Friday, October 29, 2010

Crowd gathering on Wall Street after the 1929 crash

Crowd gathering on Wall Street after the 1929 crashCrowd gathers outside the Stock Exchange after the crash. Looking down Broad street from Wall street and Federal Hall. From an Social Security Administration poster.

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On Black Tuesday, the twenty-ninth, the market collapsed. In the words of a gray haired Stock Exchange guard, "They roared like a lot of lions and tigers. They hollered and screamed, they clawed at one another collars. It was like a bunch of crazy men. Every once in a while, when Radio or Steel or Auburn would take another tumble, you'd see some poor devil collapse and fall to the floor."

In a single day, sixteen million shares were traded--a record--and thirty billion dollars vanished into thin air. Westinghouse lost two thirds of its September value. DuPont dropped seventy points. The "Era of Get Rich Quick" was over. Jack Dempsey, America's first millionaire athlete, lost $3 million. Cynical New York hotel clerks asked incoming guests, "You want a room for sleeping or jumping?"

Refusing to accept the "natural" economic cycle in which a market crash was followed by cuts in business investment, production and wages, Hoover summoned industrialists to the White House on November 21, part of a round robin of conferences with business, labor, and farm leaders, and secured a promise to hold the line on wages. Henry Ford even agreed to increase workers' daily pay from six to seven dollars. From the nation's utilities, Hoover won commitments of $1.8 billion in new construction and repairs for 1930. Railroad executives made a similar pledge. Organized labor agreed to withdraw its latest wage demands.

The president ordered federal departments to speed up construction projects. He contacted all forty-eight state governors to make a similar appeal for expanded public works. He went to Congress with a $160 million tax cut, coupled with a doubling of resources for public buildings and dams, highways and harbors. In December of 1929, Hoover's friend Julius Barnes of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce presided over the first meeting of the National Business Survey Conference, a task force of four hundred leading businessmen designated to enforce the voluntary agreements. Looking back at the year, the "New York Times" judged Commander Richard Byrd's expedition to the South Pole-- not the Wall Street crash-- the biggest news story of 1929.

Praise for the President's intervention was widespread. "No one in his place could have done more," concluded the "New York Times" in the spring of 1930, by which time the Little Bull Market had restored a measure of confidence on Wall Street. "Very few of his predecessors could have done as much." On February 18 Hoover announced that the preliminary shock had passed, and that employment was again on the mend. In June, a delegation of bishops and bankers called at the White House to warn of spreading joblessness. Hoover reminded them of his successful conferences with business and labor, and the explosion of government activity and public works designed to alleviate suffering. "Gentlemen," he concluded, "you have come six weeks too late".

TEXT CREDIT: The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum

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