American Culture in the 1930s

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  • 0:04 The 1930s: Difficult…
  • 0:46 Impact of the Great Depression
  • 1:34 The Dust Bowl
  • 2:15 Architecture and Culture
  • 3:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will analyze American culture during the 1930s. We will highlight key themes, such as Art Deco architecture, and we will come to a full understanding of what life was like during this difficult, yet dynamic decade.

The 1930s: Difficult and Dynamic

Most people would probably consider the 1930s the worst decade in American history, and rightfully so. With the stock market crash of 1929, the 1930s got off to a rough start. Unemployment and poverty were widespread, crops failed during something we call the Dust Bowl, and it was basically just a really bad time for America. And yet, during this decade, a new architectural style flourished, and new innovations were being made in the arts and the sciences. So, the 1930s is kind of a mixed bag. Undoubtedly, it was a horrible time for Americans, yet in some ways it was also dynamic. Let's dig deeper to see what life what like during this time.

Impact of the Great Depression

The Great Depression was an economic depression lasting roughly ten years that began in the United States and affected industrialized countries around the world. The Depression was the result of years of risky and speculative stock buying. It was triggered by the Stock Market Crash of 1929. On October 29, 1929, a day known as Black Tuesday, some 16 million shares were traded on Wall Street, resulting in the loss of billions of dollars. Panic struck Americans. There are records of people committing suicide by jumping off roofs. It was a dark time. Many Americans found themselves out of work and unable to provide adequately for their families. Soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and other emergency relief stations popped up all over the country, attempting to help those hit hardest by the Great Depression.

The Dust Bowl

Just when it seemed as though things couldn't get worse, the Dust Bowl hit. The Dust Bowl was a series of severe dust storms that ravaged the Central U.S. throughout the mid-to-late 1930s. During this time, crops failed, livestock died from ingesting dust, and the sun was often blotted out for days. It was unreal. The Dust Bowl primarily affected the plains region, with places like Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas being the hardest hit. This led to a mass exodus out of the Great Plains. Many Americans packed up what they could into their automobiles, and left for California. As one Kansas preacher said in 1936, 'The land just blew away; we had to go somewhere.'

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