During the Great Depression, which began in 1929 and lasted approximately a decade, shantytowns appeared across the U.S. as unemployed people were evicted from their homes. As the Depression worsened in the 1930s, causing severe hardships for millions of Americans, many looked to the federal government for assistance. When the government failed to provide relief, President Herbert Hoover (1874-1964) was blamed for the intolerable economic and social conditions, and the shantytowns that cropped up across the nation, primarily on the outskirts of major cities, became known as Hoovervilles. The highly unpopular Hoover, a Republican, was defeated in the 1932 presidential election by Democrat Franklin Roosevelt (1882-1945), whose New Deal recovery programs eventually helped lift the U.S. out of the Depression. In the early 1940s, most remaining Hoovervilles were torn down.
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A U.S. stock market crash in 1929 sparked the decade-long international economic downturn known as the Great Depression.
Hoover, the 31st president of the United States, took office the year that the stock market crashed, leading to the Great Depression.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd U.S. president (1933-1945), led the nation through both the Great Depression and World War II.
In the mid-1930s, Franklin D. Roosevelt launched a series of economic programs designed to combat the effects of the Great Depression.
Did You Know?
As America's housing and economic crisis worsened through 2009, homelessness was on the rise. Encampments and shantytowns often referred to as tent cities--with similarities to Hoovervilles--began appearing in parts of California, Arizona, Tennessee, Florida, Washington and other states.
The Great Depression Sets In
The Great Depression was the most severe and enduring economic collapse of the 20th century, and included abrupt declines in the supply and demand of goods and services along with a meteoric rise in unemployment. 1933 is generally regarded as the worst year of the Depression: One-quarter of America's workers--more than 15 million people--was out of work.
Multiple factors led to the Great Depression, including the U.S. stock market crash in October 1929 and the widespread failure of the American banking system, both of which helped destroy society's confidence in the nation's economy. Additionally, although the 1920s, also known as the Roaring Twenties, had been a decade of prosperity, income levels varied widely and numerous Americans lived beyond their means. Credit was extended to many so that they could enjoy the new inventions of the day, such as washing machines, refrigerators and automobiles.
As the optimism of the 1920s gave way to fear and desperation, Americans looked to the federal government for relief. However, the country's 31st president, Herbert Hoover, who took office in March 1929, believed that self-reliance and self-help, not government intervention, were the best means to meet citizens' needs. In his estimation, prosperity would return if people would simply help one another. And although private philanthropy increased during the early 1930s, the amounts given were not enough to make a significant impact. Many Americans in need believed the resolution to their problems lay in government assistance, but Hoover resisted such a response throughout his presidency.
The Rise of Hoovervilles
As the Depression worsened and millions of urban and rural families lost their jobs and depleted their savings, they also lost their homes. Desperate for shelter, homeless citizens built shantytowns in and around cities across the nation. These camps came to be called Hoovervilles, after the president. Democratic National Committee publicity director and longtime newspaper reporter Charles Michelson (1868-1948) is credited with coining the term, which first appeared in print in 1930.
Hooverville shanties were constructed of cardboard, tar paper, glass, lumber, tin and whatever other materials people could salvage. Unemployed masons used cast-off stone and bricks and in some cases built structures that stood 20 feet high. Most shanties, however, were distinctly less glamorous: Cardboard-box homes did not last long, and most dwellings were in a constant state of being rebuilt. Some homes were not buildings at all, but deep holes dug in the ground with makeshift roofs laid over them to keep out inclement weather. Some of the homeless found shelter inside empty conduits and water mains.
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