The Lost Decade
The Stock Market crash is the most substantial economic crisis of its time. Beginning in 1929, all flourishing technological advances, financial security, and emotional well being were halted. Many people lost their careers; as a result, their self-worth promptly diminished. It would take around a decade for the nation to get back on its feet. Four years later, the change would gradually start seeping back into citizens’ daily lives with the election of a new president.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was born on January 30th, 1882.
He was the 32nd president and was first elected in 1933. Roosevelt served for a prolonged amount of time, around twelve years. In modern times this cannot happen due to the passing of the twenty-second amendment. It states that future presidential officials shall only serve two terms with a maximum of eight years.
FDR was a far extended cousin to the 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt. Franklin was born into a considerably wealthy family line. He was educated as a child in Groton, an all-boys school in Massachusetts.
For college, he went to Harvard University. He strived to please the adults and took to heart the teachings of Groton’s headmaster, Endicott Peabody, who urged students to help the less fortunate through public service. (History)
President Roosevelt passed the Works Progress Administration, or WPA, as a solution to the country’s detriment of available paying jobs. He also passed the Farm Security Administration (FSA), Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and the National Recovery Administration (NRA). These administrations were referred to as Roosevelt’s “alphabet agencies.” The WPA and FSA were the most effective of the administrations during this period. The WPA allowed millions of unemployed citizens to earn a stable income. Nearly 1.4 million different jobs were supported, most of which were labor filled positions. A few examples of WPA jobs include building roads, sidewalks, and creating nature trails as well as more creative works, such as the documentation of these events through journalism and photography.
A vast majority of jobs involved construction and infrastructure, since many of the greatest achievements during the time required physical labor. In addition to the construction of highways, sidewalks, and nature trails. Roosevelt’s initiatives involved the development of public buildings and facilities. As a result, libraries, hospitals, and schools were built in almost every city or neighborhood. Among the WPAs accomplishments are the assembly of 29,000 bridges, the paving of around 280,000 miles of new roads, and the construction of about 4,000 schools.
The purpose of the WPA was not only to give back jobs but also to preserve many of the nation’s soul and artistic integrity. “Headed by Harry Hopkins, the WPA provided jobs and income to the unemployed during the Great Depression while developing infrastructure to support the current and future society…” (sandler) There were many subdivisions dedicated to all types of North American art, including the Federal Writers Project or FWP, Federal Music Project (FMP), and HRS or Historical Records Survey. The Records Survey was in charge of documenting the past and future vital occurrences. Luther H. Evans started and directed this bureau.
One of the significant accomplishments was interviewing and recording of many former slaves’ life stories, which until then was ignored in history. The HRS was responsible for uncovering and cataloging thousands of public documents. It included the cataloging of most things kept in Oklahoma’s Historical Society. The HRS did this after cataloging in Washington D.C, the nation’s capital. They started saving all future and old significant newspapers or prints in public libraries. “As part of the American Imprints Inventory, antiquarians prepared an index to American imprints with early publication dates found in state libraries” (Historical Records Survey) The many subdivisions of the Works Progress Administration emphatically changed our nations’ soul and physical future for generations.
At the time, the most available consistent job was being a farmer. During World War One, there was a massive increase in wheat harvesting. This was partly because the population in America boomed as an effect of federal urbanization. With the war, there was an urgency to be able to feed not only American troops but additionally the forces of its allies. The country’s feeling was that wheat would win the war. Before Roosevelt, the country was in a poor state. The stock market crashed in 1929, which was followed by mass unemployment, the closing of most banks, and the loss of future investments.
A large percentage of the population lost everything. Stocks were already withering in value in early 1929. On October 18th, the crash started gaining momentum, causing a public frenzy for anybody invested in the stock market. Less than a week later, investors frantically tried to save their investments. This contributed to the abrupt collapse of the market.
In the same year of Roosevelt’s inauguration, half of the countrys banks had shut down due to financial ruin. Around 20 to 30 percent of the population lost their jobs. This meant that more than 10 million people were drifting without money trying to survive. “…the U.S. economy would not fully turn around until after 1939 when World War II (1939-45) revitalized American industry” (Franklin D. Roosevelt.).
On March 6th, 1933, Roosevelt proposed shutting down all banks for an extended amount of time. This idea was officially named the Bank Holiday. Closing all banks meant shutting off the public’s access to money, meaning no cash could be deposited or withdrawn. This fixed the rapid fluctuation of total stored money, which was one of the main reasons banks failed at the time. Banks were closed until March 13th; this allowed people to store up wealth. More money was deposited then withdrawn the day banks reopened. Roosevelt extensively experimented with new techniques to try and relieve the problems faced by American citizens. Due to his many ideas, the change did happen, although It would take longer for the country’s economy to begin growing again.
The United States of America has always been an agricultural based country. The reason is due to many environmental factors that are unique to this location. In North America, it does not get overwhelmingly hot or cold in many places; this is perfect for crops like wheat and corn. The Dust Bowl officially started in 1931, even though the causes began several decades before.
In 1862, the government passed the Homestead Act. This act promised 160 free acres of land to anyone who would move westwards in America. The only catch was that the purpose of the property had to be for farming. During the time, most of central America past the Mississippi River was untouched. Most people lived in the east in extensively populated areas where the majority of jobs were working in factories in assembly lines. The result of poor working conditions and smoke-filled cities was a substantial motivation for people wanting a cleaner and more stable way of life.
After the Homestead Act was passed, hundreds of thousands of men and women converged west. Most Families settled in the present-day states of Kansas, New Mexico, and Texas. For the majority of farmers, wheat was the preferred crop to plant and harvest because it grew fast and in abundance. Wheat also paid the most per bushel. Around the end of the war, farmers were paid roughly four to five dollars per unit, compared to one dollar before the war started. I believe, any man must see beauty in mile upon mile of level land where the wheat, waist-high, sways to the slightest breeze and is turning a golden yellow under a flaming July sun (Sandler).
During the time technology was progressing faster than it had ever before, this was the case with farming techniques as well. In the past, plows were pulled by cattle, usually strong horses and oxen. There was one blade that cut deep into the earth, strengthening the roots and allowing for more nutrients to be utilized. During the wheat boom, gasoline-powered machinery like tractors and plows became more commonly used. The new machinery allowed farmers to harvest all day without relying on animals. The blades on the machine were short and spiraled. As a result of this, the procedure in which the earth had previously been plowed has unfortunately changed. The topsoil was harshly ground into fine dirt, slowly making the soil dry and malnourished.
Another significant factor in the creation of the dust bowl was ranchers. The ranchers would breed cattle in excessive amounts. As a result, most of the non-plowed land was grazed to the roots. In 1931 it stopped raining due to consistent mistreatment of the land. Soon after, the dust storms started. “The Nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.” (Roosevelt)
In September of 1931, the first dust storm occurred across the great plains. The storm has been described as a rolling pitch-black mass, moving at around 60 miles per hour. Covering everything in its path with a thick layer of dirt. Understandably the public was shocked, and even weather experts had no idea why this happened. These occurrences became more constant in less than a year. After one year, there were 14 dust storms; in 1933, there were 38 more.
Inside buildings were the only safe place from these storms, anything caught in them would suffer or be covered. Most schools and community buildings permanently shut down. An average-sized duster would be around a thousand miles long and hundreds of miles wide. Imagine living on the east coast and tasting dirt in the air from the other side of the country. The combination of poor root support and raging winds would rip out full farms of crops. It would promptly be apparent that if nothing were done to reverse the weather, there would be a national urgency for safety and food.
Amid the dust bowl, many farming families had been pushed out of their homes, and even whole towns were forced to uproot their lives and leave due to lack of financially stable jobs and ways for people to support themselves and their families. Due to these factors, many took the risk of driving through Route 66. Route 66 was a critical part of American infrastructure and crucial to the connection of the east and west coast via motor vehicle. This highway was the only road that went straight to California, stretching 2,448 miles from beginning to end. As a result of the length and time it took to travel, many families would have to stop in the nearest town to find a job before they could continue their journey. They knew about the risk, although a large population of 2.5 million from states like Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansaw began the journey. The road has been decommissioned since 1985 due to weathering and the building of new, more full roads.
California was promising to midwestern farmers because of the climate and generally easy harvest season; to the majority, it was seen as a last resort. The main harvested crops were oranges, dates, apricots, and an assortment of nuts. Most of these do not need to be ripped out of the ground to harvest, meaning the field did not require constant plowing. If anyone made it to California, they would be in the best place to make money in agriculture.
Finding steady income professions was nearly impossible in the early 1930s. This made independent careers extremely hard to make a suitable wage. Examples of these professions included traveling salesmen and women, poets, writers, and artists. As a freelancer, you have to make money yourself, and nobody paid them hourly to do their job. This meant they could make a random quantity of money that had no boundary for how much or little. If a novelist published a successful book, they had the chance to make more money in one sitting than had been earned in a year of royalties.
In the United States, nearly no freelancer made a livable wage. A way around this would be to advertise in another country that had a stable economy. The most desirable location in the world for artists across the board was France. Partially because of the general flourishment of creativity in Paris and the Prohibition Act. During the early 1920s until 1933, there was a prohibition against alcohol in the United States of America. The definition of prohibition is a ban or law denying access to a select item; in this case, it was alcohol.
For that reason, many poets temporarily lived in France where drinking and the creative process often meshed. A notable writer who often visited France was Ernest Hemingway, a World War One veteran and famously acclaimed novelist. Hemingway was part of the lost generation of writers, the aftereffect of the First World War. Other essential writers in the category included Ezra Pound, T.S.Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein.
The trauma sustained because of war-displaced many people similar to the Great depression. In both of these instances, people affected felt lost, stuck without a higher purpose. The effect of the two tragic occurrences happening less than 20 years apart meant that most people were alive for both. This added to the constant anxiety of the unknown, feeling like anything can go wrong in life.