The Great Depression

Jordan Marr

Background Information

The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War ll. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations, but in most countries it started in 1930 and lasted until the late 1930's or middle 1940's. It was the longest, most widespread, and deepest depression of the 20th century.

Major Events


Unemployment Low in 1929

Unemployment averages 3.2% for the year.

Oct 1929

Wall Street Crash

The American stock market collapses, signaling the onset of the Great Depression. The Dow Jones Industrial Average peaks in September 1929 at 381.17—a level that it will not reach again until 1954. The Dow will bottom out at a Depression-era low of just 41.22 in 1932.


Unemployment in 1930 at 8.9%

Unemployment averages 8.9% for the year.

Jun 17, 1930

Smoot-Hawley Tariff

Congress passes the , Smoot-Hawley Tariff steeply raising import duties in an attempt to protect American manufactures from foreign competition. The tariff increase has little impact on the American economy, but plunges Europe farther into crisis.


Unemployment in 1931 at 16.3%

Unemployment averages 16.3% for the year.

Dec 1931

Major Bank Collapse

New York's Bank of the United States collapses in the largest bank failure to date in American history. $200 million in deposits disappear, and the bank's customers are left holding the bag.


Unemployment averages 24.1%

Nov 8, 1932

Roosevelt Elected

Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt defeats incumbent Republican President Herbert Hoover in a landslide to win the presidency.


Unemployment in 1933 at 24.9%

Unemployment averages 24.9% for the year.


Radio Priest

"Radio Priest" Charles Coughlin's weekly broadcast draws an average of 30-45 million listeners.

Mar 4, 1933

Roosevelt Inauguration

Franklin D. Roosevelt is inaugurated into office as 32nd President of the United States.

Sep 1933

Townsend Proposes Pension Plan

Dr. Francis Townsend sends a letter to the Long Beach Press-Telegram proposing state-funded pensions for the elderly to boost consumption and employment.

Sep 1933

Upton Sinclair Publishes Treatise

Upton Sinclair publishes I, Governor of California and How I Ended Poverty: A True Story of the Future, a fictionalized political treatise that lays out the agenda of a communitarian movement Sinclair calls EPIC—End Poverty In California.


Unemployment in 1934 at 21.7%

Unemployment averages 21.7% for the year.

Jan 1934

Townsend Plan Incorporated

Dr. Francis Townsend formally incorporates Old Age Revolving Pensions, Ltd., to lead the Townsend Plan movement.

Feb 1934

Share Our Wealth Society Founded

Huey Long founds the Share Our Wealth society, advocating outright seizure of the "excess fortunes" of the rich to redistribute to the poor.

May 8, 1934

Longshoremen Strike

A West Coast longshoremen's strike, conducted with significant aid from the Communist Party, paralyzes shipping and trade in California, Oregon, and Washington. The strike ends with a victory for the longshoremen's union; cooperation between the longshoremen and West Coast Communists represent a first successful venture of the so-called "Popular Front" between Communists and liberals, which won't officially be authorized by the Cominterm in Moscow until 1935.

Aug 1934

Upton Sinclair Wins Primary

A surprising groundswell of support for Upton Sinclair's EPIC Movement gives Sinclair a runaway victory in the Democratic gubernatorial primary in California.

Nov 1934

Charles Coughlin Establishes the National Union for Social Justice

Father Charles Coughlin, "The Radio Priest," establishes the National Union for Social Justice.

Nov 1934

Upton Sinclair Defeated

Following a two-month campaign in which EPIC is subjected to ferocious attack by both Republicans and Democrats terrified by its radical communitarian agenda, Upton Sinclair is soundly defeated by conservative Republican Frank Merriam for governor of California. Sinclair writes of the experience in I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked.


Unemployment in 1935 at 20.1%

Unemployment 20.1% for the year.

Jan 1935

Townsend Support Grows

More than 5000 Townsend Clubs nationwide together represent more than 2 million members. An estimated 25 million Americans have signed petitions asking their representatives to back the Townsend Plan in Washington.

Feb 1935

Huey Long Support Grows

Huey Long's Share Our Wealth society has expanded to 27,000 clubs nationwide, with a mailing list of 7.5 million Americans.

Sep 8, 1935

Huey Long Assassinated

Huey Long assasinated inside the Louisiana Capitol Building.


Unemployment in 1936 at 16.9%

Unemployment averages 16.9% for the year.

Nov 3, 1936

Roosevelt Reelected

Franklin D. Roosevelt is elected to a second term as president, winning in a landslide over Republican Alf Landon. Roosevelt wins every state but Maine and Vermont.


Unemployment in 1937 at 1 averages 14.3% for the year.


Unemployment in 1938 at 19%

Unemployment averages 19.0% for the year.


Unemployment in 1939 at 17.2%

Unemployment 27% for the year.

Feb 20, 1939

Nazi Rally in New York City

The German American bond stages a huge rally of fascist sympathizers supporting what they call "True Americanism" in Madison Square Garden in New York. Anti-Semitic Hitler admirer and Bund leader Fritz Kuhn calls Franklin Roosevelt "Frank Rosenfeld," the New Deal "The Jew Deal."

Dec 7, 1941

Mobilization Lifts Economy

The Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor draws United States into World War II. Mobilization for war finally lifts the American economy permanently out of the Great Depression.