The Great Depression In Photos: A Look At Catastrophe You Have To See To Believe


fotorcreatedThe Great Depression was a completely unprecedented economic catastrophe, far worse than the financial crash of the late 2000s.

It began in 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s. It was triggered by a stock market crash in the United States and during the first three years of the depression, the entire worldwide GDP would shrink by 15%!

Unemployment became a massive issue and more than 25% of Americans found themselves without a job. Building work in cities came to a complete stop and farming communities watched prices plummet by up to 60%.

These photos show what life was like for ordinary Americans during The Great Depression. Number 2, particularly, offers a sobering look at its effects.


15. Shocked Stump Rancher

001-15-shocked-stump-rancher-895542In this image, you can see a Mennonite farmer. He’d lost his livelihood as a farmer when he could no longer sell his wheat on the open market for a fair price. So he moved to Idaho to become a stump rancher. A stump ranch was one where cattle fed on the stumps of felled trees.
14. The Donkey Engine At Work

002-14-the-donkey-engine-at-work-895570A Donkey Engine was a form of steam engine. Here you can see it in operation in Tillamook County, Oregon. Workers used the Donkey Engine to make sure that logs that they had felled and treated could be placed onto a truck and transported to their eventual destination in a factory.

13. The Closed Saloon

003-13-the-closed-saloon-895599When nearly a quarter of the country is unemployed and without an income – it is impossible for the majority of businesses to stay open. This saloon was abandoned by its owners in Winton, Minnesota. It would have been one of many shops and saloons abandoned in the area at that time.

12. A Poor Man’s Lunch

004-12-a-poor-man-s-lunch-895638Food was hard to come by during The Great Depression for many people. This Mexican gentleman is consuming a very meager lunch somewhere near Santa Maria in Texas. All he has is a cup of cold coffee and a few tortillas. He was lucky — it is estimated that 7 million people starved to death during this time.

11. When Milk Isn’t Milk

005-11-when-milk-isn-t-milk-895660Milk was impossible for families to find in The Great Depression. Many children were forced to get by on “milk” which rather than being from cattle was a mixture of powdered flour and water. It was considered something of a luxury too. This little boy, from a farming family, wouldn’t have much else to keep his spirits up and his hunger at bay.
10. A Lumberjack Who Wasn’t OK

006-10-a-lumberjack-who-wasn-t-ok-895701Lumberjacks had it hard. In the time of the Great Depression, the work was highly dangerous with little thought given to worker safety. They were also badly paid. Strikes often interrupted what little work there was for lumberjacks. This lumberjack was injured in a brawl and could no longer work for a living.

9. South Carolina Double Crash

007-9-south-carolina-double-crash-895708This family in South Carolina had it twice as hard. Not only did The Great Depression destroy many farming communities but in the run up to The Great Depression, South Carolina’s cotton crop had been destroyed by boll weevils. The area had 50% unemployment prior to the effects of The Great Depression.

8. Sharecropping Sorrow

008-8-sharecropping-sorrow-895765Sharecroppers were subsistence farmers who had arisen from the end of slavery. Tenants of a farm could run a small operation as long as they gave a share of their crop to the farm’s owner. The 1930s were desperate years for sharecroppers as their tiny farming yields became worthless.

7. The Hoover Wagon

009-7-the-hoover-wagon-895786When people are dealing with incredible levels of poverty, they can’t be too fussy about where they sleep. This “Hoover Wagon” was basically a barn on wheels in which the homeless could lay their heads at night. They’d have had nothing but a mattress or two inside with no other comforts.

6. Work Camps In Florida

010-6-work-camps-in-florida-895821Franklin Roosevelt introduced the “New Deal” to get the country back on its feet again and many found themselves in organized work camps, like this one in Florida. Here you can see workers queuing for water at a communal pump because while there was shelter, there was no running water.

5. The Hooverville

011-5-the-hooverville-895826It was President Hoover who had led the country into The Great Depression and he was often blamed for the nation’s woes. “Hoovervilles” were shanty towns that sprang up across America as the poor and destitute could no longer afford real housing to live in. This one was in Texas.

4. Suffer The Children

012-4-suffer-the-children-895868These children may look well turned out but they were actually living homeless on 61st Street, New York City. Thousands of children had no roof over their heads in New York throughout the Great Depression. More than 15% of people who lived in the city required public assistance of some kind.

3. The Coming Storm

013-3-the-coming-storm-895885Storms in the “dust bowl” reached epic proportions during the 1930s and it was often impossible for sunlight to break through the storms. This family in Oklahoma is praying before such a storm hits. They were traveling to find work of some kind and had no permanent home to call their own.

2. For Some Nothing Changed

014-2-for-some-nothing-changed-895892Not everyone suffered because of The Great Depression. This woman in New York City can be seen having her hair styled and her nails polished at a salon known as Francois De Paris. She seems blissfully unaware of the misery that her fellow countrymen were facing just a few blocks away.

1. Sleeping Rough

015-1-sleeping-rough-895943When you’re out looking for work and you’ve got no money – beds are hard to come by. These young gentlemen found themselves waiting for a train in Radford, Virginia and elected to sleep on a rough station bench rather than try and find accommodation they could not afford.

No matter how bad things get today, they won’t come close to The Great Depression. It was an era of hard times for millions and millions of Americans and the rest of the world had it harder still.

It seems impossible that in today’s America that people could starve to death or that homeless children could wander the streets of New York City. It’s understood by everyone that goods must sell for more than they cost to make.

Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” pulled the nation out of The Great Depression and it’s hoped that it will never return.