The American West: A Twentieth-Century History

By Michael P. Malone; Richard W. Etulain | Go to book overview

Chapter Three Depression, New Deal, and War, 1930-1945

During the period from 1930 through 1945, the West passed through a time of tumult and sweeping change, prompted first by the worst depression the world had ever seen, then by a massive federal effort to cope with the problems caused by the depression, and finally by American involvement in the Second World War. In essence, the New Deal and the war effort combined to produce the same result: a revolutionary new federal role in the West. This new federal role involved unprecedented expenditures, on everything from old-age pensions to mighty dams; and these expenditures, which 'would prove to be ongoing, served to underwrite a new prosperity and stability for the region. Viewed from the brief perspective of a halfcentury, therefore, these years represent a historic turning point of equal importance to the general closing of the frontier. The Great Depression brought about the crisis of that old, exploitative economic order that was based on the unrestricted taking of the West's bounty; and the New Deal and World War II signaled the beginning of the new order, in which we still live today. Henceforth, for good or bad, the sustaining and regulating hand of the federal government would be the foremost influence in the region, whereas the grip of the old corporate empire builders--such as railroads and lumber and mining barons--steadily weakened.

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