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.
Explain how changes alter the balance within a system (e.g., the effects of limited resources on populations, global climate change, flood, drought)
Explain how natural hazards affect populations, resources, and the environment (e.g., floods, storms, hurricanes, volcanoes, earthquakes)
Identify factors that affect populations (e.g., food webs, carrying capacity, overpopulation, disease, food supply, algal blooms, resources, conservation practices)
Identify historic United States figures (e.g., George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Susan B. Anthony, Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Cesar Chavez, Sacagawea) and link them with their contributions
Describe how community life has changed from past (i.e., pioneer and tribal) to the present
Identify similarities and differences between past events and current events in North Dakota (e.g., in the lives of people from different cultures past and present)
Use chronological order and sequence to describe the cause-and-effect relationships of historical events and periods in North Dakota (e.g., how the railroads led to settlements in the state)
Identify the contributions of prominent individuals (e.g., Teddy Roosevelt, La Verendrye, Rough Rider Award winners) to North Dakota
Explain how background and history influence people’s actions (e.g., farming methods, hunting methods, economic decisions)
Describe similarities and differences between past events and current events in U.S. history (e.g., in the lives of people from different cultures past and present)
Explain the significance of scientists, inventors, and historical figures (e.g., Christopher Columbus, Juan Ponce De Leon, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Paul Revere, Benjamin Rush, David Rittenhouse, Thomas Paine)
Describe the concept of competition and its relationship to price (e.g., market based economy)
Explain why the United States government is necessary (e.g., government helps secure people’s lives, liberty, and property through law and military protection; groups can accomplish things collectively that individuals cannot)
Explain how people create and change structures of power (e.g., force, elections, wars, reactions to economic conditions and natural disasters)
Identify principles governing individual and group behavior (e.g., cooperation, collaboration, power, conflict) within social dynamics (e.g., familial, political, religious)
Evaluate the impact of various factors that led to the transformation of the nation (e.g., imperialism, industrialization, immigration, political/social reformers, urbanization, mechanization of agriculture, changing business environment)
Analyze the major political, economic, and social developments that occurred between World War I and World War II (e.g. Red Scare, Roaring 20’s, Great Depression, New Deal)
Analyze basic micro and macro economic concepts (e.g., scarcity, opportunity cost, trade offs, markets, business organizations, factors of production, supply and demand, and personal finance)
Explain the role of money and the role of financial institutions in a market economy (e.g., basic functions of money, composition of money supply, role of banks and other financial institutions, federal reserve, credit savings)
Analyze the role government plays in an economy (e.g., provision of public goods and services, taxes, protection of property rights, resolution of market failures)
Interpret the concepts of exchange and trade and the impacts and implications of a global economy for individuals and nations