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New York City During The Great Depression part1

During the Great Recession, the worldwide GDP fell by less than one percent. During the Great Depression, that fall was 15 times worse. And in the U.S. in particular, unemployment during the Great Depression increased not by a mere factor of two, but by a factor of six, ultimately hitting historic highs of about 25 percent in 1933.

The trouble began in earnest four years earlier with the Wall Street crashes of September 
and October 1929. Fueled by excessive stock speculation and shaky banking standards 
unequipped to handle those investments, the crash plunged the U.S. and the rest of the Western industrialized world into the worst economic cataclysm in modern history.

And perhaps no place in America felt the effects of the Great Depression worse than the 
place where it at least nominally started: New York City.

For decades before the crash, both European immigrants and domestic rural migrants had 
been flooding into New York, causing the city's population to double between 1900 and 1930. 
With so many new people -- many of them impoverished to begin with -- pouring in, New York's housing and job prospects were shaky to say the least even before the crash.

And when the crash came, the results were devastating. In the words of the New York Tenement Museum:
"By 1932, half of New York's manufacturing plants were closed, one in every three New Yorkers was unemployed, and roughly 1.6 million were on some form of relief. The city was unprepared to deal with this crisis."
Yet the city, under the leadership of Mayor Fiorello Laguardia, ultimately proved well prepared to respond to the crisis. To say nothing of his administration's work relief programs, LaGuardia's housing initiatives shut down 10,000 decrepit tenements (more than half of which lacked central heating and toilets) and forced landlords to upgrade another 30,000.

In the end, the Great Depression served to expose the relatively hidden wounds that had been festering in New York for years -- or at least force the powers that be to do something about them. And with those wounds cleaned out, the city was able to rebuild into something stronger and 
become, in many ways, the New York we know today.

With the stock market crash of 1929, the Great Depression, at least nominally, began in New York City. The economic cataclysm would hit the nation's largest city particularly hard.

  • An unemployed man reads a newspaper in his shanty, 1933.

  • Much of Central Park became Hooverville, a shanty town for the newly impoverished (named for President Herbert Hoover, in office during the market crash and widely blamed for it) 

  • An unemployed man lies down on the city docks, circa 1935.

  • An old woman receives her Thanksgiving ration of food as other hungry people wait in line for the same, 1930.

Yet amid all this poverty and desperation, certain aspects of New York thrived during the Great Depression. Throughout those ten or so years, it in many ways became the city we know today.

Pictured: The most famous image of the many high-profile New York construction projects of the Great Depression depicts laborers taking their lunch break on a steel beam atop the 70-story RCA building in Rockefeller Center, more than 800 feet above the street, on September 20, 1932.

While the true roots of the Great Depression in America are varied and complex, the simplified version of the story begins on "Black Thursday," October 24, 1929. At this point, fears of dangerously rampant speculation saw stockholders dump their assets at record numbers, with the market losing a whopping 11 percent of its value on that one day.

Pictured: Traders work on Wall Street in October 1929.

Just four days after "Black Thursday" came "Black Monday" and "Black Tuesday," when the market lost a further 13 and 12 percent, respectively, of its value. It was, all things considered, the most devastating stock market crash in the history of the United States.

Pictured: Upset crowds gather outside the New York Stock Exchange soon after the crash.

Soon after the crash, tens of millions across the country sank into poverty. And in New York, by 1932, "half of [the city's] manufacturing plants were closed, one in every three New Yorkers was unemployed, and roughly 1.6 million were on some form of relief," according to the New York Tenement Museum.

  • Unemployed men sit outside their makeshift homes in lower Manhattan, 1935.

Within six months of the crash, more than 50 breadlines served meals to approximately 50,000 hungry people each day in the Lower East Side alone.

Pictured: A long line of unemployed and homeless men wait outside to get free dinner at a municipal lodging house, circa 1930.

  • A woman pulls her baggage as she pushes her baby in a pram, circa early 1930s

  • Talman Street in northwest Brooklyn, 1936

  • Children play in the gutter in the southern section of the Bronx, 1936.

  • A child sits on the fire escape of the tenement in which she lives, circa mid-1930s.

  • A large group of people wait on a food line, 1932.

  • A man stands beside his traveling tin shop in Brooklyn, 1936.

  • Unemployed men smoke cigarettes amid their shantytown in lower Manhattan, 1935.

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