ORAL HISTORY: The Great Depression and the Second World War

ORAL HISTORY: The Great Depression and the Second World War

My Grandfather, Mr. Jones was born in 1927, which makes him 92 years old today, healthy and sound as he gets. In essence, this implies that he has seen much of America’s history from around 1930 unfold in front of his eyes and become history. I recently sat down for an informative interview, with him and Mr. Jones proved to be an archive of information, especially for the two significant events that happened while he was still young, which includes the Great Depression and the Second World War. Below a narrative from the interview.

The Depression Begins

Mr. Jones, my grandfather, was very young when the great depression struck. Firstly, he remembers the positive atmosphere that engulfed the stock market before and around 1929. Homes were doing great, and very few people faced significant hardships during this time. However, individuals got over their heads and forgot that the economy is a delicate subject, which saw unmonitored investment coupled with a significant shift from savings to investments resulted in what would then be known as the Crash of the Stock Market, and later on the Great Depression. In a few weeks, billions of dollars had been wiped out of the American economy setting the beginning of negative economic phenomena that would last for approximately ten years and be a subject for discussion by both historians and economists alike. The initial stages of the Great depression were relatively easy to live through. However, the lowest and worst point of this period came in 1933, when families were forced to completely change their ways of living to cope with the economy that was constantly impoverishing its people, through the loss of jobs as well as a decrease in value of investments and savings.

Soaring Unemployment

By 1933 a quarter of the workforce was left jobless, whereas those who were lucky enough to keep their jobs had to keep up with constant wage cuts and reduction in work hours as well as changes in work modes, from full-time employment to part-time employment. In most cases, most companies resorted to part-time jobs since full time demanded too much compensation despite productivity being low at the same time, as well as most companies operating on losses and near bankruptcy levels. While this would seem like a low-class problem, all classes within the social strata were affected. For instance, Mr. Jones stated that even upper-middle-class professionals such as doctors and lawyers, who were supposed to be immune to such adverse effects of the economy had their incomes fall by at least 40 percent. Initially, a number of families had believed in their financial security and might something that was disapproved by the Great Depression and especially in 1933, four years after the stock market crash. These families were all of a sudden thrown into economic uncertainty as they become financially unstable while others were utterly ruined, while companies were thrown out of business. The motto became “Eat it up, wear it out, and make do or do without” (Horwitz and McPhillips 334).

Changing Lifestyles

Individuals attempted to keep up with their old lifestyles, trying to keep things as normal as possible in the new adverse economic circumstances. But it was almost impossible, hence individuals would have to do with old clothes until they were worn out while it was also essential to work with what one had or work without some things altogether. Mr. Jones stated that his parents, my great grandparents worked in the textile and mining fields with my great grandmother in textile and great grandfather in the fields. He remembers asking why their family practiced food rationing where the literary went to bed hungry despite food being in the kitchen.

Lifestyle changes seem to accompany people whenever changes in the economy are triggered Apart from not buying new clothes women, who were mainly affected and lost their jobs in the great depression established kitchen gardens which would supplement the vegetables for meals at a cheaper cost. Otherwise, it would have been impossible to fight for food, housing, and automobile at the same time. The radios also provided free forms of education and entertainment; hence they did help people cope with the stressful life especially by offering insight into one pot meals. One pot meals were meals that encouraged cooking food combinations all at once to help conserve time, and other resources such as water, and cooking fuel.

The Government Intervenes

The government, under the then President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, came up with the New Deal programs in 1933. New Deals allowed families to receive some level of support from the government. Going forward the deal would see families receive some form of financial aid from the government as well as employment as a result of the New Deal programs. One important thing to note is that before this period of great economic turmoil the public was very skeptical about government involvement in their personal lives. Government welfare programs were negatively received to a point that in some townships, the local newspapers published the names of people in the government welfare programs in attempts of shaming such families who in one way or another were viewed as traitors since they supported the government’s intervention into the lives of citizens giving them more power than required. However, although attitudes were changing with regards to government welfare in the public’s lives, it was still seen as a painful and humiliating experience by many families.

Other Remedies to the Great Depression

Contrary to public sentiment that has primarily been held from the latter years of the great depression period to date the New Deals programs were only the first attempts towards the restoration of the economy to its normal workings. However, it is important to note that several more programs helped get individuals back into employment while at the same time stabilizing the economy (Ferrara 1; Horwitz and McPhillips 329). For instance, the Work Progress Administration created in 1935 had a similar impact to the New Deals by helping 8 million individuals to obtain jobs. These job mainly comprised of government-funded projects especially those involved in infrastructure building such as building bridges, airports parks, and schools. However, this does not rubbish off the impact of the New Deals program during this period. The social security Act which was aimed at providing income to the elderly disabled and children of low-income families were also enacted during this period helped secure the future of the society’s most vulnerable populations. On the other hand, the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 equally brought forth the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation that was used to protect savings of American citizens in the wake of a bank failure that was all too common during that period. Another point that demands critical attention is that the government cannot help alleviate problems such as those experienced by the masses during the Great Depression since it mainly obtains its funding through taxes from the same individuals and corporation it seeks to protect. Instead, the onset of the war was a period buzzing with intense activity, as the United States created weapons for mass exportation to the warring countries. This helped generate revenue which helped stabilize the economy.

The Great Depression and Increased Crime Rates

Whenever there is a reduction in employment and income, there is a tendency of crime rates to soar given that individuals lack modes of survival; hence they resort to crime in an attempt to make ends meet. However, the media which at that time utilized the free radio was overly focused on crime. Given the following radio stations had obtained during this period, they had to be as entertaining and as informative as they could get. Therefore, they highlighted the actions of Bonnie and Clyde, who went on a two-year bank robbing spree across the United States, while on the other hand a famous aviator’s son was abducted in New Jersey and held for ransom before being murdered. The excess focus on these cases created a belief that this period was marked with increased crime.

The Second World War

Towards the end of the Great Depression, the Second World War began on 1st September 1939, when news spread that Germany and invaded Poland (Ferrara 1). Two days later Britain France and other members of the commonwealth, declared war on Germany, marking the beginning of a war that would have millions of casualty on both sides of the divide. The United States, still under Roosevelt, decided to take no sides in the ongoing war; instead, we opted to go for economic gains, supplying military weapons food and medicines to the warring countries that so desperately needed these products (Horwitz and McPhillips 332). By this time MR Jones, My grandfather was 12 years old already. He reports that this period was full of activity with individuals being employed in factories to help meet the countries demand for exported products. During this period, women decided to get active in labor, especially now that the economy was rising and they needed to help their husbands to get their families finances in order. It was during this time that Mr. Jones mother became active in labor, marking the first time in Jones life when his mother went to work.

America is thrust into War

The war continued for two years with the United States fulfilling its duty and avoiding taking sides with any of the warring parties. However, this changed on December 7, 1941, after the Japanese launched an attack on an American Naval fleet at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii forcing the United States into the war as the only means to respond. This resulted in a great fear of attacks, where individuals wondered for their safety on the mainland given that the Japanese had attacked a secure fleet of Ships in Hawaii achieving numerous casualties among them innocent civilians.

Civilians, therefore, decided to sacrifice themselves for duty, women and men alike. Women, since they could not be sent to war helped in scrap metal businesses that were used to create armaments and weapons. Since the troops were in action, a rationing program was established which saw a reduction in the amount of food gas and clothing consumers could purchase. This was aimed at increasing the number of resources available for the American troops abroad, who by this time were fighting alongside (Horwitz and McPhillips 340). Great Britain and her allies.

By 1945, the workers’ roles had been shifted with an increase in women in active labor. In essence, women increased in the labor force by 12 percent, from 24 to 386. However, towards the end of the war, President Roosevelt passed on in his Warm Springs retreat in Georgia at the age of 63. In the wake of the war proceedings, citizens and fellow leaders had lost track of their leader’s health. He was succeeded by Truman, who finalized what Roosevelt had started defeating the Nazi and watching the Japanese surrender.


1.      THE FACTS: The Great Depression

On October 4, 1929, stock prices in the United States began to fall majorly. This marked the onset of the great depression, a period where the world experienced a severe economic downturn. This period lasted into the late 1930s and was rated as the most widespread, longest and most profound depression experience in the 20th century. After the stock prices started to fall, the news spread globally, and the stock market officially crashed in 29th October 1929 on a day that was named as the Black Tuesday. Many countries were hit hard by the crashing of the stock market, especially the ones that depended heavily on industrialization. The construction sector was equally affected and was stopped in several countries. The global gross domestic product between the years 1929 and 1932 fell by an approximate of 15% (Smiley 1).

Over five thousand banks were out of business while the rate of unemployment was at twenty-five percent by the year 1933. The United States faced the most brutal adversity of the great depression whereas nearly every nation around the world experienced acute deflation. President Herbert Hoover made attempts to revive growth in the American economy via the implementation of strategies such as the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (Smiley 1; Horwitz and McPhillips 339). The approach proved to be quite little in solving the rapidly spreading economic downturn. However, President Franklin Roosevelt came up with more effective measures such as the New Deal after his inauguration in 1933. This deal was a new and better approach for controlling the widespread great depression.

Causes of the great depression

Several occurrences eventually led to the great recession. One of the causes was the inequality of income. This was also one of the primary reasons for the stock market crash. As industries were expanding at a high rate in the 1900s, the number of employment increased. However, the wages of employees did not grow fast although there was a rapid increase in corporate profits. This led to a reduction in expenditure. The industries were producing many goods, but people were not in a position to purchase them due to their low incomes hence the decline in stock prices. Another cause for the great depression was the crashing of the stock market in 1929. This crash was brought about by the historic expansion in the United States during the 1920s. The American citizens began to perceive investing in the stock market as a more accessible path for making plenty of cash as the stock prices rose to higher levels. Shares that were worth hundreds of millions of dollars were loan financed and were paid back with the profits acquired from the share incomes that were steadily increasing as even people with more limited incomes opted to go as far as mortgaging their homes to buy stocks. When the stock prices began to fall in October 1929, businesses and customers panicked and lost confidence in the economy and even liquidated their assets. The panic then resulted in reduced customer spending especially on durable goods, and business investment also decreased (Smiley 1; Ferrara 1).

The decrease in tariffs and international lending factored in in the great depression. As the United economy was still growing in the late 1920s, borrowing by the American banks to other nations reduced significantly. Part of the reason for this reduction in lending was the high-interest rates charged by the United States. This resulted in a contradiction effect in some of the important borrower countries such as Germany and Brazil. Economies in the borrower countries then began to take a downturn. During that period, Congress adopted the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930. The act was passed with the intention of protecting the interests of the United States agricultural sector. America was experiencing an agricultural overproduction but lack of market as there was stiff competition from other agricultural producers including the European nations. The tariff act led to the imposition of high tariffs on a variety of industrial and agricultural products thus provoking retaliatory measures by many other countries that did not favor the United States economy. The gold standard was among the factors that led to the widespread great depression. America was running on a surplus trade with other nations as the United States exports were way cheaper than those of other countries, but the citizens bought few imported goods. This lack of trade balance resulted in the rise of a significant outflow of foreign gold to the United States. The outflow posed a severe threat to the value of currencies in nations where there was a depletion in the gold reserves. The gold standard, therefore, led to a general economic decline internationally.

Results of the great depression

The global economic downturn had a number of effects. For starters, it led to the closing down of many banks. This was a result of the fall in stock prices which made many people lose confidence in the financial system altogether. There was a massive withdrawal of funds from bank accounts by the panicking United States citizens who preferred to buy gold or hoard their money. Over nine thousand banks closed down as they were not on a position to cover all the sudden withdrawals. Another result of the great depression was the skyrocketing of unemployment rates. Most companies were collapsing during that period, and banks could not provide savings for the American people. Moreover, the rate of business investment has reduced significantly (Smiley 1; Albers and Uebele 3).

There was also a general decrease in the standards of living as most people could barely afford meals and other needs during the period of economic downturn. The international gold standard came to an end in the 1930s (Albers and Uebele 5). Another effect was that Keynesian economics was developed. There was also increased oversight of the financial sector by the government through regulatory agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission. Labor unions rose and gained widespread influence. The unions achieved feats such as the implementation of organized labor via legislation like the Wagner Act in the United States.

  1. WHAT IF: If I grew up during that period.

Growing up during the Great Depression would be quite hectic for all individuals as it was for Mr. Jones and other persons during that time. Firstly, I would have to change several life habits to cope with the problems of the great depression. For instance, I would reduce the amount of food intake, since rationing was a normal phenomenon then. However, while the modern day lifestyle has made us love junk and quick bites, the amount of food I would be entitled to per day would be quizzed n a single meal with plenty of water for hydration. Furthermore, walking to school and places of work would be a normal phenomenon since I would not enjoy losing funds on gas, funds that were already scarce. In 1933, I would have joined the welfare under the New Deal and then later I probably would have signed off with a construction company to help me get back to employment.

Since this period marked a  reduction in income and loss of revenues, forcing families to adjust to new lifestyles, I would have changed to books and literary arts. Book reading has been an essential part of my life; hence I believe I would retract into myself and read all I could find. However, Keynesian economics had a great significance during this period; therefore I would decide to read economic books and understand the causes of the great depression and its remedies from a Keynesian perspective. Breaking away from industrial employment, due to the decline in job opportunities and closure of a significant number of companies, I would more than likely embrace kitchen gardening to sharpen my farming skills and also participate in a vacation I love and deem worthy of my time.

Towards the end of the depression, with an increase in Jobs, and industry revivals, I would look for employment in one of the industries to keep up with my needs. However there is a high chance I would shift to the scrap business, especially after the start of the second world war to help make a living while helping my country achieve its policies abroad, This would imply getting into a business that is directly linked to the military to increase my active participation. However, while war is not one of those things I love most, the shift in ideology and subsequently duty, would be driven by patriotism and the need to help see my homeland guarded against external attacks such as those witnessed in Hawaii when the Japanese attacked our ships. Furthermore, since this was the more booming industry at the time, as a result of the war jumping into it would be of significance given that I would also be trying to recover from the Great Depression Financial Crisis

Finally, I would be a proponent of the rationing program so that our troops could receive more in war as a mode of standing with them. This would see me and my family take up our ration cards with pleasure, despite such forcing us to cut our resources increasing the strain on our families. However, the entire period, from the beginning of the Great Depression to the end of the war would be a moment filled with uncertainty and fear. The great depression for starters, would be a period when I would not understand what to expect in the future, while the war period would be marked with fear of impending attacks especially after the entry of the United States into the war and the success of the Japanese attacks on an American naval fleet off the coast of Hawaii.


3.      WHO I AM TODAY

My definition is majorly based on my perceptions and aspirations in life. These perceptions and goals derive a significant influence from my background or how I was brought up by my parents. The hardships I have been through and how I overcame them have also played a significant role in defining who I am today. I believe in seeking happiness in everything I do. My parents made me realize that a more refined definition of success is not only achieving the peace of mind with other people but also oneself. To them, not even the highest level in career development can rival the kind of satisfaction that comes with peace. My background has also helped me in understanding the power of positivity and being self-driven.


There are experiences in my life that helped shaped who I am today. For instance, the loss of my grandmother opened my eyes to the reality of life and spending time with people one values. Grandmother was a lively woman with many yet educational stories. She has a big heart that welcomed everyone without discrimination. However, my siblings and I would pass chances to visit her terming her place as boring. There were neither video games nor Netflix at her home or even cool people in her neighborhood. She died when I was thirteen. It was only then that I realized her importance and had a void in my heart. There would be no more birthday cards or cookies from her during the holidays. The guilt, pain, and bitterness the importance of placing value on the people you love and not taking them for granted. My parents were instrumental in helping me to see the significance of sacrifice. They raised my three cousins after my aunt and uncle died in a plane crash. They did not have much hence my father took up two jobs to ensure that we were well provided for equally. Mother sacrificed most leisure’s as she only had time for work and taking care of six children.

Financial management is one skill that I learned from experience. I made several financial mistakes mostly in my first college year that made me learn the importance of financial management. I squandered my allowance and the student loan allocation in my first semester as a freshman. Most of the money was wasted on clothing that I did not need and poor eating habits. After I got utterly broke with no one to borrow from, I started reflecting on how I was brought up. My parents had the responsibility of taking care of six children. They ensured that we had all meals, the best education they could manage, paid bills and mortgage on time and even managed to save up some cash for our college education. Moreover, they themselves managed to further their education and got promotions. On the other hand, I could not maintain one semester without going broke. When I reached out to my parents, they enlightened me on how to manage my allowance and student loan. They helped me understand what I needed to spend on and what I could avoid. They taught me how wastages such as throwing away leftovers that can be consumed later could be costly. Most importantly, they showed me the importance of saving and time management. I am now in a position to perform well at school whilst managing a part-time job which has enabled me to save more for the future.

Some of my teenage experiences also influenced my choices in life. One of my high school classmates joined a gang, had a criminal record and lost his life to substance abuse. This made me learn how to foster the right relationships and avoid deadly addictions. I also have a childhood friend who got pregnant at sixteen. She went back to school after giving birth and is currently majoring in law. Her life made me realize the importance of not letting mistakes define me.





4.      GRATITUDE: The Letters


My Letter

52 Greenville

Minnesota 55627,

March 18, 2019.


Deer Reed,

How is everything on your side, Reed? I am pushing through just fine; hence it would be okay to say I am doing alright. I am actively caught up in the chase for good grades, but I still have a few problems with my part-time job at the café. Sometimes I find my brain wandering from active duty resulting in me forgetting orders, on the one hand, losing my balance while carrying the plates as well as getting off my head while handling rude or dissatisfied customers. Luckily for me, I do have an understanding boss, who despite my flying off the handle has tried helping me resolve my issues. I am only worried that his patience will one day run out and I may get an adverse reaction for my clumsiness.

Anyway, how is this cold weather affecting your stay in the city? I still can believe that our neighborhood days are over, although I am glad that we are able to maintain our friendship. During that period that you were around, you had a high level of intelligence that made it easy to come and ask for advice. For starts, I am grateful for the times you intervened between my parents where you created a table of understanding for all of us to reason and agree on what was okay and what wasn’t and me.

As I finalize this letter, college life is quite challenging, coupled with my issues at may work café. Anyway, I still believe in your mentorship skills given that you also worked while studying. You probably understand the pressure to make money while at the same time you know the need of having a balanced schoolwork life. I hope I am not asking too much, but could you please send a response advising me on how to cope with the stresses and pressures of life? I am looking forward to hearing from you.

Yours Sincerely,

(Student Name)
















The Response


76 Foresthill

Ohio 2673

March 21, 2019


Dear (Student name)

It is really awesome to hear from you finally. I am okay under this chilly weather, thanks for inquiring. We had not corresponded much since that time when I moved out, and I will admit that I have been a little worried that we were slowly drifting apart. You know how coming by true friends, and people who can hold real conversations is hard these days. I have also been caught up in a busy schedule, and often wonder why I moved this far to practice my internship.

I, too, still reminisce about the old times. Much as you do not notice it, you were also crucial in helping keep my life on the right path. Your fascination with the library was a significant influence on me. Who knows how I would have spent my free time if i was not with you trying out constructive activities and expanding our knowledge in the library. Besides, you were always good at Mathematics, and your help has seen me come this far.


I understand the pressure in college: the drugs, competing lifestyles, and parties. Try to keep in mind the primary purpose of you being at school and refrain from straying. Your parents sacrificed a lot for you to be where you are; your siblings and cousins have so much faith in you that letting them down is not an option. Always remember where you come from and do not struggle to live beyond your means by bowing to the pressures of other college students. You have a whole life ahead of you so do not waste it by trying to satisfy temporary pleasures. I am glad to know that you have a part-time job and working hard in your academics. You can try signing up for anger management classes to help you deal with customers. You can also participate in an activity such as yoga that will help you to meditate and calm your frustrations. Do not forget to save for the future and foster the right relationships.

Make sure you reach out as much as you can and feel free to share anything with me

With regards,


Works Cited

Albers, Thilo, and Martin Uebele. The Global Impact of the Great Depression. London: Department of Economic History, London School of Economics and Political Science, 2015. Online.

Ferrara, Peter. The Great Depression Was Ended by the End of World War II, Not the Start of It. 30 November 2013. <https://www.forbes.com/sites/peterferrara/2013/11/30/the-great-depression-was-ended-by-the-end-of-world-war-ii-not-the-start-of-it/#43af6bbc57d3>.

Horwitz, Steven, and Michael McPhillips. “The Reality of the Wartime Economy: More Historical Evidence on Whether World War II Ended the Great Depression.” The Independent Review 17.3 (2013): 325-347. Online.

Smiley, Gene. Great Depression. 2014. Online. 18 March 2019.