Changing America

In the early part of the twentieth century, America experienced phenomenal growth due to an influx of immigrants. The country’s population doubled from the 1890s to the 1920s, with the bulk of the immigrants coming from “non-traditional” areas, such as Eastern or Southern Europe, who often settled in Northern cities. Meanwhile, a severe urban and rural technological divide emerged. While urban Americans had such modern conveniences as electricity, indoor plumbing and automobiles, their rural brethren:

Still moved between birth and death to the ancient rhythms of sun and season. More than forty-five million of them had no indoor plumbing in 1930, and almost none had electricity. They relieved themselves in chamber pots and outdoor latrines, cooked and heated with wood stoves, and lit their smoky houses with oil lamps.

– David M. Kennedy, Freedom from Fear

Not only did they lack modern conveniences: they also lacked the financial wherewithal of urban dwellers. Farmers’ economic troubles began far before October of 1929, actually starting with post-World War I surpluses, which sent food and grain prices plummeting. While industrial workers’ wages increased in the 1920s by twenty-five percent, farmer’s real wages had eroded during the same time period.


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