The Year Was 1933

As the year 1933 dawned, the Great Depression was worsening, the U.S. was facing a near 25 percent unemployment rate,  dust storms raged in the plains states, and businesses and banks were failing in large numbers.

In his inaugural address, the new president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, told the country, “Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.” But in his first hundred days, he employed sweeping reforms in an effort to get the country back on track. “The New Deal” included a farm relief bill, a four-day bank holiday to address the banking crisis, financial reform, and repeal of Prohibition, among other things.

Roosevelt also created the Civilian Conservation Corps, which employed thousands of young men between the ages of seventeen and twenty-four in various conservation projects, including forest fire fighting and prevention, erosion control (particularly vital during these Dust Bowl years), the protection of wildlife and habitats, and perhaps most notably, reforestation.Dust Bowl photo. NOAA photo from

Roosevelt also established the Tennessee Valley Authority, which dealt with the problems of flooding, deforestation, and erosion in the Tennessee River Basin, as well as harnessing water power to create energy.

In Chicago, the Century of Progress International Exposition drew crowds despite the hardships faced by many.

Around the world, other countries were also engulfed in depression. In Germany, the poor economic conditions helped pave the way for the rise of Adolph Hitler and the Nazi party. Along with Hitler’s rise to power, events of the year 1933 included the burning of the Reichstag, book burnings, and the creation of Dachau–the first Nazi concentration camp. You can read an article about Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor of Germany in the The Chronicle-Telegram (Elyria, Ohio).
Movie-goers tried to forget their woes as they went to see movies like Duck Soup, Morning Glory, Little Women, King Kong, and The Invisible Man. Popular songs were Stormy Weather, Gold Digger’s Song (We’re In the Money), and Forty-Second Street.

The Sheyboygan Press (Sheboygan, Wisconsin), from 25 April 1933, advertised a five-pound box of soap chips for $.22, eggs for $.09 per two dozen, and Idaho potatoes for $.24 per fifteen lb. cloth bag. You could buy a new Frigidaire for $96.00 and Firestone tires for around $5.95.

Photograph courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce. “Effect of Dust Storms on Health,” U. S. Public Health Service, Reprint No,. 1707 from the Public Health Reports, Vol. 50, no. 40, October 4, 1935.

26 thoughts on “The Year Was 1933

  1. My dad, Sam J. Jones, joined the Civilian Conservation Corps when he was 17 and before he graduated from school. His father, John Pleasant Jones, died in March of 1934 and his mother had no income. Dad worked in the Beaufort area of South Carolina, though he was from Elko. He was a member til the CCC was disbanded. As a result, when I was researching my husband’s family, I requested records from the CCC for his father, William “Sem” Webber. Though I had no idea he had served, we received his records which showed that he was a member for 9 months before he married in 1935.

  2. This artical brings back many memories for me. In April, 1941 I began training in the NYA (National Youth Administration) which became a Telephone Supervisor job at Fort Bragg, NC. We were the first civilians in the Nation to replace Military personnel on Army switchboards in preparation for WWII. The local newspaper called it a “A Modern Fairy Tale”. It read “..is the story of the ten NYA girls who have been employed by the post signal Division of the United States Army at Fort Bragg at salaries of $105 per month each after spending the last four months undergoing training as telephone switchboard operators on the National Youth Administration’s post signal office project at Fort Bragg.” I have many other memories of 1933. One of my errands was walking to the grist mill in town with a few shucked ears of corn to be ground into grits or corn meal for 10 cents a bag. Louise Gibson Griffin

  3. I suspect that very few people are aware that Roosevelt did NOT coin the phrase “The New Deal” himself. While doing research on my great uncle, Oliver Cabana Jr. I discovered that he was Democratic Chairman for Erie County in New York State for a time. I have found several articles in the old newspapers from the Buffalo NY area.
    “Had Post During War
    One of the original Roosevelt supporters, Mr. Cabana, one week after the governor’s inauguration in 1930, proclaimed that he would be nominated and elected president in 1932. Mr. Cabana was a delegate-at-large from New York state to the national convention in Chicago in the latter year.
    It was Mr. Cabana’s slogan in the local contest in 1931, incidentally, that was picked up by the national campaign in the following year–”New Deal.”

    Had I been aware of my uncle’s friendship with Franklin and Eleanor I would certainly have enjoyed history classes more!

  4. I find articles such as this very distracting and annoying when they come in an article that is delivered by email. It would be different if I were seeing this with a browser, but since I am reading it offline, if I want to check any of the links, I have to leave the email program and go to a browser and then return to the original document.

  5. I was born in 1926 on a farm in Missouri. I remember my dad had the CCC build a wild animal and bird sanctuary on our farm. I remember much of the depression. It was made even harder on the farm by the devastating drought in 1933 – 1935.

  6. My parents were married April 15, 1933. They must have really had trouble making ends meet. They instilled in their children their sense of conservation and I still to this day think about how an empty container, jar, etc. can be used for some other purpose.

  7. I was born in 1933, and know the Great Depression changed my family’s life as we had to leave the town I was born in and return to a farm in Missouri where my parents and grandparents had moved from nine years before.
    They were enjoying a good life in another state until that time, and I was only two when we left there. I have made several nostalgic trips back to my birthplace and wonder what life would have been like had it not been for the Depression.

  8. I really enjoyed the articles on 1933 and would love to see more of them. My husband’s father worked at Web’s the World’s most unusual drug store in 1938. He and other employees were given canned goods that labels were torn off or missing. they didn’t have any idea what their meal would be until the cans were opened. My husband was born in 1931 and his parents were married in 1930.

  9. My sister was born 30 October 1933, in Clinchco (Dickenson County) Virginia.

  10. I was born in 1928 and lived through the Depression as a farm kid. I’ll never forget going with my parents to the old Mill Grove Bank, when depositors were told they could come into the bank and find out the status of their accounts–at the time of the Bank Holiday–The bank was closed and I’ll never forget my parents’ anguish, when they learned their account was wiped out and they could not get their money. It sounds like so little now, but they had just over $6.00 in the bank and not two copper pennies to rub together in their combined pockets.

    This was followed by the worst years of our lives. We had some of the hottest summers and coldest winters on record for our area. We had one year, when crops looked good and the corn was beautiful, but the grasshoppers came in clouds on the weekend and by Monday morning, our beautiful corn crop was mere stubs. Those pesky insects even ate the wooden tongues of our farm implements until they had to be replaced. There was one autumn, when my mother sowed so many turnip seeds and we had enough showers for them to sprout and grow. We dug and carried basket after basket of those turnips to our root cellar. We had no grain to feed our chickens and mother cooked a pot of turnips daily to feed the chickens. They survived and even layed eggs during that winter.

    I wouldn’t take a million dollars for my experience of going through the Great Depression, but neither would I accept a million dollars, if it was offered to me to go through another Great Depression.

  11. Jennie,

    Thanks for sharing your experience in the depression. It was beautifully descriptive and fascinating to read.

    I wasn’t born till 1935 so by the time I was aware of what was going on around me we were in the midst of WWII. My parents told many a story, however, and we were always glad that my father had a job throughout the depression, unlike many others.

  12. On 4 April 1933, the U.S. Navy dirigible USS Akron (ZRS-4) crashed in Barnegat Bay, New Jersey at the cost of 83 lives. My Uncle, Coppersmith First Class Harold Blood Lamkin, USN was one of the crew members who lost his life on that cold, stormy night. Lest We Forget.

  13. born on Mar.15: 1933

    numder 6 of nine
    If it wern’t for hand me downs I would be naked.

  14. We were lucky to have a father who took us on adventures nearly every weekend in the 1930s. We lived in Kenilworth, a village north of Chicago, population 2,500. A visit to the “World’s Fair” Exposition in Chicago in 1933 was a special highlight experience. At the World’s Fair, the roller coaster, ferris wheel rides and cotton candy made little impression. “Sally Rand and her Fan Dance Show” were of no interest to us children aged 10, 11 and 12, although I had noticed adverts in the Chicago Tribune newspapers about “Sally Rand”, discreetly airbrushed. But at the World’s Fair next door to Sally Rand was my favorite exhibition: the “Incubator Babies”. In an improvised hospital with glass windows you could watch premature infants being cared-for in their incubators. Naturally the babies were changed, or should I say “swapped”, every couple of weeks, when they were big enough to go home. I have always been especially fond of dolls and babies. At the World’s Fair a related Science exhibition was my second favorite, consisting of nine jars containing nine foetuses, showing the development processes at each month of gestation. Betcha neither of those last two exhibits would be allowed today, say at Disney World. My own children never wanted to go to Disney Land or Disney World and I’ve no particular desire to visit either. But I have been to places like Paris, Switzerland and London!
    As an 11-year-old child, I had my first airplane ride about 1932 in an open-cockpit bi-plane in Lake County, IL. The airfield was either “Sky Harbor” or “Curtiss Wright”. We were taken by our Dad to both airfields to watch “barnstorming” air shows, and otherwise plane-spotting. We saw dare-devil pilots (men and lady pilots) do acrobatic flying such as “loop-de-loop”. At one of those two airports, we had refreshments on an open-air balcony, watching the small planes. The biggest excitement one day was sitting at a table next to two very famous men: Will Rogers, the Arkansas rope-twirler and cowboy humorist, with his aviation pioneer friend, Wiley Post, wearing his black eye patch! Not long afterwards, the two perished together in a small plane crash.
    Here’s a “Tip” for Ancestry Weekly newsletter readers who have mentioned a problem accessing hyperlinked web sites in this newsletter: You may omit “click here” when opening the newsletter (or go back and reverse the “click here” process) — then the hyperlinks will work properly. RSS feeds are one step beyond my present expertise.

  15. When I need to print one of your articles such as, “The Year Was 1933″, I do not want to print 5 more pages of “Comments” by readers!
    Please give us the opportunity to limit the printing to only the article!
    Thank you,
    Joan Witt
    jwitt@bak.rr.com

  16. This was the year that my mother graduated from high school. My dad had been at college for a year. I remember my dad talking about working as a “grease monkey” to put himself through college. He avoided working on cars as soon as he could afford to have someone else do it. Thanks to all who were alive at that time and posted stories about your experiences.

  17. I was born in 1934….Birth Mother was Elizabeth LaFace…..Wish I cvould find out about her or my Siblings….God Bless

  18. I love the comments added on— as I share them with my husband— for those of you that don’t know it– you can copy and paste what you want to an email or word document and then print whatever you want out of the year that has been written about. It’s very easy — if you don’t know how– get someone to show you. I do it all the time.

  19. Thanx very much for “The Year That Was”. I enjoy the reader comments also they add to the article . As I live in the Chicago area the comments by Ruth Streed were really interesting. I was born in Waukegan in 1930 and lived in Beloit. So I remember the Chicago Fair in ’33 then we moved south to Evansville Indiana I don’t remember much about the depression but certainly heard much from my mother. It must have been really tough.

  20. To Mary Crisler and others,

    If you only want to copy the article, highlight it and tell your printer to copy the selection only. It isn’t difficult to do. I do it all the time.

  21. i think this information on me is wonderful although i was reincarnated into this human being i am still the great leader i was back then. bye and i will be back – FDR the great

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