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The Sound of Ideas

Remembering the Great Depression

Posted Friday, January 30, 2009

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Remembering the Great Depression More than 4.7 million Americans are currently collecting unemployment benefits. That's the highest level since the government started keeping track in 1967. The numbers paint a bleak picture, but the U.S. has experienced much, much worse. National unemployment hit 23 percent in the 1930s. Some people survived by turning lawns into gardens, potato sacks into petticoats and a lot of sharing with neighbors. We'll hear from people who lived through those times and the lessons that might help us today. Remembering the Great Depression, Friday at 9 onThe Sound of Ideas.

Photo Gallery

Farm family listening to their radio By George W. Ackerman, probably Ingham County, Michigan, August 15, 1930 By unknown Associated Press photographer, July 1932. WWI veterans went to Washington, DC, to demand veterans bonus payments. Between Weedpatch and Lamont, Kern County, California. Children living in camp By Dorothea Lange, April 20, 1940 White Angel Breadline By Dorothea Lange, San Francisco, California, 1933




David Goldberg, History Professor, Cleveland State University
Ted Gup, Shirley Wormser Professor of Journalism, Case Western Reserve University
Please contact Ted if you have a Great Depression story from the Greater Canton area you would like to share:

Additional Information

The New York Times: Jobless Rate Hits 7.2%, a 16-Year High
The New York Times: Hard Times, a Helping Hand
MSNBC: Survivors of Great Depression bring perspective to current crisis

Show Response:
My name is Ron Garrison, my mother explained alot of her thrifty behavior as being born in 1919 and raised during the 20's. They were fortunate because my grandfather, Oren Polk, remained employed throughout the depression.
As far as stories, they owned a duplex in which many family friends lived on the 3rd floor at one time or another. I grew up with my grandparents living below us. My mother told me early on that I am from "depression era parents."
Yet, I learned to consider a use for EVERYTHING prior to disgarding it. I delight in repairing household items.
To this day, I hate the thought of buying any item twice in my lifetime and get excited at a yard sale sign. LOL.


My grandfather and uncle were on the board of a bank in central Illinois during the Depression. They went to a Chicago bank and mortgaged everything they owned so that their bank would not fail and people could get their money.
My mother remembered her father getting up many times each night to change his nightgown because it was soaked in sweat from worry.
This is one reason it infuriates me that the bankers and investment executives today are walking away with huge wages and bonuses. They don't need that money. Where is the responsibility and the concern?

Pam, Shaker Heights

I remember well the Carter years. 18% interest, unemployment at 10%, gas prices spiked. Yet no panic, we simply tighten out belts, and moved on. We did what American’s have always done. We got creative and toughened up and moved on. NO big government handouts. The current stimulus is a huge mistake.
Skip, Chesterland

I am so glad you are addressing this topic! I am mental health therapist and I have been asking my clients about their family depression stories to talk about the legacy of coping in tough economic times and address creative resilience. I am surprised however how many do not know the stories and older relatives who went through it are dying off. I encourage folks to use story corps as a format to gather these stories from oder relatives. I think the legacy does cross generations either as folks are frugal or rebel and over indulge.

my parents lived through the depression and saved everything
they never became really well, off so the things they learned during the depression they still practiced and passed on to us
i still have to have the food well stocked "just in case"
i feel guilty throwing anything away
and have taught my children to look for a bargin at all times and to take pride in it
also that a bargin wasn't just a low price it was something well made and would last

Mary, Euclid

I think one thing that is a big contrast between the current economic situation and the great depression is the disparity. In the 1930's there was no television, no internet, and fewer movies. Today, we are bombarded with Hollywood images of material things, wealth, and advertising for expensive toys. We also live in suburbs where the houses have attached garages, some gated communities, and separated from our neighbors. Instead of everyone having been hit hard, and knowing that this is affecting all of us as US citizens, we have fewer people affected (which is good by itself), but some to a much greater degree, and being fed the image of the rest of the US being fairly OK. Let's face it, some areas of society have been in recession for five or more years, and those people are the ones who were the worst able to afford a recession to begin with. That means that people will feel more alone, more like it's their fault some how, and less likely to converse/interact with neighbors who are likely going through the same thing, but also thinking they are alone. This is going to have a much more deleterious impact on the psychological well-being of those that are hit the hardest - and least likely to have access to help. Is this the way to shrink the size of our lower-classes, through suicide and mass depression?

Books on the Great Depression
The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression by Amity Shlaes
The Great Crash of 1929 by John Kenneth Galbraith
The Great Depression: America 1929-1941 by Robert S. Mcelvaine
Essays on the Great Depression by Ben S. Bernanke
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans

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