The Great Depression
began in 1929 when, in a period of ten weeks, stocks on the New York Stock Exchange lost
50 percent of their value. As stocks continued to fall during the early 1930s, businesses
failed, and unemployment rose dramatically. By 1932, one of every four workers was
unemployed. Banks failed and life savings were lost, leaving many Americans destitute.
With no job and no savings, thousands of Americans lost their homes. The poor
congregated in cardboard shacks in so-called Hoovervilles on the edges of cities across
the nation; hundreds of thousands of the unemployed roamed the country on foot and in
boxcars in futile search of jobs. Although few starved, hunger and malnutrition affected
In a country with abundant resources, the
largest force of skilled labor, and the most productive industry in the world, many found
it hard to understand why the depression had occurred and why it could not be resolved.
Moreover, it was difficult for many to understand why people should go hungry in a country
possessing huge food surpluses. Blaming Wall Street speculators, bankers, and the Hoover
administration, the rumblings of discontent grew mightily in the early 1930s. By 1932,
hunger marches and small riots were common throughout the nation.
However, not all citizens were caught up in the social eruptions. Many were too downtrodden or busy surviving day to day to get involved in public displays of discontent. Instead, they placed their hope and trust in the federal government, especially after the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt to the presidency in 1932.
To find more documents in American Memory related to this topic, use key words such as Great Depression, begging, unemployment, poverty, stock
market crash, and Hoovervilles.
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