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The 1930s: The Good Times and The Bad Times

The decade of the 1930s can be characterized in two parts: The Great Depression, and the restoration of the American economy. America had been completely destroyed due to the Stock Market Crash of 1929. It was up to the government and people of the 1930s to “mend” Americas wounds. One man stood up to this challenge, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He promised to fix the American economy, provide jobs, and help the needy. During The Great Depression, the crime rate had risen to an all new high.

J. Edgar Hoover helped to create the Federal Bureau of Investigation. As America was restored, culture grew quickly. Dance clubs, new music styles, glamour girls, movies and sports were all popular forms of entertainment in the 1930s. From January 1st, 1930 to December 31st 1939, American was in a process of healing its economic wounds. The stock market panic preceded an economic depression that not only spread over the United States but in the early 1930s became worldwide.

In the United States, despite the optimistic statements of President Herbert Hoover (president during the crash) and his secretary of the treasury, Andrew W. Mellon, that business was “fundamentally sound” and that a new era of prosperity was just about to begin, many factories closed, unemployment steadily increased, banks failed in growing numbers, and the prices of commodities steadily fell. The administration began to take steps to combat the crisis.

Among the measures taken were the granting of emergency appropriations for farm relief and public works, modification of the rules of the Federal Reserve System to make it easier for people in business and farming to obtain credit, and the establishment of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), with assets of $2 billion, to make emergency loans to industries, railroads, insurance co! mpanies, and banks. Nevertheless, the economic depression steadily worsened during the remainder of the Hoover administration. Hoovers plans were not working well.

By 1932 hundreds of banks had failed, hundreds of mills and factories had closed, mortgages on farms and houses were being foreclosed in large numbers, and more than 10 million workers were unemployed. The presidential campaign of 1932, in which the Democratic candidate was Franklin D. Roosevelt, was waged on the issues of Prohibition and the economic crisis. The Democratic platform called for outright repeal of the 18th Amendment and promised a “new deal” in economic and social matters to bring about recovery from the depression. The Republicans did not call for outright repeal of the amendment.

In regard to the depression, they warned against the danger to business and the national finances if the social and economic philosophies of the Democrats were substituted for the sound and conservative ideas of the Hoover administration. The Democrats won an overwhelming success in the election, carrying all but six states. Almost immediately after taking office, Roosevelt called on Congress to convene and began what would be known as the Hundred Days, which lasted until June 16, 1933. On March 6 Roosevelt called a nationwide bank holiday, and on March 9 Congress passed the Emergency Banking Act, which provided for federal bank inspections.

In the summer of 1933, the Glass-Steagle Act set much more stringent rules for banks and provided insurance for depositors through the newly formed Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). These acts helped to restore popular confidence in the wake of widespread bank failures. Two acts, one in 1933 and one in 1934, mandated detailed regulations for the securities market, enforced by the new Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Several bills provided mortgage relief for farmers and homeowners and offered loan guarantees for home purchasers through the Federal Housing Administration, or FHA.

The Federal Emergency Relief Administration which was headed ! by Harry Hopkins, a social worker appointed by Roosevelt, expanded existing relief grants to the states and resulted in assistance for more than 20 million people. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) provided work relief for thousands of young men under a type of military discipline. The CCC emphasized reforestation, among other projects. Congress established the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to develop the Tennessee River in the interest of navigation and flood control and to provide electric power to a wide area of the southeastern United States.

The most important legislation of 1933 involved the major economic sectors. As a climax to a decade of wrangling, Congress in 1933 enacted a complex new farm bill, the Agricultural Adjustment Act. It provided several mechanisms to help raise agricultural prices, but the one most extensively used provided for government payments to farmers who destroyed or did not grow surplus crops. At a time when economic hardship was leaving people in other areas in need of food, the act invited criticism. The Agricultural Adjustment Act was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1936.

The National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) was the most innovative early New Deal measure. It provided for two major recovery programsa vastly expanded public works effort, carried out by the Public Works Administration, and a complex program to regulate American business and ensure fair competition. The National Recovery Administration approved and enforced a set of competi! tive codes for each industry to help ensure fair competition in each. B 1935, several Roosevelt advisers welcomed massive new federal expenditures to induce more private demand, even at the price of budget deficits.

A huge relief appropriation of almost $5 billion reinvigorated several programs and funded a new federalized work relief program administered by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Perhaps of greatest enduring significance, Congress in 1935 enacted the Social Security Act, which contained three major programsa retirement fund, unemployment insurance, and welfare grants for local distribution (including aid for dependent children). These programs, coupled with a new subsidized public housing program, began what some now refer to as a welfare state.

Social security was developed in the United States later than in many European countries, which had developed social security programs before World War I. In 1937, after a resounding victory in the 1936 election, Ro! osevelt sought to increase support for his ideas on the Supreme Court. He proposed legislation that would add more judges to the Supreme Court, but Congress rejected this “court-packing” attempt. The pressures for new legislation abated after 1937, and opposition to extending the New Deal mounted rapidly, especially in the South. By 1939 public attention focused increasingly on foreign policy and national defense.

The New Deal was over, but it had permanently expanded the role of the federal government, particularly in economic regulation, resource development, and income maintenance. Due to the hard life brought on by The Great Depression, the crime rate in America rose greatly. The government needed a stronger law enforcement agency to control some of the worst criminals America ever faced. The Department of Justice decided to restructure the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI originated in 1908 as the Bureau (later the Division) of Investigation of the Justice Department.

Following a reorganization in 1924, J. Edgar Hoover became the first director, and the bureau’s present policies were defined. The bureau acquired its present name in 1935. FBI jurisdiction extends to more than 180 matters, including bank robbery, extortion, racketeering, kidnapping, antitrust violations, and, since 1982, drug enforcement activities. The FBI investigates infringement of civil rights committed in violation of federal law. During the times of prohibition, bootlegging became one of the more popular crimes, and gave instant cash to members of the mob, such as Al C! one.

Capone was the major source of alcohol in Chicago during the 1930s, specializing in bathtub gin. Convicted of income tax evasion in 1931 and sentenced to 11 years in prison, he was released on parole in 1939. Crippled by syphilis, he spent the rest of his life in his Miami Beach, Florida, mansion. Another of the 30s most famous criminals were Bonnie and Clyde. For two years Bonnie and Clyde worked their way across the southwestern United States, holding up gas stations, restaurants and banks. They killed 12 people, mostly law enforcement officials.

Because of his ruthlessness, Clyde earned the title “public enemy number one of the Southwest. ” Frank Hamer, a former Texas Ranger, trailed Bonnie and Clyde across nine states before he was able to stage a deadly ambush outside Arcadia, Louisiana, in May 1934. Hamer and five other lawmen shot and killed Bonnie and Clyde as they drove through the ambush. Bonnie and Clyde were buried in separate cemeteries in Dallas, Texas.! The immense crackdown on crime in this decade ushered in a new era of good feelings, knowing that J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI were protecting them from the scum of the times.

With the end of the depression and prohibition, the good times of the 30s began. The entertainment industry took off at rapid rates. The most popular forms of entertainment during the 30s were radio, cinema, sports and dancing. Radio of the 30s was comprised mostly of news and radio dramas. Dramas were acted out by small groups, in which each member played various characters. The biggest radio star of the 30s was Orson Welles. In 1937 he was a founder of the Mercury Theatre, which produced innovative stage and radio drama.

His 1938 radio version of War of the Worlds by English author H. G. Wells was so realistic that thousands believed an alien attack was actually occurring. With the invention of the movie theater in the 20s, cinema became an incredibly popular form of entertainment. The crowning achievement of film in the 30s was Merian C. Coopers King Kong. This classic version of the “beauty and the beast” theme was, and still is, a movie-going must. Willis OBriens special effects and animation of the monster ape are the basis of many of todays special effects. The final sequence atop the Empire State Building is now cinema folklore.

Other popular movies of the time were musicals and dance films. The highest grossing musical film of the 30s was James Whales Showboat. This entertaining version of Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammersteins musical mixed music, sentiment, and melodrama, with enough moments to make up for the rest. The most popular film star of the 1930s was Shirley Temple. The beloved child performer who appeared in films consistently during the 40s is best remembered for her many cutesy roles of the 30s. A genuine talent! , Temple entered movies at age three, but was definitely established at six with Stand Up and Cheer (1934).

Her bouncing blonde curls, effervescence and impeccable charm were the basis for a Depression-era phenomenon. Portraying a doll-like model daughter, she helped ease the pain of audiences the world over, while virtually keeping 20th Century Fox afloat with her astounding profitability. Temple earned a special 1934 Oscar “in grateful recognition of her outstanding contribution to screen entertainment,” but as she reached adolescence, her popularity faded. Films of the 30s were very clean. A group formed in the early 30s called The National League of Decency and Hollywood.

They strictly enforced a long line of taboos for the filmmakers. These included the use of words such as “damn” and “hell”, there were no long kisses, no adultery, couples must be portrayed as sleeping in separate beds, no nude babies allowed on screen, and “the good and just must always triumph over the evil and corrupt”. With these rules to follow, not many films could have much of a meaning. One problem with these rules, was that several directors could not adapt Shakespeare plays, and boycotted called The National League of Decency and Hollywood.

Another film achievement of the 30s was Walt Disneys Snow White, the first full length animated feature film. Though its immediate popularity was not great, it slowly became one of the more popular childrens films. Another childs favorite was Bugs Bunny, who first appeared in 1937. Bugs Bunny cartoons were usually showed prior to feature films, and became popular to both kids and adults. With the rise of many actors and actresses to fame, an American obsession grew with the attractive men and women of the silver screen. These men and women were the primitive versions of todays “supermodels”.

Women such as Joan Crawford, Brenda Frazier, Cobina Wright Jr. , and Mimi Baker won the hearts of Americas men. They also became the idols of many young women, wishing to be as “attractive” as these stars. These women set trends that all of Americas youth tried to follow. Mimi Baker herself spent over $5,400 a year on clothing. With celebrities wearing a brand of clothing, teens just had to have the same. This was a major part of the American need to consume. Celebrities dated other celebrities, such as the relationship between Howard Hughes, and Mimi Baker.

With the craze over such celebrities, “chic clubs” opened up to the elite and wealthy. These clubs and parties were usually hosted by one rich philanthropist in the local area. The most popular hostess in New York was Elsa Maxwell. Maxwell knew literally everybody, and always threw the best parties. Members of the Astor, Vanderbilt, Whitney and Rockefeller families were found at many of these clubs. The elite members of these clubs usually met to socialize, and make casual business acquaintances. The average American however, had clubs of their own.

These clubs were usually large dance halls, featuring Jazz, Blues, Swing, and Big Band groups. Swing was the biggest dance craze of the 30s, which featured wild, shaky movements. Art of the 30s was not much like the art of the 20s or the art of the 40s. It depicted people doing average, everyday functions. Though there were many painters during the 30s, not many grew to any major success. Picassos Guernica was painted in 1937, but not recognized until the late 50s. Instead, one of the most popular “art” figures in American history was created in June of 1938.

Together, Jerry Siegle and Joel Schuster created an American Legend, Superman. Superman stood for everything that is good, and morale in American society. He fought off anything corrupting America, from bootlegging gansters, to giant aliens. Later, in 1939, Bob Kane created Batman. Instead of the bright, and hopeful tone of Superman, Batman fought off the scum of society. From the petty thieves, to bank robbers, to mass murderers. Batman took on a much more dark and dreary look than Superman, but both comics were instant successes among young boys.

Perhaps the most popular athlete of the 1930s was boxer Joe Louis. Louis won his first professional contest by a knockout in 1934. He won the professional heavyweight championship of the world in June 1937, defeating the American boxer James Jack Braddock by a knockout. During his professional boxing career, Louis compiled 68 victories and three defeats. His 68 victories included 54 by knockout and 14 by decision, while his three losses included two by knockout and one by decision. Louis’s first loss came in 1936, to the former world champion, the German boxer Max Schmeling.

The Nazis equated Schmeling’s victory over Louis to a validation of Nazi superiority over democracy. The two boxers fought again in a 1938 rematch. Louis won the bout in one round, and Americans celebrated the victory of democracy. After the second Schmeling fight, Louis became a hero for the World War II war effort, gave inspirational speeches, and helped with recruiting. The end of the 1930s was signaled in by 1939s Worlds Fair. The New York World’s Fair of 1939-40 cost $155 million.

The buildings and exhibits, based on the theme of the “World of Tomorrow,” were erected in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, in New York City. The site consisted of swamplands and garbage dumps that had been drained and landscaped to serve as exposition grounds. Two structures, the trylon and perisphere (a triangular needle skyscraper set beside a huge sphere), were erected as architectural symbols. The perisphere enclosed a large model of a future city. More than 57 million persons attended the fair during its two seasons. Many companies gained their fame at the Worlds Fair.

General Electric, Warner Brothers, Maytag and more all showed off their new products, quickly ushering back in the mass consumerism that controls America. All in all, the 1930s was both a dark time, and a great time in Americas history. Americans dragged themselves through The Great Depression with the aid of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The rise of the FBI helped to keep crime at an all time low. Radio, film, dancing, and sports all grew to be popular American pastimes. American fell into the worst situation it has ever been in, and single handily “Pulled themselves up from their boot straps”.

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