APUSH Unit 7: The Great Depression

General Timeline
General Maps

Map # 1: The US

Course Content

The Great Depression:

Causes of the Great Depression

Initial Reasons for Economic Decline


Lack of Diversity in US economy


US industry was mostly automobiles & construction. These 2 started to decline in late 1920s, and other industries (chemicals, petrol, etc.) couldn't grow fast enough

Poverty in America

More than half of families lived near subsistence level & were too poor to buy industrial goods

Problems in Credit Structure

Farmers struggled to pay off mortgages due to low crop prices. Small banks failed as their customers couldn't pay back loans. Big banks invested massively into stock market

Int'l Debt Structure, Declining Int'l Trade

Allies had war debts to US, and German reparations would pay them off. Germany couldn't pay them off, causing a problem for Allies. This also caused European economy to suffer, causing decline in int'l trade

The Stock Market Crash (Oct 1929)

In early & mid 1920s, stock prices were rising. This caused speculative fever as people kept investing so much in the stock market and were day trading (buying & selling stocks the same day)

In Oct 1929, stock prices were falling. Everyone tried to withdraw their investments from the market. Many people were unable to withdraw funds from the market in time

On Oct 24, 1929 ("Black Thursday"), stock market crashed. This was mostly due to people investing too much

Progression of the Great Depression

  • The crisis worsened after the Stock Market crash

    • Banking system collapsed as many large banks invested in Stock Market

    • This caused small banks to collapse

    • Depositors lost $2.5 billion in deposits

  • Nation's money supply fell, causing severe deflation

    • Merchants had to reduce prices, cut off production and lay off workers​

    • Due to declining purchasing power of people, less people could buy stuff, causing merchants to cut production more & lay off more people

      • This cycle repeats

    • GDP declined almost 25% from 1929-1932

  • Federal Reserve raised interest rates in 1931 to protect itself, worsening the problem

  • The crisis spread to Europe as Europe depended on American banks

    • Due to int'l debt structure (described earlier)


The Struggles of the Americans

Widespread Unemployment

  • The crisis caused widespread unemployment

    • This was due to the cycle below:

People lost money in stocks & therefore had less money

Less workers were needed (to produce less goods), so more workers were fired

Less people had the money to buy industrial goods

Less goods were produced in factories (b/c less people could afford them)

  • Unemployment was super high

    • Almost 60% unemployment in industrial cities

  • Public & private relief systems collapsed due to high demand for relief

    • Pubic relief systems relied on tax revenue, but people now paid less taxes due to less income

    • Private relief systems also didn't have enough money to supply relief to so many people

  • Many people were homeless or nomads

    • Waited in long bread lines, lined outside the Salvation army, rode trains from city to city​

    • Tried looking for jobs, but failed

  • Farming also fared worse

    • Farm income declined almost 60% (1929-32)​

    • 1/3 of Farmers lost their land

    • Arable land in the Plains had a drought, called the "Dust Bowl"

      • Decline in rainfall, increase in heat, worsened effects of the Depression​

      • Many had to migrate west

    • Still, due to agricultural surplus, crop prices fell, causing farm income to decline

      • Many farmers had to leave their land

  • Many people died of malnutrition & starvation

  • Many lived in makeshift shacks outside cities

  • Many families also declined in status

    • Less money → Less children → Lower divorce rate

    • Many families retreated from consumerism & made goods at home

    • Distant relatives often moved in together

Women During the Depression

  • Many women were initially unemployed

    • It was believed that married women whose husbands work don't need a job​

  • Due to widespread unemployment of their husbands, many women were forced to work

    • Many "pink collar" jobs held by women were unaffected by the Depression

      • Teaching, social work, clerks, etc.

      • Allowed women to somewhat retain their jobs

    • In industrial jobs, though, women fared worse than men

      • More likely to be laid off or have wage cuts

    • 20% more women worked by the end of the Depression than by the beginning

  • Black women fared worse since their domestic service jobs were mostly gone

  • Overall, the Depression was bad for women b/c by going to work, it eroded the idea that women are independent (won by feminists in the 1920s)


African-Americans During the Depression

  • African-Americans in the South fared badly

    • Many Black sharecroppers suffered, causing them to lose their land & be unemployed

  • Many Whites also lost their jobs and took formerly Black jobs like janitors, street cleaners, etc.

  • Unemployed Whites sought to remove Blacks from their jobs until all Whites were employed

    • Caused > 1/2 of Blacks in the South to be unemployed

  • Many Blacks migrated to the North, where there was less discrimination, but most were still unemployed

  • Segregation continued in the South

    • In the Scottsboro Case (1931), 9 Black teens were falsely accused of rape & sentenced to death

      • Supreme Court over turned this, setting a precedent for more protection for criminal defendants

  • NAACP tried to encourage Blacks to join the workforce & prevent workplace segregation

    • Some Blacks actually were able to get jobs


Mexican-Americans During the Depression

  • Many Mexican-Americans were did low-class jobs in Southwest US

    • Most were in agriculture, some were in industrial jobs or other unskilled jobs

    • Unemployed Whites forced Mexicans out of their jobs to give the jobs to Whites

  • Many Mexicans were denied relief or hospital admission

    • Some were even deported to Mexico

  • Organized a union of farmworkers, but that failed

  • Forced to migrate to cities (such as LA) where they lived in poverty


Asian-Americans During the Depression

  • California had largest Chinese/Japanese populations

  • Many Japanese were well educated but still had low-class jobs

    • Worked in fruit stands, agriculture, industry​

    • Lost jobs to unemployed Whites in the Depression

    • Farmers lost their jobs due to competition from White farmers migrating west from "Dust Bowl"

  • Organized the Japanese American Citizens League (est. 1930) to assimilate them to American society

    • Believed this was the best way to get civil rights​

  • Many Chinese people fared no better than Japanese

    • Many worked in laundromats or restaurants​


American Culture during the Depression

Feelings during the Depression

  • Many people reasserted their devotion to traditional ideas & opposed modern society

    • Didn't want to participate in modern society and emphasized individualism & spirituality

  • Many felt shamed for not being able to get a job

    • Many men left the family as they felt ashamed of not having a job

      • Many didn't want to leave their homes due as they felt shameful​

    • Many undermined the success ethic & believed they cannot be successful​

      • Blamed large corporations for the Depression


Art & Literature during the Depression

  • Many photographers & documentaries depicted rural poverty during the Depression

  • Literature reflected the hardships of the depression

    • Erskine Caldwell wrote Tobacco Road (1932)

    • Nathanael West wrote Miss Lonelyhearts (1933)

    • John Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath (1939)

    • Richard Wright wrote Native Son (1940)

  • Other literature did not depict the hardships of the Depression but was escapist: It sought to escape the hardships of the Depression w/ a romantic image

    • Margaret Mitchell: Gone with the Wind (1936)

  • The Life Magazine also depicted the hardships of the Depression as well as escapist themes


Radios & Movies during the Depression

  • Radios became super popular b/c almost every family had one

    • Listening to radios was a community experience​

  • Radios had many escapist comedies

    • Had fun content to help people escape the hardships of the Depression

    • Soap operas were also broadcasted, & they generally targeted women

  • Radios also had live broadcasts of many events

    • Bands, comedies, dramas were performed in front of an audience & also broadcast via radio

    • Important events (presidential inauguration, sports games, etc.) were broadcast

  • Radios drew the nation together during this difficult time

  • Movies also became popular & were a cheap entertainment option

    • Became appealing due to the addition of sound & color to movies

    • Walt Disney emerged & created the Disney movies for children

      • Made movies really popular​


Political Developments & Hoover's Fails

Rise of Communism & the Popular Front

  • During the Depression, many communist & anti-fascist groups gained power

    • Hated the capitalists & blamed the Depression on them

    • American Communist Party gained power

    • Supported Franklin D Roosevelt (FDR)

    • Were supported by Comintern (Communist International) in Russia

  • Socialist Party of America also gained power

    • Southern Tenant Farmers' Union (STFU) was supported by Socialists

      • Sought economic reform for tenant farmers​

  • Many governments sought to suppress all communist activities


Herbert Hoover's Failures

  • Hoover helped the economy, but not enough

  • He sought to boost the economy through volunteerism

    • Wanted local charities & support groups to help those who were suffering

    • Wanted employers to raise wages & not lay off their workers

    • This failed b/c the government itself did little to the economy

  • Wanted Congress to fund $423 million in public works programs, but it wasn't enough

  • Hoover sought to protect the agriculture industry, but still his help wasn't enough​

    • Agricultural Marketing Act (1929): Established Federal Farm board

      • Helped give loans & buy surpluses to stabilize crop prices

    • Tariff Act of 1930 (Smoot-Hawley Tariff) increased tariffs for some crops, limiting foreign competition

  • Democrats won majority in House in 1930 as they hated Hoover's very little gov assistance to economy

  • He established Reconstruction Finance Corporation (1932) to provide loans to banks & businesses

    • Failed as it only helped larger banks that had enough collateral

  • Overall, Hoover's administration was a fail as it didn't provide enough gov assistance to economy


Anti-Hoover Protests & Rise of FDR

  • Many people (especially farmers) started to protest against Hoover's administration

    • Farmers established Farmers' Holiday Association (1932) to create a farmers' strike​

      • Withheld their crops from local markets, but this failed eventually

  • In 1924, Congress approved an act to give $1k to all WW1 veterans by 1945, but many veterans wanted that bonus immediately

    • In 1932, Veterans formed Bonus Expeditionary Force ("Bonus Army") & marched to DC to protest​

    • Congress rejected their proposal & police violently suppressed them

  • Hoover's Administration's violent suppression of the Bonus Army gave it a bad public image

  • New York governor, Franklin D Roosevelt (FDR), was Democratic nominee for 1932 election

    • Promoted an economic relief program called the "New Deal"

      • Wanted to build public works projects

      • This gave him lots of popularity

    • Incumbent Hoover was Republican nomination

    • FDR won in a landslide