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:
After the 1930 failure of New York’s Bank of United States, depositors gather to protest many of the institution's activities. Wikipedia
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
With new construction virtually halted, and crop prices falling by 60%, the effects of the Depression were widespread and debilitating. Wikimedia Commons
During the depression, unemployment in the US reached a record high of 25%. Wikimedia Commons
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
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
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
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
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
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
Other federal programs included highway construction programs, above. Wikimedia Commons
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
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
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
Two young boys sit on the porch of an Arkansas rehabilitation clinic in 1935.Flickr
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
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
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
A destitute family in Elm Grove, Oklahoma, during tumultuous times. Wikipedia
The family of an unemployed man sits around a wood stove in their empty home, 1937.Flickr
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
Children from the homes of unemployed miners gather together for nursery school in March of 1937 in Scott's Run, West Virginia. Wikimedia Commons
Miners of different races worked together (when work was available) and their children played together in a country still practicing segregation. Flickr
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.