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Great Depression and World War II, 1929-1945
Overview Topics
migrant worker

Wife of a Migratory Laborer,
1938 Farm Security Administration
/Office of War Information
Black-and-White Negatives

The widespread prosperity of the 1920s ended abruptly with the stock market crash in October 1929 and the great economic depression that followed. The depression threatened people's jobs, savings, and even their homes and farms. At the depths of the depression, over one-quarter of the American workforce was out of work. For many Americans, these were hard times.

The New Deal, as the first two terms of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's presidency were called, became a time of hope and optimism. Although the economic depression continued throughout the New Deal era, the darkest hours of despair seemed to have passed. In part, this was the result of FDR himself. In his first inaugural address, FDR asserted his "firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself--nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror." As FDR provided leadership, most Americans placed great confidence in him.

The economic troubles of the 1930s were worldwide in scope and effect. Economic instability led to political instability in many parts of the world. Political chaos, in turn, gave rise to dictatorial regimes such as Adolf Hitler's in Germany and the military's in Japan. (Totalitarian regimes in the Soviet Union and Italy predated the depression.) These regimes pushed the world ever-closer to war in the 1930s. When world war finally broke out in both Europe and Asia, the United States tried to avoid being drawn into the conflict. But so powerful and influential a nation as the United States could scarcely avoid involvement for long.

When Japan attacked the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, the United States found itself in the war it had sought to avoid for more than two years. Mobilizing the economy for world war finally cured the depression. Millions of men and women joined the armed forces, and even larger numbers went to work in well-paying defense jobs. World War Two affected the world and the United States profoundly; it continues to influence us even today.
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