Toward a New Deal in Baltimore: People and Government in the Great Depression

By Jo Ann E. Argersinger | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 1 The Urban Setting
Baltimore between the Wars

The prospect of a decade of hard times seemed remote in Baltimore at the onset of 1930. Only minor reverberations from the stock market crash had been felt in the city's business community. Although few businesses expected significant economic growth, still fewer anticipated a permanent decline. Reacting to what appeared to be a temporary slump, one city resident wryly observed in January 1930: "No man fears there will be actual starvation in America, but every man fears that he may have to smoke cheaper cigars and drink worse gin; and this prospect throws a pall of gloom over the whole business world." 1

But the city's business community, and especially those activist boosters who comprised the Baltimore Association of Commerce (BAC), rejected even that restrained vision of economic retrenchment. Their optimism grew out of their view of the city's economic experience during the 1920s. Gently chided by H. L. Mencken as "boosters, boomers, go-getters and other such ballyhoo men," BAC members rarely missed an opportunity to recite the industrial advantages of the nation's seventh-largest city. Buoyed by the 1918 municipal annexation that had tripled the city's size--from 30 to 92 square miles--the association boldly, if erroneously, predicted that the city's 1920 population of 733,000 would reach the million mark in 1930. In its brochures, the BAC gave front-page billing to Baltimore's reputation as a "low-wage" town and promised prospective businesses a

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