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11 Facts About the Great Depression

Avatar for Gaye Levy Gaye Levy  |  Updated: December 16, 2020
11 Facts About the Great Depression

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There is a poem by Margaret Jang that begins “To know your future, you must know your past”.  And such it is with the events of today and the Great Depression.

The more I learn, the more I want to know because after all, while the PTB and the mainstream media report that the economy is once again growing and things are looking just swell, a walk down Main Street paints a very different picture.  In communities across the country, people are still unemployed (or underemployed), they are still being forced out of their homes, and they are still going hungry.

Books, films, newspaper accounts, and personal journals all contribute to our knowledge of the events that caused the market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed.  I find myself devouring them all so that I can learn and prepare for the hard times ahead.  My favorites, however, are the personal stories from those who lived through it.  To that end, I recently was given permission from Backwoods Home Magazine to share a first-hand recollection of times during the Great Depression.

11 Facts About the Great Depression | Backdoor Survival

Before I do that, however, here are facts about the Great Depression that we should keep front and center as we move deeper into this next era of economic woes.

11 Facts About the Great Depression

1.  The Great Depression did not happen overnight.

2.  The media created panic and chaos with their sensationalized reports.

3.  Being poor was so common that being poor was considered “normal”.

4.  Hard work and an enterprising attitude made a bad situation tolerable.

5.  Investing time and energy in gardening and the raising of livestock (chickens and cows) had a huge payback in self-reliance.

6.  Canning and preserving food was important if you wanted food to eat year-round.

7.  The price of everything escalated on an almost daily basis.

8.  Lawlessness was rampant.  In addition to ruthless outlaws, neighbors stole from neighbors everything from food items to livestock to valuables such as jewelry and tools.

9.  In spite of everything, “Robin Hoods” emerged from unexpected places to help feed the people.

10.  Families learned to make do and to enjoy themselves with amusements and hobbies that took little or no money.

11.  And perhaps the biggest lesson, Use it up, Wear it out, Make do, or Do without!.

Great Depression

Recalling the Great Depression

The following excerpt is from Alice B. Yeager and speaks to a time when things were both tough and good at the same time.

The Great Depression: A Reminiscence

By Alice B. Yeager and James O. Yeager

I was a girl of 8 when the stock market crashed in 1929. It was the Great Depression, and unless you were living during the Depression years, you can’t really understand how tough they were. Our parents knew, however, as they went about trying to raise families under the worst of economic circumstances.

The Great Depression didn’t happen overnight. There is no way you can select a certain day and say that’s when it began. It started coming on sometime during the late 1920s and lasted well into the 1930s. At its peak, approximately 25 percent of American workers were without jobs. Chaos reigned as banks and insurance companies failed. Worst of all, with no bank deposits federally insured, many people lost their savings unless they were among the first to draw their money out of the banks before they closed their doors.

Newspaper headlines didn’t help matters. In New York City and other hard-hit cities, some moneyed and distraught people were jumping from tall buildings and there was an endless list of businesses closing day by day putting more and more people out of work.

Even though my husband, James, and I were children, we were old enough to be aware of The Great Depression and the effect it had on our families and everyone around us. However, let me say from the outset that being in the same boat with many other Americans made it bearable.

We didn’t realize that we were poor as we were all trying to make ends meet and somehow survive.


Click  to read the rest of the article on the Backwoods Home Magazine website. Used with permission.

The Final Word

Part of my responsibility here at Backdoor Survival is to seek out information that will help us prepare and to cope with hard times ahead.  In doing so, I try to keep in mind that all is not doom and gloom.  To quote Alice:

“The Great Depression was not all doom and gloom. There were good times, too. Many of us enjoyed going to our favorite fishing holes not only for the outing, but the fish helped to stretch our food budgets. We had very few concrete swimming pools, so we swam in unpolluted creeks and rivers.

Folks were more inclined to gather and play games like checkers, dominoes, and card games. Churches had better attendance than now. Children weren’t encouraged to grow up so fast. They played hopscotch, jumped rope, twirled tops, and did tricks with yo-yos. Older boys and girls played basketball, baseball, softball, skated, etc. There was more physical activity then than playing computer games today, and obesity was not a nationwide problem.

And, so it went. Ordinary Americans managing to get through tough times.”

Bargain Bin: There are many basic supplies in a survival kit that are inexpensive. Below you will find a list of some of these items. Most are less than $20 and many are less than $10. Take a look – do you have these items set aside for an emergency?

Cyalume SnapLight Chemical Light Sticks: Read all about light sticks at Lighting Your Way With Chemical Lighting.

Blocklite Ultra Bright 9V LED Flashlight: One of my readers (James) claims that these work great. So I bought one and it works great!  There is a similar flashlight called the Pak-Lite (which is more expensive) but it does not have a high-low switch like this one.

Emergency Mylar Thermal Blankets (Pack of 10): You will be surprised at how warm these will keep you. Be sure to test one out in advance so that you have the confidence to trust the blanket in an emergency.

Emergency Shelter Tent: The Emergency Tent is a lightweight and compact emergency shelter. It is wind and waterproof and easy to set up and is roomy enough for two people.

Emergency Sleeping Bag: Another low cost item designed to keep you warm in an emergency situation.

Rothco Type III Commercial Paracord: You can get 100 feet of Paracord for very affordably. This is a real bargain but be aware that price can vary substantially depending on the color.  Also, I wrote a very popular article – 44 Really Cool Uses of Paracord for Survival – be sure to check it out.

Potable Aqua Water Treatment Tablets: Potable Aqua Water Purification Tablets make questionable water bacteriologically suitable to drink. Easy to use and the water is ready to drink in 30 minutes. One 50 tablet bottle treats 25 quarts of water.

UCO Stormproof Matches, twin pack (50 matches): This is another one of those items most people forget about. Each match burns for about 15 seconds even if it is windy, rainy, or cold.

Clara’s Kitchen: Wisdom, Memories, and Recipes from the Great Depression: If you don’t know about Clara, be sure to read Depression Cooking: A Visit to Clara’s Kitchen.


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26 Responses to “11 Facts About the Great Depression”

  1. I lived in a wealthy town. We couldn’t afford to live there after we retired. We decided to move. We had very expensive Boehm pieces and artwork we couldn’t take with us. I took it to the local upscale consignment shop to put into consignment. I was told that a few years back these pieces were very expensive but today they have no worth. I was shocked and asked why…he looked me right in the eye and said, “You don’t understand, people are selling their belongings to eat.” I was speechless that in my wealthy town people were selling their belongings to eat..Depression years plus..then I “got” how bad our economy is and how close to collapse. God help us.

  2. “8. Lawlessness was rampant. In addition to ruthless outlaws, neighbors stole from neighbors everything from food items to livestock to valuables such as jewelry and tools.”

    This goes against everything I have heard from my grandparents and my great grand father. I would really like to see some research on this. It was their and my understanding that people pulled together and helped each other get through the hard time.


    • Alice mentions lawlessness in here article but there are many other well-documented sources. Here is one: //

      My guess is that some communities did better than others. Although people did their best to pull together, desperation (and hungry mouths) forced others to become less than neighborly.

  3. The Depression that we are currently in will develop much differently than the Depression my parents lived through. My parents grew up in two different, but well known cities in the northeast.

    1. They were not constantly tracked electronically and could make decisions that were the best for them.
    2. The dependency upon the grid was more moderate than today. For example, they had an icebox and not a refrigerator.
    3. There were still vestiges of a moral compass. Most people practiced their religion and went to their place of worship. This was even true of some of the “bad boys” of the neighborhood.
    4. Most people understood thrift and economy with their own finances. Not everyone had a telephone, but most had a radio, but usually only listened to their programs in the evenings. They were able to walk to most places. Limited wardrobe and “less than new” attire was the norm. Games, especially cards, were popular as well as street games such as “stoop ball.”
    5. Whether they used their skill base or not (my mother’s family did not), the vast majority of men and women had one.
    6. It was considered shameful to rely on government aid.
    7. Most did what they could for themselves rather than waiting for someone else to do it.

    This, however, does not mean that they were the “Greatest” Generation. If you are talking about my grandparents, the parents of my parents, especially my paternal grandmother then yes. She had it extremely hard. I was close to her, and she never complained about those years. Will we that kind of fortitude? The generations born into the Depression? Not so much. At least this was my observation knowing the adult friends and acquaintances of my parents. I am certain war years had a big impact.

    • Excellent feedback about the era and also about your family. Thank you for sharing! As you can probably tell, this is a topic that I am passionate about.

    • Your observations are spot on! My Grandmother never talked about the depression except to say, “yes it was a hard time, but we made do”. My mother lived through the second world war and all the rationing involved, but never complained. I do remember her smiling when we found her ration booklets in some old pictures. She said, “it was not easy, but I remember it being a family time”.


  4. The Paklite does have a high and low switch. I ordered, the first time, the low cost version which means it ships with a generic (cheap china) 9v alkaline. I have my own stock of Li-On 9v’s so I didn’t want to pay extra for something I already have plenty of.

    I was impressed with the light even on the cheap battery and after a month or two of normal usage I set it up on low and let it run 24/7. It took almost 14 weeks before it ran down. That’s a 2,352 hour run time. With a Li-on 9v you should easily get 6-7 months of 24/7 light out of it.

    At that point I ordered two more for our Go Somewhere Else Bags and tucked in two 9v’s in each one. We could be trapped in a cave for a year or two and have light the entire time.

    I’m not saying the blocklight is bad but sometimes you do get what you pay for. These are also the lights of choice by many of our armed forces especially pilots for their E&E kits.

    • The Pak-lite I purchased did not have a high low switch so I will need to look for the model you mention.

      I have Blocklites stashed everywhere – handbag, daypack, pockets, drawers – and they are great. I recharge the used 9V batteries coming out of my smoke detectors for my non-emergency Blocklites.

      I will run a test to see how long a Blocklite with a new battery will run – thanks for the idea. It will be interesting to see how it stacks up to your results.

    • I was raised by the depression generation and older…I’m very thrifty and hate debt. It appalls me how comfortable younger people are with debts.
      A friend told me her grandfather alone in his county saved his strawberry farm in Florida. She said it was because he repaired his equipment and hated debts…his neighbors would make some money and blow it, living on debt from one year to the next.
      My grandfather had a Piggly Wiggly in west Texas…gave food out the back door to black families and raised a large family…doing without only luxuries. He paid cash for everything always.
      Also, I believe if you love justice, share with the poor a lot, avoid sweat shop stuff…yes you can, others have even on a tight budget…the angels will come from Heaven to help you and yours always…you smell good to them!!

    • Deanna –

      I know that many of my peers have a huge amount of debt at a time when they should be free and clear. I do not think that this problem is only with the younger generation although their conspicuous consumption may be more obvious since they tend to purchase gadgets and gizmos as opposed to other, more permanent assets such as luxury cars and fancy home.

      Your grandfather – and what he did – makes me feel proud.

  5. “Being poor was so common that being poor was considered “normal”.” Agree. That in essence is what my dad told me about his experience as a child growing up during the “depression”. He never realized that he grew up in the “depression”, only years later he did when he read about it. His attitude was always, “So what, we were all poor and we accepted it as the norm”. My grand dad was not particularly poorer during the depression than before. Guess it was easier for poor people to adapt to the depression than those who were a little better off than others like my grandparents.

  6. Back then, there were fewer people, more rural farms, people were poor but they weren’t dependent on welfare. Consider today just how much of our food comes from other countries.
    How many people would survive if only two things were taken away today—at the beginning of winter. Loss of food stamps and loss of utilities.

  7. I have been thinking along the same lines as you have Gaye, thinking about the depression as well as WWII. I found it interesting that it didn’t come on suddenly. Just this afternoon driving to my daughter’s I saw two homeless men begging in the suburbs. What?! You would have never seen that a few years ago. Small changes in society and around us, it just seems to be coming on kind of gradually. Perhaps that is good, it gives us time to continue to learn and prepare.

  8. My dad was working at the local Ford dealer in town during the depression. I remember him saying that almost every week, sometimes several times a week, a farmer would walk all over town carrying a smoke cured ham, or other cuts, and beg everybody he met to buy it for 10 cents a pound. He would almost always carry it back home with him.

  9. I’m not sure that number seven is a solid fact.

    “7. The price of everything escalated on an almost daily basis.”

    The Depression was a deflationary event. There were fewer Dollars in circulation so the prices of things weren’t bid up as people tried to obtain them, quite unlike today’s inflationary situation where some people are swimming in borrowed Dollars bidding up the price of most everything.

    I interviewed a man who was of working age during The Depression. He said there were Great! deals all around on things, but nobody had any money to buy them.

    While discussing, America’s Great Depression, 5th ed. there’s this:

    “… he shows that the 1920s really were an inflationary period in terms of money creation. The price level remained stable, he said, because the monetary inflation prevented it from falling, which is what it should have been doing at a time of great productivity increases. Focusing on the price level, as opposed to the level of money creation, gives a misleading picture.” …


    The Depression worsened when the money supply contracted after the 1920’s, this led to lower prices.

    Another interesting fact about The Depression they never teach you in school:

    How the Great Depression Finally Ended

    “It was a “stimulus” provided by about a two-thirds reduction of federal spending, from $98.7 billion in 1945 to $33.8 billion in 1948” …


    One more fact we were never taught in school, the title says it all:

    Unemployment During the Great Depression Has Been Overstated and Current Unemployment Understated (We’ve Now Got Depression-Level Unemployment)


    • “How the Great Depression Finally Ended

      “It was a “stimulus” provided by about a two-thirds reduction of federal spending, from $98.7 billion in 1945 to $33.8 billion in 1948″ …”

      Seriously? Don’t you think that little boom (if you’ll pardon the pun) in war production starting at the end of 1941 might have had a little more to do with it. And why did federal spending drop from 1945 to 1948? The war ended!

    • Nope, Rusty, if you’ll look into what Professor Higgs has written, the war production prolonged The Depression and made it worse.

      Too many people think The War ended The Depression, it did not.

      Are you familiar with Bastiat’s broken-window fallacy? It is explained in the link below, as well as describing more about how The War didn’t end The Depression or improve people’s standard of living, which means if there is a wider war today, we can expect a similar result. Which is also yet another reason to prep:

      The Myth of War Prosperity


    • Sorry guys…war production practically eliminated unemployment and raised wages (a farm laborer made a dollar a day in 1937 and a dollar an hour in 1943). Lew Rockwell Libertarians hate war and don’t want to give it credit for anything positive (I’m no fan of war, either, BTW). A stock bubble run up by easy money and then an over tightening of the money supply when the bubble (predictably) burst, the insane Smoot-Hawley legislation and 5 years of FDR grabbing at every socialist straw short of forming labor battalions made the depression into the nighmare that we have all read about. Not one trick worked…except global war. An important lesson as we look into the near future.

    • While in some cases it would appear that the prices are not escalating, look at the quantity/volume of the items that you are buying. Then compare it to what you have in storage, I think you’ll be surprised and how different items are being downsized. You are now paying more for less.

  10. Good info. While I think we have much to learn from history, what if what we’re going through now–and what is to come–isn’t like the Great Depression? We’re different people today. We don’t have the moral fiber of decades gone by. We’re reaping both the positive and negative impacts of technology, which is also much different today. Also, our economy is based much more on Monopoly money and the creation of money via electron transfer. If we prepare for the last depression, we may not be as ready as we should be for this one.

    • You make an excellent point, John, especially as it relates to our current dependence on technology to move money around and the lack, in some, of strong moral and ethical values.

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