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Great Depression: Timeline

Times Square in New York During the Great Depression

"'View of Times Square in New York during the Great Depression" - Photograph of Times Square showing men sitting and reading news papers  - "'Liborio Justo travelled to the USA, in the 20's and in 1930. He considered the country to be a model of democracy for the rest of the Americas. But when he visited in 1934, at the time of the Great Depression, he saw the terrible crisis of poverty and hunger that the country was suffering. He was so shocked that he bought a second hand Voigt-Lander and started taking photos of all that he saw; the demonstrations (which he participated in), men protesting in the street with sandwich boards, the homeless sleeping rough on doorways, the soup kitchens and the unemployed sitting for days on end on park benches reading newspapers or sleeping."
View Of Times Square In New York During The Great Depression . Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica Image Quest. Web. 27 Dec 2011.

The Great Depression

January 17, 1920

The 18th Amendment, known as Prohibition, goes into effect, banning the sale and manufacture of all alcoholic beverages in the United States


With every passing year, Prohibition is ignored more and more while the gangsters of organized crime become immediately wealthy from “bootlegging” illegal alcohol.


The value of stocks on the U.S. Stock market begins a six-year upward climb.


Amos ‘n’ Andy,” a radio program, premieres and becomes the most popular radio show through the 1930s.

November 1928

Republican Herbert Hoover is elected President of the United States. His politics would prove ineffective in fighting the Great Depression that struck October 1929.

October 24, 1929

Known as “Black Thursday,” a record-breaking crash on the New York Stock Exchange begins several weeks of market panics. Many investors lost vast sums of money when the value of stocks plummets. Approximately 12.8 million shares of stock are sold in one day, most at prices far below their values only a few days earlier.

October 29, 1929

Known as “Black Tuesday,” the value of the stocks on the New York Stock Market continues its dramatic decline. Approximately 16,410,000 shares, a record number, are sold. The nation’s economy steadily erodes into the Great Depression, the worst economic crisis in U.S. history.


Gangster movies are at their height of popularity.


Hostess food manufacturer creates the “Twinkie,” an inexpensive treat for economy-minded Americans.


Congress authorizes the construction of the Hoover Dam, known as the Boulder Dam during the New Deal, on the Colorado River. Construction begins in 1930 and is completed in 1936. The project provides thousands of jobs.


More than 3,600 banks suspend operations as the Depression deepens and thousands lose their jobs and incomes.


Sales of glass jars for preserving food at home increases dramatically. Preserving food decreases a family’s food expenses.


A drought begins in the Eastern states during the summer and quickly spreads to the Midwest and Great Plains. The drought will continue throughout the decade resulting in “dust bowl” conditions.


New York City reports 95 cases of death by starvation as the number of unemployed and those going hungry increases.

October 24, 1931

Alphonse Capone, the nation’s most notorious gangster, receives an 11-year prison sentence for income tax evasion.


Jigsaw puzzles are mass-produced for the first time and provide inexpensive entertainment.


Prices for farm produce hit bottom as farmer unrest rises.


Sixty percent of the U.S. population still faithfully pay the few cents it costs to attend movies.


The Depression spawns cuts in educational budgets affecting teacher salaries and programs offered and leads to school closures, especially in rural areas.

January 22, 1932

Congress establishes the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to provide federal financial support to the banking systems.

July 2, 1932

Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivers a speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president pledging “a new deal for the American people.”

July 28, 1932

Thousands of unemployed and financially strapped World War I veterans and their families, known as the Bonus Army, march on Washington, DC, seeking early payment of previously promised bonus pay, but are denied by Congress. Violence erupts, reflecting badly on the Hoover Administration.

November 1932

Roosevelt handily wins the presidential election over incumbent Republican Herbert Hoover but will not be inaugurated until March 4, 1933.


Midwestern outlaws rob banks and kill citizens on wild rampages throughout the nation’s heartland.


Unemployment reaches 25 percent of the nation’s workforce.


Estimates reveal that well over one million Americans are homeless and almost one-fourth are riding the rails in search of work or aimlessly drifting. Youth comprise 40 percent of that number on the rails.


The number of marriages declines 40 percent from the 1920s as couples, unable to earn a living wage, postpone marriage.


The number of lynchings of black Americans in the United States during the Great Depression peaks at 28.


Memberships in teachers’ unions such as the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) increases rapidly in reaction to budget and staff cuts due to the Depression.


Big, splashy musicals become hit movies taking Americans’ minds off the hard economic times.


Actress Shirley Temple is introduced to movie audiences.


The Chicago World’s Fair opens.

March 4, 1933

With the U.S. banking system all but paralyzed, Franklin D. Roosevelt is inaugurated as president declaring [that] “there is nothing to fear but fear itself.”

March 6, 1933

At 1:00 am President Roosevelt orders a nationwide “bank holiday” from Monday, March 6 through Thursday, March 9, and then extends it through March 12.

March 6, 1933

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt begins her weekly news conferences open only to women journalists.

March 9, 1933

Congress begins a special session to approve legislation aimed at economic relief and recovery. Congress passes the Emergency Bank Act in a successful effort to restore public confidence in the banking system.

March 12, 1933

Most U.S. banks successfully reopen.

Mid-March 1933

President Roosevelt begins the first of his informal and informative presidential news conferences.

March 31, 1933

The Civil Conservation Corps (CCC) is established providing jobs in conservation activities for young Americans replanting forests, soil conservation, and flood control.

May 12, 1933

Congress passes the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA), designed to raise farm prices by encouraging farmers to reduce production.

May 12, 1933

Congress passes the Emergency Farm Mortgage Act to provide loans to farmers in heavy debt.

May 12, 1933

Congress passes the Federal Emergency Relief Act (FERA), providing funds to assist state relief programs helping the unemployed, aged, and ill.

May 17, 1933

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) created to bring economic development to the Southeast through construction of numerous dams and hydropower plants.

May 27, 1933

Congress passes the Federal Securities Act, requiring companies and stockbrokers to provide full information about new stocks to potential investors.

June 13, 1933

Congress passes the Home Owners’ Refinancing Act, which creates the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) to provide loans to homeowners facing the loss of their homes because they cannot make payments.

June 16, 1933

Congress passes the Farm Credit Act. It formalizes the earlier-created Farm Credit Administration, which established a system of banking institutions for farmers.


June 16, 1933

Congress passes the Banking Act, also known as the Glass-Steagall Act, establishing the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insuring individual bank accounts against loss.

June 16, 1933

Congress passes the National Industrial Recovery Act establishing codes of fair practice for industry and business and creating the National Recovery Administration (NRA).

June 16, 1933

The Public Works Administration (PWA) is created to distribute almost $6 billion between 1933 and 1939 for public works projects, including construction of roads, tunnels, bridges, dams, power plants, and hospitals.

June 16, 1933

Congress finishes the special session, an intensive period of lawmaking that becomes known as the First Hundred Days.

November 9, 1933

Roosevelt establishes the Civil Works Administration (CWA) to assist unemployed workers through the winter months.

December 5, 1933

The 30th state ratifies the 21st Amendment ending Prohibition, which banned the sale of alcoholic beverages.


J. Edgar Hoover’s Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) capture or kill all of the famous Midwest outlaws and restore confidence in U.S. law enforcement.

January 31, 1934

Congress passes the Farm Mortgage Refinancing Act providing $2 billion on loans to refinance farm loans

June 6, 1934

Congress passes the Security Exchange Act that prohibits certain activities in stock market trading, sets penalties and establishes the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) to oversee stock market trading.

June 18, 1934

Congress passes the Indian Reorganization Act (Wheeler-Howard Act) establishing the cornerstone of New Deal Indian Policy.

June 19, 1934

Congress passes the Communications Act that creates the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to oversee the nation’s mass-communication industry.

June 28, 1934

Congress passes the National Housing Act, creating the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to assist homeowners in buying a new house in hopes of spurring the construction industry. This act is the last piece of legislation passed under the First New Deal that began with legislation in March 1933.


Warner Brothers’ sensational hit movie G-Men immortalizes J. Edgar Hoover as America’s number one cop, made his “government men,” later known as FBI agents, famous, and helped restore a general respect for law enforcement.


In one week people buy 20 million Monopoly games, providing inexpensive entertainment.


More than 500,000 men are enrolled in 2,600 Civilian Conservation Corps camps across the United States.

April 8, 1935

Congress passes the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act creating the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and providing almost $5 billion for work relief for the unemployed for such projects as construction of airports, schools, hospitals, roads, and public buildings. This act marks the beginning of the Second New Deal.

April 27, 1935

Congress passes the Soil Conservation Act establishing the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) to aid farmers suffering drought and massive soil erosion.

April 30, 1935

Roosevelt creates the Resettlement Administration (RA) to help poor farmers either improve the use of their lands or move to better lands. The agency’s Historical Section begins a major photodocumentary project of the Depression.

May 11, 1935

Roosevelt creates the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) to bring inexpensive electricity to rural areas.

May 27, 1935

In one of several rulings against New Deal programs, the U.S. Supreme Court in Schechter Poultry Corporation v. United States rules the National Industrial Recovery Act is unconstitutional thus removing legal projections for labor unions. This day becomes known as “Black Monday.”

June 26, 1935

Roosevelt creates the National Youth Administration (NYA) to provide part-time jobs to high school and college students and other unemployed youth.

July 1, 1935

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) begins operation, providing stability to the banking system by insuring bank deposits.

July 5 1935

Congress passes the National Labor Relations Act, better known as the Wagner Act, to support the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively with employers over working conditions, benefits, and wages. The act also bans certain unfair business practices.

August 2, 1935

Created as part of the WPA, the Federal One program is established to provide jobs for the unemployed in music, theater, writing, and art.

August 14, 1935

Congress passes the Social Security Act establishing a program of social insurance to aid the unemployed, the elderly in retirement, needy children and mothers, and the blind.

August 23, 1935

Congress passed the Banking Act strengthening the Federal Reserve System.

August 30, 1935

Congress passes the Wealth Tax Act creating higher tax rates for the wealthy and corporate and inheritance taxes.

November 1935

The Federal Surplus Commodities Corporation is established to continue distributing food to the needy.

November 9, 1935

Labor leader John L. Lewis establishes the Committee of Industrial Organizations to represent semi-skilled and unskilled laborers of the mass production industries


Mary McLeod Bethune is named head of the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration becoming the first black American to head a government agency.

January 6, 1936

The U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Butler rules the Agricultural Adjustment Act is unconstitutional.

June 16, 1936

Congress passes the Flood Control Act in response to massive floods in Ohio and Mississippi.

November 1936

Franklin Roosevelt wins a landslide reelection capturing a record 61 percent of the vote.

December 30, 1936

Sit-down strikes shutdown seven General Motors plants in Flint, Michigan. The company will give in to worker demands by February 11, 1937.


Roosevelt appoints attorney William Hastie as the first black American federal judge in U.S. history.


Author Erskine Caldwell and photographer Margaret Bourke-White publish You Have Seen Their Faces.


Kraft introduces “instant” macaroni and cheese dinner, and Hormel introduces Spam meat. The low cost of both items helps feed families who are on a tight budget.

February 5, 1937

Roosevelt introduces a proposal, known as the “court packing plan,” to reorganize the U.S. Supreme Court. The plan attracts substantial public opposition.

May 24, 1937

The U.S. Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of the Social Security Act.

July 22, 1937

Congress passes the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenancy Act making low interest loans available to tenant farmers, farm laborers, and small landowners, many of whom are victims of the Dust Bowl, to purchase or expand their own lands.

August 20, 1937

The Bonneville Power Act establishes the Bonneville Power Administration to market public power in the Pacific Northwest.

September 1, 1937

Roosevelt creates the Farm Security Administration, absorbing the Resettlement Administration including the photography project.

September 3, 1937

Congress passes the National Housing Act, known as the Wagner-Steagall Housing Act, creating the U.S. Housing Authority to oversee construction of low-cost housing.

October 1937

An economic “recession” begins as industrial production and farm prices fall and unemployment rises. In hopes of never again using the term “depression,” President Roosevelt coins the term “recession.”

February 16, 1938

Congress passes the new Agricultural Adjustment Act providing new price supports for farmers and promoting conservation practices.

June 24, 1938

Congress passes the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act.

June 25, 1938

The Fair Labor Standards Act places legal protections over child labor, minimum wages, and maximum hours. This act is the last legislation of the Second New Deal.

October 30, 1938

Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre of the Air broadcasts a radio adaptation of H. G. Wells’ 1898 novel The War of the Worlds causing widespread panic.


Eighty percent of American households own radios.


The Golden Gate International Exposition opens in San Francisco and the New York World’s Fair opens in New York City.


The Federal Writers Project publishes These Are Our Lives, and John Steinbeck publishes The Grapes of Wrath.


Drought comes to an end as rains return to the Great Plains in the fall.


Reporter Edward R. Murrow broadcasts from London, England, during the German bombing raids on the city, shifting public concerns away from domestic economic issues to foreign issues


World famous opera singer Marian Anderson is denied the opportunity to perform in a private concert hall in Washington, D.C., because she is black, leading to a major pubic backlash against racism.

May 16, 1939

The Food Stamp program begins.

August 10, 1939

Congress passes the Social Security Act Amendments adding old age and survivors’ insurance benefits for dependents and survivors.


Roosevelt signs an executive order prohibiting racial discrimination in the defense industry, the first such proclamation since Reconstruction in the 1870s.


Author James Agee and photographer Walker Evens publish Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

July 9, 1941

President Roosevelt announces extensive preparations in case of U.S. entrance into World War II.

December 7, 1941

Japan bombs U.S. military installation at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, leading the United States to enter World War II in both Europe and the Pacific.

January 16, 1942

The War Production Board is established to direct war mobilization.

April 1942

The War Manpower Commission is created to help allocate manpower to industries and military services.

April 12, 1945

Franklin Roosevelt suddenly dies at 63 years of age from a cerebral hemorrhage. 

Hanes, Sharon M., and Richard C. Hanes. "Great Depression Timeline." Great Depression and New Deal. Primary Sources. New York: U.X.L., a part of Gale, Cengage Learning, 2003. Print.