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american history
black tuesday

*the 1920s were a period of prosperity for america.  americans bought goods on the instalment plan and invested in stocks on margin, expecting to pay off their debts as stocks rose in value, a plan known as speculation.  america’s factories turned out goods at a rate theretofore unimagined and paid wages more than double those known in the past.

*herbert hoover was elected with a promise of a chicken in every pot, and expected america to soon see an age when poverty no longer existed.

*there were already problems, though.  farmers were poor due to *there were already problems, though.  farmers were poor due to falling food prices, people had bought as much as even instalment plans would let them do:  60 percent of cars and 80 percent of radios had been bought on the instalment plan.  factories had to cut production or build up huge surpluses, partly because high tariffs made it hard to sell american products overseas.

*as factories could no longer sell goods, the value of their stocks fell.  people began trying to sell their stocks before they lost too much value, but with many sellers and few buyers, stock prices fell to almost half their peak value for good companies and to almost nothing for weaker ones.  this began on 23 october, and despite efforts by some large investors (like j.p. morgan) to stop it, on black tuesday, 29 october, the stock market crashed completely, wiping out fortunes and leaving many speculators with huge debts to pay off and no way to do so.  this was the beginning of the great depression.

*as people needed money to pay off their debts, they tried to withdraw it from their banks.  there were runs on banks so severe that many could not supply the money (as much of it was lent out) and collapsed.  within two years, over 4,000 banks had failed.

*businesses began to close and unemployment shot up.  by 1933, at least 25% of americans had lost their jobs, and many of those who were employed were underemployed, not making as much money as they really wanted.

*to try to prop up the value of american goods, congress passed the hawley-smoot tariff in 1930, the highest tariff in american history.  it made foreign goods completely unable to compete in american markets, but foreign countries then raised their tariffs even higher in response, reducing american exports further.

*as american businesses failed and the hawley-smoot tariff and other countries’ responding tariffs destroyed international trade, depressions began in many european countries, and as america could no longer lend money to germany under the dawes plan, germany could no longer pay reparations and support its people, leading to a complete collapse of the germany economy into a depression far worse than america’s.

this page last updated 3 october, 2009.
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