These are the 'facts' of the Depression as you
will see them presented in most textbooks.
Farmers Were Handling Hardship Very Badly)
In 1931, 238 people were admitted to
hospital suffering from starvation.
International trade slumped from $10bn in 1929 to
only $3 bn in 1932.
5000 banks went bankrupt 1929-1932, including the
Bank of America.
In 1932 a quarter of a million Americans had
their homes repossessed, and a fifth of all farmers lost their
In 1932, 20,000 companies went out of business.
- Industrial production had fallen by 40%
- Prices had fallen 50%
- Wages had fallen by 60%
- Share prices had fallen by 80%
- 5000 more banks went bankrupt.
- 25% of Americans were unemployed.
● The depression was particularly fierce in
agriculture, and things were made worse by the ‘dust bowl’
caused by over-farming.
● Many farmers could not afford their mortgage
repayments and many ‘Okies’ (from Oklahoma) and ‘Arkies’ (from
Arkansas) had to abandon their farms and go fruit-picking in
California (the famous novel The Grapes of Wrath is about
● America and no Welfare
State. Many unemployed Americans were reduced to picking over
rubbish dumps or begging (cf the song ‘Buddy, can you spare a
● SOME towns set up soup kitchens and groups like
the Salvation Army (and even Al Capone) organised charity
hand-outs – hence the term ‘on the breadline’.
● In the land of opportunity this was seen as a
terrible failure, and 23,000 people committed suicide in 1932
Homeless people went to live in shanty towns called
‘Hoovervilles’ (as an insult to President Hoover). ‘Hobos’
travelled round looking for jobs, usually riding illegally on
● The government did not know how to stop the
Depression, and Hoover believed in ‘rugged individualism’, and
stuck to the idea that it was not the government’s job to
interfere with business.
● In 1930 the
1931 the Fed raised interest rates, and in 1932 the government
raised taxes - all three simply made the Depression much worse.
Most Americans came to blame the President for the Depression. Shanty towns were
called ‘Hoovervilles’, but there was also ‘Hoover leather’
(cardboard soles for shoes) and ‘Hoover blankets’
(newspapers). ‘In Hoover we trusted, but now we are busted’.
● There were many protest marches and riots.
When banks tried to re-possess some farms, local farmer banded
together and drove them off with pitch-forks.
1932, 20,000 unemployed ex-soldiers set up a Hooverville in
Washington to ask for their war pension (‘bonus’) to be paid
early; Hoover set the army on them, who drive them away with
guns and tear-gas.