1930s: North Dakota's Economic and Political Climate Overview

In 1929, America’s economy came crashing down. The industrial urban prosperity ended. On “Black Thursday,” October 24, 1929, Wall Street’s stocks began an abrupt spiral downward, hitting bottom in 1932. For examples, Sears shares dropped from $181 to $10; Remington Rand from $60 to $1; General Electric from $403 to $8.50. In a very short time, the nation fell into an economic depression that lasted throughout the 1930s.

Capitol in Bismarck burning in 1930. Courtesy of North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies.

Manufacturing companies cut their production by 50 percent, causing massive unemployment. By 1932, 12 million workers had lost their jobs - 25 percent of the labor force. People clamored to get what money they had out of banks. New York City’s Bank of the United States had to close its doors. This was the worst bank failure in American history. Thousands of banks in every corner of the nation failed; they could not meet the cash demands of their customers. Depositors lost millions and millions of dollars.

What happened across the nation happened in North Dakota. Banks failed; the people lost $50 million. Crop and livestock prices hit historic lows. Money was in short supply; two out of three residents needed assistance. Those who farmed faced yet another very serious dilemma: drought. The drought years in the state’s history destroyed crops and starved livestock. Many gave up and left the state. These were truly the years of despair.

The political world reflected the economic situation. Americans blamed the Republicans who held the White House during the 1920s for the depression. Blame was especially heaped upon Herbert Hoover who, in the population’s eyes, did little to alleviate the economic downturn.

In 1932 voters rejected Republican candidates and swept the Democrats into power. Franklin D. Roosevelt became president, and his Democratic party controlled both houses of Congress. In North Dakota, William Langer won the governorship. He reorganized the old Nonpartisan League and turned it into his own political faction of the Republican Party. Historians have called this the “Langer League” or the “Second NPL.” Although his enemies attempted many times to end his political career, he was a survivorCa survivor because as governor he took dramatic action to help the state’s farmers. The 1930s belonged to Langer.

In the North Star Dakotan’s recreated news stories on the economic and political situations, direct quotations come from the state’s newspapers. The interview with Lorena Hickok comes from Richard Lowitt and Maurine Beasley, eds., One Third of A Nation: Lorena Hickok Reports on the Great Depression (University of Illinois Press, 1981). Rilie Morgan’s interview is found in Daniel Rylance and D. Jerome Tweton, Years of Despair (Oxcart Press, 1972).

By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton


Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.

North Star Dakotan:

Journals and Art Work: The Indian People, The Trade, and The Land

The Indian People

The Purchase and Exploration of Louisiana

The Fur Trade

Dakota Territory

The Military Frontier

The Reservation System

George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

The Great Dakota Boom, 1878-1890

Reservation Troubles, 1886-1890

The Making of a State and a Constitution

The North Dakota Economy, 1890-1915

Life on the Indian Reservations

The North Dakota National Guard and the Philippines

North Dakota, The Great War and After

The Nonpartisan League's Rise to Power

The Nonpartisan League in Power

The Nonpartisan League's Decline

The 1920s

1930s: North Dakota's Economic and Political Climate

The New Deal in North Dakota

The Road to World War II

North Dakota and American Society

North Dakota Optimism and Economic Developments

North Dakota and Political Change

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    Audio: In 1930 the state capitol building burned down in Bismark.