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 Man Who Made The Yanquis Go Home

Starting with thirty “liberated”
rifles, Augusto Sandino forced American troops out of Nicaragua in 1933

Rear Adm. Julian L. Latimer stood on the bridge of his flagship, the USS Rochester, as it nosed into the harbor of Puerto Cabezas, on Nicaragua’s northeastern Mosquito Coast. It was Christmas Eve, 1926, and the fifry-seven-year-old West Virginian had been called abruptly away from family festivities at the Canal Zone naval station at Balboa. Read more »

When Presidents Tell It Their Way

Only ten of our forty Presidents have written accounts of their time in the White House. Jimmy Carter’s Keeping Faith is the latest addition to that short shelf, and James Buchanan was the somewhat unlikely creator of this rare literary form. But as the welcome new Da Capo Press edition of his autobiography reaffirms, Theodore Roosevelt remains its most vivid and vigorous practitioner. Read more »

Radio Grows Up

How the novelty item of 1920 became the world-straddling colossus of 1940

IN 1921 Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, who was charged with what meager regulation of the airwaves there was, called radio “an instrument of beauty and learning.” Waldemar Kaempffert, who, as editor of Scientific American , had followed the beginnings of the technology, in 1922 imagined “a radio mother … crooning songs and telling bedtime stories” while “some future Einstein” could elaborate his theories “to a whole world with an ear cocked to catch … his voice as it wells out of the Read more »

What We Got For What We Gave

The American Experience With Foreign Aid

Imagine a person of great wealth with a habit of giving away vast sums and lending more. In order to understand his character, we should examine how the money is dispensed and why. Who are the recipients? What does the donor expect of them in return? How does he react if his expectations are not fulfilled? By asking the same questions of a wealthy and seemingly generous government, we can acquire a similar insight into its character. Read more »

Transcontinental Air Transport, Inc.

New York to Los Angeles in an unheard-of 48 hours! And what a way to go—luxuriously appointed planes, meals served aloft, and a window seat for every passenger

It was midsummer of 1929, and all seemed right with the world. Herbert Hoover was in the White House, riding high on a tide of prosperity and popularity. A few critics muttered that stocks were dangerously overpriced, but to most Americans such foreboding seemed no more worrisome than a small cloud on a distant horizon. Read more »

The Drought And The Dole

Few places are more unpleasant ban Washington in the summer, and the summer of 1930 was worse than most. The pressures of the business downturn had kept Herbert Hoover a prisoner in the White House through a hot June and a hotter July —the stock-market crash was less than a year old—and in those days before air conditioning, editorial writers were beginning to express concern for the President’s health.Read more »

’Twas Was The Night Before Christmas…

When up on the roof there arose such a clatter That Herbert rushed out to see what was the matter

On Christmas morning of 1929 Fire Marshal C. G. Achstetter of Washington, D.C., commenced the tedious paperwork that follows a $135,000 fire. Reaching for his office form, “Fire Marshal’s Record of Fire,” he noted that it had been a hard month: 779 fires to date in 1929, and this most recent one was number 162 in December alone. Read more »

How to Get Elected

The American system of choosing a President has not worked out badly, far as it may be from the Founding Fathers’ vision of a natural aristocracy

“Elections, my dear Sir,” wrote John Adams to Thomas Jefferson after perusing a copy of the new Constitution, “Elections to offices which are great objects of Ambition, I look at with terror.” One can imagine the shudder with which both men, could they stand amid the bustle of a modern presidential campaign, would regard that quadrennial “carnival of buncombe.”

Bonus March

By frieght train, on foot, and in commandeered trucks, thousands of unemployed veterans descended on a nervous capital at the depth of the Depression—and were run out of town by Army bayonets


In the late spring of 1932 some 20,000 jobless World War veterans, many with their wives and children, descended on Washington, dumping the Depression on the doorstep of the Capitol and the White House. Two months later, when they had overstayed their grudging welcome, they were driven out of the city. The crimson glow of their burning camps had hardly faded from the midnight sky before a dispute arose as to who these people were, why they had come to the capital, and under what circumstances they had been expelled.

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