"Hey Brother Can You Spare a Dime?"
By Miriam B. Medina

Part III

The Decade of the Thirties: The Effects of the Great Depression

One of the songs that reflected the mood of this period was "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime.", where it shows how despite this person's  patriotism and all the sacrifices he had made to achieve the American Dream, he was reduced to the status of a bum standing on a bread line.

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime," lyrics by Yip Harburg, 1931

They used to tell me I was building a dream, and so I followed the mob,
When there was earth to plow, or guns to bear, I was always there right on the job.
They used to tell me I was building a dream, with peace and glory ahead,
Why should I be standing in line, just waiting for bread?

Once I built a railroad, I made it run, made it race against time.
Once I built a railroad; now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?
Once I built a tower, up to the sun, brick, and rivet, and lime;
Once I built a tower, now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell,
Full of that Yankee Doodly Dum,
Half a million boots went slogging through Hell,
And I was the kid with the drum!

Say, don't you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time.
Why don't you remember, I'm your pal? Buddy, can you spare a dime?

Image, Source: b&w film copy neg.

The Panic of 1929 and the ensuing depression were the most terrible the nation had ever suffered. "The stock market crash on October 23, 1929 wiped out an average of more than a billion dollars worth of paper values a day. A staggering total of 15 million were unemployed, and those who continued to work did so under greatly reduced wage scales."  The flow of capital into productive enterprise slowed down to a trickle. The country was suffering from under consumption not overproduction. Banks were weighted down with government bonds, real estate mortgages based on greatly appreciated valuations, and highly speculative securities. Mass hysteria reigned.

Beginning in the United States, the Great Depression spread to most of the world's industrial countries, bringing foreign-trade to a standstill. There was a rapid decline in production and sales of goods. Thirteen to Fifteen million people were left unemployed as a result of factory shut-downs. Bankrupt businesses and banks closed their doors. Depositors who had entrusted the bank with their life savings discovered much to their shock and dismay that they were wiped out by the bank collapse.

Many had to depend on charity in order to survive. Farm and home foreclosures were at an all-time high. Everywhere Americans were suffering physical and emotional hardships. People were not buying .They just  couldn't afford to do it anymore , nor were they  any longer in a  "whoopee" mood over "the good old Days".

Shanty towns, or squatter communities  dubbed as "Hoovervilles" during President Hoover's term in office  composed of people evicted from their homes and farms were sprouting  all over the United States.  These individuals labeled (hobos) were forced to live  a degraded existence among the piles of accumulated trash and public garbage dumps, waiting for the trucks, in hopes of finding
scraps of food or something of value to sell. The poor and disposed would cook their meager portions of food in tin cans over open fires and cover themselves with newspapers displaying their Hoover shoes with holes in the soles. Their only scenery was one of  dust in the summer, and mud in the winter breathing in the stench from trash and beyond unsanitary dilapidated outhouses.

The Years of the Depression

By April, 1930 there were 3,187,000 unemployed which increased to 4,000,000 by October, 1930. During this time the  "Dust Bowl" a terrible drought devastated the Great Plains, causing much suffering in the area worsening the already farm situation. TheImage, Source: intermediary roll film of original neg. depression and drought hit farmers on the Great Plains the hardest. Many of these farmers were forced to seek government assistance. Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee and Mississippi were the states most severely hit by the drought. Despite all efforts, almost a million farm families that lived in the worst-hit area amidst the unemployment, disease and diminishing food supply were forced to migrate to other states mostly out west in search of work. Intense conflicts would escalate between the new comers and the local residents  in their fight for survival..

 The people who migrated from the farms to the industrial cities in search of job opportunities, were surprised to find  that the employment situation was not as good as they had anticipated , since one out of three workers were unemployed.. 

On December 11, 1930 the largest bank failure in the nation's history took place when the bank of the United States closed its doors in New York City. Almost 400,000 depositors were affected by the bank's collapse. On December 23-26, 1930 the Chelsea Bank and Trust Company, with six offices in the New York area, was forced to close.  Three days later 20 small banks in six Southern and Midwestern states were also  closed.

The nation's economic health that was poor in 1930 continued to deteriorate. In July, 1931 unemployment reached 7,000,000. During  1931 there were 2,294 bank failures, double the amount of those in 1930. In September of the  same year  U.S. Steel began cutting wages of over 200,000 employees by 10 %  . 800  more banks were closed, while Individuals began hoarding gold.(1)

On February 27, 1932 Congress passed the Glass-Steagalll Act, which authorized the sale of $750,000,000 worth of the Government's huge gold supply and allowed the Federal Reserve System more leeway in discounting commercial paper. The purpose of the measure was to counteract the hoarding of gold and to ease credit. With economic conditions continuing to worsen,
on July 15, 1932 President Hoover announced that he was taking a 20 % salary cut. On July 22, 1932 the Federal Home Loan Bank Act became law, creating 12 regional banks with a capital of $125,000,000 to discount home loans for building and loan associations, savings banks, and insurance companies. President Hoover's hope was  that the act would stimulate residential construction, increase employment, and expand home ownership.(1)

The weeks between the election in November and the inauguration in March were the most depressing the nation had witnessed. Unemployment had reached an estimated peak of 15,000,000.  More than two hundred cities were facing bankruptcies. Across the nation property was being forfeited and millions of people were loosing their hard-earned equities and becoming homeless.. Those
who had money would hoard it.  Steel plants, automobile factories, and other industries were at an all time low in production. The situation was desperate. (2)

On July 28,1932, an army of unemployed veterans went to Washington and encamped on government property. Though the veterans were well disciplined and acting in a peaceful way, they were driven out by tanks, cavalry, infantry and machine
gun troops. In this encounter two men were shot, 1000 men, women and children were gassed. This was one of the worst exhibitions of official blundering and cruel oppression the country had ever witnessed.

Conditions in the Nation continued to deteriorate, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt was sworn into office on March 4, 1933 as President. In his inaugural address he stated to millions of listeners "let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself__nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." On June 16 the Banking Act of 1933 (The Glass-Steagall Act) was passed, setting up the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) which guaranteed individual accounts in banks up to $5,000.(1)

 Continue: Page: 2 The Decade of the Thirties: The Effects of the Great Depression



Photo Credit: Family on Farm ; Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, DC 20540 USA ; Reproduction Number LCC-USF342-8147-A 1935

Photo Credit: "Bread Line in New York City"; Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA; Reproduction Number LCC-SZ62-75787

1. _________The Bicentennial Almanac; edited by Calvin D. Linton Ph.D; Thomas Nelson Inc. (1975)

2. Dumond, Dwight Lowell; "America in Our Time" 1896-1946; Henry Holt and Company (1937)




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