The Big Picture Of The Great Depression

The crisis swept over France and Germany and Britain alike—and they all nearly foundered. Now more than ever, it is important to remember it didn’t just happen here.

Back in 1955 John Kenneth Galbraith called the Great Depression of the 1930s “the most momentous economic occurrence in the history of the United States,” and thirty-odd years later that judgment, recorded in Galbraith’s best seller, The Great Crash , still holds. Since then there have been more recessions, some quite severe, but nothing like what happened in the thirties. As dozens of economists and historians have shown, we now know, in theory, how to deal with violent cyclical downturns.Read more »

The Golden Age Of Advertising

The twenties and thirties saw a host of new ways to separate customers from their money. The methods have not been forgotten.

No era provides such revealing insights into the cultural values of both producers and consumers of American advertising as the 1920s and 1930s, when admen not only claimed the status of professionals but also saw themselves as missionaries of modernity. Read more »

1934 Fifty Years Ago

Frank Hamer, a former Texas Ranger, got a tip that the bank robbers Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker would be coming down a road near Arcadia, Louisiana. Hamer had been after them for six months. On May 23 he set up an ambush, on top of a little hill, with a handful of fellow lawmen. Among them was R. F. Alcorn, who knew the pair by sight. “That’s them, boys,” Alcorn said as the car approached. They shouted for Barrow to halt, but he and Parker went for their guns; the posse produced a lethal fusillade, and fifty bullets hit the bank robbers.Read more »

R. G. Fiege, Circus Painter

Using the same bold colors that drew the rubes in to see the Giant Rat of Sumatra and the Three-Headed Calf, he painted a fanciful record of his world

T HE GREAT DEPRESSION was as hard on circuses as it was on every other enterprise, but during those years, R. G. Fiege managed to keep a circus job and to find enough spare time to produce a series of paintings documenting the life around him. Little is known of Fiege—his name does not appear in the vast files of Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin—but he was born in Ohio in 1887, died there eighty years later, and during part of that time earned his living as a sign and poster painter.Read more »

The Olympics That Almost Wasn’t

In 1984 Los Angeles will once again play host to the Summer Olympics. It’s got to be easier that the first time. That was just fifty years ago, when, in the teeth of the Great Depression, a group of local boosters boldly set about planning

March 1925. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, president of the Comité International Olympique, in a confidential letter from Paris to William May Garland, president of the California Olympiad committee: “In case of Holland failing to fulfill her engagements … in the IX Olympiad … would Los Angeles be willing or not to take up 1928 instead of 1932? An answer must be given immediately. Therefore we beg that you shall consult without delay upon receiving this letter with the mayor of Los Angeles and the organizing committee.Read more »

The Cost Of Living In America, 1800—1980

A Graphic Treatment

The Department of Labor first began publishing a Cost of Living Index in 1919. Since then this measurement of the prices of the goods and services used by ordinary people in their day-to-day lives has been many times modified and refined. During World War II its title was changed to Consumer Price Index. Attempts also have been made to project the index back through the nineteenth century by collecting data from newspapers, business records, and other sources.Read more »

Good Reading

The Plains Acrossi The Overland Emigrants and the Trans-Mississippi West, 1840-60

by John D. Unruh, Jr. University of Illinois Press Illustrations, tables, maps 565 pages, $20.00 Read more »

Route 66: Ghost Road Of Okies

People who have been turned out of their homes make keen historians. Forced from the land of their ancestors and onto the open road without a destination, they have a way of remembering—often to the minute of the day—the trauma of departure.Read more »

Knights Of The Fast Freight

When young Jack London described the Reno of 1892 as “filled with … a vast and hungry horde of hoboes,” he was reporting no isolated phenomenon; shaggy, rootless men—tramps or hoboes—could be seen in every part of the West from the 1870’s down to the Second World War. Beginning in 1869, when Omaha Bill beat his way on the first Union Pacific train to the Coast, they were to be seen on all the western lines.Read more »