History of the United States
Depression and a world in conflict (1930-1959)

The United States suffered through the Great Depression that followed the stock market crash of 1929 for more than 10 years. During the depression, millions of workers lost their jobs and large numbers of farmers were forced to abandon their farms. Poverty swept through the nation on a scale never before experienced.

The Great Depression was not limited to the United States. It struck almost every other country in the world. In some countries, the hard times helped bring to power dictators who promised to restore the economy. The dictators included Adolf Hitler in Germany and a group of military leaders in Japan. Once in power, both Hitler and the Japanese rulers began conquering neighbouring lands. Their actions led to World War II, the most destructive conflict in world history. The United States fought in the war from 1941 to 1945, and played a key role in defeating Germany and Japan.

Victory in World War II brought a spirit of great relief and joy to the United States. The postwar economy boomed. More people shared in the prosperity than ever before, creating a huge, well-to-do middle class. Even so, Americans still faced problems. Chief among them were the new threat of nuclear war, the growing strength of Communism, and discontent among Americans who did not share in the prosperity.

The Great Depression

The road to ruin.
The stock market crash sent shock waves through the American financial community. Banks greatly curtailed their loans to businesses, and businesses then cut back on production. Millions of people lost their jobs because of the cutbacks. Spending then dwindled, and businesses suffered even more. Factories and shops shut down, causing even higher unemployment. Consumption of farm products declined, and farmers became worse off than ever. Thousands of banks failed and foreign trade decreased sharply. By the early 1930's, the nation's economy was paralysed.

The depression and the people.
At the height of the depression in 1933, about 13 million Americans were out of work, and many others had only part-time jobs. Farm income declined so sharply that more than 750,000 farmers lost their land. The Dust Bowl, the result of a terrible drought on the western Great Plains, also wiped out many farmers. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their life savings as a result of the bank failures.

Throughout the depression, many Americans went hungry. People stood in "bread lines" and went to "soup kitchens" to get food provided by charities. Often, two or more families lived crowded together in a small apartment. Some homeless people built shacks of tin and scraps of wood on waste ground.

Roosevelt, recovery, and reform.
Early in the Great Depression, President Herbert Hoover promised that prosperity was "just around the corner." But the depression deepened as the election of 1932 approached. The Republicans supported Hoover for reelection. The Democrats chose Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In his campaign, Roosevelt promised government action to end the Great Depression and reforms to avoid future depressions. The people responded, and Roosevelt won a landslide victory.

Roosevelt's programme was called the New Deal. Its many provisions included public works projects to provide jobs, relief for farmers, assistance to manufacturing firms, and the regulation of banks.

Roosevelt's efforts to end the depression made him one of the most popular U.S. presidents. The voters elected him to four terms. No other president won election more than twice. Roosevelt's New Deal was a turning point in American history. It marked the start of a strong government role in the nation's economic affairs that has continued and grown to the present day.

The United States in World War II
World War II began on Sept. 1, 1939, when German troops overran Poland. France, Great Britain, and other nations (called the Allies) went to war against Germany. At first, America stayed out of the war. But on Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese planes bombed the U.S. military base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The United States declared war on Japan on December 8, and three days later Germany and Italy--Germany's chief ally--declared war on the United States.

The war effort.
The American people backed the war effort with fierce dedication. About 15 million American men served in the armed forces. About 338,000 women served in the armed forces. At home, factories were converted into defence plants where aeroplanes, ships, weapons, and other war supplies were made. The country had a shortage of civilian men, and so thousands of women worked in the defence plants. ven children took part in the war effort. Boys and girls collected used tin cans, old tyres, and other "junk" that could be recycled and used for war supplies.

Allied victory.
On May 7, 1945, after a long, bitter struggle, the Allies forced the mighty German war machine to surrender. Vice President Harry S. Truman had become president upon Roosevelt's death about a month earlier. The Allies demanded Japan's surrender, but the Japanese continued to fight on. Truman then made one of the major decisions in history. He ordered the use of the atomic bomb, a weapon many times more destructive than any previous weapon. An American aeroplane dropped the first atomic bomb used in warfare on Hiroshima, Japan, on Aug. 6, 1945. A second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9. Japan formally surrendered on September 2, and the war was over.

The threat of Communism

The United States and the Soviet Union both fought on the side of the Allies during World War II. But after the war, the two countries became bitter enemies. The Soviet Union, as a Communist country, opposed democracy. It helped Communists take control of most of the countries of Eastern Europe and also aided Communists who seized control of China.

The Soviet Union and China then set out to spread Communism to other lands. The United States, as the world's most powerful democratic country, took on the role of defending non-Communist nations threatened by Communist take-over. The containment of Communism became the major goal of U.S. postwar foreign policy.

The Cold War and foreign policy.
The postwar struggle between the American-led non-Communist nations and the Soviet Union and its Communist allies became known as the Cold War. The conflict was so named because it did not lead to fighting, or a "hot" war, on a major scale.

Both the United States and the Soviet Union built up arsenals of nuclear weapons. The nuclear weapons made each nation capable of destroying the other. The threat of nuclear war made both sides cautious. As a result, Cold War strategy emphasized threats of force, propaganda, and aid to weak nations. The United Nations (UN), founded in 1945, provided a forum where the nations could try to settle their Cold War disputes.

Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower, the first two presidents of the Cold War era, pledged American military support to any nation threatened by Communism. Also, the United States provided billions of dollars to non-Communist nations.

The Korean War resulted from the Cold War friction. On June 25, 1950, troops from Communist North Korea, equipped by the Soviet Union, invaded South Korea. The UN called on member nations to help restore peace. Truman sent American troops to aid South Korea, and the UN sent a fighting force made up of troops from many nations. The war lasted for three years, ending in a truce on July 27, 1953.

Communism and internal friction.
The spread of Communism caused deep divisions within the United States. Conservatives blamed the Roosevelt and Truman administrations for allowing the Communist postwar gains. They also claimed that Communists were infiltrating the American government. The charges led to widespread investigations of--and debate over--the extent of Communist influence in American government and society. Conservatives believed the investigations were needed to save the country from Communist control. Liberals charged the conservatives with conducting "witch hunts"; that is, trying to fix guilt on people without evidence.

Postwar society

After World War II, the United States entered the greatest period of economic growth in its history. Periods of inflation (rapidly rising prices) and recession (mild business slumps) occurred. But overall, prosperity spread to more Americans than ever before, resulting in major changes in American life. However, millions of Americans--including a high percentage of the nation's blacks--continued to live in poverty. The existence of poverty amid prosperity brought on a period of active social protest that has continued to the present day.

Prosperity returns.
Military spending during World War II drew the United States out of the Great Depression. Major industries, such as car manufacturing and housing construction, had all but stopped during the war. After the war, these industries resumed production on a much larger scale than ever. elatively new industries such as electronics, plastics, frozen foods, and jet aircraft became booming businesses.

The shortage of goods during the war and other factors combined to create a vast market for American products. A population boom increased the number of consumers. Between 1950 and 1960 alone, the population of the United States grew by about 28 million. Trade unions became stronger than ever, and gained high wages and other benefits for their members. Wage laws and other government regulations also helped give workers a greater share of the profits of business. These developments also meant that more Americans had more money to spend on goods.

A new life style resulted from the prosperity.
After the war, millions of people needed, and were able to afford, new housing. Construction companies quickly built huge clusters of houses in suburbs around the nation's cities. Vast numbers of Americans moved from cities to suburbs. The suburbs attracted people for many reasons. They offered newer housing, more open space, and--usually--better schools than the inner cities.

A rise in car ownership accompanied the suburban growth. Increased car traffic led to the building of a nationwide network of motorways. The car and prosperity enabled more people than ever to take holidays. New motels, fast-service restaurants, and petrol stations sprang up to serve the tourists.

Prosperity and technological advances changed American life in other ways. Television--an experimental device before the war--became a feature of most American homes during the 1950's. This wonder of modern science brought scenes of the world into the American living room at the flick of a switch. New appliances made house work easier. They included automatic washing machines, driers, dishwashers, and waste disposal units.

Poverty and discrimination.
In spite of the general prosperity, millions of Americans still lived in poverty. The poor included members of all ethnic groups, but the plight of the nation's poor blacks seemed especially bleak. Ever since emancipation, blacks in both the North and South had faced discrimination in jobs, housing, education, and other areas. A lack of education and jobs made poverty among blacks widespread.

During the early 1900's, blacks, joined by many whites, had begun a movement to extend civil rights to blacks. The movement gained momentum after World War II. Efforts of civil rights leaders resulted in several Supreme Court decisions that attacked discrimination. In the best-known case, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954), the court ruled that compulsory segregation in state schools was illegal.

In spite of the gains, many civil rights leaders became dissatisfied with the slow progress of their movement. In 1955, Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist minister, began organizing demonstrations protesting against discrimination. Before long, the public protest would become a major tool of Americans seeking change.