Prosperity in the United States seemed limitless before the Great Depression struck.
Overproduction and agricultural problems contributed to the economic catastrophe. President Hoover looked to voluntary business action and limited government relief as solutions, but these efforts failed. Meanwhile, millions of Americans lost their jobs and life savings. Artists and writers depicted this suffering, and many people turned to lighthearted films to escape their difficult lives.
The Impact Today
Events of this period remain important.
• Hoover's model of business-government cooperation is still influential
• John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath and Grant Wood's painting American Gothic are permanent artistic legacies.
The American Republic Since 1877 Video The Chapter 17 video, "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" chronicles Depression-era life in the United States.
1929 • Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front published
October 29, 1929 • Stock market crashes on Black Tuesday
1930 • Grant Wood paints American Gothic
1930 • Ras Tafari becomes Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia
June 1930 • Hawley-Smoot Tariff passed
1931 • Gandhi released from prison in India, ending second passive resistance campaign against British rule
September 21, 1931 • Britain abandons gold standard
October 1931 • National Credit Corporation created
1932 • Drought sweeps Great Plains
1932 • Salazar becomes premier of Portugal
January 1932 • Reconstruction Finance Corporation created
February 1932 • Japan sets up puppet government in Manchukuo in northern China
July 1932 • Bonus Marchers forced out of Washington, D.C.
---Girls pump for water during a dust storm in Springfield, Colorado.
Visit the American Republic Since 1877 Web site at tarvol2.glencoe.com and click on Chapter Overviews—Chapter 17 to preview chapter information.
Inflated stock prices, overproduction, high tariffs, and mistakes by the Federal Reserve led to the Great Depression.
Key Terms and Names
Alfred E. Smith, stock market, bull market, margin, margin call, speculation, Black Tuesday, installment, Hawley-Smoot Tariff
Categorizing As you read about the election of 1928, complete a graphic organizer similar to the one below comparing the backgrounds and issues of the presidential candidates.
• Describe the characteristics of the 1920s stock market.
• Identify the causes of the Great Depression.
Economic Factors The Great Depression was caused by a combination of various economic problems and government policies.
Preview of Events
November 1928 Herbert Hoover elected president
October 24, 1929 Stocks fall during Black Thursday
October 29, 1929 Black Tuesday stock market crash
June 1930 Congress passes Hawley-Smoot Tariff
An American Story
In the years just after the 1929 stock market crash, Annetta Gibson taught English in a Rockford, Illinois, grade school. As a teacher, Gibson was lucky because she was at least able to keep her job, unlike many other American workers.
“Everyone knew that the teachers' salaries were being held up.... The stores charged anything we wanted, and we'd pay them when we got paid, so it wasn't too bad.
The one thing that was bad was that we had worked hard at school to get the children to save.... The children would bring, oh, maybe just a few pennies that they would put in their banks. Some of them had nice little bank accounts when the Depression hit, and some of them never got their money back. It wasn't too good a lesson ... because they thought they might as well spend their money as save it and then have it gone."
—quoted in Centenarians: The Story of the Twentieth Century by the Americans Who Lived It
The Election of 1928
The economic collapse that began in 1929 had seemed unimaginable only a year earlier. In the election of 1928, the presidential candidates vied with each other to paint a rosy picture of the future. Republican Herbert I louver declared, "We are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land."
The Candidates When Calvin Coolidge decided not to run for president in 1928, he cleared the way for Herbert Hoover to head the Republican ticket. A successful engineer and former head of the Food Administration during World War I, Hoover had also spent over seven years as secretary of commerce in the Harding and Coolidge administrations. The Democrats chose Alfred E. Smith, four-time governor of New York. Smith was an Irish American from New York's Lower East Side and the first Roman Catholic ever nominated to run for president.
Campaign Issues By 1928 Prohibition had become a major issue among voters. Because he favored the ban on liquor sales, I hover was considered a "dry" in the popular language of the clay. Smith, who disliked the ban, was a "wet."
The candidates' religious differences sparked 0 smear campaign against Smith. Many Protestants were willing to believe that the Catholic Church financed the Democratic Party and would rule the United States if Smith got into the White House. These slurs embarrassed Hoover, a Quaker, and he tried to quash them, but the charges seriously damaged Smith's candidacy.
Smith's biggest problem, however, was the prosperity of the 1920s, for which the Republicans took full credit Republican candidates promised to continue the trend with such slogans as "two cars in every garage." Hoover received over 6 million more votes than Smith and won the Electoral College in a landslide, 444 to 87.
On March 4, 1929, an audience of 50,000 stood in the rain to hear Hoover's inaugural speech. Sound movie cameras covered the inauguration for the first time and radios broadcast the address worldwide. "I have no fears for the future of our country," Hoover said. "It is bright with hope."
Reading Check Examining What campaign issues led to Herbert Hoover's election to the presidency?
The Long Bull Market
The way e of optimism that swept Hooter into the White House also drove stock prices to new highs. The stock market was established as a system fur buying and selling shares of companies. Sometimes circumstances in the stock market lead to a long period of rising stock prices, which is known as a bull market. In the late 1920s a prolonged bull market convinced many Americans to invest heavily in stocks. By 1929 about 3 million Americans, or roughly 10 percent of households, owned stocks.
As the market continued to soar, many investors began buying stocks on margin, meaning they made only a small cash down payment— as low as 10 percent of the price. With $1,1100 an investor could buy $10,000 worth of stock. The other 59,000 would come as a loan from a stockbroker, who earned both a commission on the sale and interest on the loan. The broker held the stock as collateral.
As long as stock prices kept rising, buying on margin was safe. For example, an investor who borrowed money to buy $10,000 worth of stocks had to wait only a short time for them to rise to 511,000 in value. The investor could then sell the stock, repay the loan, and make $1,000 in profit. The problem came if the stock price began to fall. To protect the loan, a broker could issue a margin call, demanding the investor repay the loan at once. As a result, many investors were very sensitive to any fall in stock prices. It prices tell, they had to sell quickly, or they might not be able to repay their loans.
Before the late 1920s, the prices investors paid for stocks had generally reflected the stocks' true value. If a company made a profit or had good future sales prospects, its stock price rose, while a drop in earnings or an aging product line could send the price down. In the late 1920s, however, hordes of new investors bid prices up without regard to a company's earnings and profits. Buyers, hoping to make a fortune overnight, engaged in speculation. Instead of investing in the future of the companies whose shares they bought,
Herbert Hoover The nation and its new president felt confident about the future in early 1929. Why were Americans so optimistic?
speculators took risks, betting that the market would continue to climb, thus enabling them to sell the stock and make money quickly.
Reading Check Summarizing What was the stock market like in the 1920s?
The Great Depression
• Overproduction and low demand leads to employee layoffs
• Low wages reduce consumer buying power
• High tariffs restrict foreign demand for American goods
• Unemployment reduces buying Dower further
---Refer to Stock Prices, 1920-1932 graph & Cyclical Effect image on page 532 in your textbook.
1. Interpreting Graphs Stock prices peaked in 1929. Before this peak, when did they begin to rise sharply?
2. Making Generalizations Flow did the decline in auto sales affect many other industries?
The Great Crash
The bull market lasted only as long as investors continued putting new money into it. By the latter half of 1929, the market was running out of new customers. In September professional investors sensed danger and began to sell off their holdings. Prices slipped. Other investors sold shares to pay the interest on their brokerage loans. Prices fell further.
Crash! On Monday, October 21, Groucho Marx, the comic star of stage and screen, was awakened by a telephone call from his broker. "You'd better get down here with some cash to cover your margin," the broker said. The stock market had plunged. The dazed comedian had to pay hack the money he had borrowed to buy stocks, which were now selling for far less than he had paid.
Other brokers made similar margin calls. Frightened customers put their stocks up for sale at a frenzied pace, driving the market into a tailspin. When Marx arrived at the brokerage, he found ticker tape "knee-deep on the floor." He further recalled, "People were shouting orders to sell and others were frantically scribbling checks in vain efforts to save their original investments."
On October 21, a day that came to be called Black Thursday, the market plummeted further- Marx was wiped out. He had earned a small fortune from plays and films, and now it was gone in the blink of an eye. Like many other investors, he was deeply in debt. Arthur Marx recalled his father 's final visit to the brokerage, as Groucho looked around and spotted his broker:
“He was sitting in front of the now-stilled ticker-tape machine, with his head buried in his hands. Ticker tape was strewn around him on the floor, and
the place ... looked as if it hadn't been swept out in a week. Groucho tapped [him] on the shoulder and said, 'Aren't you the fellow who said nothing could go wrong?’ ‘I guess I made a mistake,' the broker wearily replied. 'No, I'm the one who made a mistake,' snapped Groucho. 'I listened to you.'"
-quoted in 1929: The Year of the Great Crash
The following week, on October 29, a day later dubbed Black Tuesday, prices took the steepest dive yet. That day stocks lost $10 to 513 billion in value.
By mid-November stock prices had dropped by over one-third. Some 530 billion was lost, a sum roughly equal to the total wages earned by Americans in 1929. The stock market crash was not the major cause of the Great Depression, but it undermined the economy's ability to hold out against its other weaknesses.
Banks in a Tailspin The market crash severely weakened the nation's banks in two ways. First, many banks had lent money to stock speculators. Second, many banks had invested depositors' money in the stock market, hoping for higher returns than they could get by using the money for conventional loans.
When stock values collapsed, the banks lost money on their investments, and the speculators defaulted on their loans. Having suffered serious losses, many banks cut hack drastically on the loans they made. With less credit available, consumers and businesses were unable to bombs; as much money as they had previously. This helped to put the economy into a recession.
For some banks, the losses they suffered in the crash were more than they could absorb, and they were forced to close. At that time, the government did not insure bank deposits; therefore, if a bank collapsed, customers lost their savings. The bank failures in 1929 and early 1930 triggered a crisis of confidence in the banking system.
News of hank failures worried many Americans. They began to make runs on the nation's banks, causing the banks to collapse. A bank run takes place when many depositors decide to withdraw their money at one time, usually for fear the bank is going to collapse.
Most banks make a profit by lending money received from depositors and collecting interest on the loans. The bank holds on to only a fraction of the depositors' money to cover everyday business, such as occasional withdrawals. Ordinarily that reserve is enough to meet the bank's needs, but if too many people withdraw their money, the bank will eventually collapse. During the First two years of the Depression, more than 3,000 banks—over 10 percent of the nation's total—were forced to close.
Reading Check Evaluating How did bank failures contribute to the Great Depression?
The Roots of the Great Depression
The stock market crash helped put the economy into a recession. Yet the crash would not have led to a long-lasting depression it other forces had not been at work. The roots of the Great Depression were deeply entangled in the economy of the 1920s.
The Uneven Distribution of Income Most economists agree that overproduction was a key cause of the Depression. More efficient machinery increased the production capacity of both factories and farms.
Most Americans did not earn enough to buy up the flood of goods they helped produce. While manufacturing output per person-hour rose 32 percent, the average worker's wage increased only 8 percent. In 1929 the top 5 percent of all American households earned 30 percent of the nation's income. By contrast, about two-thirds of families earned less than $2,500 a year, leaving them little expendable income.
History Through Art
Wall Street Panic This painting shows the confusion and chaos surrounding the financial industry in October 1929. How does the artist depict a sense of disorder?
During the 1920s many America its bought high-cost items, such as refrigerators and cars, on the installment plan, under which they would make a small down payment and pay the rest in monthly installments. Some buyers reached a point where paying off their debts forced them to reduce other purchases. This low consumptions then led manufacturers to cut production and lay off employees.
The slowdown in retail manufacturing had repercussions throughout the economy. When radio sales slumped, for example, makers cut back on their orders for copper wire, wood cabinets, and glass radio tubes. Montana copper miners, Minnesota lumberjacks, and Ohio glassworkers, in turn, lost their jobs. Jobless workers had to cut back purchases, further reducing sales. This kind of chain reaction put more and more Americans out of work.
The Loss of Export Sales Many jobs might have been saved if American manufacturers had sold more goods abroad. As the bull market of the 1920s accelerated, C.S. banks made high-interest loans to stock speculators instead of lending money to foreign companies. Without these loans from U.S. banks, foreign companies purchased fewer products from American manufacturers.
Matters grew worse after June 1930, when Congress passed the Hawley-Smoot Tariff raising the average tariff rate to the highest level in American history. Rates went up on more than 900 manufactured items. The Hawley-Smoot tariff aimed to protect American manufacturers from foreign competition, hut it damaged American sales abroad. Because imports now cost much more, Americans bought fewer of them. Foreign countries responded by raising their own tariffs against American products, and this caused fewer American products to be sold overseas. In 1932 U.S. exports fell to about one-fifth of what they had been in 1929, which hurt both American companies and farmers.
Mistakes by the Federal Reserve Just as consumers were able to buy more goods on credit, access to easy money propelled the stock market. Instead of raising interest rates to curb excessive speculation, the Federal Reserve Board kept its rates very low throughout the 1920s.
The Board's failure to raise interest rates significantly helped cause the Depression in two ways. First, by keeping rates low, it encouraged member banks to make risky loans. Second, its low interest rates led business leaders to think the economy was still expanding. As a result, they borrowed more money to expand production, a serious mistake because it led to overproduction when sales were falling. When the Depression finally hit, companies had to lay off workers to cut costs. Then the Fed made another mistake. It raised interest rates, tightening credit. The economy continued to spiral downward.
Reading Check Examining How did the decline in worldwide trade contribute to the Depression?
2. Identify: Alfred E. Smith, Black Tuesday, Hawley-Smoot Tariff.
3. Explain the significance of the year 1929.
4. Economic Factors How did the practices of buying on margin and specula bon cause the stock market to rise?
5. Determining Cause and Effect Why did the stock market crash cause banks to fail?
6. Organizing Use e graphic organizer similar to the one below to list the causes of the Great Depression.
7. Analyzing Graphs Study the graphs on page 532. Note that decreased demand for automobiles ultimately led to layoffs. These layoffs further decreased the demand for automobiles. What do you think might have ended this cycle?
A young girl with the unusual name of Dynamite Garland was living with her family in Cleveland, Olio, in the 19305 when her father, a railroad worker, lost his job. Unable to afford rent, they gave up their home and moved into a two-car garage.
The hardest aspect of living in a garage was getting through the frigid winters. "We would sleep with rugs and blankets over the top of us," Garland later recalled. "In the morning we'd ... get some snow and put it on the stove and melt it and wash 'round our faces." When Garland's father found a part-time job in a Chinese restaurant, the family "lived on those fried noodles."
On Sundays the family looked at houses for sale. "That was a recreation during the Depression," said Garland. "You'd go and see where you'd put this and where you could put that, and this is gonna be my room." In this way, the family tried to focus on better times. Movies and radio programs also provided a brief escape from their troubles, but the struggle to survive left little room for pleasure.
—adapted from Hard Times
The Depression Worsens
In 1930, 1,352 banks suspended operations across the nation, more than twice the number of bank failures in 1929. The Depression grew steadily worse during Hoover's administration. By 1933 more than 9,000 banks had failed. In 1932 alone some 30,000 companies
MOMENT IN HISTORY
IMAGE OF AN ERA
Lasting a decade, the Great Depression deprived many Americans of jobs, land, and livelihoods. Plummeting crop prices and farms withering under drought and dust clouds forced many families to take to the road in search of work, often with little success. Dismayed by scenes of destitution and homelessness, photographer Dorothea Lange joined the Resettlement Administration in 1935. In 1936 in rural Nipomo, California, Lange photographed this "Migrant Mother," a 32year-old woman with seven children. She had just sold her car tires to buy food.
went out of business. By 1933 more than 12 million workers were unemployed—about one-fourth of the workforce. Average family income dropped from $2,300 in 1929 to $1,600 a few wars later.
Lining Up at Soup Kitchens people without jobs often went hungry. Whenever possible they joined bread lines to receive a free handout of food or lined up outside soup kitchens, which private charities set up to give poor people a meal.
Peggy Terry, a young girl in Oklahoma City during the Depression, later told an interviewer how each day after school, her mother sent her to the soup kitchen:
“If you happened to be one of the first ones in line, you didn't get anything but water that was on top. So we'd ask the guy that was ladling out soup into the buckets—everybody had to bring their own bucket to get the soup— he'd dip the greasy, watery stuff off the top. So we'd ask him to please dip down to get some meat and potatoes from the bottom of the kettle. But he wouldn't do it.”
—quoted in Hard Times
Living in Makeshift Villages Families or individuals who could not pay their rent or mortgage lost their homes. Some of them, paralyzed by fear and humiliation over their sudden misfortune, simply would not or could not move. Their landlord would then ask the court for an eviction notice. Court officers called bailiffs, then ejected the nonpaying tenants, piling their belongings in the street.
Throughout the country, newly homeless people put up shacks on unused or public lands, forming communities called shantytowns. Blaming the president for their plight, people referred to such places as Hoovervilles.
In search of work or a better life, many homeless anti unemployed Americans began to wander around the country, walking, hitchhiking, or, most often, "riding the rails." These wanderers, called inks would sneak past railroad police to slip into open boxcars on freight trains for a ride to somewhere else. They camped in "hobo jungles," usually situated near rail yards. Hundreds of thousands of people, mostly boys and voting men, wandered from place to place in this fashion.
Visit the American Republic Since 1877 Web site at yarvol2.glencoe.com and click on Student Web Activities—Chapter 17 for an activity on the Great Depression.