Hard Times Remembered


If you wanted to go to the toilet, you had to have permission of the foreman. He had to find a substitute for you on the assembly line who could sandpaper those two right fenders as they went by. If he couldn’t right away, you held it ( laughs ).

If you didn’t punch that clock at eight o’clock, if you came in at two minutes past eight, you were docked one hour’s pay. There wasn’t any excuse. If you did this two or three times, you got fired.

I made the mistake of telling the foreman I had enrolled at Northwestern University night school. He said, “Mr. Ford isn’t paying people to go to college. You’re through.”

General Robert E. Wood , who recently died, was a vice president of Sears Roebuck during the l930’s.

We had to lay off thousands of people. It was terrible. I used to go through the halls of the building and these little girls, they were all terrified. I remember one Italian girl I called in. She had a family of ten, father, mother, and eight children. She was the only one working. It was terrible. But we had to lay ‘em off. I could see how frightened to death they were.

Tom Sutton , a lawyer, heads Operation Crescent, an organization of white property owners.

I remember standing in my father’s office watching a march on City Hall. I was seven or eight. I remember his comment about red flags and revolution. He said, “The poor devils are just looking for bread.” They weren’t out to harm anyone. All they were marching for was food. I thought: Why were they looking for food? There were plenty of stores.

There was always talk in the house about the financial crisis. I remember listening to Father Coughlin about money-changers in the temple. I lived in a Protestant neighborhood. It seemed there were more Protestants listening to Father Coughlin than there were Catholics. My father listened to him. He was like everybody else: anybody that had a solution, they’d grab onto it.

He was a liberal and a Democrat and a strong supporter of Roosevelt. One of my favorite pastimes during the campaign was sitting across the front room watching him repeat after Roosevelt as Roosevelt talked. You know, telling off the other side. Since most of his brothersin-law were conservative Republicans, he enjoyed that particularly.

I went along with him. I can remember writing a term paper in high school: “The Need for a Planned Economy.” I take it out and read it once in a while, just to see how foolish youth can be.

Senator Russell Long talks about his father, Huey Long.

He was really catching on around the country. His plan was pretty well patterned after the old Populist philosophy. Money had gotten down to where a few people had practically all of it. He thought it was time you spread it among everybody. His share-the-wealth program was for one third of the nation’s money to be divided among all the people, even though you did permit the other two thirds to be captured by the upper one per cent. It had a lot of popular appeal.


His critics would say: in three or four years, the wealthy would have the money back in their coffers anyway. The Long people would answer: maybe so. But think what a good time we’d have in the meanwhile ( laughs ).

Harry Hartman works in the bailiff’s office in the Chicago County Building. He has been there for thirty-three years. His work deals with evictions, levies, and replevins (in which goods bought on credit are repossessed by the seller if the payments are not met).

We had ‘em [replevins] every single day. We used to come there with trucks and take the food off the table. The husband would come runnin’ out of the house. We’d have to put the food on the floor, take the tables and chairs out. If they were real bad, we’d make arrangements, you understand, to leave a few things there or something. So they could get by. But it was pretty rough there for a lot of people.


Once we went to a house and there were three children. The table seemed to be part of the furniture company’s inventory. That and the beds and some other things. The thing that struck us funny was that these people had almost the whole thing paid for when they went to the furniture company and bought something else. So instead of paying this and making a separate bill, the salesman said, “You take whatever you want and we’ll put it on the original bill.” They paid for that stuff, and then when they weren’t able—when the Depression struck—to pay for the new articles they bought, everything was repossessed.

Mick Shufro was assistant director of the Chicago Housing Authority in the late 1930’s.

A mother of nine children was receiving two quarts of milk. Because of a budgetary crisis, she was cut down to one quart. She raised hell at the relief station. She became vituperative. The caseworker wrote her up as a psychotic. And sent her to a psychiatrist. Fortunately, he responded as few did at the time. He said: “When this woman stops reacting the way she does, let me know. Then she would be abnormal. …”