate Bridge was constructed during the Great Depression

In fact, a number of great structures, including the Empire State Building and the Golden Gate Bridge, were completed during the Great Depression, providing many jobs to the unemployed.

Along with the Empire State building and the Golden Gate Bridge, the Chrysler building and Rockefeller Center were all built as part of depression-era worker relief programs.

You ever wonder why that whole generation of Americans treat food as important as they do - as a treasure?

Scholars estimate that nearly 50% of all children during the Great Depression did not have adequate food, shelter, or medical care. Many suffered rickets from poor nutrition.

In the mountain communities of Appalachia, whole families were reduced to dandelions and blackberries for their basic diet.

Some children were so hungry, they chewed on their own hands.

An early form of Social Security began Aug 14, 1935, to implement social insurance for the elderly who did not have enough money to support themselves.

By the 1930s, thousands of schools were operating on reduced hours or were closed down entirely. Some three million children had left school, and at least 200,000 took to riding the rails.

When the Depression struck, Mexican-Americans were accused of taking jobs away from "real" Americans and of unfairly burdening local relief efforts. Some were physically beaten to "encourage" them to return to Mexico.

On May 6, 1929, Joseph Stalin predicted to a small group of American communists that America would experience a revolutionary crisis and that the American communist party should be ready to assume the leadership of the "impending class struggle in America."

These days, as much as I loath Joe Stalin for what he did to the Russian people, I can't help but wonder if he knew what was coming somewhere in our future with the advent of a Socialist administration in the White House.

In spite of the New Deal and the “Indian New Deal” of 1934, most Native Americans remained bitterly poor during the Great Depression.

The “Indian New Deal” which was also called the Indian Reorganization Act was a complex and multi-faceted legislation which reversed the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887 and granted tribes more autonomy.

Discrimination during the Great Depression against women was common, both officially and unofficially, because they were seen as taking away jobs from men. They were seen as taking food away from families since those were the days when only the husband worked.

The Great Depression did in fact affect everyone in one way or another, but, as unbelievable as it sounds, there are those scholars who believe that up to 40% of the country never faced real hardship during those years. But honestly, I simply can't believe it!

Rich folks were mostly unaffected though. It was reported that a young John F. Kennedy once said that the only thing that he knew about the Great Depression was what he read about in the papers.

The Great Depression changed the family in several ways.

During the Great Depression, nearly 1.5 million women were abandoned by their husbands

Many couples delayed marriage, and divorce rates and birth rates dropped.

Some men also abandoned their families; a 1940 poll revealed that 1.5 million married women were abandoned by their husbands.

In 1936, main economic indicators - except unemployment - regained the levels of the late 1920s.

But, after the federal government cut spending with the expectation that the private sector would step in, the economy took another sharp downturn until World War II.

Californians tried to stop migrants from moving into their state by creating checkpoints on main highways called "bum blockades."

California even instated an "anti-Okie" law which punished anyone bringing in "indigents" with jail time.

During the Great Depression, hundreds of thousands of families traveled west on Route 66 to California, following what John Steinbeck in his famous novel The Grapes of Wrath called "The Mother Road."

While John Steinbeck highlights the plight of migrant farm families in The Grapes of Wrath, in reality, less than half (43%) of the migrants were farmers.

Most migrants came from east of the Dust Bowl and did not work on farms.

Severe drought and dust storms exacerbated the Great Depression because it dried out farmlands and forced families to leave their farms.

On May 9, 1934, a dust storm carried an estimated 350 million tons of dirt 2,000 miles east ward and dumped four million tons of prairie dirt in Chicago.

The drought and dust killed tens of thousands of animals.

In 1932, half of all workers in Cleveland, Ohio, were jobless. And in Toledo, Ohio, four out of five were jobless.

Every major country, including the United States, abandoned the gold standard during the Great Depression.

In fact, leaving the gold standard was a predictor of a country’s economic severity and the length of time for its recovery.

Herbert Hoover argued that abandoning the gold standard was the first step toward “communism, fascism, socialism, statism, and a planned economy.”

In the 1930s, unemployment reached 25% and the GDP dropped 25%.

Though we have not reached that point, today we have more people out of work and on Food Stamps and other programs because our population is so much bigger.

Some scholars speculate that a "Great Depression" type of economic collapse in 2014 would lead to more T.V. watching as a form of escape, longer lines at the ER, laid-off office workers migrating to the country, and even online banking runs.

Since today, we see "hard-times" differently, scholars believe that another depression would be a lot less visible and more isolating than the 1930s' Great Depression.

In March 2012, it was reported that 4 out of 15 of the major U.S. banks wouldn’t survive another severe recession like the one in 2009, much less a Great Depression.

Some scholars find the 2014 economic condition more troubling than that of the 1930s' Great Depression because debt in 2014 includes not only stocks but also millions of homes, property, local governments, and other nations.

Also, in contrast to the 1930s, the U.S. is now a debtor nation and more households in the U.S. are in far greater debt than any other time in our history.

We can learn a lot about what can happen, if we want to avoid it from happening again.

And yes, that's just the way I see it.
Tom Correa

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