24 Photos Of The Great Depression That Show Our Current Recession Could Be So Much Worse

Published March 4, 2016
Updated October 2, 2018

Look back on some of the darkest years in American history with these twenty-four humbling Great Depression photos.

Without a doubt, the Great Depression was one of the darkest, most catastrophic times the United States has endured.

The decade-long depression “officially” began on October 29th, 1929, when the stock market crashed, causing the Gross Domestic Product to drop a whopping 15% worldwide. To put that into perspective, during the recession of the late 2000s, the world’s GDP dropped less than 1%.

It would take World War II and the reform efforts of a new president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, to pull the world out of a devastating economic hole left by a financial market in crisis — one which remains the largest worldwide financial crisis to date.

83 years ago today, Roosevelt entered the Oval Office as President of the United States. In the first 100 days of FDR’s presidency, Congress passed 15 major pieces of legislation to help implement “New Deal” programs that would stimulate employment and thus the economy.

But as the following Great Depression photos show, the road back to economic health would be long, and nothing short of agonizing:

Great Depression Photos Bank US
After the 1930 failure of New York’s Bank of United States, depositors gather to protest many of the institution's activities. Wikipedia

Great Depression Photos American Union
A large crowd descends upon New York's American Union Bank to withdraw their funds early on in the Great Depression. The bank would be one of nearly half of the nation’s banks that would go out of business during these economically challenged years. Wikipedia

Great Depression Photos Despair
With new construction virtually halted, and crop prices falling by 60%, the effects of the Depression were widespread and debilitating. Wikimedia Commons

Great Depression Photos Down Out
During the depression, unemployment in the US reached a record high of 25%. Wikimedia Commons

Great Depression Photos Soup Kitchen
In 1931, dozens of unemployed men line up in front of a Chicago soup kitchen, which happened to be opened by notorious gangster, Al Capone. Wikimedia Commons

Great Depression Photos Cotton Pickers
The Great Depression hit everyone hard, and African Americans suffered most. By 1932, half had no work. For those who did have work, life still wasn't easy. In Northern cities, for instance, some whites demanded that employed African Americans be fired to make room for unemployed whites. As the Depression wore on and tensions escalated, lynchings became more common, particularly in the South.Flickr

Great Depression Photos Tobacco
In the midst of the economic hardship, any family member who could work did — and in any job they could find. Here, a young girl hangs tobacco leaves to dry. Wikimedia Commons

Great Depression Photos Prohibition
Those who sought refuge in vice were in for a tough time. Prohibition took place in the middle of the Great Depression, criminalizing the sale of alcohol.Wikipedia

Great Depression Photos Roosevelt
Much of the Great Depression took place during the presidency of FDR (1933-1945). The policies and programs Roosevelt implemented defined his time in office and cemented his legacy. Flickr

great depression photos ccc
Roosevelt's 'New Deal' created stimulus programs including the Civilian Conservation Corps, which gave single men with no families jobs working on infrastructure projects. Above, some corps members appear in action.Wikipedia

Great Depression Photos Relief Work
Other federal programs included highway construction programs, above. Wikimedia Commons

Great Depression Photos Poor Farm
Men laying pipe at a county 'poor farm,' where desolate families were given shelter. Able-bodied adults were expected to work the farms in return for their room and board.Flickr

Great Depression Photos Dust Bowl
The Dust Bowl — which describes a series of massive dust storms that wiped out much of the agriculture of the US and Canadian plains during the 1930s — aggravated the effects of the stock market crash. Flickr

Great Depression Photos Burried Car
The storms' heavy winds pummeled the West, leaving economies and agriculture in utter ruin, as shown by this buried car and wagons in Dallas, South Dakota in 1936.Wikipedia

Great Depression Photos Boys
Two young boys sit on the porch of an Arkansas rehabilitation clinic in 1935.Flickr

Great Depression Photos Migrant Mother
The famous photo known as "Migrant Mother" shows Florence Thompson with her children. The Library of Congress caption reads, "Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California." Wikipedia

Great Depression Photos Doped Singer
Unemployment and hard times during the Depression encouraged the spread of folk music. Case in point: Woodie Guthrie, one of the best known folk musicians ever, was a Dust Bowl refugee. Flickr

Great Depression Photos Nurses
Public health nurses from the Child Welfare Service visit a shanty home for a checkup. At the worst point in the Depression-era economic crisis, in 1933, about 1,000 home loans were being placed in foreclosure by banks every day.Wikipedia

Great Depression Photos Elm Grove
A destitute family in Elm Grove, Oklahoma, during tumultuous times. Wikipedia

Great Depression Photos Hardship
The family of an unemployed man sits around a wood stove in their empty home, 1937.Flickr

Great Depression Photos Immigrants
An immigrant family outside of a rural rehabilitation camp in California, March 15, 1935. As with today, perceived "outsiders" were blamed for the economic downturn.Wikipedia

Great Depression Photos Nursery
Children from the homes of unemployed miners gather together for nursery school in March of 1937 in Scott's Run, West Virginia. Wikimedia Commons

Great Depression Photos Segregation
Miners of different races worked together (when work was available) and their children played together in a country still practicing segregation. Flickr

Great Depression Photos Young Mother
An 18 year old mother and her young child outside of a tent shelter, 1937.Flickr

If you enjoyed these photos, be sure to check out what child labor at the turn of the 20th century and haunting images of America's dust bowl.

Erin Kelly
An All That's Interesting writer since 2013, Erin Kelly focuses on historic places, natural wonders, environmental issues, and the world of science. Her work has also been featured in Smithsonian and she's designed several book covers in her career as a graphic artist.
Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.
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Kelly, Erin. "24 Photos Of The Great Depression That Show Our Current Recession Could Be So Much Worse." AllThatsInteresting.com, March 4, 2016, https://allthatsinteresting.com/great-depression-photos. Accessed May 21, 2024.