Skip to main content
Lloyd Sealy Library
John Jay College of Criminal Justice

American History: The Great Depression: At Home

Guide for Library Research on The Great Depression

Lost Generation

Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway

The generation that fought in World War One was refered to as the "Lost Generation", a term made popular by Ernest Hemingway in his novel "The Sun Also Rises". The "Lost" was a reference not to any sort of disappearance but that due to the war and its aftermath, they were simply directionless.

The Jazz Age

Benny Goodman and Louis Armstrong

Benny Goodman and Louis Armstrong

The 1920s were known as "the Roaring 20s" or the "Jazz Age" due to the popularity of jazz music and dance. The Jazz age officially ended with the start of the Great Depression in 1929.

Empire State Building

Empire State Building

The Empire State Building is a skyscraper located in midtown Manhattan and is named after the nickname for New York, the Empire State. It was build in one year from 1930-1931.

The Scottsboro Nine

The Scottsboro Nine 1931

The Scottsboro Nine 1931

The Scottsboro Boys was the name given by the newspapers to nine black teenagers falsely accused and convicted of rape in Alabama in 1931. It was a sensational case at the time and has been considered an example of a gross miscarriage of justice.The NAACP was reluctant to defend the Scottsboro Nine and this gave an opening for the ILD (The International Labor Defense), the legal arm of the American Communist Party, to take over representation of the accused in the case. The Communists wanted to use the case as a recruiting tool. The Scottsboro Boys were ultimately tried three times and found guilty all three times despite one of the alleged victims having admitted to making up the story about being raped. The book "To Kill A Mockingbird" by Harper Lee is considered to have been inspired by the case.

Prohibition

Liquor Poured Down the Drain During Prohibition

Liquor Poured Down the Drain During Prohibition

Prohibition was the period from 1919 to 1933 when the sale of alcohol was made illegal by the 18th amendment to the Constitution. Prohibition led to a massive increase in crime and general lawbreaking. The 18th amendment was repealed by the 21st amendment, bringing Prohibition to an end.

Isolationism

Charles Lindbergh (1902-1974)

Charles Lindbergh (1902-1974)

Isolationism is a policy that asserts that the best interests of a nation are to keep out of the affairs of other countries and in particular to keep from being drawn into dangerous conflicts. During the bulk of the 1920s and 1930s most of American public and political opinion was in favor of isolation and neutrality regarding any conflict in Europe. To that effect the US government passed a series of Neurtrality Acts to keep the country out of any brewing conflict in Europe during that same period. However the public mood began to shift once war actually broke out in 1939 and especially after the Fall of France in 1940. The US government was able to begin to gain support for efforts to help the Allies, reduced essentially to just the British, in this period, particularly with policies such as the Lend-Lease Act.

Charles Lindbergh was the first pilot to make a nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean from New York to Paris in 1927. He was also a political activist in theanti-war America First movment prior to American entry into World War Two. The movement was committed to maintaining an isolationist policy regardless of the changing situation in Europe and the danger that it posed to the country. He and others in this movement believed that the United States was protected from the conflict by geography (the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans keeping the country away from the theaters of war) and that the drive for war being made not by the American people but by the British, the Roosevelt administration and the Jews. The movement dissolved itself three days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Isolationism was no longer a politically popular program given the attack on the country by the Japanese Empire.

American Neutrality Acts

Neutrality Acts Political Cartoon

Neutrality Acts Political Cartoon

The Neutrality Acts were a series of laws passed in the 1930s that were meant to keep the United States out of foreign conflict and placed embargos of the sale of arms and munitions as well as the giving of loans to foreign powers. Only in 1939 when Britain and France were finally at war with Germany were the Neutrality Acts amended to allow for "Cash and Carry" in which arms sales were allowed as long as they were paid for on the spot and the purchaser transported the materials themselves. The Neutrality Acts would be ended in 1941 by the Lend-Lease Act.

Arsenal of Democracy

Rosie the Riveter by Norman Rockwell

Rosie the Riveter by Norman Rockwell

In 1940 before the entry of the United States into World War Two, FDR called the country "The Arsenal of Democracy", promising military supplies to Britain for their fight against Germany.

1929 Stock Market Crash

Brooklyn Daily Eagle Headline 1929

Brooklyn Daily Eagle Headline 1929

On Tuesday October 29 1929, known as Black Tuesday, the Stock Market crashed. The crash marked the beginning of a period of economic misery known as the Great Depression.

Roosevelt Elected

Franklin Delano Roosevelt 1882-1945

Franklin Delano Roosevelt 1882-1945

In response to the incompetant response of President Hoover to the economic catastrophe sparked by the Stock Market Crash of 1929, a majority of the country chose to elect Democrat Franklin Roosevelt. FDR responded to the crisis with a policy known as "The New Deal". Though his policies did not end the Depression (it would only end with American entry into World War Two in 1941), he remained popular and ultimately served four terms as President, the only person to have done so in the history of the United States.

The New Deal

The New Deal

The platform that Franklin Roosevelt and the Democrats ran on in 1932 was called "The New Deal". The New Deal itself is split into two eras; the first New Deal was during the beginning of the Roosevelt administration in 1933 when he took aggressive measures to deal with the economic problems caused by the Depression. Among the reforms of the First New Deal were banking reform, monetary reform, public works programs as well as rural and farm programs. The Second New Deal were the programs that the Roosevelt administration undertook toward the end of his first term and the beginning of his second. Among them were Social Security and the Wagner Act. The New Deal was an expensive program to pursue and caused federal expenditures to skyrocket.

Banking "Holiday"

Banking "Holiday"

Following the inauguration of President Roosevelt, he and his administration moved to tackle the crisis in the banking system. This was at a time when banks across the country were collapsing. His response was to declare a "bank holiday", closing banks across the country for four days while the Emergency Banking Act was signed into law. It was eventually followed by the Glass–Steagall Act or Banking Act of 1933 which established FDIC insurance. The act allowed for sound banks to be reopened under the supervision of the Treasury department. The act restored confidence in the banking system by the American people.

Fireside Chats

Fireside Chats

Franklin Roosevelt 1932

During his presidency, President Roosevelt gave a series of radio addresses that were called "Fireside chats". FDR used the radio addresses to communicate with the public and to calm a jittery public as well as explain the reasons behind his policies.

The Great Dustbowl

A dust storm about to cover a home in the middle of the United States 1930s

A dust storm about to cover a home in the middle of the United States 1930s

During the 1930s, drought and massive soil erosion due to overfarming creaed a phenomenon of tremendous dust storms that blew across the country for eight years. The center of the country became known as "The Dustbowl" and the situation drove hundreds of thousands of people out of the region, mostly towards California.

Okies and Arkies

Migrant Mother by Dorothy Lange

Migrant Mother by Dorothy Lange


Okies and Arkies were farmers from Oklahoma (Okies) and Arkansas (Arkies) plus Texas who migrated to California during the Great Depression to escape the Dust Bowl conditions and to seek economic relief.

Court Packing

Court Packing

In the 1935-1937 period the Supreme Court ruled that many of the New Deal programs that the Roosevelt administration created were unconstitutional. FDR responded by submitting the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937 which was meant to add more justices to the court and thus give him a majority that would rule in his favor on his legislative programs. The bill ultimately failed in the Congress but scared the Supreme Court into reversing itself and ruling in favor of the New Deal regardless of previous judicial prescedents from then on.

Social Security Act

Social Security Act

The Social Security Act of 1935 was a part of the Second New Deal that created the social security system in the United States. The act was an attempt to provide federal assistance to the elderly and to limit the dangers of old age through Federal government assistance.

Herbert Hoover

Herbert Hoover (1874-1964)

Herbert Hoover (1874-1964)

Herbert Hoover was the 31st President of the United States and the President who was in power when the Stock Market crashed in 1929 ushering in the Great Depression. His administration was responsible for the first responses by the government to the economic downturn and utterly failed. He was crushed in a landslide by Franklin Roosevelt in the 1932 election.

Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act

Willis C. Hawley and Reed Smoot 1929

Willis C. Hawley and Reed Smoot 1929

The Smoot-Hawley Tariff, created in 1930, raised tariffs on a variety of imported goods to extremely high levels. It also triggered retaliatory tariffs by American trading partners and is considered by historians as being responsible for contributing to the downward economic spiral that evolved into a prolonged decade long economic slump.

Hoovervilles

 

Hooverville in Red Hook Brooklyn

Hooverville in Red Hook Brooklyn

"Hooverville" was the name for the shanty towns built mostly in public parks and on the outskirts of cities by the homeless during the Great Depression. The name "Hooverville" was coined by the Democratic National Committee chief Charles Michelson.

Bonus Army

The Bonus Army Camped on The Capital Lawn

The Bonus Army Camped on The Capital Lawn


Following the end of World War One, the US government promised a bonus to veterans of that conflict over a veto from President Calvin Coolidge that would be paid out by 1945. In 1932, with the Great Depression in full swing, 43,000 veterans and their families camped out in Washington D.C. to protest and ask that the bonus be granted early. The "Bonus Army" also called the "Bonus Expeditionary Force". President Hoover ordered the Bonus Army evicted from the area near the capitol. General Douglas MacArthur, Chief of Staff at the time, led a vicious military assault against the veterans with Infantry and Cavalry including tanks commanded by Major George S. Patton. The brutal assault did not help Hoover in his reelection bid which he lost to Franklin Roosevelt in a massive landslide.

FDR did not support the ealy payout of the bonus either but rather than send the army to assault the veterans, he sent Mrs. Roosevelt to speak to them. Afterwards Congress overrode FDRs opposition to the Bonus payout and authorized payment in 1936.

Kingfish

Huey P. Long (1893-1935)

Huey P. Long (1893-1935)


Louisiana senator Huey P. Long, nicknamed Kingfish, was an influencial politician during the President Roosevelt's first term. The Kingfish was a Democrat and a populist who served as governor of Louisiana before becoming its senator. His political platform was "Every Man a King" and basically was a call for redistribution of wealth and for massive federal spending. Long split with Roosevelt and the majority of his party in 1933 and had planned to run for governor with the support of the anti-semitic radio priest Father Coughlin but was assassinated in 1935.

Tennessee Valley Authority

Tennessee Valley Authority

Created in 1933 to help a region greatly affected by the Great Depression, the Tennessee Valley Authority or TVA is a federally owned corportation to provide electricity and flood control to the Tennessee Valley region.

Golden Age of Hollywood Movies

Golden Age of Hollywood Movies

The Golden age of Hollywood cinema started around the same time as the Great Depression and would continue until the early 1960s. During the Great Depression some of the most classic works of American movies were created including Gone with the WInd and the Wizard of Oz among others.

Orson Welles

Orson Welles (1915-1985)

Orson Welles (1915-1985)

Orson Welles was a major American actor who during the Great Depression achieved fame for the 1938 radio broadcast of H.G. Wells "The War of the Worlds" which convinced many listeners that the country was actually being invaded by Martians, causing a panic in some areas. In 1941 he would create the cinematic masterpiece "Citizen Kane".

Literature of the Great Depression Era

Literature of the Great Depression Era

The Roaring Twenties and Great Depression era was a time when American literature blossomed. Among some of the writers to create works of literature during this period were John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway. Also some of the most popular icons and heroes of American popular culture were created during this time including Superman, Batman, Flash Gordon, and Dick Tracy.