1930s: The Great Depression Disrupts America

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1930s: The Great Depression Disrupts America

After the Roaring Twenties, when business boomed and people thought the future looked bright, the stock market crash on October 29, 1929, seemed a minor problem that would quickly remedy itself. America had suffered hard times before; most Americans thought the economy would soon turn around so people could get on with life. The Great Depression (1929–41) thus came as a huge surprise to most people. Of a population of 122 million in 1930, 750,000 people were laid off without pay and another 2.4 million capable workers had no jobs at all. America was definitely not back on track. The economy showed no sign of turning around. The country's largest, most powerful companies had to cut back. The banking system collapsed. Factory workers, miners, and farmers were left unemployed and in many cases penniless. Schools closed. Children could not get enough food. Married women were fired to favor single women or men. The decade was marred by the suffering of farmers on unworkable "dust bowl" land, hungry children, underpaid workers, and eager, desperate people who could not find work of any kind.

To turn the country around, the government had to step in and help out. The New Deal programs of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945) were a set of government programs designed to stimulate the economy. The New Deal offered temporary work, financial support, loans, and bank account insurance to Americans in need. The government projects got people working and kick-started the economy. By the end of the decade, America was getting back on track as new consumer-product manufacturers and service companies expanded their offerings. These new types of companies would take the place of more industry-oriented manufacturers that had dominated the economy in previous decades.

Despite the economic woes of the decade, popular culture took great strides. The 1930s are known as the golden age of both cinema and radio. Technological advances resulted in films of superior quality. The still-wealthy movie studios produced films with extravagant settings that let audiences escape their personal problems, if only for a short time. Radio became a more popular medium than in the previous decade. By the end of the 1930s, about 80 percent of American households owned a radio. Radio was so popular that movie theaters would even stop the featured film to broadcast the Amos 'n' Andy show (1928–60) to audiences every night.

With the repeal of Prohibition (1920–33), people could legally make and sell alcohol again. Taverns opened across the country. Jukeboxes and recorded music in "juke joints," taverns, or soda fountains offered musical accompaniment to activities that had previously been silent or had relied on live bands. With the financial support and vision of the New Deal, the country heard a larger variety of music than ever before during the decade.

The country's landscape was forever changed by the massive scale and number of building projects that dotted the country. Some of the most impressive skyscrapers and most complicated engineering projects were completed during the 1930s. The Empire State Building (1931) changed the New York skyline. The Boulder Dam (1935; renamed the Hoover Dam in 1947), was an engineering feat that offered a regular supply of electricity to Los Angeles, California, for the first time when it opened in 1935. The Golden Gate Bridge, which was built between 1933 and 1937, spans a two-mile passage between Oakland and San Francisco, California. The Golden Gate stands as a testament to the genius of modern bridge design.

In general, though, life in America during the 1930s was shaped as a result of the Great Depression.

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1930s: The Great Depression Disrupts America

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1930s: The Great Depression Disrupts America