The Great Depression began at the end of a prosperous decade. The 1920s produced a rise in earnings, and middle-class Americans had generated more disposable income than ever before.
However, this all ended abruptly with the crash of Wall Street, just months before the dawn of a new decade.
The Great Depression began in the US in 1929 and then spread to other nations across the world. It had global impacts and affected both rich and poor countries. Thousands of families lost not only their savings but also their homes, their jobs, and their way of life.
Let’s dive into the most interesting facts about the Great Depression.
49 Facts About the Great Depression
From what caused the Great Depression to how it ended and what the life of an everyday American looked like, these facts will help you better understand this period in US history.
1) The Great Depression Started in New York City
The Great Depression started in New York City, on Wall Street. On September 4, 1929, stock prices began to plummet.
2) Black Tuesday Was the Day the Market Actually Crashed
On October 29, 1929, the stock market officially crashed. It put the global economy in a downward spiral. This day is also referred to as “Black Tuesday.”
3) The Stock Market Lost Almost All of its Value
From 1929 to 1933, the stock market lost nearly 90% of its value.
4) London’s Stock Exchange Crashed the Month Before
On September 20, 1929, one month before “Black Tuesday,” the London Stock Exchange crashed. This event was due to English investor Clarence Hatry and his lead associates confessing to forgery and fraud, which caused the London Stock Exchange to suspend all of his shares.
5) Many People Lost Their Savings
Around 9,000 banks failed during the Great Depression. This completely wiped out people’s accounts and left them with no savings.
6) US Unemployment Peaked at 25.6% During the Great Depression
During the Great Depression, the US unemployment rate went from about 3.2% in 1929 to a peak of 25.6% in 1933.
7) The Great Depression Was Worse for Countries Indebted to the US
The Depression hit the nations indebted to the US the hardest. In Germany, by early 1932, the unemployment rate was about 24%. In Britain, unemployment peaked at 23% in January of 1933.
8) The Peak of the Depression Was Between 1932 and 1933
The Great Depression peaked between 1932 and 1933. This was caused by bank runs, which are when many people withdraw their money from a bank at the same time. Bank runs were common at the beginning of the depression, and it was the reason that many banks collapsed.
9) Herbert Hoover Was President When the Depression Started
Herbert Hoover was the president of the US when the Great Depression started. He had taken office just six months before the Stock Market crash.
10) Suicide Rates Went Up During the Depression
Suicide rates drastically increased during the 1930s, reaching an all-time high in 1932.
As people lost their jobs, savings, homes, and farms, the numbers skyrocketed.
11) Many Children Were Malnourished
It’s estimated that about 50% of children who lived during the Great Depression didn’t have enough food to eat or access to basic shelter and healthcare. Families desperate to save money overlooked medical and dental care for their children. Many of them developed rickets, which is a preventable disease brought on by malnutrition.
12) Many Children Dropped Out of School
Thousands of children dropped out of school during the 1930s. Many schools had to shut down or operate with reduced hours. Also, some families had to voluntarily take their kids out of school so they could work and help them earn an income.
13) Birth Rates Dropped During the Great Depression
Family life was severely affected by the Great Depression. Birth rates dropped to low levels as families could not provide for their children. In 1936 especially, US fertility rates reached an all-time low.
14) Marriages Rates and Divorce Rates Dropped
Many couples started marrying later than their parent’s generation had. From 1929 to 1933, marriage rates dropped by about 20%. The divorce rate also dropped, not because couples were happier but because they couldn’t afford a divorce.
15) Apple Selling Became Popular During the 1930s
Many people in urban areas began selling apples on busy street corners. In New York City, this was especially popular. People would buy boxes of apples from the apple industry at a reduced price and then sell them at a profit.
16) Hoover’s Name Was Used in a Derogatory Fashion
Hoover became very unpopular during his time in office. His name began being attached to things in a demeaning way.
The bland and watery soup eaten by impoverished Americans was named “Hoover Stew.”
The shantytowns made from cardboard and metal sheets were known as “Hoovervilles.”
And “Hoover blankets” were newspapers that people used to cover themselves.
17) Hoover Did Not Win Re-election
Hoover ran for re-election in 1932 but lost to Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt.
18) Bad Trade Policies Exacerbated the Great Depression
The US put several new trade policies in place to help the reeling US economy, but most of them backfired. The Smoot-Hawley Tariff, for example, was signed into law in 1930.
It raised US tariffs on about 20,000 imported goods to the highest level seen in US history. However, the policy backfired. European countries simply stopped buying American goods, which only worsened the economic crisis.
19) Franklin D. Roosevelt Was a Popular Leader
Unlike Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) was widely liked by the public. His responses to the challenges of the Great Depression helped him combat the crisis more effectively.
20) FDR Introduced The “New Deal”
Roosevelt implemented the “New Deal.” This was a series of laws, programs, and government agencies that helped the US recover from the economic disaster. The innovative policies did things like place regulations on the stock market, businesses, and banks. It also helped the homeless and assisted people looking for jobs.
21) Social Security Was Set up During the Depression
Perhaps the most beneficial New Deal program was the Social Security Act. It established a much-needed system for retirement pensions, insurance for the unemployed, and welfare benefits.
22) FDR is the Longest Serving President
Franklin D. Roosevelt served a total of four presidential terms, which stretched from March 4, 1933, to April 12, 1945. At a time of great instability, FDR was seen as a very stabilizing force.
Two years after FDR’s death, the 22nd Amendment was passed, which limited the presidency to two terms.
23) Mealtime Looked Very Different During the Great Depression
During the Great Depression, people had to be more economical with their food rations and make a little go a long way. Homemakers’ advice on how to stretch food budgets and meals was common. Some popular Great Depression meals included vegetable cabbage soup, cornbread (no flour required), dandelion salad, and baked beans.
24) Some Very Outlandish Dishes Came Out of the Great Depression
A lot of interesting dishes made their way into Depression-era cookbooks. One of the more outlandish recipes was for corned beef luncheon salad, which combined gelatin, canned corned beef, peas, celery, lemon juice, and vinegar.
People also ate peanut-butter stuffed onions, vinegar pie, and ketchup sandwiches.
25) The Government Rationed Certain Food Items
To prevent hoarding and to attempt to help stabilize the economy, the government rationed certain food items. The main ones were meat, fish, butter, eggs, cheese, coffee, and sugar.
26) Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Was Introduced During the Depression
Not all Great Depression-era food was bad. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese was introduced to America in 1937. It consisted of dried macaroni noodles and a package of cheese powder. The nonperishable boxed product could serve four people for 19 cents.
27) Eleanor Roosevelt Was a Great Leader During the Depression
Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt did all she could to help Americans during the Great Depression.
The first lady aided her husband in implementing the “New Deal”. She pushed for more programs to assist neglected communities, like poor, rural American families and black Americans.
28) The First Lady Popularized a Spaghetti Carrot Casserole
Ms. Roosevelt did her best to promote simple dishes for thrifty food budgets. One such dish she made popular was a “casserole” that consisted of spaghetti noodles, boiled carrots, and a white sauce made of milk, butter, flour, and salt.
29) The White House’s Food Was Bland, But Economical
The White House kitchen wanted to set an example for the everyday American suffering through depression-era cuisine. They resorted to eating bland meals along with the rest of the public.
Food items like prunes, bread and butter sandwiches, and gelatin salads were staples in the Roosevelt kitchen.
30) The Dust Bowl Took Place During the Great Depression
The Dust Bowl, also called “the Dirty Thirties,” is a name given to severe dust storms that devastated the ecology and agriculture of the American prairies during the 1930s. It was caused by severe drought and a failure to use dryland farming methods.
31) Black Sunday Was One of the Worst Dust Storms in US History
Black Sunday refers to one of the worst dust storms to hit the prairies. It occurred on April 14, 1935, and caused tremendous economic and agricultural damage.
32) Crime Increased During the Great Depression
The economic hardship brought on by the Great Depression led to a crime boom in the US during the 1930s. For many, it was almost impossible to find work. Some illegal activities people partook in included stealing, smuggling, and fighting. People did whatever they could to stay afloat and provide for their families.
33) Bonnie and Clyde Went on Their Crime Spree During the Depression
Notorious criminals Bonnie and Clyde were a product of their era. The two lovers went on a crime spree during the height of the Great Depression that lasted for 21 months.
They robbed gas stations, restaurants, and banks. Their exploits were sensationalized in the newspaper.
34) Black Americans Suffered the Most During the Great Depression
Black Americans were the group that suffered the most during the Great Depression. They were usually the first to be laid off and the last to be hired. And since they mostly held low-paying jobs before the depression, most did not have any savings to fall back on.
35) Accessories Became Popular During the 1930s
Most Americans started wearing plain, cheap clothing during the depression. To make up for their simple attire, women started to accessories.
36) Going to the Movies Helped Sustain National Morale
Many movie theaters lowered their admission prices during the Great Depression. Although most people didn’t have extra money to spend on entertainment, going to the movies was a wonderful and much-needed escape from their dreary lives.
Comedies were especially popular; they provided a good laugh and helped ease people’s minds and brought them joy during a troubling time.
37) The Era Produced Some Iconic Classics
The 1930s gave us many beloved classics. Some of the most popular movies to come out of this era were “Gone with the Wind”, “The Wizard of Oz”, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, and “King Kong.”
38) One Disney Film Symbolized the Great Depression
In 1933, Walt Disney’s “The Three Little Pigs” premiered. It was said to symbolize the Great Depression. The little pigs, who were meant to be the average citizen, had to work together to survive the terror of the Big Bad Wolf, who represented the depression.
39) Shirley Temple Became an Icon During the Depression
Amid the anguish and misery of the Great Depression, Shirley Temple was a shining light that lifted the spirits of many. She had a ‘never give up’ attitude, and Hollywood specifically drafted her movies to show her as a loveable little girl who was able to melt even the coldest of hearts.
All her movies concluded with a happy ending that gave Americans hope and optimism about the future. She made more than two dozen films during the 1930s and was the number one star at the box office for four straight years.
40) Listening to the Radio Was Very Popular in the 1930s
For many Americans, listening to the radio was a primary source of entertainment and information. There were programs for all ages, from young children to adults.
In 1930 about 12 million households owned radios, which was about 40% of the US population. By the end of the decade, that number had more than doubled to 28 million.
41) FDR Held a Weekly Radio Broadcast
From 1933 to 1944, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt hosted about 30 broadcasts known as “Fireside Chats.” He spoke directly to the American people on a variety of topics, like unemployment, banking, and fascism in Europe.
Americans found comfort in his speeches, and it boosted the public’s faith and trust in Roosevelt.
42) Monopoly Was Created During the Great Depression
The board game Monopoly was introduced in 1935. It became extremely popular and provided a cheap source of entertainment. It was originally sold for about $2.
43) Minigolf Became All the Rage
Recreational activities became widely popular in the 1930s, especially mini-golf. Thousands of courses sprang up across the US.
44) Several Famous Buildings Were Constructed During the Depression
Several large-scale construction projects were carried out during the Great Depression. The Empire State Building was built from 1930 to 1931. Construction for the Golden Gate Bridge started in 1933 and finished in 1937. The Hoover Dam was built from 1931 to 1936.
45) People Wanted to Change the Name of the Hoover Dam
The Hoover Dam had been named after the 31st president while he was in office. But once he failed to win re-election, several people considered changing the name to “Boulder Canyon Dam” or “Boulder Dam.”
46) The Great Depression Helped End Prohibition
Prohibition was implemented in the US in 1920 with the passage of the 18th Amendment.
However, on March 22, 1933, President Roosevelt signed the Beer and Wine Revenue Act. This new law legalized the sale of beer and wine (hard liquor was still illegal).
It imposed a federal tax on alcoholic beverages to raise revenue, which generated federal funds that helped finance Roosevelt’s New Deal programs.
47) Prohibition Officially Ended in December 1933
Prohibition officially ended on December 5, 1933. The 21st Amendment was put into place, which overturned the 18th Amendment banning alcohol sales.
The Great Depression spurred this change as the cash-strapped government saw the potential for tax revenue on alcohol sales.
48) The Great Depression Helped Give Rise to Hitler
The Great Depression played a role in the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. The declining economic conditions faced by Germany in the 1930s created a struggling, angry populace that was hungry for change.
Hitler found an audience for his bigotry rhetoric that portrayed Jews as driving the Great Depression.
49) World War 2 Ended the Great Depression
Most historians agree that the Great Depression ended with the onset of World War 2, which began in 1939. The wartime economy created many jobs that put a considerable amount of people back to work.