Learn American History through 50 pop songs

The Great Depression


The Great Depression was a severe economic depression in the decade preceding World War II. The depression originated in the United States, starting with the stock market crash of October 29, 1929 (known as Black Tuesday), but quickly spread to almost every country in the world.


© Copyright 2010 by Mr. and Mrs. Gillenwater

The 20’s were a roaring, the economy a soaring
Herbert Hoover assured us, nothing could touch us
Farmers cranked out produce with no intention to reduce
This massive over production for cheap consumer consumption
So prices continued to dive, because of this oversupply

And the Great Depression was coming
On daddy’s face, fear was tugging
Nine years old and full of hope
But I feel tension grow and grow

When people started buying less, farmers couldn’t profit
Nervous investors cashed in stocks bought once on margin
And more and more started to sell, till everyone was selling like hell
Then the roaring 20’s died, October 29, 1929
Black Tuesday
- oh so black – the stock market crashed like that!

And the Great Depression began
I wandered the streets with an old tin can
Nine years old, laid off folks
Everyone I know on skid row

So much on Hoover’s plate, helping out too little too late
Broken spirits, broken wills, shantied up in Hoovervilles
We need help at the top, so many daddies just need jobs
A steady hand could take us far, we elect FDR
Roosevelt boldly declares, “the only thing to fear is fear itself!”

And the Great Depression continued
I gave my little brother all my food
Nine years old and losing hope
Don’t know how we’re gonna cope

Roosevelt wants to help us heal, so cautiously we accept his New Deal
He’s given banks a holiday, and is only reopening those who can pay
He tells us the truth with cold hard facts, reassures us with ‘fireside chats’
He’s got new programs, laws, and groups, to the rescue, Alphabet Soup!

And the Great Depression carried on
But glimmers of hope were seen around
Nine years old when this all began
Now I find myself a strong young man

(I’m off to fight the Nazis in Europe…

… and the Great Depression ends, just as World War II begins!)

People will argue was FDR right?
So much government now touches our lives
He’ll be accused of packing the courts
With judges and justices who gave him support
In the end was FDR right? I thank him in my prayers every night.

Thank you President Roosevelt and I pray this never happens again.


The Great Depression— The Great Depression began on "Black Tuesday" with the Wall Street Crash of October, 1929 and rapidly spread worldwide. The market crash marked the beginning of a decade of high unemployment, poverty, low profits, deflation, plunging farm incomes, and lost opportunities for economic growth and personal advancement.

Herbert Hoover— Herbert Clark Hoover (August 10, 1874 – October 20, 1964) was the 31st President of the United States (1929–1933). He was the President when the Great Depression began.

October 29, 1929, Black Tuesday— Black Tuesday, the Wall Street Crash of 1929 (October 1929) the most devastating stock market crash in the history of the United States. The crash began a 10-year economic slump that affected all the Western industrialized countries.

Hoovervilles— A Hooverville was the popular name for shanty towns built by homeless people during the Great Depression. They were named after the President of the United States at the time, Herbert Hoover, because he allegedly let the nation slide into depression.

FDR— Franklin Delano Roosevelt (January 30, 1882–April 12, 1945) was the 32nd President of the United States and a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic crisis and world war. He was often referred to by his initials, FDR. Roosevelt won his first election in 1932, while the United States was in the Great Depression.

“The only thing to fear is fear itself”— After taking the oath of office, Roosevelt proceeded to deliver his 1,880-word, 27 minute-long inaugural address, best known for his famously pointed reference to "fear itself" in one of its first lines: “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear... is fear itself…”

New Deal— The New Deal was a series of economic programs passed by Franklin D. Roosevelt. The programs were responses to the Great Depression, and focused on what historians call the 3 Rs: relief, recovery and reform.

Fireside Chats— The fireside chats were a series of thirty evening radio speeches given by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt between 1933 and 1944.

Alphabet Soup— Many New Deal programs were referred by their acronyms, such as TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) and WPA (Work Projects Administration), therefore they were often called Alphabet Soup.

“packing the courts”— The Judiciary Reorganization Bill of 1937, frequently called the court-packing plan, was an initiative to add more justices to the Supreme Court proposed by U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt shortly after his victory in the 1936 presidential election.

Tiered Questions

Tier 1 Questions

What was Black Tuesday?

In your own words explain what the Great Depression was.

Tier 2 Questions

Pretend you are the boy in the song. Write 3 journal entries describing the world around you before, during, and after the Great Depression.

Tier 3 Questions

FDR came into office during severe economic downturn. In attempting an economic recovery he enacted many programs that greatly expanded the role of government. There were many people who opposed this increasing size and power of the federal government. Compare and contrast FDR’s presidency, the choices he made and the atmosphere of the nation at the time to that of Barak Obama’s.

Test Prep Questions

1) Which economic factor contributed most directly to the start of the Great Depression?

  • (1) low worker productivity
  • (2) high income taxes
  • (3) decreasing tariff rates
  • (4) buying stocks on margin

2) What was a guiding principle of the New Deal economic policies?

  • (1) Pro-business tax breaks would solve the problems associated with urban poverty.
  • (2) Antitrust legislation would destroy the free market economy of the United States.
  • (3) Rugged individualism must be allowed to solve social inequality.
  • (4) Government must assume more responsibility for helping the poor.

3) What was one cause of the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed?

  • (1) Costs associated with World War I had bankrupted the economy.
  • (2) Speculators had purchased shares of stock on margin with borrowed funds.
  • (3) Federal tax cuts had caused high inflation.
  • (4) Low farm production had weakened banks

4) During the Great Depression, one way New Deal programs tried to stimulate economic recovery was by

  • (1) raising tariff rates
  • (2) increasing interest rates
  • (3) creating public works jobs
  • (4) lowering the minimum wage

5) Which event led to the start of the Great Depression?

  • (1) Red Scare (1919–1920)
  • (2) election of President Herbert Hoover (1928)
  • (3) stock market crash (1929)
  • (4) passage of the Emergency Banking Act (1933)

6) Which statement about the stock market crash of 1929 is most accurate?

  • (1) It was the single cause of the Great Depression.
  • (2) It was caused by the effects of the Great Depression.
  • (3) It continued long after the Great Depression ended.
  • (4) It helped lead to the Great Depression.

7) One major way President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal tried to combat the effects of the Great Depression was by

  • (1) keeping workers’ wages low
  • (2) increasing protective tariff rates
  • (3) giving states more control over the federal budget
  • (4) funding public works relief programs

8) In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was criticized for his proposal to add justices to the United States Supreme Court because these appointments would have

  • (1) broken earlier campaign promises
  • (2) violated the constitutional limit on the number of justices
  • (3) threatened the system of checks and balances
  • (4) established a more conservative Court

9) The New Deal programs of President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed the United States economy by

  • (1) restoring the principle of a balanced budget
  • (2) expanding the trustbusting practices of Progressive Era presidents
  • (3) encouraging greater production of agricultural goods
  • (4) increasing government involvement with both business and labor

10) Which situation helped cause the stock market crash of 1929?

  • (1) excessive speculation and buying on margin
  • (2) unwillingness of people to invest in new industries
  • (3) increased government spending
  • (4) too much government regulation of business

11) Which statement best illustrates a basic idea of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal?

  • (1) Communism provides the only real solution to economic problems.
  • (2) Unemployed workers should rely on the states rather than on the federal government for help.
  • (3) The United States reached its economic peak in the 1920s and is now a declining industrial power.
  • (4) The economy sometimes needs public money to encourage business activity

12) The New Deal tried to solve many problems of the Great Depression by

  • (1) providing federal aid to many sectors of the economy
  • (2) reducing taxes on big business to stimulate job creation
  • (3) lowering federal spending to maintain a balanced budget
  • (4) decreasing foreign competition by raising tariffs

13) President Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to pack the United States Supreme Court, but Congress did not support him. This situation is an example of

  • (1) Congress undermining the separation of powers
  • (2) the president using the unwritten constitution
  • (3) the use of the system of checks and balances
  • (4) how federalism was preserved by one branch of government

14) New Deal programs such as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) were primarily intended to help

  • (1) farmers
  • (2) homeowners
  • (3) businesses
  • (4) unemployed workers

15) What was the most likely cause of the election results shown on the map?

  • (1) Most voters blamed President Herbert Hoover for the Great Depression.
  • (2) It is difficult to defeat an incumbent president.
  • (3) Franklin D. Roosevelt had more business experience than Herbert Hoover.
  • (4) Republican Party popularity had been declining for several elections.

16) Congress refused to enact President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s court-packing plan because the plan

  • (1) threatened to upset the constitutional system of checks and balances
  • (2) entrusted too much power to the judicial branch
  • (3) called for an increase in income taxes
  • (4) required passage of a constitutional amendment

17) During the Great Depression, expressions such as Hoovervilles and Hoover blankets showed that President Hoover

  • (1) was seen as a role model
  • (2) used the military to aid the unemployed
  • (3) was blamed for the suffering of the poor
  • (4) supported relief and public housing for the needy

18) Which economic trend of the 1920s helped cause Great Depression?

  • (1) rising cost of mass-produced goods
  • (2) increasing income tax rates
  • (3) falling tariff rates
  • (4) widening income gap between the rich and the poor

19) The major purpose of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s bank holiday of 1933 was to

  • (1) restore public confidence in the nation’s banks
  • (2) reinforce strict laws to punish banks charging high interest rates
  • (3) reduce the number of banks to a manageable number
  • (4) encourage the nation’s banks to loan more money to failing businesses

20) Critics charged that New Deal policies favored socialism because the federal government

  • (1) took ownership of most major industries
  • (2) favored farmers over workers and business owners
  • (3) increased its responsibility for the welfare of the economy
  • (4) declined to prosecute business monopolies

21) In the 1920s, which economic factor led to the Great Depression?

  • (1) lack of investment in the stock market
  • (2) attempt by the United States to promote free trade
  • (3) failure to develop new consumer goods industries
  • (4) overproduction of farm products and manufactured goods

22) One difference between the administrations of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and President Herbert Hoover is that Roosevelt was

  • (1) unwilling to allow government agencies to establish jobs programs
  • (2) unable to win congressional support for his economic program
  • (3) able to ignore economic issues for most of his first term in office
  • (4) more willing to use government intervention to solve economic problems

23) Which event is most closely associated with the end of the Great Depression?

  • (1) passage of the Social Security Act
  • (2) beginning of World War II
  • (3) reelection of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940
  • (4) announcement of the Marshall Plan

24) An important factor contributing to the start of the Great Depression in the United States was the

  • (1) increase in military spending
  • (2) failure to maintain the gold standard
  • (3) reduction of tariff rates
  • (4) uneven distribution of wealth

25) The New Deal changed political thinking in the United States because it supported the idea that the

  • (1) rights of workers are less important than the interests of business
  • (2) Supreme Court should have an important role to play in the economy
  • (3) government should become more involved in the social and economic life of the people
  • (4) president’s foreign policy is more important than his domestic policy

26) The creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority is an example of

  • (1) federal intervention to meet regional needs
  • (2) state-funded regional transportation
  • (3) free-market capitalism
  • (4) laissez-faire economics

27) Which situation was a basic cause of the Great Depression?

  • (1) continued increases in wages for workers
  • (2) excessive profits for farmers
  • (3) overregulation of the stock market
  • (4) overproduction of consumer goods


Historical Context: Since 1900, the mass media (newspapers, books, magazines, posters, photographs, newsreels, radio, films, and television) have had a significant influence on United States history and on American society.

Task: Using information from the documents and your knowledge of United States history, answer the questions that follow each document.

  • Discuss the role that the mass media has played in influencing United States history and/or American society since 1900. Use historical examples to support your discussion.

. . . Meanwhile, radio network officials had agreed that the announcer of the presidential broadcast would be Robert Trout of the Columbia Broadcasting System’s Washington station, whose manager was Harry C. Butcher. Two introductions were prepared; a formal one by Trout; a folksy one by Butcher. Both were submitted for review in the White House, whence word came promptly back that Roosevelt much preferred the folksy one. So it was that, at ten o’clock in the evening of March 12, Bob Trout’s mellow voice told some 60 million people, seated before nearly 20 million radios, that “the President wants to come into your home and sit at your fireside for a little fireside chat.”
And Roosevelt did so.
Riding his richly resonant tenor voice, he came as a smiling and reassuringly confident visitor into nearly 20 million homes to tell his friends there—a Buffalo shipping clerk, an elderly widow in Des Moines, a wheat farmer on the High Plains, a gas station operator in Birmingham, a secretary-typist in Memphis, an Oregon lumberman, a Chicago factory worker, a Kansas college professor, each in his or her own dwelling place—that they need have no fear. Everything that had gone wrong was being fixed up, and in a way that would keep things from going wrong again. . . .

Source: Kenneth S. Davis, FDR: The New Deal Years, 1933–1937, Random House, 1986 (adapted)

According to this document, how did President Franklin Delano Roosevelt use the fireside chats on the radio to influence the American people during the Depression?


Historical Context: After the crash of the stock market in 1929, the Great Depression began. The Depression brought devastation to the economy of the United States and resulted in severe problems for the American people. Throughout the 1930s, the American people and the government dealt with the Depression in various ways.

Task: Using information from the documents and your knowledge of United States history, answer the questions that follow each document in Part A. Your answers to the questions will help you write the Part B essay, in which you will be asked to

  • Discuss problems faced by the American people during the Great Depression of the 1930s
  • Explain how the American people and the government dealt with the problems of the Depression

. . . This is not an issue as to whether the people are going hungry or cold in the United States. It is solely a question of the best method by which hunger and cold can be prevented. It is a question as to whether the American people on the one hand will maintain the spirit of charity and of mutual self-help through voluntary giving and the responsibility of local government as distinguished on the other hand from appropriations out of the Federal Treasury for such purposes. My own conviction is strongly that if we break down this sense of responsibility, of individual generosity to individual, and mutual self-help in the country in times of national difficulty and if we start appropriations of this character we have not only impaired something infinitely valuable in the life of the American people but have struck at the roots of self government. Once this has happened it is not the cost of a few score millions, but we are faced with the abyss of reliance [trap of relying] in [the] future upon Government charity in some form or other. The money involved is indeed the least of the costs to American ideals and American institutions. . . .

Source: President Herbert Hoover, Press Statement, February 3, 1931

According to this document, how did President Hoover hope the American people would respond to the problems of the Depression?

. . . Kentucky coal miners suffered perhaps the most. In Harlan County there were whole towns whose people had not a cent of income. They lived on dandelions and blackberries. The women washed clothes in soap weed suds. Dysentery bloated the stomachs of starving babies. Children were reported so famished they were chewing up their own hands. Miners tried to plant vegetables, but they were often so hungry that they ate them before they were ripe. On her first trip to the mountains, Eleanor Roosevelt saw a little boy trying to hide his pet rabbit. “He thinks we are not going to eat it,” his sister told her, “but we are.” In West Virginia, miners mobbed company stores demanding food. Mountain people, with no means to leave their homes, sometimes had to burn their last chairs and tables to keep warm. Local charity could not help in a place where everyone was destitute. . . .
“No one has starved,” Hoover boasted. To prove it, he announced a decline in the death rate. It was heartening, but puzzling, too. Even the social workers could not see how the unemployed kept body and soul together, and the more they studied, the more the wonder grew. Savings, if any, went first. Then insurance was cashed. Then people borrowed from family and friends. They stopped paying rent. When evicted, they moved in with relatives. They ran up bills. It was surprising how much credit could be wangled. In 1932, about 400 families on relief in Philadelphia had managed to contract an average debt of $160, a tribute to the hearts if not the business heads of landlords and merchants. But in the end they had to eat “tight.” . . . A teacher in a mountain school told a little girl who looked sick but said she was hungry to go home and eat something. “I can’t,” the youngster said. “It’s my sister’s turn to eat.” In Chicago, teachers were ordered to ask what a child had had to eat before punishing him. Many of them were getting nothing but potatoes, a diet that kept their weight up, but left them listless, crotchety [cranky], and sleepy. . . .

Source: Caroline Bird, The Invisible Scar, David McKay Company

State two ways the families described in this passage dealt with the problems of the Depression.

Based on the photograph, state one effect the Great Depression had on many Americans.

Historical Context: After the crash of the stock market in 1929, the Great Depression began. The Depression brought devastation to the economy of the United States and resulted in severe problems for the American people. Throughout the 1930s, the American people and the government dealt with the Depression in various ways.

Task: Using information from the documents and your knowledge of United States history, write an essay in which you

  • Discuss problems faced by the American people during the Great Depression of the 1930s
  • Explain how the American people and the government dealt with the problems of the Depression