Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression
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A reissue of Terkel's classic work, with a new introduction by the author.
Studs Terkel's classic history of the Great Depression. In this unique re-creation of one of the most dramatic periods in modern American history, Studs Terkel recaptures the Great Depression of the 1930s in all its complexity. The book is a mosaic of memories from those who were richest to those who were most destitute: politicians like James Farley and Raymond Moley; businessmen like Bill Benton and Clement Stone; a six-day bicycle racer; artists and writers; racketeers; speakeasy operators, strikers, and impoverished farmers; people who were just kids; and those who remember losing a fortune. Hard Times is not only a gold mine of information—much of it little known—but also a fascinating interplay of memory and fact, showing how the Depression affected the lives of those who experienced it firsthand, often transforming the most bitter memories into a surprising nostalgia.
"Hard Times doesn't render the time of the Depression or historicize about it--it is that time, its lingo, mood, its tragic and hilarious stories".--Arthur Miller
First published in 1970, this classic of oral history features the voices of men and women who lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s. It includes accounts by congressmen C. Wright Patman and Hamilton Fish, as well as failed presidential candidate Alf M. Landon, who recalls what it was like to be governor of Kansas in 1933:
Men with tears in their eyes begged for an appointment that would help save their homes and farms. I couldn't see them all in my office. But I never let one of them leave without my coming out and shakin' hands with 'em. I listened to all their stories, each one of 'em. But it was obvious I couldn't take care of all their terrible needs.
The book includes also the perspectives of ordinary men and women, such as Jim Sheridan, who took part in the 1932 march by World War I veterans to petition for their benefits in Washington, D.C., where they were repelled by army troops led by General Douglas MacArthur. Or Edward Santander, who was a child then: "My first memories come about '31. It was simply a gut issue then: eating or not eating, living or not living." Studs Terkel makes history come alive, drawing out experiences and emotions from his interviewees to the degree few have ever been able to match.
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. .. The first thing that hits me about the Depression is my dad. His business—he’s coming up from downstairs. We’re living above the machine shop that my dad owned. He was in the cap business, making caps for milk bottles. I remember him coming up the stairs and saying: “Well, the business is gone. We’re broke. And the banks have no money.” And my mother being a European woman of Polish ancestry, and knowing how to make ends meet, I remember her for many, many weeks, pots of soup. And the main
enable people to play the market without owning a share of stock. The result: the system is tilting from investment to speculation.”5 It rings a distant bell. Were Arthur A. Robertson still around, he’d recognize the tolling sound—at least, the alarm. He was an industrialist, “a scavenger. I used to buy broken-down businesses that banks took over.” He was a millionaire at twenty-four. He knew all the legendary figures of the market, who’d “run up a stock to ridiculous prices and unload it on the
country. The people in the country were getting up in arms, refusing to work at these wages. At that time, I didn’t realize the exploitation, and the competitiveness of workers. Was there talk of organizing? Not in Iowa, not in that east central part. The people were too conservative. I was past forty years of age before I joined a union. I was conditioned—to join a labor union would take away your ability to stand on your own two feet. It would mean surrendering yourself. I probably
Fisher One and read the boys the riot act. He told ‘em they had to leave. He stood there, looked at ‘em a few minutes. A couple of guys began to curse’im, and he turned around and left himself. National Guard troops were there. Some from Pontiac, some from Detroit. I lived within a block where they camped. I would pass these young fellas every day. One boy, pretty young, he had a union button on. Was it his union button or was it his dad’s? I walked up to him. “Your captain allow you to wear
permanent. My father was a doctor, and his life’s savings were in one piece of property. It was foreclosed on him by the University of Chicago, and he lost every cent he had. They simply took it away because they had the legal right to take it away. And he taught at Rush Medical College65 for twelve years for nothing. (Laughs.) So there was no help from Papa any more. I had planned research work, but the Depression got me into this—I don’t have too many regrets. I would have been a nice rich guy