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The Great Depression Timeline ~ How It All Went Down
1929 Unemployment at 3.2%
     Wall Street Crash • October... 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.
1930 Unemployment at 8.9%
     Smoot-Hawley Tariff • June 17... 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.
Click to view an enlargement of this photograph. 1931 Unemployment at 16.3%
“Black Blizzards” Begin • Severe drought hits the midwestern and southern plains. As the crops die, dust from the over-plowed and over-grazed land begins to blow.
     Major Bank Collapse • December... 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.
1932 Unemployment at 24.1%             No Buffalo Nickels struck in 1932!
“Dust Bowl” Escalates • The number of dust storms is increasing. Fourteen are reported this year; next year there will be thirty-eight.
     F.D.Roosevelt Elected • November 8... Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt defeats incumbent Republican President Herbert Hoover in a landslide to win the presidency.
1933 Unemployment at 24.9%             No Buffalo Nickels struck in 1933!
     Radio Priest • Father Charles Coughlin's weekly broadcast draws an average of 30-45 million listeners.
     F.D.Roosevelt Inauguration • March 4... Franklin D. Roosevelt is inaugurated into office as 32nd President of the United States.
     “CCC” Established • President Roosevelt approved several measures as part of his “New Deal,” including the Emergency Conservation Work Act (ECW), better known as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).
     Townsend Proposes Pension Plan • September... Dr. Francis Townsend sends a letter to the Long Beach Press-Telegram proposing state-funded pensions for the elderly to boost consumption and employment.
     Upton Sinclair Publishes Treatise • September... 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.
1934 Unemployment at 21.7%
     Townsend Plan Incorporated • January... Dr. Francis Townsend formally incorporates Old Age Revolving Pensions, Ltd., to lead the Townsend Plan movement.
     Share Our Wealth Society Founded • February... Click to view an enlargement of this photograph. Huey Long founds the Share Our Wealth society, advocating outright seizure of the “excess fortunes” of the rich to redistribute to the poor.
Great dust storms spread from the “Dust Bowl” area. • May... The drought is the worst ever in U.S. history, covering more than 75 percent of the country and affecting 27 states severely.
     Longshoremen Strike • May... 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 Comintern in Moscow until 1935.
     Upton Sinclair Wins Primary • August... A surprising groundswell of support for Upton Sinclair's EPIC movement gives Sinclair a runaway victory in the Democratic gubernatorial primary in California.
     Charles Coughlin Establishes the National Union for Social Justice • November... Father Charles Coughlin, “The Radio Priest,” establishes the National Union for Social Justice.
     Upton Sinclair Defeated • November... 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.
1935 Unemployment at 20.1%
     Townsend Support Grows • January... More than 5,000 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.
Click to view an enlargement of this photograph.      Huey Long Support Grows • February... Huey Long's Share Our Wealth society has expanded to 27,000 clubs nationwide, with a mailing list of 7.5 million Americans.
“Black Sunday” • April 14... The worst “black blizzard” of the “Dust Bowl” occurs, causing extensive damage.
     Huey Long Assassinated • September 8... Huey Long is assassinated inside the Louisiana Capitol Building.
1936 Unemployment at 16.9%
     F.D.Roosevelt Reelected • November 3... 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.
1937 Unemployment at 14.3%
1938 Unemployment at 19%
The Drought Continues • The extensive work re-plowing the land into furrows, planting trees in shelterbelts, and other conservation methods has resulted in a 65 percent reduction in the amount of soil blowing.
1939 Unemployment at 17.2%
     Nazi Rally in New York City • February 20... The German-American Bund 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.”
The Plains Once Again Become Golden with Wheat • In the fall, the rains come, finally bringing an end to the drought.
     World War II Starts • September 1... Invasion of Poland by Germany and Slovakia.
1940 Unemployment at 14.5%
     F.D.Roosevelt Reelected • November 5... Franklin D. Roosevelt is elected to a third term as president.
1941 Unemployment at 9.7%
     Mobilization Lifts Economy • December 7... 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.